Bush administration U.S. attorney firings controversy/Firings and activities of fired U.S. attorneys

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Note: This article covers the activities of the Bush administration and the fired U.S. attorneys up until their firings on December 7, 2006. See the main article on Bush administration U.S. attorney firings controversy for a full account of the controversy and investigations.

Contents

Bush administration fires eight U.S. attorneys

Just months after receiving new authority to replace U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation, the Bush administration fired eight U.S. attorneys. Most were fired on Thursday, December 7, 2006. [1] Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales acknowledged the firings during a January 18, 2007 Senate hearing, but insisted all were for performance reasons, and were in no way inspired by political motives. He stated “What we're trying to do is ensure that for the people in each of these respective districts, we have the very best possible representative for the Department of Justice…I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation. I just would not do it.” [2] The following is a list of the U.S. attorneys who were fired (or asked to resign) by the administration, as well as the interim replacement named for them:

Fired Attorney District Interim Replacement[3] Initial "Performance-related" Excuse for Firing[4]
Bud Cummins District of Arkansas Timothy Griffin Give experience to another
Kevin Ryan District of San Francisco Scott Schools None given
Daniel Bogden District of Nevada Steven Myhre Give experience to another; "take it to another level"
Carol Lam District of San Diego Karen Hewitt Not enough gun, immigration prosecutions
David Iglesias District of New Mexico Larry Gomez Delegated authority to his assistant
Paul Charlton District of Arizona Daniel G. Knauss Did not approve of his "taping conversations"
John McKay District of Washington state Jeffrey C. Sullivan Did not approve of the manner "in which he went about advocating particular policies"
Margaret Chiara District of Michigan (Western) Russell C. Stoddard None given

Mid-term firings of U.S. attorneys were highly unusual, according to CRS and McClatchy

According to a CRS report published in February 2007 in order to "to ascertain how often, prior to 2007, U.S. attorneys left office before completing their four-year terms without a change in presidential administration," U.S. attorneys appointed and confirmed by a presidential administration generally stay on for the entire length of the administration. Most of those that have voluntarily resigned before their term ended, however, cited personal reasons such as seeking other positions or did so amidst allegations of "questionable conduct." [5]

Many U.S. attorneys continue to serve after the administration leaves office. However, U.S. attorneys serve "at the pleasure of the president," meaning that the president has the right to terminate their appointments at any time. According to a McClatchy news article dated March 13, 2007, "mass firings of U.S. attorneys are fairly common when a new president takes office, but not in a second-term administration," as was the case with the George W. Bush firings. [6]

According to the CRS report, in the past 25 years, with the exception of the most recent eight, only two U.S. Attorneys have been "apparently dismissed by the President." Both cases were under the Reagan Administration. Reagan dismissed William Kennedy, US Attorney for the Southern District of California, in 1982, reportedly for asserting that the CIA had pressured DOJ to pressure him not to pursue a case. The second was in 1984 when President Reagan dismissed J. William Petro, US Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio for disclosing information about an indictment. Petro was later convicted of the charges.[7] Both are considered traditionally reasonable causes to be asked to resign. [8] Most of the other attorneys who resigned "explicitly indicated (in news reports or elsewhere) that their intent was to take a position with a law firm or as house counsel for a business." Only three resignations (all of which occurred under George W. Bush's administration) were given without explicitly stating, or having information to back, reasons for leaving.[9]

On March 13, 2007, McClatchy Newspapers published an article stating that the "current situation is distinct from Clinton firings of U.S. attorneys." The article further goes on to state that "nonetheless, Bush aide Dan Bartlett noted Clinton's first term firings in defending Bush's second term dismissals." [10]

Record by presidential administration:

  • Ronald Reagan: Dismissed all previously appointed attorneys en masse and replaced them upon assuming office. All of those attorneys who left office before completing their two four-year terms left for personal reasons, with the exception of the two mentioned above (Kennedy and Petro).[11]
  • George H.W. Bush: Kept appointees from the previous administration. Only one attorney's "resignations [was] the result of questionable conduct." Frank McNamara, Jr. resigned because he had “been the focus of heated dispute since the Justice Department announced in November [1988] that he was the target of an internal probe.”[12]
  • Bill Clinton: Dismissed all previously appointed attorneys en masse and replaced them upon assuming office. Those attorneys who left office before completing their two four-year terms left for personal reasons. Two of those "resignations were the result of questionable conduct." Larry Colleton resigned in 1994 after being videotaped grabbing a reporter by the throat, and Kendall Coffey resigned in 1996 amidst allegations of biting a topless dancer. [13]
  • George W. Bush: Did not dismiss all the attorneys en masse when he assumed office. Bush Allowed a few to continue in their positions for several months until he replaced with his own selections early in his administration. Bush dismissed eight U.S. attorneys on December 7, 2006, in the middle of their second terms, without citing reason. Three other attorneys resigned without either explicitly stating reasons or providing conclusive evidence as to what reasons were prompting their resignations.

Political corruption investigations led by Attorneys

The firing of the seven U.S. Attorneys raised questions about whether they were fired to stop investigations into high ranking Republican Party officials. In four states the fired Attorney had pursued an investigation into the activities of Republican Members of Congress, administration officials, and high ranking state officials. The idea that Attorneys were removed to stymie investigations of political figures looms over the Attorney firing scandal. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has stated that, "If any U.S. attorney were removed because of a public corruption investigation or prosecution, this could well comprise obstruction of justice."[14]

Carol Lam investigates Rep. Duke Cunningham, Rep. Jerry Lewis, Brent Wilkes, and K. Dusty Foggo

Lam began investigating Randy "Duke" Cunningham on June 6, 2005 after the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on the congressman's overvalued house sale to a connected defense contractor, Mitchell Wade. The investigation led to a series of revelations about Cunningham's misconduct as a government official that included that existence of a bribe "menu" matching the worth of earmarks Cunningham would insert into appropriations bills to bribe money a contractor could give to Cunningham. Cunningham and Wade plead guilty to multiple felonies and Cunningham was sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison, the longest sentence handed down to a sitting Member of Congress. Wade is still cooperating with prosecutors.

The revelations in the case led Lam to open investigations into the defense contractor and Republican fundraiser Brent Wilkes, Wilkes' best friend and the number three at the CIA, K. "Dusty" Foggo, and then-Appropriation chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA). On May 10, 2006, Lam told the Justice Department she intended to serve search warrants on Foggo, who had just resigned his post at the CIA. The next day, May 11, the Los Angeles Times reported that Lam's investigation into Cunningham had spread to Rep. Lewis.[15] That same day, Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff, wrote in an e-mail to the White House about "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."[16]

The day before Lam left her position she brought multiple indictments on felony charges against Foggo and Wilkes. The investigation into Jerry Lewis is ongoing. The FBI was investigating potential criminal wrongdoing on the part of Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA) at the time of Lam's departure.[17] Lam would have been in charge of leading the investigation at the Attorney's office had she not been fired.

On March 19, 2007, Think Progress reported on suspicious ties between the first contract that Mitchell Wade received and the purchase of a yacht for Duke Cunningham that may implicate White House officials in the congressman's corruption schemes. Wade's first contract was a one month $140,000 contract, July 15, 2002 to August 15, 2002, with the Office of the Vice President to provide office furniture and computers. Two weeks later on August 30, 2002, Wade purchased a $140,000 yacht for Cunningham with a cashier's check.[18] In September Wade was rewarded with a blanket $250 million contract from the General Services Administration to provide "specific computer services" to the Pentagon.[19]

Paul Charlton investigates Rep. Rick Renzi

In late October of 2006, two liberal blogs revealed, later confirmed by the Associated Press and the Washington Post, that U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton had opened an investigation into a land deal made by Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) and a business partner James Sandlin.[20] Days after this investigation came to light the New York Times reported that the Attorney's office had also opened an investigation into whether Renzi introduced legislation that benefited a military contractor who donated heavily to his campaigns and employs his father.[21]

Renzi was a top target of Democrats in the 2006 election and won a close election 51%-43%.[22] Since Charlton's abrupt departure there has been little revelation as to the status of these investigations.

Daniel Bogden investigates Rep. Jim Gibbons

On February 15, 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported that Daniel Bogden was investigating the newly elected Governor of Nevada, former-Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV), for allegedly accepting unreported gifts and/or payments from a campaign contributor and earmark recipient, Warren Trepp. The investigation examined the relationship between the former congressman and Trepp between the years 1997-2007). The Journal did not report when the investigation was opened. Bogden was since removed from his position as U.S. Attorney.[23][24]

Bud Cummins investigates Gov. Matt Blunt

In January of 2006, Cummins opened an investigation into "allegations that Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt had rewarded GOP supporters with lucrative contracts to run the state's driver's license offices." Cummins handled the case because the U.S. Attorney for Missouri recused themselves over conflict of interest concerns. Cummins states that he was told he would be fired in June as he was wrapping up the case. Cummins eventually brought no indictments against Gov. Blunt, the son of powerful Republican congressman Roy Blunt (R-MO). Cummins has since questioned whether he was fired for opening an investigation into a powerful Republican in a battleground state.[25]


Possible rules/legal violations by members of Congress

At the hearings, several of the fired attorneys said that they had been contacted by members of Congress and/or their staffs regarding ongoing investigations. These actions appeared to violate both House and Senate ethics rules. [26]

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.)

As of late 2006, David Iglesias was the U.S. attorney for New Mexico. Around this time, he received phone calls from both Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) regarding information about an ongoing political corruption investigation of a local Democrat, who he ultimately decided not to prosecute. Iglesias testified that he felt “leaned on” and “sickened” by the contacts. [27]

Wilson’s actions appeared to violate House rules. Chapter 7 of the House ethics manual prohibits members from contacting executive or agency officials regarding the merits of matters under their formal consideration. House rules (see House rules) also state that if a member wants to affect the outcome of a matter in litigation, the member can file a brief with the court, make a floor statement, or insert a statement into the congressional record. Directly contacting officials to influence an ongoing investigation is not permitted. [28]

In addition, House rules declare that a member may not even contact a prosecutor with the intent of simply requesting “background information” or a “status report” because the House believes that such requests “may in effect be an indirect or subtle effort to influence the substantive outcome of the proceedings.” [29]

Lastly, Wilson’s conduct may have violated the requirement that members conduct themselves in a manner that “reflects creditably on the House.” In the past, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was admonished for asking an executive branch employee to engage in an activity having an “impermissible political purpose.” [30]

On the basis of these potential violations, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called for an Ethics Committee investigation into Wilson. [31]

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.)

Following Iglesias’ allegation that Domenici pressured him about the pace of the investigation of a New Mexico Democrat, Domenici initially denied speaking to him. He stated “I have no idea what he’s talking about.” Later, however, he admitted calling Iglesias, stating “I asked Mr. Iglesias if he could tell me what was going on in that investigation and give me an idea of what time frame we were looking at.” [32]

Domenici’s actions appear to have violated Senate rules. In a discussion of Senate Rule 43, the Senate Ethics Manual states that “[t]he general advice of the Ethics Committee concerning pending court actions is that Senate offices should refrain from intervening in such legal actions . . . until the matter has reached a resolution in the courts.” The manual also indicates that senators should not consult with an agency regarding any enforcement or investigative matter. [33]

In a request for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, CREW alleges that Domenici violated Rule 43 by pressuring Iglesias to “act quickly on a pending corruption investigation.” In addition, because Domenici made the call shortly before the November 2006 congressional elections, he may have violated the clause restricting members from contacting agencies on the basis of political considerations. [34]

On March 7, 2007, Domenici hired Lee Blalack, formerly an attorney for former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), as his legal counsel. [35]

The Senate Ethics Committee confirmed suspicions that Domenici was the subject of a "preliminary inquiry" in the language of a resolution passed on April 17, 2007. The "inquiry" is investigating alleged communication between Domenici and fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. [36]

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.)

During the March 6 testimony, fired Washington attorney John McKay said that Rep. Doc Hastings’ (R-Wash) senior staffer, Ed Cassidy, called him to inquire about whether or not any investigations were underway regarding voter fraud in the hotly-contested Washington gubernatorial race in 2004 (won by Democrat Christine Gregoire). [37]

During the call, McKay reminded Cassidy that calling to recommend a federal investigation would be improper. According to McKay, Cassidy "agreed it would be improper" and ended the call. McKay immediately told his staff about the call and agreed with them that "I had stopped Mr. Cassidy from doing anything improper." He continued, however, that he "was concerned and dismayed by the call." [38]

Also during his testimony, McKay said that when he made a bid to be a federal judge in 2006, he was asked by former White House counsel Harriet Miers and deputy counsel William Kelley to explain "criticism that (he) mishandled the 2004 governor's election." [39]


Articles and resources

References

  1. "Gonzales Yields On Hiring Interim U.S. Attorneys," Washington Post, March 9, 2007.
  2. Dan Eggen, "Prosecutor Firings Not Political, Gonzales Says," Washington Post, January 18, 2007.
  3. "Department of Justice List of U.S. Attorneys."
  4. Kiel, Paul. "Purged Prosecutors: Now, The House," TPM Muckraker, March 6, 2007.
  5. Kevin M. Scott, "CRS Report for Congress: U.S. Attorneys Who Have Served Less than Full Four-year Terms, 1981-2006," CRS, February 22, 2007.
  6. "Current situation is distinct from Clinton firings of U.S. attorneys," McClatchy Washington Bureau, March 13, 2007.
  7. Kevin M. Scott, "CRS Report for Congress: U.S. Attorneys Who Have Served Less than Full Four-year Terms, 1981-2006," CRS, February 22, 2007.
  8. Kathy Gill, "CRS: Most US Attorneys Serve Full Terms," About.com, March 15, 2007.
  9. Kevin M. Scott, "CRS Report for Congress: U.S. Attorneys Who Have Served Less than Full Four-year Terms, 1981-2006," CRS, February 22, 2007.
  10. "Current situation is distinct from Clinton firings of U.S. attorneys," McClatchy Washington Bureau, March 13, 2007.
  11. "Attorney General Gonzales: I Acknowledge Mistakes Were Made in Firing of U.S. Attorneys," Fox News, March 14, 2007.
  12. Kevin M. Scott, "CRS Report for Congress: U.S. Attorneys Who Have Served Less than Full Four-year Terms, 1981-2006," CRS, February 22, 2007.
  13. Kevin M. Scott, "CRS Report for Congress: U.S. Attorneys Who Have Served Less than Full Four-year Terms, 1981-2006," CRS, February 22, 2007.
  14. Kellman, Laurie. "Gonzales' Hold on Job Grows Uncertain," Associated Press, March 19, 2007.
  15. Kiel, Paul. "LAT: Cunningham Probe Spreads to Rep. Lewis," TPM Muckraker, May 11, 2006.
  16. Talev, Margaret and Marisa Taylor, "Were CIA subpoenas linked to San Diego attorney's firing?," McClatchy Newspapers, March 18, 2007.
  17. Kiel, Paul. "FBI Investigating CA GOPer," TPm Muckraker, January 30, 2007.
  18. Shakir, Faiz. "Was Carol Lam Targeting The White House Prior To Her Firing?," Think Progress, March 19, 2007.
  19. Pae, Peter, Tony Perry, and Richard Simon. "Cunningham's Fall From Grace, Power," San Diego Union-Tribune, December 5, 2005.
  20. Weisman Jonathan and Dan Eggen. "Lawmaker's Influence in Land Deals Probed," Washington Post, October 25, 2006.
  21. Johnston, David. "THE 2006 CAMPAIGN; Congressman From Arizona Is the Focus Of an Inquiry," New York Times, October 25, 2006.
  22. "Senate, House, & Gubernatorial Results," Congressional Quarterly, November 13, 2006.
  23. Rood, Justin. "WSJ: Gibbons Does the Donor-Favor Two-Step," TPM Muckraker, November 1, 2006.
  24. Kiel, Paul. "WSJ: Nev Gov under Investigation," TPm Muckraker, February 15, 2007.
  25. Serrano, Richard A. "Cummins fears corruption investigation led to his firing," Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2007.
  26. CREW: Request for House Ethics Committee investigation of Rep. Heather Wilson
  27. " Fired U.S. attorneys allege political pressure," CNN.com, March 7, 2007.
  28. CREW: Request for House Ethics Committee investigation of Rep. Heather Wilson
  29. CREW: Request for House Ethics Committee investigation of Rep. Heather Wilson
  30. CREW: Request for House Ethics Committee investigation of Rep. Heather Wilson
  31. CREW: Request for House Ethics Committee investigation of Rep. Heather Wilson
  32. CREW: Request for Senate Ethics Committee investigation of Sen. Pete Domenici
  33. CREW: Request for Senate Ethics Committee investigation of Sen. Pete Domenici
  34. CREW: Request for Senate Ethics Committee investigation of Sen. Pete Domenici
  35. Paul Kiel, "Domenici Lawyers Up," TPM Muckraker, March 7, 2007.
  36. John Bresnahan, "Senate Ethics Confirms Domenici Probe Over U.S. Attorney Firing," Politico, April 17, 2007.
  37. Laurie Kellman, "Fired Attorneys Allude to Justice Threat," The Guardian, March 7, 2007.
  38. "McKay: Hastings' office called about probing Gregoire's election," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 6, 2007.
  39. Paul Kiel, "Washington Republicans Chased Ousted Prosecutor," TPM Muckraker, March 7, 2007.
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