Congress Probes Dismissals of U.S. Attorneys
An ex-chief of staff to a congressman, who's now a leadership aide, a congresswoman herself, and a senator all may have improperly intruded into investigations by several U.S. attorneys who were recently asked to resign by the Justice Department. And the department allegedly then tried to encourage six U.S. attorneys not to talk about their resignations publicly.
That is according to some eight hours of sworn testimony this weekunder subpoenabefore both the House and Senate by the six former attorneys. The group includes Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney in San Diego who was in charge of prosecuting then Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunnin gham, and David Iglesias of New Mexico, who was investigating corruption probes of Democratic lawmakers in the state.
Their testimony is part of an ever widening investigation by the Democratic-led Congress into the alleged politicization of the attorneys' office by the Justice Department and potential efforts to stymie public corruption investigations.
But U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, and it's unclear if anything illegal took place or what Congress can do at the end of its investigation.
A top aide at the Justice Department, William Moschella, acknowledged that the firings could have been handled better but maintained that the attorneys were let go for "reasons related to policy, priorities, and managementwhat has been referred to broadly as 'performance related' reasons." He testified about the reasons that each was let go, and later the six attorneys said that his testimony was the first time they were told exactly why.
"I finally today got an explanation why I was asked to step down," said David Bogden, former U.S. attorney in Nevada, who said the process has been "very traumatic."
"We should have told the U.S. attorneys the reasons," Moschella said after specifying in his testimony why each of the six was let go, ranging from an inadequate number of prosecutions of illegal immigrants and violent gun cases in Lam's situation to an alleged lack of leadership in Iglesias's. The attorneys attempted to bat down those reasons with statistics of their own or previous job performance kudos. Moschella said "it would be prudent" if in the future when attorneys are let go they are told the reason.
H. E. "Bud" Cummins, a former U.S. attorney in Arkansas, also disclosed an E-mail he had sent to the other fired attorneys in late February that expressed his concerns following a conversation with a Justice Department official, Mike Elston. In the E-mail, Cummins wrote: "If they feel like any of us intend to continue to offer quotes to the press, or organize behind the scenes congressional pressure, then they would feel forced to somehow pull their gloves off and offer public criticisms to defend their actions more fully."
Of the six U.S. attorneys terminated who testified, two have disclosed potential interference, or at least contact from elected officials that could be improper. John McKay, former Seattle U.S. attorney, testified that Edward Cassidy, chief of staff to Republican Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, contacted him regarding a potential inquiry into voter fraud in the state. Iglesias testified that he received phone calls from Rep. Heather Wilson and Sen. Pete Domenici, both New Mexico Republicans. Iglesias testified that Wilson called asking about sealed indictments in a public corruption case in the state.