As anticipated by the Washington Post Sunday night, a report issued Monday by the Department of Justice's Inspector General faults top department officials for their conduct in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006, though it stops short of recommending a grand jury for former attorney general Alberto Gonzales.
But that does not mean the saga is over and done with.
In its conclusion to a 392-page report still being digested by Congress, the DOJ Inspector General's office said that serious questions remain regarding the firing of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who reported receiving phone calls from Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson. Iglesias has said he took the GOP officials' attention as being related to an ongoing corruption investigation against a New Mexico Democrat before the 2006 elections.
"The most serious allegation that we were not able to fully investigate related to the removal of David Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, and the allegation that he was removed to influence voter fraud and public corruption prosecutions," the report's conclusion reads. "We recommend that a counsel specially appointed by the Attorney General assess the facts we have uncovered, work with us to conduct further investigation, and ultimately determine whether the evidence demonstrates that any criminal offense was committed with regard to the removal of Iglesias or any other U.S. Attorney, or the testimony of any witness related to the U.S. Attorney removals."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy is open to the idea of appointing a prosecutor to further investigate the issue. In a quickly issued statement Monday morning, the Vermont Democrat said: "I will look carefully at the report's recommendation that a prosecutor continue to explore these troubling facts, including inaccurate testimony to Congress, whether Attorney General Gonzales tried to shape the testimony of other Department officials, and the extent of White House involvement. Perhaps a prosecutor can break down walls others cannot."
The DOJ's own investigation did not enjoy the subpoena power of an outside prosecutor. And the report reflects evidence that the investigation suffered as a result, claiming at one point that the Bush administration's refusal to provide a particular document "hampered" the IG's investigation.
The full text of Leahy's remarks is below:
"These findings by the Justice Department's internal oversight offices add up to another disturbing report card on the conduct of the Gonzales Justice Department in the unprecedented firing of U.S. Attorneys for partisan, political reasons. Those of us who believe that law enforcement must never be infected by politics cannot help be dismayed by the report's conclusion that the Attorney General and the other top officials 'abdicated their responsibility to safeguard the integrity and independence of the Department.' This report might have told us even more if the investigation had not been impeded by the Bush administration's refusal to cooperate and provide documents and witnesses, just as they remain in contempt of Congress for failing to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee's investigation. In this debacle as in others, the Bush administration's self-serving secrecy has shrouded many of their most controversial policies -- from torture, to investigating the causes of 9/11, to wiretapping.
"This report verifies what our oversight efforts this Congress showed, that partisan, political interests in the prosecution of voter fraud and public corruption by the White House and some at the Department played a role in many of these firings. These abuses are corrosive to the very foundations of our system of justice. It is wrong and it is dangerous to undermine the nation's premier law enforcement agency by injecting political biases to determine which cases should be prosecuted.
"The report also raises questions that are not yet resolved about the reasons for the firing and 'inconsistent, misleading, and inaccurate' statements to Congress and the press from Attorney General Gonzales and others at the Department. I will look carefully at the report's recommendation that a prosecutor continue to explore these troubling facts, including inaccurate testimony to Congress, whether Attorney General Gonzales tried to shape the testimony of other Department officials, and the extent of White House involvement. Perhaps a prosecutor can break down walls others cannot.
"It was oversight in the new Congress two years ago that lifted the lid on the practices of those who were subverting our system by acting as if they were above the law. The Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation revealed a Justice Department gone awry. Attorney General Gonzales allowed politics to permeate the Department's ranks, and then he tried to avoid accountability. He has provided the Inspector General the same response he gave so frequently to Congress: I don't recall. The threads of secrecy of this administration - from the White House to the Executive agencies - will continue to unravel for years to come."