U.S. News

No criminal charges in Bush-era U.S. attorney firings

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors ended a 22-month investigation into the Bush administration’s firing of federal attorneys, deciding not to bring criminal charges against former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or others, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

The probe stemmed from allegations the Bush administration had improperly dismissed nine U.S. attorneys, allowing partisan political considerations to play a role in Justice Department decisions that affected pending cases or investigations.

The scandal led to the resignation of Gonzales, a longtime aide to Bush from their days together in Texas. As attorney general, he was the top official at the Justice Department at the time of the firings.

George Terwilliger, an attorney who represented Gonzales, said his client had fully cooperated with the investigation.

“The position we have taken from the outset of the U.S. attorney controversy -- that no wrongdoing whatsoever by Judge Gonzales occurred -- has now been vindicated by the Justice Department’s long overdue conclusion,” Terwilliger said.

In September of 2008, Nora Dannehy, a career prosecutor from Connecticut, was named to investigate the firings.

She focused on the firing of New Mexico U.S. attorney David Iglesias and the role played by then-Senator Pete Domenici, a Republican from New Mexico who was unhappy with the prosecutor’s work on voter fraud cases in the state.

Dannehy determined that no criminal charges were warranted, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said on Wednesday in a letter to lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee.

Weich said there was insufficient evidence that Domenici, other New Mexico Republicans, people in the White House or anyone at the Justice Department had attempted to influence Iglesias.

Prosecutors also determined that there was insufficient evidence to establish that Gonzales, his chief of staff or other Justice Department officials obstructed justice or lied to Congress or to investigators.

“The White House, under former President George W. Bush, fully cooperated with the investigation,” he said, adding that Dannehy, other prosecutors and FBI agents questioned more than 60 individuals as part of the probe.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, said, “It is clear that Ms. Dannehy’s determination is not an exoneration of Bush officials in the U.S. attorney matter.”

“There is no dispute that these firings were totally improper and that misleading testimony was given to Congress in an effort to cover them up,” he said in a statement.

Editing by Todd Eastham