WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The administration of President George W. Bush was deeply involved in the improper firings of federal prosecutors, the head of House Judiciary Committee charged on Tuesday in releasing a crush of documents.
Democratic Chairman John Conyers said the materials — more than 700 pages of transcripts of its interviews with former top Bush aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers and 5,400 pages of e-mails by the Bush White House — also showed the administration sought to hide its role from the public.
The office of Bush, a Republican, had no comment on the development.
Conyers made the findings available to Assistant U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy, who has been investigating whether criminal charges should be filed in the firing of the nine prosecutors in 2006.
The Bush White House has denied wrongdoing. It noted U.S. attorneys are appointed by presidents, serve at the pleasure of presidents and can be replaced at any time.
But Democrats charged that they were improperly dismissed for political reasons and as part of “a politicalization” of Bush’s Justice Department.
A resulting firestorm, fanned by Democrats as well as some Republicans, led to the resignation of Alberto Gonzales as Bush’s U.S. attorney general, a post that had him in charge of the Justice Department.
Rove welcomed the release of the documents.
“They show politics played no role in the Bush administration’s removal of U.S. attorneys, that I never sought to influence the conduct of any prosecution, and that I played no role in deciding which U.S. attorneys were retained and which replaced,” Rove said in a statement.
Miers and Rove were privately interviewed by Conyers’ committee this year after they earlier rejected subpoenas when Bush claimed executive privilege.
A court fight over Bush’s claim was resolved this year by talks between attorneys for the former president and newly sworn-in President Barack Obama.
According to transcripts of Miers’ testimony, she described an “agitated” Rove as having telephoned her in September 2006 to say David Iglesias, then a federal prosecutor in New Mexico, was “a serious problem and he wanted something done about it.”
Some Republicans had complained that Iglesias was not aggressive enough in pursuing possible corruption by Democrats and was later fired.
The testimony and e-mails also showed White House involvement in the removal of other federal prosecutors, including one in Arkansas, to make way for a Rove protege.
Conyers said, “After all the delay and despite all the obfuscation, lies, and spin, this basic truth can no longer be denied: Karl Rove and his cohorts at the Bush White House were the driving force behind several of these firings, which were done for improper reasons.”
Daniel Bogden, one of the federal prosecutors fired for possible political reasons, was recently nominated by Obama to return to his former job as U.S. attorney for Nevada.
Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by David Alexander and Doina Chiacu