in­quiry con­cludes ’06 ouster po­lit­i­cal, not a crim­i­nal act

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Apuzzo and Pete Yost

Pros­e­cu­tors de­cline to file charges stem­ming from U.S. at­tor­ney’s fir­ing in 200

WASHINGTON — The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Jus­tice Depart­ment’s ac­tions were in­ap­pro­pri­ately po­lit­i­cal, but not crim­i­nal, when it fired a U.S. at­tor­ney in 2006, pros­e­cu­tors said Wed­nes­day in clos­ing a two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion with­out fil­ing charges.

The de­ci­sion closes the books on one of the lin­ger­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­putes of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, one that Democrats said was ev­i­dence of GOP pol­i­tics run amok and that Repub­li­cans have said was a man­u­fac­tured con­tro­versy.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors looked into whether the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion im­prop­erly dis­missed nine U.S. attorneys, and in par­tic­u­lar U.S. At­tor­ney David Igle­sias in New Mex­ico, as a way to in­flu­ence crim­i­nal cases. The scan­dal added to crit­i­cism that the ad­min­is­tra­tion had politi­cized the Jus­tice Depart­ment, a charge that con­trib­uted to the res­ig­na­tion of At­tor­ney Gen­eral Al­berto Gon­za­les.

In 2008, the Jus­tice Depart­ment as­signed Nora Dan­nehy, a ca­reer pros­e­cu­tor from Con­necti­cut with a his­tory of root­ing out govern­ment wrong­do­ing, to in­ves­ti­gate the fir­ings.

“Ev­i­dence did not demon­strate that any pros­e­cutable crim­i­nal of­fense was com­mit­ted with re­gard to the re­moval of David Igle­sias,” the Jus­tice Depart­ment said in a let­ter to law­mak­ers Wed­nes­day. “The in­ves­tiga­tive team also de­ter­mined that the ev­i­dence did not war­rant ex­pand­ing the scope of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­yond the re­moval of Igle­sias.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion did find that Gon­za­les made a “se­ries of state­ments’” that were “in­ac­cu­rate and mis­lead­ing” about the fir­ings, but pros­e­cu­tors said there was in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to charge some­one with ly­ing to Congress or in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Igle­sias was fired af­ter the head of New Mex­ico’s Repub­li­can Party com­plained to the White House that Igle­sias was soft on voter fraud. He asked that Igle­sias be re­placed so that the state could “make some real progress in clean­ing up a state no­to­ri­ous for crooked elec­tions.”

Harriet Miers, then White House coun­sel, told law­mak­ers that pres­i­den­tial po­lit­i­cal ad­viser Karl Rove was “very ag­i­tated” over Igle­sias “and wanted some­thing done about it.” Rove has said he played no role in de­cid­ing which U.S. attorneys were fired, that the fir­ings weren’t po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and that he never sought to in­flu­ence prose­cu­tions.

Dan­nehy faulted the Jus­tice Depart­ment for fir­ing Igle­sias with­out even both­er­ing to fig­ure out whether com­plaints about him were true.

That in­di­cated “an un­due sen­si­tiv­ity to pol­i­tics on the part of DOJ of­fi­cials who should an­swer not to par­ti­san pol­i­tics but to prin­ci­ples of fair­ness and jus­tice,” the Jus­tice Depart­ment wrote in its let­ter. But that wasn’t a crime, the let­ter said.

Gon­za­les’ lawyer, Ge­orge Ter­williger, called the con­clu­sion long over­due.

“Those who made un­war­ranted al­le­ga­tions to the con­trary owe him an apol­ogy,” Ter­williger said. “Af­ter hav­ing spent months co­op­er­at­ing with in­quiries that pro­duced no ev­i­dence of his wrong­do­ing, Judge Gon­za­les is pleased to be free to re­sume a ca­reer marked to date by ser­vice to the pub­lic.”

For­mer Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., also be­came a fo­cus of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause he made three phone calls to the at­tor­ney gen­eral and one to Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Paul McNulty com­plain­ing about Igle­sias. McNulty didn’t men­tion Domenici’s phone calls when ques­tioned by Congress, lead­ing to ac­cu­sa­tions of a cover-up.

The Se­nate Ethics Com­mit­tee has said that Domenici cre­ated an ap­pear­ance of im­pro­pri­ety with a phone call to Igle­sias to pres­sure him to bring charges in a case be­fore Elec­tion Day 2006.

Dan­nehy con­cluded that Domenici’s push to have Igle­sias fired was in part po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated but didn’t vi­o­late the law.

Jake Schoel­lkopf

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cludes that the 2006 ouster of U.S. At­tor­ney David Igle­sias was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated but not crim­i­nal.

Al­berto Gon­za­les was at­tor­ney gen­eral when the fir­ings oc­curred.

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