Monday, September 29, 2008

JUST IN: US Attorney General on Attorney Firings Listen today for announcement/report--Tune into NPR PM ET/Read Ari Shapiro

UPDATE--Watch for more...

Remember 1 year 12 days ago?

Alberto Gonzales resigns…effective Sept. 17, 2007 Here's what Bush said at that time:
Bush (was)lauding Gonzales for his “integrity, decency, and principle.” “Trusted adviser and close friend…After months of unfair treatment that has created harmful distraction at the Justice Dept, Gonzales decided to [resign]…It’s sad that…his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons…”

Good Name? Only for political reasons?

Prosecutor named to probe US attorneys' firings

By LAURIE KELLMAN and MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer 1 minute ago at 3:20 PM ET Sep 29, 2008

Attorney General Michael Mukasey named a prosecutor Monday to investigate whether former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, other Bush administration officials or Republicans in Congress should face criminal charges in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

The launching of a criminal inquiry follows the recommendation of internal Justice Department investigators who concluded that, despite denials of the administration, political considerations played a part in the firings of at least four of the federal prosecutors.

In their 358-page report, investigators said the lack of cooperation by senior officials at the White House and in the Justice Department left gaps in their findings that should be investigated further.

"Serious allegations involving potential criminal conduct have not been fully investigated or resolved," the report said, listing lying to investigators, obstruction of justice and wire fraud among the potential felony crimes.

Mukasey's appointment of Nora Dannehy, the acting U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to continue the inquiry leaves open the possibility that it won't be finished before President Bush leaves office in January.

Senators of both parties who led a congressional probe of the firings praised Mukasey's decision and cautioned Bush against pardoning anyone as he leaves the White House.

"The American people will see any misuse of the pardon power or any grant of clemency or immunity to those from his administration involved in the U.S. attorney firing scandal as an admission of wrongdoing," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

The report unsparingly criticized Bush administration officials, Republican members of Congress and their aides for the ousters, which touched off a scandal that stripped the Justice Department of its leadership and sparked a historic showdown in court.

The report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility Director Marshall Jarrett described Gonzales and his deputy, Paul McNulty as "remarkably disengaged" from the process that led to the dismissal of the prosecutors.

Monday's report was the latest to criticize Gonzales' management of the Justice Department during his 31 months as attorney general. Gonzales quit under fire in September 2007.

In a statement issued by his attorney, Gonzales said: "My family and I are glad to have the investigation of my conduct in this matter behind us and we look forward to moving on to new challenges."

Gonzales' attorney George Terwiller noted that the report found no unlawful conduct. "It seems rather odd," Terwilliger said, "that rather than bring the investigation to a close, the department would escalate the matter to the attention of a prosecutor."

U.S. attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president, but cannot be fired for improper reasons.

The report singled out the removal of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in New Mexico — one of the nine — as the most troubling. A leading Republican political figure in New Mexico, Sen. Pete Domenici, had complained about Iglesias' handling of voter fraud and public corruption cases, and that led to his firing, the report said.

Iglesias, who now works as a paid speaker and practices law part-time, said he thinks criminal investigations should be pursued against Domenici and anyone else who may have broken federal criminal laws. He said he had not yet seen the report.

"I've said all along that these moves were improper and illegal and now it appears that they were criminal as well," he said in an interview. "Our complaints weren't just complaints of disgruntled former employees."

A spokesmen for Domenici did not respond to requests for comment. He is leaving Congress at the end of the year.

Investigators said their inquiry of the firing of Iglesias and others was hampered by the lack of cooperation from Domenici, former White House adviser Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers, former Justice Department official Monica Goodling and other key witnesses.

The president's refusal to let Rove, Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten testify before Congress about the firings touched off a legal fight that is now before a federal appeals court. Most recently a judge ordered Miers to answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee about the firings.

The report concluded that Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was the person most responsible for developing the plan to fire the prosecutors and said that Sampson's comments to Congress, the White House and others were misleading.

Sampson and others claimed at first that the prosecutors' poor performance inspired their firings. But the 358-page report found that Bud Cummins, the U.S. Attorney in Arkansas, was forced out to make way for Timothy Griffin, who had previously been Rove's deputy in the White House political office.

It also said the dismissal of Todd Graves, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, probably resulted from pressure from the office of Republican Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond. Bond was upset that Graves did not intervene in a dispute between the staffs of Bond and Republican Rep. Sam Graves, the prosecutor's brother, the report said.

A spokeswoman for Bond did not immediately return a call for comment.

Investigators found no evidence that Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton and U.S. Attorney Carol Lam of San Diego were fired for prosecuting Republican members of Congress.

Similarly, the report says Justice Department officials had legitimate concerns about the work of two other prosecutors who were fired — Margaret Chiara of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Kevin Ryan of San Francisco.


On the Net:

Justice Department report:

(This version CORRECTS that Wilson was not named in the report as having complained about Iglesias.))

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Brief Recap: THE REPORT


JUST HOW "SPECIAL" IS SHE? From fellow home news analyst Keith L.:

We've been debating internally the propriety of referring to Nora Dannehy, whom Michael Mukasey appointed this morning to investigate the U.S. attorneys purge, as a "special prosecutor." The New York Times uses the phrase, as have we intermittently.

But the truth of the matter is that the term "special prosecutor" has a specific meaning in DOJ regulations. Nora Dannehy has not been appointed pursuant to those regs (neither, as I understand it, was Patrick Fitzgerald, even though he was often referred to as "special prosecutor" in the Plame case).

Under the DOJ regs, the attorney general is to appoint a special prosecutor when:

(a) That investigation or prosecution of that person or matter by a United States Attorney's Office or litigating Division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances; and

(b) That under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.

You would certainly think those circumstances present themselves here and virtually scream for an outside attorney to lead this case. But the attorney general has concluded otherwise.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), for one, isn't happy with the attorney general's decision to keep the investigation in-house.
--David Kurtz

Justice Correspondent, Washington Desk: Ari Shapiro Photo: Jacques Coughlin (20060

WATCH FOR SHAPIRO'S REPORT EVE ON NPR dot org -- transcript should be available by Tuesday. Reference Shapiro on this story along with Bill of Rights Defense Committee dot org slash news daily this week...

Ari Shapiro, NPR's award-winning justice correspondent, reports on the Department of Justice and national legal affairs for all of NPR's newsmagazines, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered. His recent reporting has focused on legal controversies over national security issues, including domestic surveillance, interrogation policies, and access to federal courts by enemy combatants. He has also been a guest host for NPR's news and talk programs.

Based in Washington, D.C., Shapiro travels extensively to investigate and report on legal issues across the country, ranging from jury service and attorney-client privilege to indigent defense and mental health courts. The first NPR reporter to be made a correspondent before age 30, Shapiro has received the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award for his coverage of New Orleans' disordered legal system following Hurricane Katrina and the Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize for his investigation of methamphetamine use and HIV transmission. In 2008, the Columbia Journalism Review honored Shapiro with a "laurel" for excellent reporting on his investigation of disability benefits for injured veterans at an Army base in upstate New York.

Before he began covering the Department of Justice in 2005, Shapiro investigated abuses of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and covered the legal proceedings against American soldiers accused of the abuses. As a regional reporter for NPR in Miami, he covered the 2004 Atlantic hurricanes and subsequent allegations of wasteful spending by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

A magna cum laude graduate of Yale, Shapiro began his journalism career in 2001 in the office of legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. He was subsequently awarded NPR's reporter training fellowship and reported locally for member station WBUR in Boston. Shapiro was born in Fargo, North Dakota, and grew up in Portland, Oregon.

No Grand Jury for Gonzales
Report to Call for Continued Probe of U.S. Attorneys' Firings

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 29, 2008; A02

Former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales will not be referred to a federal grand jury for his role in the 2006 firings of nine U.S. attorneys, but a long-awaited report to be released today will recommend that a prosecutor continue to probe the involvement of lawmakers and White House officials in the episode, according to two people familiar with the case.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility Director H. Marshall Jarrett, who wrote the report, will not absolve department officials of blame but will recommend that efforts to resolve unanswered questions continue, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the findings had not been made public.

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey is preparing to name a prosecutor from within the department to address the questions, ensuring that the politically charged issue will extend into the next administration, the sources said. An intense effort to determine how the firing plan originated and whether perjury or obstruction-of-justice laws were violated in refusing to reveal the basis for the dismissals has been thwarted, partly because investigators lack the power to compel testimony from people outside the department. Some of those officials could have played a critical role in recommending that specific prosecutors be fired.

In their 18-month review, investigators sifted through thousands of documents and interviewed scores of people to test the reasons that department leaders offered for the prosecutors' dismissals. They also set out to determine whether the prosecutors were sacked in an improper attempt to influence particular cases.

The basis for the dismissals is the subject of a tug of war between Congress and the executive branch. This year, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee sued to seek documents and testimony from former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and from President Bush's chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten. A federal appeals court in Washington is deliberating the case. Meanwhile, the House panel recently voted to hold former presidential adviser Karl Rove in contempt for refusing to answer questions about the firings.

The political heat intensified last year amid more than half a dozen congressional hearings into the issue. Ultimately, 19 Justice Department officials in Washington resigned.

Current and former lawyers in the department, however, said criminal charges against Gonzales, who stepped aside in August 2007, were unlikely absent the emergence of new e-mails or witness accounts that directly contradict his statements about the firings.

Monica M. Goodling, who served as the department's White House liaison, told Congress last year that she felt "uncomfortable" during a March 2007 conversation with Gonzales that focused on her recollections of the circumstances surrounding the dismissals. Her account of the meeting prompted lawmakers to accuse Gonzales of improperly trying to influence her testimony. He denied the allegations, saying he was only trying to comfort a distraught employee. Goodling is one of several former aides who declined to be interviewed by investigators, who lack the power to issue subpoenas.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers challenged Gonzales's truthfulness in a series of hostile hearings in the summer of 2007. The sessions highlighted his inability to remember key meetings, e-mails and memos laying out plans for the dismissals. Gonzales, who has not landed full-time legal work since his resignation, told Congress that he delegated many decisions to his subordinates and should have exercised more oversight.

"We are gratified that the report apparently verifies . . . that Judge Gonzales's action in the removal of certain U.S. Attorneys was proper and appropriate," said George J. Terwilliger III, Gonzales's attorney.

U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and can be fired for any reason. But contradictory explanations for the dismissals, and the steady release of internal e-mails suggesting the plan had evolved over two years in consultation with White House officials, damaged the department's reputation and credibility. The report will sift through all of the conflicting data about prosecutors who found themselves on lists prepared by D. Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Gonzales.

Among the most closely watched of the cases is one involving former New Mexico U.S. attorney David C. Iglesias, who says he received troubling phone calls from GOP Sen. Pete V. Domenici and Republican Rep. Heather A. Wilson about the status of a criminal corruption probe against a prominent local Democrat shortly before the 2006 elections. In April, the Senate Ethics Committee admonished Domenici, who is retiring.

Investigators failed in their attempts to interview lawmakers, their assistants or former White House aides. As a result, they asked Mukasey to continue the probe by appointing a prosecutor.

Despite calls from some of the fired U.S. attorneys, Mukasey has not named a special prosecutor from outside the department. He intends to hand over the project to a career prosecutor with experience in public corruption work, the sources said.

Earlier this year, Mukasey tapped a veteran federal prosecutor from Connecticut to investigate the destruction of CIA videotapes that depicted the interrogation of prisoners suspected of ties to al-Qaeda. In that case, the attorney general said more inquiry was needed to determine whether laws had been broken but warned that criminal charges would not necessarily follow.

Mukasey is expected to adopt a similar approach in the case of the U.S. attorneys' firings, picking a career prosecutor who will report to the Justice Department's second in command.

Any documents and interviews that are gathered by the career prosecutor presumably will be covered under federal grand jury and investigative protections, keeping them under wraps for months, until after Bush leaves office.
The following is based on this CRUCIAL report ( blogger plans to provide hyper-links to this & others by late Wed...please come back & send your items to Connie L. Nash
@ ):

Prosecutor Named In U.S. Attorney Firing Probe
By Kate Klonick - September 29, 2008, 11:09AM

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has appointed Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut as prosecutor in the continued investigation of the removal of nine U.S. attorneys.

The appointment comes at the request of a report released today by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility.

According to her biography on the Justice Department webpage, Dannehy became an acting U.S. attorney in April of this year. Prior to her appointment, she served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Connecticut District for 17 years and served as a Professional Responsibility Officer.

Also see...

Mark Wilson Photo

The Justice Department concludes that Monica Goodling, senior counsel to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wrongly considered political and ideological affiliations when hiring. Getty Images

A Justice Department report finds that aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales illegally discriminated against job applicants who weren't Republican or conservative loyalists. The report concludes that politics illegally influenced the hiring of career prosecutors and immigration judges.
Legal Affairs
Justice Dept.'s Hiring Tactics Illegal, Report Says

by Ari Shapiro

Justice IG Report AUDIO AT NPR

* Read The July 28 Report (PDF)

The Justice Department concludes that Monica Goodling, senior counsel to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wrongly considered political and ideological affiliations when hiring.

All Things Considered, July 28, 2008 · An internal Justice Department investigation released Monday has concluded that senior officials broke the law by hiring immigration and other officials based on partisan considerations. The report — issued by the inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility — culminates an investigation that lasted more than a year, stemming from the firing of seven U.S. attorneys in one day in 2006.

The report focuses on some of the senior officials in the circle of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Specifically, the report names senior counselor and White House liaison Monica Goodling and Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. Both have left the department. Another official, John Nowacki, still works at the Justice Department, and the report recommends disciplining him for knowingly issuing false press statements.

The report concludes that Goodling, Sampson and others broke the law by considering political and ideological affiliations in selecting immigration judges, federal prosecutors and other candidates for jobs that are supposed to be free from politics.

According to the report, Goodling would regularly ask job applicants:

"What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?"

"Aside from the president, give us an example of someone currently or recently in public service who you admire."

"Why are you a Republican?"

One applicant told investigators that when he told Goodling he admired Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Goodling frowned and commented, "But she's pro-choice."

According to the report, Goodling knew that what she was doing was wrong. She would give career applicants questionnaires that were only supposed to be for political jobs. If the applicant pointed it out, she would say it was a mistake and take away the questionnaire.

"This is the way you ruin a really stellar government agency," former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who served during the Clinton administration, told NPR. "The credibility of the Department of Justice depends on the American people understanding and believing that the process for administration of justice is completely nonpartisan, and when you undermine that, you grievously harm the American people."

Goodling's attorney, Jeffrey King, released a statement saying: "Each and every one of the core conclusions of the OIG/OPR report released today is consistent with, and indeed derived from, Ms. Goodling's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee."

The report says Goodling screened hundreds of job applicants in many different parts of the Justice Department.

One experienced counterterrorism prosecutor did not get a job in Washington because his wife was a Democrat. As a result, the report says, a much less experienced but politically acceptable attorney was assigned to handle counterterrorism issues.

The inspector general also concluded that Goodling ousted Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie A. Hagen from her assignment in Washington and blocked her from other positions based on Goodling's belief that Hagen was a lesbian.

NPR first broke that story last spring. Hagen's lawyer, Lisa Banks, told NPR that Goodling's actions were devastating to Hagen's career. "She's a 20-year prosecutor with an unblemished record of excellent performance [and] departmental awards, and when Monica Goodling and this administration believed that she might be gay, all of a sudden her career was completely derailed," Banks says.

Goodling was not the only one responsible for politicized hiring. According to the report, Kyle Sampson took the lead on hiring immigration judges. He was the attorney general's chief of staff, and he treated immigration judges as political appointments instead of the career jobs that they are, taking recommendations from the White House and other Republican officials.

Crystal Williams, of the American Immigration Lawyers' Association, said the report's findings are not a surprise to those who've been watching the changing profile of the country's immigration courts.

"We've seen some people who perhaps were very helpful in the Florida elections in 2000 and who really have no other qualifications or knowledge of immigration who might be sitting in an immigration judge position now," Williams says.

In a press release, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he was disturbed by the report's findings.

"I have said many times, both to members of the public and to department employees, it is neither permissible nor acceptable to consider political affiliations in hiring of career department employees," Mukasey said. He also noted that the Justice Department has made many institutional changes to remedy the problems discussed in the report and will make more.

Today's report says Attorneys General Alberto Gonzales and John Ashcroft were not aware that Goodling, Sampson and others were breaking the law.

One senior Justice official who worked very closely with Goodling reacted to the report this way: "I didn't realize how widespread Monica's activity was, or how she got away with it. She was definitely on a mission. I had no clue."

Related NPR Stories

Nov. 2, 2007
Ex-Official Who Fired U.S. Attorneys Speaks Out
Nov. 10, 2007
Ex-U.S. Attorneys Continue To Scrutinize Gonzales
April 15, 2008
Justice Inquiry Centers On Dismissal, Gay Rumors

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