Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Another Prosecutor Says The Bush Administration Fired Him For Political Reasons

This federal prosecutor purge scandal gets worse and worse for the Bushies:

WASHINGTON, March 5 — The former federal prosecutor in Maryland said Monday that he was forced out in early 2005 because of political pressure stemming from public corruption investigations involving associates of the state’s governor, a Republican.

“There was direct pressure not to pursue these investigations,” said the former prosecutor, Thomas M. DiBiagio. “The practical impact was to intimidate my office and shut down the investigations.”


His office had been looking into whether associates of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had improperly funneled money from gambling interests to promote legalized slot machines in Maryland. Mr. DiBiagio said that several prominent Maryland Republicans had pressed him to back away from the inquiries and that one conversation had so troubled him that he reported it to an F.B.I. official as a threat.

But he said that the Justice Department had offered little support and that that made it “impossible for me to stay.”

Several current and former officials in the Baltimore office said Mr. DiBiagio voiced concerns in 2004 that the corruption inquiries were jeopardizing his career, a view that they shared.

DiBiagio would be the eighth federal prosecutor to be fired by the Bush administration for "political reasons." Strangely enough, the Justice Department official who announced the firings to the prosecutors resigned yesterday BEFORE today's congressional hearings on the matter today:

WASHINGTON, March 5 — The Justice Department official who told seven United States attorneys in December that they were being dismissed said Monday that he was resigning.

Michael A. Battle, director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, said in a statement that his departure was unrelated to the dismissals, but Democrats said he appeared to be a casualty of the uproar over the firings.


Democrats in Congress said the timing of his departure appeared unusual.

With hearings planned on Tuesday in the Senate and the House, a House Judiciary panel said on Monday that it would issue subpoenas to two more of the ousted prosecutors, Daniel G. Bogden of Nevada and Paul Charlton of Arizona. The panel had previously subpoenaed four prosecutors.

The week is shaping up as pivotal for the new Democratic majority, a chance to exercise its subpoena and oversight powers over the Bush administration on two politically charged fronts: the circumstances of the removal of the United States attorneys and the treatment of veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

In the meanwhile, Rep. Heather Wilson, one of the two New Mexico Republicans who allegedly tried to pressure a federal prosecutor to pull the trigger on a corruption investigation of a prominent New Mexico Democrat before last November's elections, finally admitted to her involvement after days of no comment:

Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) acknowledged yesterday that she contacted a federal prosecutor to complain about the pace of his public corruption investigations, as the Senate ethics committee signaled that it had opened a preliminary inquiry into a similar communication by her state's senior senator, Pete V. Domenici (R).

Wilson denied allegations from former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias that she pressured him to speed up a political corruption investigation involving Democrats in the waning days of her tight election campaign last fall.

"I did not ask about the timing of any indictments and I did not tell Mr. Iglesias what course of action I thought he should take or pressure him in any way," Wilson said in a statement to The Washington Post. "The conversation was brief and professional."

Iglesias, one of seven U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department on Dec. 7, is expected to tell Congress today that Wilson and Domenici were trying to sway the course of his investigation. Domenici acknowledged Sunday that he called Iglesias about the corruption case but said he did not pressure him. The telephone calls to Iglesias by Domenici and Wilson appear to put them in conflict with congressional ethics rules that bar contacts with federal agency officials during most active investigations.

The furor over Domenici and Wilson has rapidly become the focus of the dispute over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys and a change in law that allows Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to appoint interim prosecutors for an indefinite period of time. The Justice Department has said that seven of the prosecutors were dismissed for failing to follow Bush administration policy on multiple issues, and acknowledged that one was sacked to make way for an ally of White House political adviser Karl Rove.

But most of the prosecutors have cited positive job reviews, and Democrats have alleged that there were political motivations behind the firings.

"Each of us was fully aware that we served at the pleasure of the president, and that we could be removed for any or no reason," six of the prosecutors said in a statement released yesterday. "In most of our cases, we were given little or no information about the reason for the request for our resignations."

So that's where it stands before today's hearings on the matter. We're finally going to get some oversight of this Bush government. It's looking more and more like Republicans thought they could use the justice system as another wing of the RNC to help them win elections by either pressuring prosecutors to indict Democrats or NOT to indict Republicans.

This story looks like it has a long way to go yet.

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