Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More U.S. Attorney Dismissal Skullduggery

Another name has been added to the list of U.S. Attorneys who lost their jobs under murky circumstances.

The former federal prosecutor in Maryland said Monday that he was forced out in early 2005 because of political pressure stemming from public corruption investigations involving associates of the state's governor, a Republican.

"There was direct pressure not to pursue these investigations," said the former prosecutor, Thomas M. DiBiagio. "The practical impact was to intimidate my office and shut down the investigations."

Mr. DiBiagio, a controversial figure who clashed with a number of Maryland politicians, had never publicly discussed the reasons behind his departure. But he agreed to an interview with The New York Times because he said he was concerned about what he saw as similarities with the recent firings of eight United States attorneys.

His office had been looking into whether associates of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had improperly funneled money from gambling interests to promote legalized slot machines in Maryland. Mr. DiBiagio said that several prominent Maryland Republicans had pressed him to back away from the inquiries and that one conversation had so troubled him that he reported it to an F.B.I. official as a threat.

But he said that the Justice Department had offered little support and that that made it "impossible for me to stay."

Several current and former officials in the Baltimore office said Mr. DiBiagio voiced concerns in 2004 that the corruption inquiries were jeopardizing his career, a view that they shared.

Meanwhile, the other lawmaker who had been suspected of contacting New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias has now admitted as much, while maintaining that it was not as sinister as it looks.

Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) acknowledged yesterday that she contacted a federal prosecutor to complain about the pace of his public corruption investigations, as the Senate ethics committee signaled that it had opened a preliminary inquiry into a similar communication by her state's senior senator, Pete V. Domenici (R).

Wilson denied allegations from former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias that she pressured him to speed up a political corruption investigation involving Democrats in the waning days of her tight election campaign last fall. ...

Iglesias, one of seven U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department on Dec. 7, is expected to tell Congress today that Wilson and Domenici were trying to sway the course of his investigation. Domenici acknowledged Sunday that he called Iglesias about the corruption case but said he did not pressure him. The telephone calls to Iglesias by Domenici and Wilson appear to put them in conflict with congressional ethics rules that bar contacts with federal agency officials during most active investigations.

And then there's this:

Democrats are questioning the timing of the resignation of a Department of Justice official who called to fire several U.S. attorneys late last year.

Michael Battle, a former U.S. attorney who serves as the director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, will leave his post voluntarily March 16.

The circumstances surrounding Battle's departure add to questions Democrats plan to ask about whether politics played any role in the firings of seven U.S. attorneys, some of whom were pursuing public-corruption cases against GOP lawmakers. The House and Senate Judiciary committees will hold hearings featuring the testimony of several of the fired U.S. attorneys today to investigate the matter. ...

Battle called six federal prosecutors in early December to fire them, and reportedly was unhappy about doing so.

A Justice Department spokesman told the Associated Press that Battle "was not involved in the actual decision-making."

"This raises another question about a subject where there are already too many unanswered questions," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who will chair today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with U.S. attorneys, said in a statement. "While Mike Battle, a man of integrity, must issue the customary denial, the timing of this resignation asks whether he’s another casualty of the U.S. attorney imbroglio."

<< Home