Newly released emails from the Bush administration indicate that senior White House aides may have been directly involved in the firing of a U.S. attorney for apparently political reasons.
The documents released today by the House Judiciary Committee suggest that the White House was angry at then New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias because he was not aggressively pursuing the prosecution of a Democratic congressional candidate.
Iglesias was one of eight U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department during Bush's second term, when Alberto Gonzales was still attorney general. Fallout from the firings, seven of which came on one day, eventually led Gonzales and eight other top Justice Department officials to resign.
As early as 2005 it was clear the White House was very focused on removing Iglesias. In a June 28, 2005, email, Rove's deputy Scott Jennings told Rove aide Tim Griffin: "I would really like to move forward with getting rid of New Mexico U.S. Attorney. I was with codel [Congressional Delegation] this morning, and they are really angry over his lack of action on voter fraud stuff. Iglesias has done nothing. We are getting killed out there."
Griffin was later given the U.S. attorney spot in Arkansas, replacing Bud Cummings, who was another of the prosecutors fired.
In the fall of 2006, Jennings wrote an email to Rove indicating that the White House was looking to replace Iglesias at the request of Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
In an email dated, Oct. 10, 2006, Jennings wrote to Rove and Sara Taylor, the deputy political director at the White House: "I received a call from Steve Bell [Domenici's chief of staff] tonight and need to update you on the U.S. Attorney situation in New Mexico. Last week, Senator Domenici reached the Chief of Staff and asked that we remove the U.S. Attorney. Steve wanted to make sure we all understand that they couldn't be more serious about this request, which was first made to the Attorney General last year by Domenici. You are aware of the issues, I believe, of voter fraud in 2004 and more recently the mishandling of an individual trial."
In reference to Domenici's chief of staff Steve Bell, Jennings wrote to Rove about investigating Patricia Madrid, who was running against Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.
Noting that the U.S. Attorney's office had been investigating then Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., Jennings wrote: "The US Attorney in PA has no trouble going ... after Weldon, so why should the US Attorney In New Mexico be shy about doing his job on Madrid."
In a July 7, 2009, interview with House Judiciary Investigators, Rove said Domenici even wanted to raise the issue with President Bush himself.
"At one point I think he wanted to raise the issue particularly with the president personally, and I discouraged him and said that if he felt that strongly, he ought to call the attorney general and make his complaints there," Rove said. "This was something that need not come to the president."
In that interview with the House Judiciary Committee, Rove said he felt Iglesias should have been more robust in looking into voter fraud issues.
"I have an opinion, but I also recognize the limits of my ability to verify whether these claims are true, which is why this information had to go to the Justice Department and the decision was the Justice Department's," Rove told the Committee.
After the documents were released today, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said they clearly show that the firings were wrong and that they were driven by the Bush administration.
"After all the delay and despite all the obfuscation, lies, and spin," Rep. John Conyers said, "this basic truth can no longer be denied: Karl Rove and his cohorts at the Bush White House were the driving force behind several of these firings, which were done for improper reasons.
"Under the Bush regime, honest and well-performing U.S. Attorneys were fired for petty patronage, political horsetrading and, in the most egregious case of political abuse of the U.S. Attorney corps -- that of U.S. Attorney Iglesias -- because he refused to use his office to help Republicans win elections," the Michigan Democrat said.
The interviews with Rove and the additional documents fill in some of the gaps after Rove had declined to meet with the Justice Department's Inspector General during the review of the issue.
After former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales left office and was replaced by Michael Mukasey, Mukasey referred the Inspector General's findings to Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor to see if the case warranted criminal charges.
Tom Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut where Dannehy is the interim U.S. attorney, declined to comment and said the matter is an "ongoing investigation."
Conyers said copies of the documents released today were given to Dannehy "to assist in her effort to determine whether federal criminal charges are appropriate and to pursue any such charges."
In a statement provided by his attorney, Rove said he welcomed the release of the interviews and documents by the House Judiciary Committee.
"They 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 replaced," Rove's statement said.
"Rather than replying on partisans selectively quoting testimony or excerpting email messages, I urge anyone interested to review the documents in their entirety," the statement said. "They speak for themselves."
The documents are here.