WASHINGTON — Attorney General Michael Mukasey said Monday he will appoint a prosecutor to investigate whether his predecessor Alberto Gonzales and others involved in the firings of nine US attorneys broke the law.
Democrats had accused Gonzales, who resigned last year after a bitter and prolonged constitutional standoff between the White House and Congress, of wrongful involvement in the firings of the prosecutors.
In a report released Monday, the Justice Department's Inspector General detailed "substantial evidence" that partisan politics played a key role in the 2006 "unprecedented removal" of the nine officials.
It also said Gonzales "abdicated his responsibility to safeguard the integrity and independence of the department," Inspector General Glenn Fine's office said.
The 390-page report said Gonzales "bears primary responsibility for the flawed US attorney removal process."
Mukasey named acting federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to oversee the investigation, which is expected to last 18 months — well into the next administration.
Fine's report said White House officials were more deeply involved in the firings than the administration had initially acknowledged, and that investigators were impeded from conducting their probe by several current and former Bush aides, including former presidential advisor Karl Rove.
Mukasey acknowledged that key questions remained unanswered.
"The report makes plain that, at a minimum, the process by which nine US attorneys were removed in 2006 was haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional, and the way in which the Justice Department handled those removals and the resulting public controversy was profoundly lacking," Mukasey said in a statement.
The controversy over the firings was linked to a change in legislation that allowed the Justice Department to install attorney replacements without congressional approval.
Some of the fired prosecutors expressed their support for the probe.
"This report corroborates what my colleagues and I have been saying for the last 18 months: that the basis for our removal was improper, wrongful and now possibly criminal," said David Iglesias, the US attorney in New Mexico ousted in the Justice Department purge.
President George W. Bush and his advisors have claimed "executive privilege" under the separation of powers, in refusing to allow aides to testify in court or Congress about the scandal.
In July, Rove failed to show up for subpoenaed testimony before the House of Representatives in a probe of the controversial firings.
But a US judge later that month opened the door for mandatory cooperation by saying presidential advisors would have to testify in Congress when subpoenaed.
Copyright 2008 AFP