Republicans air dirty linen in federal attorney ousters

first_imgArkansas’ Bud Cummins wrote to other fired prosecutors in an e-mail last month of a “message” conveyed by a Justice Department official that if they continued to talk with news reporters, the agency “would feel forced to somehow pull their gloves off” and fight back. John McKay, the fired U.S. attorney in Seattle, said he stopped a top aide to Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., from asking him detailed questions about an investigation into the disputed election of Washington state’s Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire in 2004. A Justice Department official, invited only to the House hearings, denied that any of the eight fired U.S. attorneys was improperly pressured or ousted to make room for Bush administration loyalists. Most of the firings were inspired by performance-related issues, he said. Carol Lam, former U.S. attorney for California’s San Diego-based Southern District, for example, was fired because her prosecution rate for violent crime and border violations was insufficient, William Moschella, an associate deputy attorney general, told a House subcommittee. New Mexico’s Iglesias was fired because he had delegated too much power to a deputy. Moschella’s accounting conflicts with performance reviews obtained by The Associated Press that give positive assessments to those later fired. WASHINGTON – A half-dozen fired prosecutors paraded across Capitol Hill on Tuesday airing Republicans’ dirty laundry – stories of GOP lawmakers seeking political prosecutions and Justice Department officials leaning on them to keep quiet. The Justice Department responded in kind, making public the reasons for each firing – details that until now agency officials had refused to disclose except to lawmakers, behind closed doors. Six of the eight prosecutors fired in recent months testified before the panels, and all alleged they had been fired without cause. Several described what they called improper pressure by Republicans on pending cases. New Mexico’s David Iglesias told lawmakers he felt pressed by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., last October to rush indictments against Democrats before Election Day in November. “This administration has never removed a United States attorney to retaliate against them. Not once,” Moschella said. “The department stands by its decision to ask these U.S. attorneys to resign.” A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said administration officials were aware of the impending firings and offered no objections. The administration’s defense took only a few moments in the daylong parade of fired federal prosecutors testifying first to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then to the House Judiciary subcommittee on commercial and administrative law. Their stories spanned states and legal issues, but they insisted they were not fired for poor performance. Administration claims to the contrary, several fired prosecutors said, inspired them to speak publicly. In perhaps the day’s most dramatic testimony, Iglesias told senators he felt sickened when Domenici hung up on him after being told that indictments in a corruption case against Democrats would not be handed up before the November elections. “He said, `Are these going to be filed before November?’ I said I didn’t think so – and to which he replied, `I’m very sorry to hear that.’ And then the line went dead,” Iglesias said. Iglesias said he received the call from Domenici at home on Oct. 26 or 27. “I felt leaned on. I felt pressured to get these matters moving,” Iglesias testified. Asked by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., whether such a call was unusual in Iglesias’ experience, the former prosecutor answered, “Unprecedented.” In a statement late Tuesday, Domenici said, “Neither I nor those who overheard my side of the brief conversation recall my mentioning the November election to him. I did not pressure him.” Democrats tried to assemble the anecdotes into a pattern of intimidation and obstruction by the Bush administration and two Republican lawmakers. “For over 150 years the process of appointing interim U.S. attorneys has worked well with virtually no problems,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “We need to assure that this kind of politicization of the U.S. attorney’s offices does not happen again.” Democrats contend the administration fired the prosecutors without cause in an effort to make way for and reward GOP allies. A Republican joined the criticism to some extent. “If the allegations are correct, then there has been serious misconduct in what has occurred in the terminations of these United States attorneys,” Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *