The Big Stone Wall: Nine Bush Era Senior Officials Refused to Cooperate with DOJ probes

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New piece out on Talking Points Memo:

At least nine Bush administration officials refused to cooperate with various Justice Department investigations during the final days of the Bush presidency, according to public records and interviews with federal law enforcement officials and many of the officials and their attorneys. In addition, two U.S. senators, a congresswoman, and the chief of staff to one of them, also refused to cooperate with the same investigations.

In large part because of that noncooperation, Justice Department officials sought criminal prosecutors in at least two cases so far to take over their investigations so that they can compel the testimony of many of those officials to testify through the use of a federal grand jury.

With the stakes now escalating for both sides — the possibility of grand jury subpoenas for recalcitrant witnesses and the specter of senior government officials invoking their Fifth Amendment right to self-incrimination — it remains unclear whether and how many of them will continue to defy investigators.

In one instance, an attorney for former Bush White House chief political strategist Karl Rove recently told TPMmuckraker that even though Rove had refused to cooperate with an earlier Justice Department inquiry into the firings by the Bush administration of nine U.S. attorneys, he would now fully cooperate with a federal grand jury that has been empanelled to hear evidence in the case. But most of the other former senior White House officials, as well as members of Congress and their staffs, declined to say for this article whether they have or will cooperate with the various federal criminal investigations.

Previously, two Justice Department watchdog offices, the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility conducted investigations of the firings of the U.S. attorneys and the politicization by the Bush administration of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. But those two offices do not have the power to compel the testimony of witnesses outside the department itself or to initiate criminal prosecutions. The Inspector General and OPR successfully sought the naming of a criminal prosecutor to take over their probes.

In a report that the Inspector General and OPR made public last September detailing the findings of their investigation of the prosecutor firings, they asserted that their investigation was severely “hampered… because key witnesses declined to cooperate with our investigation.”

In regard to the investigation of the politicization of the Civil Rights Division, investigators sought a criminal investigation in part because four Bush administration appointees refused to cooperate with their initial probe. Two other investigations by the Inspector General and OPR of the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program are also currently underway. It is unclear in those instances whether a criminal prosecutor might eventually take over those investigations as well.

In the case of the firings of the U.S. attorneys, Nora Dannehy, the acting U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, who took over the investigation from the Inspector General and OPR, recently empanelled a federal grand jury in Washington to hear evidence in the matter.

As TPMmuckraker recently disclosed, the federal grand jury probing the firings of nine U.S. attorneys is currently zeroing in on the role played by recently retired Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and former senior Bush White House officials in the firing of David Iglesias, a former U.S. attorney from New Mexico, according to legal sources familiar with the inquiry.

Last week, the Associated Press confirmed that story, reporting that the federal grand jury had subpoenaed records from Domenici and that Dannehy is also about to interview former Rove aide Scott Jennings, whose lawyer said he is cooperating to the “best of his ability.” Domenici’s attorney, K. Lee Blalock, after originally refusing to comment, and then suggesting to the New Mexico media that the TPMmuckraker report was incorrect, confirmed that the records of his client had in fact been subpoenaed. He also told the Santa Fe New Mexican earlier this month: “The investigation exists, but it is not focused on Senator Domenici to the exclusion of all others.”

But despite the fact that Domenici has already been severely criticized by two internal Justice Department watchdog agencies for refusing to answer questions from the Inspector General and OPR, Blalack is refusing to say whether he will cooperate with prosecutors conducting the current federal grand jury probe. The subpoena of Domenici’s records suggests that Domenici may not have voluntarily wanted to turn them over to authorities. Blalack declined to comment regarding this.

More:

Besides the members of Congress, Justice’s Inspector General and OPR said that their investigation was severely hampered because of the refusal of numerous Bush White House officials involved in the firings to cooperate with their investigation.

Among those named in the report who refused to cooperate with investigators, the report said, were Former White House political adviser Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley, and Associate White House Counsel Richard D. Klingler.

So will the four former Bush White House officials now cooperate with Dannehy or testify before the federal grand jury if subpoenaed?

Back to a favorite subject of this blog:

Another investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General has focused on misconduct by J. Robert Flores, the Bush administration’s former administrator of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Although little known outside the Justice Department, the OJJDP doles out more than a quarter of a billion in federal grants each year to decrease the number of juveniles in dangerous facilities and to prevent juvenile delinquency. Flores came under investigation by the Inspector General for allegedly setting aside federal laws and government regulations to award federal grants to political allies of the Bush White House and for also allegedly using federal travel funds to play golf.

During that investigation, Flores’ then-chief of staff, Michele DeKonty, took the Fifth Amendment rather than answer questions from Congress about the awarding of federal grants for political reasons, and similarly refused to be interviewed by the Justice Department’s Inspector General — leading to her immediate firing by then-Attorney General Michael Muksasey.

The Inspector General’s probe has reportedly since transformed into a criminal investigation. DeKonty’s attorney, David H. Laufman, declined to comment for this article as to whether his client has since cooperated with the criminal inquiry.

And finally:

In another investigation in which Justice’s Inspector General and OPR faced uncooperative witnesses — regarding the Bush administration’s politicization of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division — they also sought a criminal probe to compel testimony of officials and also to determine if there was any evidence of any crimes committed.

Four officials in that probe refused to cooperate with investigators as well– at least until a criminal prosecutor took over the probe and empaneled a federal grand jury.

Update:  Since I originally posted this story on TPM Muckraker, I learned that a tenth former Bush administration appointee at the Department of Justice refused to cooperate with a Justice Department inquiry of their conduct:  Monica Goodling, the former counselor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, refused to be interviewed by both the Justice Department’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility during their joint inquiry into the firings by the Bush administration of nine U.S. attorneys.  Goodling’s refusal to cooperate with the two Justice Department watchdog agencies was mentioned in their public report on the firings– a reference I missed when I wrote the TPM story.  

Related stories:

Murray Waas, “A U.S. Attorney’s Story,” the Atlantic, April 20, 2009.

Murray Waas, “The Ninth Man Out:  A Fired U.S. Attorney Tells His Story,”  Huffington Post, June 4, 2007.

Murray Waas, “Administration Withheld Emails About Rove,” National Journal, May 10, 2007.

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