The Justice Department probe of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys was severely hampered by the refusal of former White House political aide Karl Rove and other White House officials to be interviewed by investigators, according to a report made public by investigators today.
Additionally, the White House refused to turn over to Justice Department investigators emails and other documents that investigators believed were crucial to uncovering the truth as to why the U.S. attorneys were fired, the report said.
Despite that lack of cooperation, investigators concluded the White House was more deeply involved in the firings of U.S. attorneys than administration officials had admitted.
Investigators found that in at least three removals, "the evidence indicates the White House was more involved than merely approving" the dismissals, as Bush administration officials "initially stated," according to a report by the Justice Department's Inspector General and its Office of Professional Responsibility released Monday.
Because Miers, Rove and others "refused to cooperate with our investigation, and because the White House declined to provide internal documents to us, we were unable to determine the role the White House played in these removals," the report concluded.
Investigators said they found evidence indicating greater-than-known White House involvement in firings of U.S. attorneys in Arkansas, Missouri and New Mexico.
In Arkansas, investigators said, "the evidence shows that the White House sought to give former White House official [J. Timothy] Griffin a chance to serve as U.S. Attorney, and that both Rove and Miers supported Griffin's appointment." Griffin had served as in the White House as an aide to Rov e. Griffin had foreknowledge of Cummin's dismissal, the report said, and in an email cited by investigators, Rove suggested Griffin to fill the potential vacancy.
In Missouri, "we found evidence that the White House may have directed [former U.S. Attorney Todd P.] Graves's removal," the report said, over a conflict with between Graves and a U.S. senator's office. White House lawyers had fielded complaints about Graves, and appear to have been involved in pushing his ouster, the report stated.
Rove and Miers also appear to have played a role in the firing of former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. "[B]oth [Rove and Miers] appear to have significant first-hand knowledge regarding Iglesias' dismissal," the report stated. Investigators found that both were involved in discussions among White House personnel about replacing Iglesias, and fielded complaints about Iglesias from Republican lawmakers and political activists.
But investigators also said that they were stymied in getting to the bottom of Iglesias' firing because both Rove and Miers, according to the report, "refused our request for an interview even though the White House Counsel's office… encouraged them to cooperate with our investigation and submit for an interview."
A White House spokesman did not return a call from a reporter today. But in correspondence with investigators, Deputy White House Counsel Emmett Flood wrote that in some instances "the White House has declined to provide internal documents relating to the U.S. Attorneys resignations" because "those materials by their very nature, implicate White House confidentiality interests of a very high order."
In part because Justice's IG and OPR were unable to complete its work, Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed a federal prosecutor to continue the probe. The IG and OPR do not have prosecutorial powers and cannot compel witnesses other than Justice Department employees to cooperate with their investigators.
But Nora R. Dannehy, the acting U.S. attorney in Connecticut, who Mukasey appointed to lead the new probe, will have those powers. Mukasey said in a statement that Dannehy would have the authority to "ultimately determine whether any prosecutable offense was committed with regard to the removal of a U.S. Attorney" and whether administration officials might have broken the law by giving misleading Congress about the firings of the federal prosecutors.
It is unclear what might happen if Dannehy, like her predecessors, seeks records from the White House she believes pertinent to her probe, only to be rebuffed once again.