On December 7, 2006, at the direction of senior Department of Justice (Department) officials, seven U.S. Attorneys were told to resign from their positions.1 Two other U.S. Attorneys had been told to resign earlier in 2006.2 When these removals became public in late 2006 and early 2007, members of Congress began to raise questions and concerns about the reasons for the removals, including whether they were intended to influence certain prosecutions.
Beginning in March 2007, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) conducted this joint investigation into the removals of these U.S. Attorneys.3 Our investigation focused on the reasons for the removals of the U.S. Attorneys and whether they were removed for partisan political purposes, or to influence an investigation or prosecution, or to retaliate for their actions in any specific investigation or prosecution. We also examined the process by which the U.S. Attorneys were selected for removal, and we sought to identify the persons involved in those decisions, whether in the Department, the White House, Congress, or elsewhere. In addition, we investigated whether the Attorney General or other Department officials made any false or misleading statements to Congress or the public concerning the removals, and whether they attempted to influence the testimony of other witnesses. Finally, we examined whether the Attorney General or others intended to bypass the Senate confirmation process in the replacement of any removed U.S. Attorney through the use of the Attorney General’s appointment power for Interim U.S. Attorneys.
- Methodology of the Investigation
- Organization of this Report
During the course of our investigation, we conducted approximately 90 interviews.4 Among the witnesses we interviewed were former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; former Deputy Attorneys General Paul McNulty, James Comey, and Larry Thompson; and numerous current and former employees of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG), and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA). We interviewed eight of the nine U.S. Attorneys who were removed – Daniel Bogden, Paul Charlton, Margaret Chiara, Bud Cummins, Todd Graves, David Iglesias, John McKay, and Carol Lam. The ninth U.S. Attorney, Kevin Ryan, declined our request for an interview.
We also attempted to interview Monica Goodling, a former counsel to Attorney General Gonzales and the Department’s White House Liaison. She declined to cooperate with our investigation. However, on May 23, 2007, Goodling testified before the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary pursuant to a grant of immunity issued by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and we reviewed the transcript of that hearing.
We also attempted to interview White House staff who may have played a role in the removals of the U.S. Attorneys. We discussed our request with the Office of Counsel to the President (White House Counsel’s Office), and that office encouraged current and former White House employees to agree to be interviewed by us. Several former White House staff members agreed to be interviewed, including Deputy White House Counsel David Leitch; Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor; Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings; Associate White House Counsel Dabney Friedrich, Christopher Oprison, and Grant Dixton; and Paralegal Colin Newman. However, other former White House staff, including White House Counsel Harriet Miers, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor Karl Rove, Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley, and Associate White House Counsel Richard Klingler, declined our request to interview them.
Miers’s attorney told us that although he understood that considerations of executive privilege were not an issue between the Department of Justice and the White House since both are part of the Executive Branch, an interview with us might undermine Miers’s ability to rely on the instructions she received from the White House directing her to refuse to appear for Congressional testimony. Rove’s attorney advised us after consultation with Rove that he declined our request for an interview. We were informed by the White House Counsel’s Office that both Kelley and Klingler also declined our request.
We also interviewed several members of Congress and congressional staff regarding the removals. We interviewed Congresswoman Heather Wilson in relation to Iglesias’s removal. We interviewed Congressman “Doc” Hastings and his former Chief of Staff, Ed Cassidy, in relation to the removal of McKay. We requested an interview with Senator Christopher S. “Kit” Bond in relation to Graves’s removal, and he provided us with a written statement.
We also attempted to interview Senator Pete V. Domenici and his Chief of Staff, Steven Bell, about the removal of Iglesias and any conversations they had with the White House or the Department related to the removal. However, Senator Domenici and Bell declined our requests for an interview.5
In our investigation, we also reviewed several thousand electronic and hard copy documents, including documents the Department produced in response to Congressional investigations of the U.S. Attorney removals.6 We obtained and searched the e-mail accounts of numerous current and former Department employees in, among other Department components, the Attorney General’s Office, the Deputy Attorney General’s Office, and EOUSA.
We also requested and received documents from the White House showing communications between the White House and outside persons and entities, including the Department of Justice, related to the removal of the U.S. Attorneys. However, the White House Counsel’s Office declined to provide internal e-mails or internal documents related to the U.S. Attorney removals, stating that these documents were protected from disclosure because, according to the White House Counsel’s Office, such material “implicate[s] White House confidentiality interests of a very high order. . . .” The White House did not formally assert executive privilege as grounds for withholding the material from us, but asserted that its “internal communications . . . are, in our judgment, covered by the deliberative process and/or presidential communications components of executive privilege in the event of a demand for them by Congress.”
As we discuss in more detail in Chapter Three, in the course of our investigation we also learned that in early March 2007 Associate White House Counsel Michael Scudder had interviewed Department and White House personnel at the request of White House Counsel Fred Fielding in an effort to understand the circumstances surrounding the U.S. Attorney removals and be in a position to respond to this issue.7 Based on his interviews, Scudder created a memorandum for Fielding containing a timeline of events, which was provided to the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and to the Attorney General. Because the Scudder chronology appeared to contain information we had not obtained elsewhere in our investigation, we requested that OLC produce a complete copy of the final Scudder memorandum and all drafts of the memorandum. OLC declined to produce the document, stating that the White House Counsel’s Office directed it not to do so. The White House Counsel’s Office agreed to provide us with one paragraph in the memorandum related to information about Iglesias’s removal, and two paragraphs containing information Rove provided to Scudder. White House Counsel notified us that these paragraphs contained information similar to previous public statements the White House made in the press. The White House Counsel’s Office declined to provide to us a full copy of the memorandum, stating that it has a “very strong confidentiality interest” in not providing documents that were prepared to advise and assist the President and his advisors “in response to a public, ongoing, and significant controversy.”8
The White House Counsel’s Office eventually provided to us a heavily redacted version of the document, but the redactions made the document virtually worthless as an investigative tool. We disagree with the White House’s rationale for withholding this document, particularly since the document was shared with OLC and e-mail records also show that drafts had been provided to former Attorney General Gonzales. We also disagree with the White House Counsel’s Office decision not to provide us White House internal documents related to the U.S. Attorney removals and, as we discuss below, believe it hindered our investigation.
In Chapter Two of this report, we provide background information about the jurisdiction and duties of U.S. Attorneys, how they are selected and evaluated, and their position in the Department’s organizational structure.
In Chapter Three, we describe in detail the background leading to the removal of the U.S. Attorneys in 2006, including the genesis of the plan to replace them, the various modifications of the plan in 2005 through 2006, and the involvement of the White House and Department officials in the development of the plan. We then discuss the removals and events following the removals, including the initial Congressional and public focus on the removals, the Department’s efforts to explain the removals, the public statements and testimony of senior Department officials about the reasons for the removals, and the Congressional hearings regarding the removals.
In Chapters Four through Twelve, we discuss in detail the circumstances surrounding the removal of each of the nine U.S. Attorneys. We examine the reasons the Department offered for each removal, the process by which the U.S. Attorneys were selected for removal, the process by which they were removed, and our conclusions regarding their removal.
In Chapter Thirteen, we provide our conclusions about the process by which the U.S. Attorneys were selected for removal and removed, the reasons proffered for removal, the actions of senior Department leaders in the removal process, and whether any Department employee made false or misleading statements to Congress or the public related to the removals.9
In addition, we also conducted joint investigations of three other matters related to the subject matter of this investigation. We investigated allegations that the Department’s former White House Liaison, Monica Goodling, and others in the Office of the Attorney General used political considerations to assess candidates for career positions in the Department, and on July 28, 2008, we issued a report describing our findings. We also investigated allegations that officials overseeing the Department’s Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program used political considerations in assessing candidates for those programs, and on June 24, 2008, we issued a report describing our findings in that investigation. In addition, we investigated allegations that former Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Bradley Schlozman and others used political considerations in hiring and personnel decisions in the Civil Rights Division. We will issue a separate report describing the results of that investigation.
Domenici declined to be interviewed, but said he would provide written answers to questions through his attorney. We declined this offer because we did not believe it would be a reliable or appropriate investigative method under the circumstances.
We learned about this document from the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. In response to our document request, OLC had provided to us its final chronology, deleting all references to the Scudder chronology and all information derived from that document. When we obtained earlier drafts of the OLC chronology, we saw references to the Scudder memorandum as support for certain propositions in the chronology, including alleged communications between a member of Congress and the White House regarding Iglesias.
With the exception of the nine U.S. Attorneys who were removed in 2006, we do not discuss in detail all of the U.S. Attorneys Kyle Sampson or others at the Department may have considered for removal between 2005 and 2006. However, in describing the removal selection process, we identify those U.S. Attorneys Sampson specifically mentioned to the White House in removal lists and e-mail correspondence concerning the removals. We also note what Department officials told us about why these U.S. Attorneys ultimately were not removed.