E-mails: Rove deeply involved in U.S. attorney firings

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 11, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Karl Rove and other top officials in the George W. Bush White House were deeply involved in pushing for the ouster of several U.S. attorneys, notably including one in New Mexico, according to testimony and e-mails that the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee released Tuesday.

Sworn testimony from former White House Counsel Harriet Miers revealed that Rove considered former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico a "serious problem" and "wanted something done about it" because of complaints about politically sensitive investigations that Iglesias had mounted. Miers said that she couldn't recall whether Rove specifically demanded Iglesias' firing during a 2006 conversation, but Iglesias was fired later that year.

Miers' testimony and e-mails between White House officials contradict Rove's assertion that he was merely a passive "conduit" to the Justice Department for complaints from Republican operatives and wasn't himself an advocate for the administration's eventual ouster of nine U.S. attorneys.

In sworn closed-door testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in July, Rove continued to distance himself from the decision to push out certain prosecutors. He recalled a proposal to fire some or all of them in late 2004, but denied that he'd come up with a plan to have it done and rejected the suggestion that he had a direct role.

"My view was this is a decision that had to be made at the Justice Department," Rove said, according to a transcript of his sworn testimony.

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., issued a statement that 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."

Iglesias, too, said Tuesday that the e-mails confirmed his suspicions that Rove was more directly involved in his December 2006 firing than he'd acknowledged.

"That was just spin," he said of Rove's claim that he'd merely passed along complaints from Republican operatives in New Mexico and had no active role. "The e-mails and testimony confirm my worst fears that the true basis for not only my removal but for several of my colleagues was improper political reasons."

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Rove again denied that he'd sought to influence any of the prosecutors' investigations.

"I played no role in deciding which U.S. attorneys were retained and which (were) replaced," his statement said.

Rove, who said the documents' release showed that allegations against him "have proved utterly groundless," urged the public to read the documents rather than rely on "partisans selectively quoting testimony or excerpting e-mail messages."

The committee's release of more than 700 pages of transcripts and 5,000 pages of White House and Republican National Committee e-mails on these subjects marks the end of the House investigation into the U.S. attorneys' firings.

The e-mails reveal more details about the political sources of the White House's dissatisfaction with Iglesias and other prosecutors.

In e-mails, Rove's then-aide Scott Jennings repeatedly pressed the issue with his boss and other White House officials. In a June 2005 e-mail, he told former Bush campaign operative Tim Griffin that he'd "really like to move forward with getting rid" of Iglesias because of the New Mexico prosecutor's handling of allegations about Democratic voter fraud. Griffin, who later replaced ousted Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, was favored for the job by Rove and other White House officials.

In a 2005 e-mail, Rove urged another White House official to "keep pushing" for Griffin. "I want him on the team," Rove wrote.

The e-mails also confirmed that former Missouri U.S. Attorney Todd Graves was forced to leave because staffers for U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., wanted him out, not because of professional misconduct. Bond issued a statement Tuesday denying involvement in Graves' firing.

In another 2005 e-mail, then-White House lawyer Richard Klingler said "Karl is fine" with the plan to remove Graves in a deal struck with Bond, which Bond previously has denied making.

The Justice Department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility later found Graves' removal to be "inappropriate."

U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy, a special prosecutor, continues to investigate whether any former administration officials involved in the firings violated the law. The House Judiciary Committee forwarded the material collected during its more than two-year investigation to Dannehy "to assist in her effort to determine whether federal criminal charges are appropriate and to pursue any such charges," Conyers' statement said.

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