Newly released e-mails and once-secret congressional testimony showed Tuesday that Karl Rove and other top Bush White House aides played...
WASHINGTON — Newly released e-mails and once-secret congressional testimony showed Tuesday that Karl Rove and other top Bush White House aides played an earlier and more active role than previously known in the 2006 firing of at least one U.S. attorney.
Rove and other aides to former President Bush have asserted that the Justice Department took the lead in the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys, including John McKay of Seattle, actions that triggered a months-long political firestorm. Rove downplayed his role in a recent interview and in closed testimony last month before the House Judiciary Committee.
But the new documents, released by the House panel after a protracted fight over access to White House records and testimony, offer a detailed portrait of a two-year effort by senior White House officials, including Rove, to dismiss prosecutors for what appear to be political reasons.
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U.S. attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president and can be removed at any time. But several former U.S. attorneys and legal scholars have said the decision to replace so many prosecutors during the middle of a president’s term was not only atypical, but also a threat to the impartial exercise of justice.
E-mails show there was widespread unhappiness in spring 2005 over David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, because of the perception among top Republicans that he was dragging his feet on voter-fraud and corruption investigations involving Democrats.
In one June 2005 e-mail, Scott Jennings, a top aide to Rove, wrote a colleague that Iglesias should be removed because New Mexico Republicans “are really angry over his lack of action on voter fraud stuff. Iglesias has done nothing. We are getting killed out there.”
Iglesias ultimately was fired in December 2006, despite positive Justice Department evaluations for his performance and “exemplary leadership.” It is unclear who made the final decision to have him dismissed.
“The amount of back-stabbing and treachery involved is just breathtaking,” Iglesias said Tuesday of the White House e-mails. “It’s astounding that without reviewing the evidence or talking to the FBI or anything, the White House would assume that these were provable cases and that I needed to file them for the political benefit of the party. That’s not what U.S. attorneys do.”
Rove issued a statement saying the documents “show politics played no role in the Bush administration’s removal of U.S. attorneys, that I never sought to influence the conduct of any prosecution, and that I played no role in deciding which U.S. attorneys were retained and which were replaced.”
“Rather than relying on partisans selectively quoting testimony or excerpting e-mail messages,” he added, “I urge anyone interested to review the documents in their entirety.”
Bush administration officials have suggested publicly that Iglesias, a Navy reservist, was dismissed because of subpar performance and absences from the office.
But those issues do not surface in the e-mails. Rather, the dissatisfaction of New Mexico Republicans over the investigations is the focus in 2005 and 2006. Nonetheless, one e-mail shows the White House was told the Justice Department planned to say the state investigations played no role in the firing.
In fact, then-Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., had called Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to complain about Iglesias and his failure to bring voting-fraud cases.
The new e-mails also show the senator had contacted White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten about removing the U.S. attorney. And the senator’s staff had contacted the White House to complain about Iglesias’ failure to pursue a corruption case against Patricia Madrid, a Democratic candidate for Congress.
The transcripts released Tuesday show in closed testimony last month before congressional investigators, Harriet Miers, Bush’s White House counsel, recalled receiving a telephone call from a “very agitated” Rove in the fall of 2006, making clear he wanted action taken against Iglesias.
“It was clear to me that he felt like he has a serious problem and that he wanted something done about it,” Miers said. “He was just upset. I remember his being upset.”
In a recent interview, Rove said he merely passed along complaints about Iglesias.
Miers said she could not explicitly recall being asked to have Iglesias fired, but she called Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty to ask him to follow up on the matter.
Miers did not return a message for comment Tuesday.
The Senate Ethics Committee last year admonished Domenici for his efforts to have Iglesias removed.
The documents also provide new evidence about Rove’s push to have an aide and protégé, Timothy Griffin, tapped as U.S. attorney in Arkansas in place of the sitting prosecutor, Bud Cummins, who was told to resign. “It was no secret I was for him,” Rove acknowledged to congressional investigators. Rove said in the recent interview that he regarded Griffin as a rising star.
Even so, the Justice Department in February 2007 told members of Congress in a letter as the controversy was unfolding that it was “not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin.”
Rove and Miers distanced themselves from the letter in their testimony, saying the Justice Department’s statements were incomplete and in some cases inaccurate.
A federal prosecutor, Nora Dannehy, is continuing to investigate the firings.
Information from The Associated Press and Seattle Times archives is included in this report.