WASHINGTON — Attorney General Michael Mukasey agreed Monday to appoint a prosecutor to continue investigating the firing of nine U.S. attorneys after the Justice Department's watchdog found "substantial" evidence that partisan politics played a role in some of the ousters.
In a long-awaited report, Inspector General Glenn Fine concluded that White House officials were more involved in the firings than the administration initially admitted. However, Fine's investigators were impeded in resolving questions about the White House's actions because former and current Bush aides refused to cooperate with the investigation.
Fine recommended that Mukasey appoint a prosecutor, who would have the authority to demand more evidence from the administration.
Although Mukasey, who replaced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asserted that the report dispelled "the most disturbing allegations," he acknowledged that unanswered questions remained.
"The Justice Department has an obligation to the American people to pursue this case wherever the facts and the law require," said Mukasey.
The controversy was sparked by the 2006 firing of nine U.S. attorneys and a little-noticed change in the Patriot Act that allowed the Justice Department to install replacements without seeking Congressional approval.
Congressional Democrats launched an investigation into the firings after becoming suspicious that the prosecutors had been ousted because several had either investigated sensitive voter fraud allegations or politicians on corruption charges.
The former U.S. attorney in New Mexico, David Iglesias, contended he had been pressured by Senator Pete Domenici to speed up an indictment against local Democrats before the 2006 congressional election. While Domenici acknowledged calling Iglesias to ask about the case, he denied pressuring him improperly.
Fine said he found that Republican Party officials and Domenici appeared to have improperly influenced the Justice Department's decisions.
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To read the Inspector General's report: http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/special/s0809a/final.pdf
McClatchy Newspapers 2008