A congressional investigation has produced the strongest evidence yet that former President George W. Bush’s administration fired federal prosecutors who didn’t serve its partisan goals.
The House Judiciary Committee released documents and testimony that place adviser Karl Rove at the heart of an effort to politicize the Justice Department.
This material refutes the claims of top Bush officials that the dismissals of U.S. attorneys in 2006 were based on prosecutors’ performance.
An internal Justice investigation has already concluded that four of the nine firings were carried out for political reasons. Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, is conducting a separate probe that could result in criminal charges. It’s illegal to turn law enforcement into a partisan political operation, and Rove’s actions should serve as a warning for future administrations.
Perhaps the most serious incident involved the firing of David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in New Mexico. He was fired after the White House received complaints that Iglesias wasn’t investigating voter fraud in the swing state and wasn’t helping the political fortunes of Republican Rep. Heather Wilson. Former Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico also complained about Iglesias.
Harriet Miers, one of Bush’s most trusted lawyers in the White House, told Congress that Rove was “agitated” about Iglesias and wanted something done about him. Justice officials said Iglesias had an exemplary record, but he was fired nonetheless.
Another disturbing aspect of this case is that the Bush White House kept a list identifying which of the 93 U.S. attorneys were loyal to Bush. Chris Christie, the Republican nominee for governor of New Jersey, was listed as “loyal” in 2005 but ended up in 2006 on a list of prosecutors who could be terminated.
Later that year, Christie was involved in an incident that seemed uncharacteristic of his apolitical reputation. His office leaked word of a probe of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bob Menéndez concerning the rental of a building, two months before the election. Menéndez won; no charges were ever brought.
Rove acknowledged that he counseled Christie about running for governor about two years before Christie resigned his post. U.S. attorneys are prohibited from engaging in politics.
“I talked to him … regarding his interest in running for governor, and he asked me questions about who — who were good people that knew about running for governor that he could talk to,” Rove testified.
It’s not shocking that Christie would discuss career options while he was still a prosecutor. But in the context of Rove’s meddling, it creates the perception that Christie may have been subjected to partisan influences.
The Justice Department’s probe and the congressional investigation should pursue these questions wherever they lead. Trying to bend law enforcement toward partisan goals should never be tolerated.