When the U.S. attorney scandal broke in early 2007, the Bush White House contended that it had nothing to do with the matter and that the Justice Department had decided to fire eight top prosecutors because of performance issues.
Scores of e-mails and reams of testimony recently released by the House Judiciary Committee show that the White House assertions were false. Former Bush political adviser Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and their aides were key and early players in the process that ultimately resulted in the dismissals.
Case in point: David Iglesias, U.S. attorney in New Mexico. Iglesias, who had earned top performance reviews, drew the ire of then-Sen. Pete Dominici, R-N.M., and Republican leaders in the state for failing to pursue voter fraud prosecutions against Democrats. Rove told the House committee that he began hearing complaints about Iglesias some time after the 2004 elections. A May 2005 e-mail exchange shows two White House aides to Rove discussing Iglesias. One wrote: "Is it too early to formulate a list of extremely capable replacements?"
E-mails also document the involvement of Rove, Miers and their aides in other questionable dismissals, including that of former Kansas City, Mo., U.S. attorney Todd Graves. Tim Griffin, one of the Rove aides who pushed for the removal of Iglesias, was later named U.S. attorney in Arkansas, replacing one of the other dismissed prosecutors. U.S. attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president. They may be removed for any number of legitimate reasons, but they must set politics aside when deciding which cases to bring and which individuals to charge. Evidence released by the House committee strongly suggests that Iglesias and the other U.S. attorneys were punished for doing just that.
Special prosecutor Nora Dannehy is investigating whether any crimes were committed; her likely focus is on whether individuals involved obstructed justice or made false statements to investigators. Misleading the public, as Rove does when he claims that he was a mere "conduit" in the matter, is not a crime, but it is to be deplored, as is the damage that he and his cohort inflicted on the credibility and independence of the Justice Department.