In early 2007, the House Judiciary Committee began to investigate the Bush Administration's removal of nine United States Attorneys in 2006 after information surfaced that indicated inappropriate political considerations were involved in the removals.
After a series of congressional hearings, interviews with several Administration officials, and a report by the DOJ Inspector General, further evidence was brought forward indicating that qualified U.S. Attorneys were removed by the White House due to improper partisan and political considerations.
The Inspector General recommended additional investigation to determine whether any criminal offenses were committed.
Since I had worked in the Justice Department for six years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, I found the extent of the politicization of the very department tasked with ensuring the fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans, especially shocking and distressing.
In order to determine the precise White House role in the firings, the Committee sought additional documents and testimony from former White House advisers Harriet Miers and Karl Rove. After refusing to voluntarily cooperate, and later ignoring lawful subpoenas, an agreement was finally reached under which they would be compelled to provide documents and make themselves available for deposition by the Committee. Chairman Conyers granted me the opportunity to lead the questioning of Rove and Miers, along with very capable staff counsel, Elliot Mincberg, in interviews that occurred in June and July.
The new documents and interviews further demonstrate that the White House brought an unprecedented level of partisan pressure to bear in the decision to fire certain United States Attorneys who were not considered "loyal Bushies," to quote one Justice Department official. The White House was assisted in politicizing the Justice Department by the weak and pliant leadership of Alberto Gonzales and others that largely refused to stand up to their pressure.
In the most pernicious case of partisan interference, Republican political operatives in New Mexico -- aided and abetted by Rove and Miers -- succeeded in putting a strong U.S. Attorney on the chopping block because he failed to do their political bidding. During my questioning of Harriet Miers, she indicated that an "agitated" Karl Rove called her during a visit to New Mexico in 2006 and told her that Iglesias was "a serious problem and he wanted something done about it." At the time, New Mexico Republicans were pressing for Iglesias to be removed because they believed he was not prosecuting enough vote fraud cases.
SCHIFF: And tell us the best you can about what you recall what Mr. Rove had to say when he called?
MIERS: My best recollection is that he was very agitated about the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico. I don't know that I knew the gentleman's name at that time.
SCHIFF: And what did he tell you about the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico?
MIERS: That he was getting barraged by a lot of complaints about the U.S. Attorney and his not doing his job.
SCHIFF: And who were the complaints coming from?
MIERS: People that he was in contact with, which I assumed, of course, and he may have said, were political people that were active in New Mexico.
New White House documents also show that Rove and his office were involved in this effort months earlier than previously known.
An October 2006 email chain also shows a Rove aide criticizing the fact that Iglesias was not bringing a corruption prosecution -- in the run-up to the 2006 elections -- that could help Republican Rep. Heather Wilson, a sitting Member of Congress in the midst of a tough reelection campaign. The e-mail chain, which appears to have been initiated by Rep. Wilson herself, was ultimately forwarded to Karl Rove with a notation that Iglesias had been "shy about doing his job on Madrid," Rep. Wilson's opponent in the race. Iglesias's name was placed on the final firing list just weeks after this email.
In another example, when public rumors began to surface of an FBI investigation of then Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ), a politically-vulnerable Republican Member of Congress at the time, Rove's office contacted Harriet Miers seeking a remedy.
SCHIFF: And when you say that the issue was raised with you who raised the issue with you?
MIERS: I'm not sure how it came to my attention. It may well have been Karl but I don't know that.
SCHIFF: When you said that there was angst about it who had demonstrated angst about the situation?
MIERS: I'm not sure, but the sense of the inquiry was this is happening, it's unfair. I think it was Karl, but I'm not sure.
Miers would later call Deputy Attorney General McNulty seeking a possible statement that would have "vindicated" Renzi. Despite the fact that such a statement would be contrary to standard DOJ policy, one was issued to multiple newspapers several days later.
SCHIFF: So in the normal course of business, the Department of Justice wouldn't confirm or deny an investigation, right?
MIERS: That's correct.
After the removals began to spark a controversy, Rove tried to hide the White House role from the public and from Congress in order to perpetuate the narrative that these decisions were solely based on performance.
In a speech in Troy, Alabama in March 2007 on the U.S. Attorney terminations, Rove is quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "In each of these instances a decision was made at the Department of Justice on the basis of policy and personnel."
SCHIFF: Sir, wasn't this part of an effort you were making to portray the White House as completely uninvolved in the process of deciding which U.S. Attorneys to be replaced?
ROVE: No. This was responding to a question following a speech at Troy, Alabama.
SCHIFF: At any public speech, did you acknowledge the role that you and OPA [White House Office of Political Affairs] played in forwarding complaints about U.S. Attorneys?
SCHIFF: And why was that?
ROVE: Didn't consider it to be necessary.
Rove also hid the White House's role in the firings during a March 2007 meeting at the White House to prepare DOJ official William Moschella for testimony he was to give to the House Judiciary Committee.
SCHIFF: Did you tell Mr. Moschella about White House involvement or actions on the U.S. Attorney [removals] to help prepare him for his testimony?
Days later, Moschella would testify under oath and represent that any White House role merely consisted of being consulted after a list was already compiled by DOJ.
Although Rove did his best to spin and Miers to forget (she stated more than 150 times that she did not recall the answer to questions I posed), the testimony and documents shed new light on a dark period of unparalleled political intrusion into the work of the Justice Department. The new information will also assist the special prosecutor investigating this matter as she works to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
In November 2008, the American people voted overwhelmingly for "change," in a forceful rejection of the policies and practices of the prior Administration. I hope and believe that our investigation will play an important role in avoiding any recurrence of the partisan intrusion into the work of the Justice Department we witnessed during the last eight years, and I am confident that under the leadership of Attorney General Holder we can speedily restore the confidence of the American people in the rule of law.