Law

Iglesias: ‘Long Suspected Rove’s Fingerprints Were All Over’ US Attorney Firings

In an interview Thursday, Iglesias said he was “not surprised” Bush “got involved in the decisions to dismiss the prosecutors.

“For something that became this politicized it had to get his input his approval,” Iglesias said. “I suspect when all the evidence comes out he wasn’t just in the loop he approved it.”

Iglesias said he has long suspected that Rove’s “fingerprints were all over this.”

rovebushGeorge W. Bush and his former top adviser, Karl Rove, were far more involved in the firings of nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 than they had previously let on, according to internal Bush administration e-mails and interviews Rove gave to two major newspapers earlier this month.

The disclosures were made Thursday after Rove completed his second round of testimony behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee.

A Justice Department watchdog report released last year said the firings were largely politically motivated.

In March, Judiciary Commitee Chairman John Conyers and lawyers working with the panel, with the help of White House Counsel Gregory Craig, brokered the deal that resulted in Rove agreeing to testify before the committee privately with the possibility that may be called to testify publicly at a later date.

The deal between Rove, White House Counsel Harriet Miers and the Judiciary Committee was made during the course of a lengthy court battle between the White House and Congress over Bush’s broad claims of executive privilege.

According to a news release issued by Conyers in March, Rove and Miers, while not under oath, agreed to take part in “transcribed depositions under penalty of perjury.” Conyers said an agreement was reached “that invocations of official privileges would be significantly limited.”

The Los Angeles Times reported late Thursday that under terms of the agreement with the Judiciary Committee, Rove “agreed to field questions from one congressman and one staff lawyer from each party. Also in the room were staff members and lawyers for congressional officers, the Bush and Obama administrations, and the Justice Department, which appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the firings for possible criminal violations.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, led the questioning.

Rove sat down for interview with the Post and Times earlier this month and downplayed his role in the firings. The publications entered into an agreement with him that they would not publish a report until he completed his interview with the Judiciary Committee. Rove’s interview with the newspapers, in which he portrayed himself as a victim of “grievances,” appears to be an end-run around the Judiciary Committee’s imminent release of the transcript of his testimony.

Jonathan Godfrey, a spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee, suggested that the interviews Rove agreed to and e-mails obtained by Times and Post were leaked by Rove or his associates in an attempt to spin the story in his favor.

“It’s hardly surprising that Mr. Rove would minimize his involvement in the U.S. attorney firings or that selectively leaked documents would serve his version of events,” Godfrey said, adding that Rove’s role “was more substantial than his statements to the media indicate.”

Late Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Rove made “prearranged deals with the New York Times and Washington Post, under which he allowed them to see some of his e-mail messages, which the White House had closely guarded.”

Schiff told the Los Angeles Times that Rove “is trying to jump ahead and shape the story before the documents and interviews are released.”

The e-mails shared with The New York Times and Washington Post, however, don’t show Rove as being disengaged from the scandal. To the contrary, the documents show him as being hands-on in the efforts to oust at least three U.S. attorneys.

The headlines the Times and Post used indicates how Rove tried to influence their reporting on his role in the attorney firings. He appeared to be successful in the case of the Times, which headlined its report: “Rove Says His Role in Prosecutor Firings Was Small.” The Post went in the opposite direction and headlined it’s story: “E-Mails Show Larger White House Role in Prosecutor Firings.”

According to several e-mails quoted by the Post, Rove was the recipient of complaints from lawmakers about former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. Rove personally acted upon those complaints by communicating with Miers and the Justice Department in the months before Iglesias was fired.

Rove also told the New York Times that he believed Bush “had been informed of the decision to let the prosecutors go.”

In an interview with the Post, Rove also said he’s “sure” Bush was told about the firings in advance.

“Maybe Harriet [Miers] talked to him about it,” Rove said. “I’m sure they did walk in at the end and say, ‘Mr. President, we want to make a change here.'”

That revelation would contradict numerous public statements made by White House spokespersons Tony Snow and Dana Perino that Bush did not play a role nor was he involved in the decision to dismiss the U.S. Attorneys and that the decisions emanated from the Department of Justice.

“[T]here is no indication that the President knew about any of the ongoing discussions [about firing U.S. attorneys] over the two years, nor did he see a list or a plan before it was carried out,” Perino told reporters in March 2007.

There were also fierce denials from the White House that Rove was involved in the dismissals. In the interviews, Rove described himself as a “conduit” for complaints about the U.S. attorneys. But that’s not what the e-mails show.

In November 2006, one month before the firings, Rove asked Jennings to provide him with “a report on what U.S. Attorneys slot are vacant or expected to be open soon.”

“Yes, sir,” Jennings said.

Rove said he had received complaints during this time from top aides to former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, about the handling of public corruption and voter fraud cases by David Iglesias, the state’s U.S. Attorney, prior to the 2006-midterm elections.

“I was the recipient of complaints,” Rove told the Times, referring to Iglesias, “I passed them on to Harriet Miers to pass on to the Justice Department.”

One of the e-mails obtained by the Washington Post shows that Rove’s top aide, Scott Jennings sent Rove an e-mail on Oct. 10, 2006 stating that he received “a call from [Domenici’s former chief of staff] Steve Bell tonight. . . . Last week Sen. Domenici reached [Bush’s- chief of staff [Josh Bolten] and asked that we remove the U.S. Atty. Steve wanted to make sure we all understood that they couldn’t be more serious about this request.”

Rove added that he assumed Miers had informed Bush about the decision to fire Iglesias.

Last year, as reported by The Public Record, a 356-page report prepared by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine and the head of the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility H. Marshall Jarrett, concluded that Bush and Rove helped to orchestrate the firing of Iglesias after receiving complaints from Republican activists that Iglesias did not prosecute individuals for voter fraud before the 2006 midterm elections.

The report said Bush and Rove “spoke with Attorney General Gonzales in October 2006 about their concerns over voter fraud in three cities, one of which was Albuquerque, New Mexico” and concerns Domenici had about Iglesias’s job performance, but those specific findings went largely unreported.

In an interview Thursday, Iglesias said he was “not surprised” Bush “got involved in the decisions to dismiss the prosecutors.

“For something that became this politicized it had to get his input his approval,” Iglesias said. “I suspect when all the evidence comes out he wasn’t just in the loop he approved it.”

Iglesias said he has long suspected that Rove’s “fingerprints were all over this.”

In an on-camera interview with me two years ago, Iglesias said he believed “somewhere on an RNC computer – on some server somewhere – there’s an email from Karl Rove stating why we need to be axed.”

Back then, he said he believed a “smoking gun” would eventually surface and lead directly to Karl Rove and blow the scandal wide open.

Iglesias added that the complaints about him from Domenici’s office that accelerated in the weeks before the 2006-midterm election were “tied to [New Mexico Rep.] Heather Wilson’s reelection campaign.”

Wilson had been locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger Patricia Madrid and had won the race by 800 votes.

Iglesias said he had been pressured by Wilson and Domenici to secure indictments against state officials targeted in a corruption probe.

“The e-mail timing [in October 2006] corroborates what I suspected,” Iglesias said. Domenici and other New Mexico Republican Party officials “wanted me to file indictments and [Wilson] would benefit. They wanted to use me and my office as a political tool.”

The U.S. attorney scandal, which resulted in the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and numerous other Justice Department officials, is now a criminal probe being lead by Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut who was appointed special counsel last September by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey. She is investigating whether former Justice Department and White House officials lied or obstructed justice in connection with the firings.

Dannehy has convened a grand jury and interviewed Rove and Miers and Jennings and subpoenaed documents from Domenici. [See this story for more details about Dannehy’s investigation of Domenici and his chief of staff]. Dannehy has also been scrutinizing the Gonzales’s role in the matter, according to legal sources knowledgeable about her probe.

Iglesias said given that Dannehy has access to “a lot of the facts…there still may be obstruction of justice charges” filed.

“I can’t believe Gonzales did not know what was going on,” Iglesias said, suggesting that the former attorney general may be one of Dannehy’s targets.

Legal sources said Dannehy “is very close to wrapping up” her investigation, but it’s unclear whether she intends to file a public report. And unless she can prove there was a conspiracy to obstruct justice it’s unlikely any member of the Bush administration involved in the firings will be charged.

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