The U.S. Attorney Investigative Line-up Card
Investigations here, investigations there, investigations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales everywhere. You almost need a lineup card to keep track of all the investigations targeting the growing scandal at the Justice Department.
So, like a baseball manager handing in his batting order at the start of the game, Capitol Briefing presents a lineup card laying out the ongoing investigations of the Justice Department, those that have been proposed and those that might come down the pike. This summary focuses solely on those probes spawned by the congressional investigations into Justice's sacking of the nine U.S. attorneys last year.
1 - OSC. The Office of Special Counsel -- an obscure investigative unit that focuses on enforcing prohibitions against federal employees from doing partisan political work -- is investigating White House officials using e-mail accounts based out of the Republican National Committee. An offshoot of that investigation is examining the firing of David C. Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico. Justice Department officials have testified that Iglesias was fired because he was an "absentee landlord," giving his deputies too much responsibility. But Iglesias is a member of the military reserves, requiring him to be away for 30 to 40 days a year, and it's illegal to fire a federal employee because of his or her enlistment in the reserves.
2 - IG-OPR. Justice's Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility are conducting a joint probe into the U.S. attorney firings, allegations that Gonzales's top aides politicized the hiring process of career prosecutors and immigration judges, and whether Gonzales tried to steer the congressional testimony of one of his top aides in a conversation she has described as "uncomfortable." This is not a criminal probe, but the internal investigators could issue a ruling that requests one. Congressional Democrats consider this investigation the most important unknown element of the six-month-and-counting scandal.
3 - IG perjury. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) plans to request Justice's inspector general investigate whether Gonzales lied under oath in multiple appearances on Capitol Hill. In a brief interview with Capitol Briefing Wednesday, Leahy said he will give Gonzales a week to revise his testimony about a March 2004 White House meeting - which conflicts with several Democrats who were present, as well as FBI Director Robert Mueller - or else he'll request an IG perjury probe. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ranking member on Judiciary, opposed this route because he said this office is designed to look at internal ethics questions, not potential crimes.
4 - Special Prosecutor. Four Senate Democrats yesterday wrote to Solicitor General Paul Clement asking him, as acting attorney general because Gonzales has recused himself from decisions related to this investigation, to appoint an outside prosecutor similar to the prosecution of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby by Patrick J. Fitzgerald. The senators believe Gonzales's testimony this week, and in prior appearances, constituted perjury and should be prosecuted. But they want it done by someone from outside of main Justice to avoid the inherent conflicts of interest. For now such recommendations from Democrats probably carry little weight. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was the first lawmaker to call for a special counsel in the Libby-CIA leak probe, but it took more than five months before Fitzgerald was appointed . So this where the IG-OPR report could be critical. Should the IG-OPR probe say laws were likely broken, it may be impossible for the White House and Justice Department to avoid appointing a special prosecutor to examine the case. It's unknown how long it will take for the internal Justice investigation to be completed.
5 - Grand jury investigation. The House Judiciary Committee approved a contempt-of-Congress citation this week against White House Chief of Staff Joshua A. Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers for refusing to cooperate with its subpoenas in the panel's investigation. If no agreement is reached in coming weeks over West Wing testimony, the full House will vote and likely approve the criminal contempt charges in September. This will send the matter to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who by law "shall" convene a grand jury to consider criminal charges against Bolten and Miers. However, the Justice Department has said the White House's claim of executive privilege is valid and no U.S. attorney would prosecute a case based on a valid claim, short circuiting the process and keeping it out of federal courts.
6 - Domenici ethics. The Senate Ethics Committee, since early March, has been investigating Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) for his role in the Iglesias firing. Iglesias testified he received a call from Domenici in late October 2006 in which the senator asked if the prosecutor would bring a case against local Democrats before the election. Iglesias said no and Domenici hung up on him, and a week later Iglesias's name appeared on a firing list for the first time in the two-year process of drawing up the dismissal charts. Domenici has apologized for making the call but denied he said anything about the November elections. In private and public testimony, Gonzales and other Justice officials have repeatedly stated Domenici's lack of support for Iglesias - which was based solely on his lack of prosecutions of Democrats - as the main reason Iglesias was fired.
7 - Wilson ethics. There's no way for outsiders to know whether the House ethics committee is running a parallel investigation into the Iglesias dismissal, but there is ample evidence it could be doing so. Domenici's phone call came about 10 days after Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) called Iglesias and, according to the former prosecutor's testimony, asked about "sealed indictments". (She acknowledges the call, but denies making comments about indictments, which are the legal world's equivalent of classified intelligence.) Wilson had been attacking her opponent, a former state attorney general, for not vigorously prosecuting corrupt local Democrats and wanted the federal indictments against the same Albuquerque politicians as another attack on the state prosecutor. It was one of the closest races in the nation in 2006, with Wilson spending more than $4 million on a race she won by less than 900 votes. Top lawmakers on House ethics have declined to comment on whether they are examining whether Wilson, along with Domenic, improperly tried to pressure Iglesias for political gain.
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