Saturday, March 03, 2007

U.S. Attorney Firings Okayed By White House

The White House approved the firings of seven U.S. attorneys late last year after senior Justice Department officials identified the prosecutors they believed were not doing enough to carry out President Bush's policies on immigration, firearms and other issues, White House and Justice Department officials said yesterday. ...

One of the complaints came from Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), who specifically raised concerns with the Justice Department last fall about the performance of then-U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, according to administration officials and Domenici's office.

Iglesias has alleged that two unnamed New Mexico lawmakers pressured him in October to speed up the indictments of Democrats before the elections. Domenici has declined to comment on that allegation.

Since the mass firings were carried out three months ago, Justice Department officials have consistently portrayed them as personnel decisions based on the prosecutors' "performance-related" problems. But, yesterday, officials acknowledged that the ousters were based primarily on the administration's unhappiness with the prosecutors' policy decisions and revealed the White House's role in the matter. ...

The seven prosecutors were first identified by the Justice Department's senior leadership shortly before the November elections, officials said. The final decision was supported by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and his deputy, Paul J. McNulty, and cleared with the White House counsel's office, including deputy counsel William Kelly, they said.

The firings have sparked outrage from Democrats and some Republicans in Congress as details emerge about the unusual decision to remove so many at once on Dec. 7, in the middle of the administration's term. The issue escalated this week with the allegations from Iglesias, who has said he will name the two New Mexico lawmakers who called him if he is asked under oath.

The House Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas for Iglesias and three other fired prosecutors, who are set to testify in both the House and the Senate on Tuesday.

An administration official said White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten does not recall whether he was briefed about the firings before they occurred.

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