[JURIST] US Attorney General Michael Mukasey [official profile; JURIST news archive] on Monday announced [statement text] that he had named a prosecutor to determine whether criminal charges are warranted in connection with the removal of nine US attorneys, as recommended in a new report [PDF text] by investigators at the US Justice Department (DOJ) [official website]. Mukasey said he had named Acting US Attorney Nora R. Dannehy [official profile] of Connecticut to investigate the removals, as well as senior DOJ officials' testimony about them, because he had concluded that the matter "would be best overseen by an attorney outside Main Justice." Although the report by the DOJ Offices of Inspector General and Professional Responsibility [official websites] "dispelled many of the most disturbing allegations" arising from the firings, Mukasey said, it made clear that the removals were "haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional." The attorney general continued:
It is true, as the report acknowledges, that an Administration is entitled to remove presidential appointees, including U.S. Attorneys, for virtually any reason or no reason at all. But the leaders of the Department owed it to those who served the country in those capacities to treat their careers and reputations with appropriate care and dignity. And the leaders of the Department owed it to the American people they served to conduct the public's business in a deliberate and professional manner. The Department failed on both scores.
Today's report is an important step toward acknowledging what happened, and holding the responsible officials to proper account. I hope the report provides a measure of relief to those U.S. Attorneys whose reputations were unfairly tainted by the removals and their aftermath. They did not deserve the treatment they received.
The 392-page report concluded that there was "significant evidence that political partisan considerations were an important factor" in the 2006 dismissals. It further determined that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [White House profile; JURIST news archive] "bears primary responsibility for the flawed U.S. Attorney removal process and the resulting turmoil" and that he made a series of "inaccurate and misleading" statements regarding the removals. According to the report,
[w]e also determined that the U.S. Attorneys were not given an opportunity to address concerns about their performance or provided the reasons for their removal, which led to widespread speculation about the true reasons for their removal, including that they were removed for improper partisan political reasons….
We believe the primary responsibility for these serious failures rest with senior Department leaders – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty – who abdicated their responsibility to adequately oversee the process and to ensure that the reasons for removal of each U.S. Attorney were supportable and not improper. These removals were not a minor personnel matter – they were an unprecedented removal of a group of high-level Department officials that was certain to raise concerns if not handled properly. Yet, neither the Attorney General nor the Deputy Attorney General provided adequate oversight or supervision of this process…. Moreover, they and other Department officials are responsible for failing to provide accurate and truthful statements about the removals and their role in the process.
The report called for further investigation, in part because the White House refused to provide certain requested documents and some former Bush administration officials would not agree to be interviewed. AP has more. The Washington Post has additional coverage.
Monday's report is one of several internal assessments of the role politics played in DOJ hiring and firing practices. In July, the Inspector General and Professional Responsibility offices concluded that DOJ officials made illegal hiring decisions [JURIST report] based on applicants' political and ideological beliefs. Following that report, Mukasey said the officials accused of politicizing the hiring process would likely not be prosecuted [JURIST report] and that employees hired under the politicized process were not necessarily less qualified. An Inspector General report in June found that the DOJ improperly favored conservative candidates [JURIST report] in assessing job and summer internship applications. Upon taking office last year, Mukasey promised that the DOJ would maintain greater independence from the Bush administration, and he later advised senior DOJ officials [JURIST reports] to limit discussions with the White House about ongoing investigations.