Gonzales escapes grand jury in prosecutor firing probe -- for now
Mukasey appoints special prosecutor to continue investigationAlberto Gonzales has been spared a trip to the grand jury over his role in the firings of nine US Attorneys, but his successor, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, has appointed a prosecutor to examine the "haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional" conduct of Gonzales and others involved in the ongoing scandal.
The Department of Justice's Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility on Monday released a nearly 400-page report on the US Attorney firings (.pdf), which found the process was "fundamentally flawed" and placed the blame at the top of the department.
We believe the primary responsibility for these serious failures rest with senior Department leaders – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty – who abdicated their responsibility to adequately oversee the process and to ensure that the reasons for removal of each U.S. Attorney were supportable and not improper. These removals were not a minor personnel matter – they were an unprecedented removal of a group of high-level Department officials that was certain to raise concerns if not handled properly. Yet, neither the Attorney General nor the Deputy Attorney General provided adequate oversight or supervision of this process. We also concluded that Sampson bears significant responsibility for the flawed and arbitrary removal process. Moreover, they and other Department officials are responsible for failing to provide accurate and truthful statements about the removals and their role in the process.The report recommended appointing a special prosecutor to continue its examination, which was hampered by the IG's inability to issue subpoenas to officials who had left the deparment.
Congress has been battling the White House for more than a year as it has tried to investigate the circumstances surrounding the attorney firings. Several current and former Bush administration officials are subject to contempt of Congress proceedings after refusing to comply with subpoenaed testimony before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
“This report verifies what our oversight efforts this Congress showed, that partisan, political interests in the prosecution of voter fraud and public corruption by the White House and some at the Department played a role in many of these firings," Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said in reaction to the report. "These abuses are corrosive to the very foundations of our system of justice. It is wrong and it is dangerous to undermine the nation’s premier law enforcement agency by injecting political biases to determine which cases should be prosecuted."
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers said the report confirms the "very worst suspicions" of members who have been investigating the scandal.
“This scheme – which the report makes clear was hatched in the White House -- was a fundamental betrayal of the American people and the men and women of the Department of Justice and it will be a long time before we can fully repair the damage,” he said.
Mukasey, who took over the Justice Department after Gonzales resigned in the midst of the attorney firing scandal, portrayed the report as having "dispelled many of the most disturbing allegations" that followed revelations of the attorney firing scandal, but even he could not ignore its stark condemnation of the Department as it was run under his predecessor.
"However, the Report makes plain that, at a minimum, the process by which nine U.S. Attorneys were removed in 2006 was haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional, and that the way in which the Justice Department handled those removals and the resulting public controversy was profoundly lacking," he said.
Mukasey has appointed Nora Dannehy, an acting US Attorney from Connecticut, to continue the investigation.