A report to be made public tomorrow morning by the Justice Department detailing findings of its investigation into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys will say that the efforts of investigators were severely stymied in large part by the lack of cooperation by some Bush administration officials and others outside the Department, according to sources who have seen the report.
The investigation was conducted jointly by the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG) and the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR.) Both of those internal watchdogs have no potential prosecutorial power, but can make recommendations that career prosecutors take up their work after they finish their final report. It is unclear whether Attorney General Michael Mukasey will do so.
Despite the fact that its efforts were stymied in part by non-cooperation by witnesses, the report will say- not much of a surprise-that several of the firings were due to the politicization of the Justice Department by Bush administration appointees and that the White House played a role in some of them. Investigators did attempt to do as thorough job as possible in investigating the White House’s role in the firings and were assisted by being able to review some confidential White House emails that the White House had been withholding from Congress.
The report might also touch on efforts by senior Justice Department officials to intimidate several of the fired U.S. attorneys from talking to the press or testifying to Congress about their firings, according to five people interviewed by investigators– including three former U.S. attorneys. (Only one former U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins of Little Rock, would say this for the record. And I should aslo qualify what I just wrote regarding the intimidation issue that I am basing what I say in this one instance based on witnesses to the investigation, rather than to anyone who has read the report.)
The lack of cooperation by some former Bush administration officials with investigators probing the firings of nine U.S. attorneys is not the first time that former administration officials have thwarted investigators probing the politicization of the Justice Department by refusing to answer their questions.
As I first reported on the Huffington Post in August, several former political appointees of the Justice Department’s refused to answer questions posed to them by the Department’s Inspector General about the politicization of the Civil Rights Division.
As a result, a federal grand jury subpoenaed several of the former senior Justice Department attorneys to compel them to testify.
The grand jury had been investigating allegations that a former senior Bush administration appointee in the Civil Rights Division, Bradley Schlozman, gave false or misleading testimony on a variety of topics to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sources close to the investigation identified two former Justice Department attorneys, Hans von Spakovsky, who as a former counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights was a top aide to Schlozman, and Jason Torchinsky, who was also a Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Torchinsky was subpoenaed only as a witness in the case.
The non-cooperation by some Bush administration officials in the broader investigation into the firings of the U.S. attorneys might have thwarted some efforts by investigators to determine the entire truth about the firings. But because of that non-cooperation, according to attorneys closely following the matter, Attorney General Michael Mukasey is much more likely to allow career federal prosecutors to continue on with the work begun with the Inspector General.
Update: What to look for tomorrow: Apparently, the Inspector General and OPR want a prosecutor with subpoena authority to continue their investigation along. That is for two reasons: The Inspector General and OPR do not have prosecutorial authority. And they have been unable to compel testimony from witnesses outside the Justice Department.
This story posted online today by the Washington Post asserts that Mukasey is likely to name a career prosecutor to continue on with the investigation. However, the story appears to be a preemptive move by senior political appointees in the Department to close down discussion of appointing a special prosecutor instead.
If the report goes into a lot of detail about involvement by White House officials in the firings– or more importantly says that there are a number of important unresolved issues about the role of White House officials or politically connected officials with ties to the White House in the firings– then the case for naming a special prosecutor would be more compelling. This leak to the Post tonight appears to be an attempt to close down that debate before the issue before anyone has even read a single page of the report.
Second update: The NYT has also since posted online a story about the forthcoming report. But unlike the Post, they do not entirely take the spin that all will be well if a career prosecutor takes over the matter of continuing on with the probe instead of a special prosecutor being named. In particular, this excerpt from the Times story is especially pertinent :
One central question is the role officials at the White House, including Mr. Rove and Ms. Miers, played in the firings. But Paul K. Charlton, who was fired as United States attorney in Arizona after clashing with supervisors in Washington over a number of policies and investigations, said he was concerned that the inspector general’s limited jurisdiction and the White House’s refusal to turn over key records might have stymied the investigation.
The inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility, which conducted a joint investigation, have kept their findings under tight guard before the public release, declining to discuss any details with central players in the investigation or their lawyers. “It’s been a lockdown,” one defense lawyer said.
To look for tomorrow as the day progresses: What Rep. John Conyers (D-Mi.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have to say about Mukasey most likely not naming a special prosecutor.