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No criminal charges over 2006 US Attorney firings: DOJ

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced Wednesday that no criminal charges will be brought against Bush administration officials for the firing of nine US Attorneys [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in 2006. In a letter [text, PDF] sent from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) [official website], Weich detailed the findings of a two-year investigation conducted by a special prosecutor. Although acknowledging that the firings were political, violating "DOJ principles," the investigation found "insufficient evidence" to suggest that any Bush-era officials had violated federal law [18 USC § 1503 text] by firing the attorneys to influence the pace of the prosecution of political opponents. Additionally, the investigation found that despite "inaccurate and misleading" statements by former attorney general Alberto Gonzales [official profile] during the investigation and congressional testimony, there was not enough evidence to establish that he or other DOJ officials had "knowingly made material false statements to ... Congress or corruptly endeavored to obstruct justice," which would also constitute a violation of federal law [18 USC § 1001(a) text]. Reacting to the letter, Gonzales's attorney described it as a vindication [NYT report], stating that the attorneys were political appointees that could be removed at the whim of the president. In his reaction to the letter, Conyers said that it is not an exoneration, but that the findings reaffirmed the impropriety of the firings and confirmed the Bush administration's attempted cover up.

Gonzales' successor, Michael Mukasey [professional profile] appointed the special prosecutor [JURIST report] in September 2008 to determine whether criminal charges were warranted in connection with the firings. The move was recommended in a report [text, PDF] by investigators at the DOJ. The report was one of several internal assessments of the role politics played in DOJ hiring and firing practices. In July 2008, the Inspector General and Professional Responsibility offices concluded that DOJ officials made illegal hiring decisions [JURIST report] based on applicants' political and ideological beliefs. In November 2009, the House Judiciary Committee [official website] released testimony and e-mails [JURIST report] purporting to show that Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove [personal website] was involved in the firings. Citing executive privilege, Rove refused to testify in July 2008 [JURIST reports].

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