WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Monday appointed a prosecutor to examine potential criminal charges in the Justice Department’s firings of nine federal prosecutors after an inquiry found evidence several of the dismissals were politically motivated.
The appointment of Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, came as the department released an inspector general’s report that found former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had “abdicated” his responsibility in the matter.
The report also said several White House officials, including President George W. Bush’s former top political aide Karl Rove, were unwilling to be interviewed by investigators about the firings.
Dannehy would have to power to subpoena witnesses such as Rove who did not cooperate with inspector general’s probe, and her appointment revives the controversy over the firings just as Sen. John McCain is seeking to extend the Republican hold on the U.S. presidency in November elections.
“At a minimum, the process by which nine U.S. Attorneys were removed in 2006 was haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional, and that the way in which the Justice Department handled those removals and the resulting public controversy was profoundly lacking,” Mukasey said in a statement.
Mukasey took over the department last year after Gonzales resigned in the wake of the firings controversy.
The report concluded, “The primary responsibility for these serious failures rests with senior department leaders -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty -- who abdicated their responsibility to oversee the process and ensure that the reasons for removal of each U.S. attorney were ... not improper.”
Two New Mexico Republican lawmakers, Sen. Pete Domenici, who is retiring after this year’s election, and Rep. Heather Wilson, who lost a primary bid to succeed Domenici, came under particular scrutiny in the probe.
The report found evidence that prosecutor David Iglesias of New Mexico was removed because of complaints about him to the Justice Department and the White House by Domenici and other New Mexico Republican politicians.
But Domenici refused to be interviewed for the probe and Wilson declined to provide important information, the report said. It said there was also evidence Rove was involved in the plan to remove Iglesias. The White House also declined to provide internal documents about the case to the inspector general.
Editing by David Alexander