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DOJ vs. DOJ: Two Views on the U.S. Attorney Firings

Almost exactly two months apart, two different Justice Department officials (one current, one former) appeared before the same House subcommittee in the same room in the Rayburn office building to talk about the same topic -- the performance of U.S. attorneys.

On March 6, William E. Moschella, the principal associate deputy attorney general, laid out the official reasons for the firings of six of the eight U.S. attorneys who were dismissed last year.

Yesterday, former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, whose job for more than two years included overseeing the U.S. attorneys, also appeared before the Judiciary subcommittee conducting the investigation into the firings and painted a dramatically different picture of those U.S. attorneys.

The federal prosecutors in question were the half dozen who testified before the House Judiciary's commercial and administrative law subcommittee the same day in March that Moschella appeared, becoming the fulcrum for the controversy. For junkies of this scandal, Capitol Briefing has laid out what Moschella and Comey said about those six prosecutors in their separate appearances.

Here are Moschella's explanations for the firings, followed by Comey's impressions of the prosecutors:


Moschella: "The general sense in the department about Mr. Bogden is that, given the importance of the district, in Las Vegas, there was no particular deficiency. There was interest in seeing renewed energy and renewed vigor in that office, really taking it to the next level."

Comey: "He is as straight as a Nevada highway, and a fired-up guy. ... We chose places to [start a violent crime impact program] that were experiencing a spike in violent crime. But not every place that was experiencing a spike in violent crime; we wanted to put it where we had a fired-up U.S. attorney who could watch over it and make it work. ... [Six months later] he had made tremendous strides on violent crime."


Moschella: "Mr. Charlton had undertaken in his district a policy with regard to the taping of FBI interviews and set a policy in place there that had national ramifications ... and that was just completely contrary to the way policy development occurs in the Department of Justice. Furthermore, on the death penalty, we have a process. ... Mr. Charlton in a particular case, was told, and was authorized to seek [the death penalty] in a particular case. He chose instead to continue to litigate after that long and exhaustive process."

Comey: "I thought he was a very strong U.S. attorney; one of the best. ... Paul Charlton was a very experienced -- still is -- very smart, very honest and able person. And I respected him a great deal and would always listen to what he had to say. ... And, as I recall, Mr. Charlton called me [on a death-penalty case] and talked to me and said, 'I've got to get you to take another look at that, let me explain why', and made a very convincing case. And my recollection is that he turned me around on it."


Moschella: "Mr. Cummins's situation has been well documented. His was not for performance-based reasons."

Comey: "I knew him; knew he was a very pleasant fellow. But he and his district had not crossed my radar screen, which, from the deputy's perspective, is actually a very good thing. Bad things tend to reach the deputy, and so, if you didn't reach me, you must be doing OK."


Moschella: "The district was in need of greater leadership. ... Mr. Iglesias had delegated to his first assistant the overall running of the office. And, quite frankly, U.S. attorneys are hired to run the office."

Comey: "He was, sort of, the Bogden of New Mexico: very straight, very able. ... Albuquerque experienced dramatic drop in homicides in particular and shootings. ...I've read in the paper that he was supposedly away to do service in the Navy, because he was a reservist. ... And if a U.S. attorney was away to serve his country as a Navy reservist, it's not something that I as DAG would have held against him, certainly."


Moschella: "She only beat out Guam and the Virgin Islands in [gun prosecutions]. On immigration ... her numbers for her border district just didn't stack up. The President of the United States, this administration has made immigration reform a priority, and those in these border districts have a responsibility there and to the rest of the country to vigorously enforce those laws."

Comey: "[Numbers of gun prosecutions] tells you nothing in a vacuum. ... I thought she was a fine U.S. attorney. I never had experience with insubordination with her. My encounters were perfectly pleasant. My only substantive encounter, as I said, was in connection with our gun discussion."


Moschella: "The department really had policy differences and were concerned with the manner in which he went about advocating particular policies. ... He spent quite a considerable amount of time advocating for a particular [information sharing] system, basically advocating that the Justice Department give our 'Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval' for this particular system."

Comey: "John McKay was one of my favorites. ... He cared about something I cared an awful lot about, which was information-sharing. And he and I both believed that it was absurd that our children could Google and touch billions of pieces of information, but someone chasing a serial rapist could only find out if other police departments had seen a green car by calling every police department and asking if they'd seen a green car. .. So I worked with him pretty closely. I was inspired by him, and thought he had a terrific idea and was making a real difference with this [information-sharing] program."

Capitol Briefing invites you to be the judge -- er, committee member -- and decide which of the two officials you believe. Sound off in the comments section below.

By Paul Kane  |  May 4, 2007; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Hearing Watch  
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Once again, the administration's lies about this scandal are coming to light. However, the issue is not merely who told what to whom, which tends to trivialize the significance of the scandal, but the larger implications. Simply put, what is involved here is the administration's attempt to whip the DOJ into line to help win elections, just as it once whipped the CIA in line to help with the invasion of Iraq. The Bush/Cheney administration is about nothing but power, which it will do anything to consolidate, and to hell with deomocracy.

Posted by: algaselex | May 4, 2007 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Not even close. Comey is much more credible given his reputation and the honesty and candor that he exhibited in front of the committee. How refreshing was it to see a DOJ official who didn't spin or exhibit an awful memory.

Posted by: annb | May 4, 2007 8:18 AM | Report abuse

This scandal is about nothing other than the administration's drive for absolute power, even at the expense of democracy. The DOJ is being whipped into line to use the criminal justice system solely to win elections for the Republicans, just as the CIA was whipped into line to distort intelligence in order to justify the invasion of Iraq, and just as John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz were bullying the rest of the world on behalf of George W. Bush at the UN and the World Bank. As was the case in ancient Rome, we Americans have to ask ourselves whether we want a republic or an emperor.

Posted by: Roger Algase | May 4, 2007 8:19 AM | Report abuse

This scandal is one more reason why the impeachment of Bush/Cheney should be considered very seriously. Why not begin with Gonzales? If lying to Congress, particularly about a matter as important as turning the entire federal criminal justice system into a kind of Soviet-style KGB, responsible only for prosecuting political opponents and minority voters in order to win elections, and complete with its own purges of oficials who do not tow the party line, is not an impeachable offense, then what is?

Posted by: Semakweli | May 4, 2007 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Sorry for misspelling the word officials in my previous comment.

Posted by: Semakweli | May 4, 2007 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Ditto for my misspelling of the word democracy.

Posted by: Roger Algase | May 4, 2007 8:34 AM | Report abuse

So according to Moschella, they let McKay go because he was passionate about improving their ability to communicate efficiently? It would seem that this should not have been a policy difference. If the DOJ was opposed to this, it implies that they were a proponent of disorganized inefficient information gathering.

Posted by: Nite | May 4, 2007 8:36 AM | Report abuse

The Philadelphia Inquirer, today, published an article about Specter's take on Gonzales' future as AG. To paraphrase Specter's response to a question about why he hasn't called for Gonzales to resign, he said essentially that the President is so immature that he will refuse to ask for Gonzales' resignation so long as Congress demands it. Can we please all agree to never, ever vote spoiled little rich pricks into the oval office again? (Not that we had that option with Bush v Gore or Bush v Kerry.)

Posted by: Patrick Huss | May 4, 2007 8:53 AM | Report abuse

One of the amazing aspects of this business is the lack of comment by Krauthammer, Will, Novak, etc. It is unbelievable to me that they have become such party hacks that they will stand by and allow this brazen political power grab and corruption of the DOJ to go unremarked.

Posted by: Kim | May 4, 2007 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Is there any evidence whatsoever that Gore fit the "spoiled little rich prick" category? If not, let's not say it or we're falling into the same pattern as the current occupants of the DOJ leadership slots.

Posted by: blipper | May 4, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

lets assume for the moment, even though I disagree, that Gore and Kerry were in the same category as Dubya of "spoiled little rich pricks." That still would not mean "we had no choice," which is a pretty lame excuse. The country still could have chosen the actually COMPETENT spoiled little rich prick over the one that bragged about being a C-student, and who had run every company he'd managed into the ground. Predictably, he's now done the same to the United States. We had a choice. And come to think of it, in 2000, the public chose Gore.

Posted by: zg | May 4, 2007 10:33 AM | Report abuse

It's obvious that William Moschella adheres to the belief that party loyalty trumps justice. Like many Republicans, Mr. Moschella is ethically challenged. I stand in mortal fear of those who are currently running our government because they do not have any ethical boundaries; only power matters.

Posted by: Gardenia | May 4, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

IT all comes down to loyalty. Bush loved the way Gonzales conveniently forgot everything. Can you imagine a manager firing subordinates on a list--and he cannot remember where the list came from? This is ridiculous. Bush rewards loyalty above all else. Why did he stick with Rummy for so long? Why did he pick Harriet Miers? The current administration has little concern for democracy or law, just a thirst for more power. Unfortunately, most Americans cannot see it.

Posted by: Paul | May 4, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

James Comey wasn't involved in the firing of the prosecutors; he has no motive to prevaricate.

William Moschella was and does.

Comey wins the credibility contest hands down.

Posted by: NTB | May 4, 2007 12:05 PM | Report abuse

is it just me or has anyone else wonder about the firing of the USA in LITTLE ROCK in order to put Rove's hand picked puppet in place just in time to, oh, I don't know...just maybe jumpstart the corpse of Whitewater for HRC's run in '08? Anybody?
Anybody at all??

Posted by: flyonthewall | May 4, 2007 1:41 PM | Report abuse

The President has the right to fire an AG if he doesn't like the way he plays tidliwinks.
All the rest of this is political crap.
Try telling your boss he can't fire you; because it "might be political!?"

Posted by: PoliticalHOOHAH | May 4, 2007 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Linda Sanchez for president, she ran a hell of a hearing, her sister Loretta should be proud. when those Dems defer to her, they know what they are doing, she's front and center. She could teach Henry Waxman a thing or two, as she even keeps her Republicans in line, which he could never and doesn't want to do. Hurray, Linda.

Posted by: cd | May 4, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

You should have also listed Gonzales' reasons for the firing of each. It was in his testimony.

Posted by: Rich Evans | May 4, 2007 3:54 PM | Report abuse

The really sad thing is that the only USAs that I have any respect for are all gone from the DoJ: Comey, Lam, McKay, Bogden, Charlton. My question is: what does that leave us? Who are the remaining USAs? Bush lackies, that`s who. I have no further faith in the concept of liberty and justice for all. There really is a vast right wing conspiracy.

Posted by: PJ White | May 4, 2007 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Time for a special prosecutor! The DOJ is so discredited that it should not have the power to investigate a robbery at a Dunkin Donuts!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2007 8:54 AM | Report abuse

A one party religious state run by graduates of religious schools like Pat Robertsons, Regent U. Prosecute the unbelivers. Romney was there trying to drum up support. He likes their loyalty to Bush, not the constitution. Gonzales handed over hiring and firing to a cleric? Keep Religion out of Government.

Posted by: thebob.bob | May 6, 2007 1:11 AM | Report abuse

The issue is not whether the Pres can fire a USA. No one questions that. The issue is the politicization of the DOJ. Secondary issues include whether the firings were related to specific investigations (i.e., to disrupt the investigations), and whether the motive was to push a clearly policical use of DoJ resources for the benefit of one political party. Both of the secondary issues create legal problems for the administration. To write off the investigation as being one of politics only is to say that the Watergate breakin was just about politics.

Posted by: jono1412 | May 6, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I agree, the USA needs to appoint a special prosecutor to the DOJ, they have indeed lost all crediability. The Bush administration has no crediability, zip.
The Republican Party has turned into the Party of Legions.

Posted by: Liberty | May 7, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Senator Specter is reluctant to demand that Bush fire Gonzales because Bush is too petulant and immature to do what congress demands. So, why isn't Specter preparing for impeachment? There is no more damning rational that Bush is profoundly unfit to be president. Why not remove him and Cheney right now?

Posted by: afgail | May 7, 2007 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Both Kerry and Gore have admirable histories of public service and military service whereas GWB served as Governor of Texas leaving in it in tough fiscal straights when the economy softened and then as President where he has increased the national debt, flattened wages, and decreased taxes for the rich. As a result I do not put Kerry and Gore in the category of being spoiled rich kids but I do put Bush in that category...he really believes in the power of the Cool Aid that he drinks

Posted by: Karl | May 8, 2007 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Level of threat to human safety should dictate what cases are prosecuted and what priority.

The thing that makes me want to gag the most, is how often Gonzales states, "US Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president." What nonsense!

The president doesn't determine public safety priorities on the local level, just to show off how much power wields under his thumb.

Bush threatens the public safety every day, making enemies around the world with his terrorist agenda. He's the last person on earth, I'd want in charge of my U.S. Attorney.

Someone should remind Bush et al, they serve at our pleasure. But in this instance I'd have to say he serves at our displeasure.

Posted by: Gab | May 9, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Oh boy, the wheels are coming off the bus....

Posted by: Demosthenes | May 9, 2007 12:55 PM | Report abuse

"The district was in need of greater leadership. ... Mr. Iglesias had delegated to his first assistant the overall running of the office. And, quite frankly, U.S. attorneys are hired to run the office."

So that's the reason Iglesias was fired, huh? In that case, isn't the AG supposed to be running the DoJ?

Posted by: jbw | May 9, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm not certain American's can't see it as much as they don't know what to do about it. This American talks to frustrated people every day and they all say the same thing but again, what do you do? How do you do it? We need a leader or someone with the power to stop the corruption. People like me get no where and haven't the influence to make any choices or difference. I try but never succeed. The only success I had was after sending a letter I took from the Faulkingtruth page and sending it to my reps just like the letter suggested people to do and my rep called me. I was so dumbfounded I didn't know what to say and regret it to this day. I believe the last 2 elections were won through voter box tampering and we never voted in the people we have running our offices to begin with. I suspect we haven't had a real election since before the crooks Daddy was in office. Who knows. I wish we could demand a physical count of votes. I'd volunteer to help count them. It would be nice if voting actually went back to the people's vote not an electorial decision. Any ideas of what to do would be greatly appreciated by many American's. Just getting our local news back on target so people are actually aware of this stuff would be a start. I've been told the news is owned by the same rich families that our govt works for. How do we get back the strength our Forefather's had?? People are starving for help and leadership.

Posted by: Kim | May 9, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

"The district was in need of greater leadership. ... Mr. Iglesias had delegated to his first assistant the overall running of the office. And, quite frankly, U.S. attorneys are hired to run the office."

Did he really say this with a straight face? Who are these people trying to kid?

Although to truly provide fair and balanced commentary; I'm not sure just how many, in Mr. Comey's words, "pleasant" people we need as US Attorneys. I would hope there are more important qualifications that "pleasant. By that standard I could be USA

Posted by: Roger C. | May 9, 2007 6:53 PM | Report abuse

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