U.S. Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey wisely has accepted a recommendation by two watchdog agencies that he name a special prosecutor to determine whether laws were broken in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. But even if there is no finding of criminality, the report released Monday by the Justice Department’s office of inspector general and office of professional responsibility is a devastating judgment on one of the worst attorneys general of modern times: Alberto R. Gonzales.
It was in January 2007 that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) complained that the Justice Department under Gonzales had asked several U.S. attorneys to resign before the end of their terms “not based on any allegation of misconduct.” She noted in particular that Carol Lam of San Diego had supervised the corruption investigation of Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe) and was rumored to be pursuing other politically sensitive probes. In an Op-Ed article that the report attributes to ghostwriters, Gonzales said the fired prosecutors had “lost my confidence.” In fact, the hit list was compiled by Gonzales’ aide, D. Kyle Sampson, who described prosecutors who should be retained as “loyal Bushies.”
Monday’s report found “significant evidence that political partisan conditions were an important factor in the removal of several of the U.S. attorneys.” Ironically, that apparently wasn’t the case with the firing that first brought attention to the purge. Investigators found no evidence that Lam was “removed in retaliation for her prosecution of certain public corruption cases.” More suspicious in the investigators’ view was the dismissal of David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, who alienated Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) by not concluding a corruption investigation of a Democrat before the 2006 election.
The Iglesias firing is the centerpiece of the report’s call for a special prosecutor, but it rightly recommends a broader criminal probe. That is necessary because key witnesses, including former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and political advisor Karl Rove, refused to speak to the investigators. They may find it harder to stonewall the FBI and Nora Dannehy, the career prosecutor chosen by Mukasey to lead a new investigation.
Gonzales’ attorney boasted that the investigators didn’t accuse his client of misleading Congress about his conduct. That’s pitiful consolation for the fact that the report said Gonzales and his deputy “abdicated their responsibility to safeguard the integrity and independence of the department.” Memo to John McCain and Barack Obama: The country can’t afford another attorney general like this clueless crony. Both of you must pledge to entrust the enforcement of our nation’s laws to a lawyer of integrity and independence, not a political pal.