Pierre Thomas and Jason Ryan report: It turns out congressional investigators won’t be the only group looking into the U.S. attorney flap — two Department of Justice watchdog divisions will as well. Justice Department officials announced Thursday night that earlier this week Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asked the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to investigate the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. OPR will be joined in the probe by the Justice Department’s office of Inspector General which had independently launched its own investigation.
The following is the official DOJ statement: “Although there is no evidence to suggest any U.S. attorney was removed for improper reasons attorney general asked the Office of Professional Responsibility to conduct an investigation into the dismissals. The Office of Inspector General approached OPR based on its independent interest. They have agreed to conduct a joint investigation.”
In addition, the department released 283 more pages of documents largely recovered from a Justice official who had been on vacation when the paper hunt began last week. The most interesting document points to a Nov. 27 meeting involving Attorney General Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty–other senior justice officials and Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ former chief of staff. This so far is the only documented meeting where it is known that the AG discused the termination plan, which resulted in seven U.S. attorneys being fired on Dec. 7th. Gonzales has maintained he was not involved in developing the list —but did approve it.
In his March 13, 2007 press conference, Gonzales said, “I am ultimately accountable and responsible for what happens within the department, but that is in essence what I knew about the process, was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That’s basically what I knew as the attorney general.”
Critics in Congress will suggest that this may be the first evidence the attorney general was involved in developing the plan. He and his staff will deny it, noting that work on the project had begun weeks earlier and that the November 27 meeting comes only about 10 days before the pink slips were given. The documents have been provided to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.