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Dems Subpoena DOJ in Attorney Firing Investigation

Democrats Subpoena DOJ in Attorney Firing Investigation

By Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report

Wednesday 11 April 2007

Democrats in the US House of Representatives served a subpoena on Tuesday demanding all previously undisclosed documents relating to the firings of eight US attorneys in 2006. The Senate is considering a similar action.

The subpoena requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to turn over all documents pertaining to the Congressional investigation. The DOJ voluntarily provided more than 3,000 pages of emails to Congress in March. But instead of satisfying critics of the attorney firings, these documents raised new questions.

The documents had many sections blacked-out, and while referencing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Presidential Adviser Karl Rove, the documents did not include any of their correspondence. The release also excluded any emails during the 18-day stretch from November 15 to December 4, 2006 leading up to the week the firings took place. The subpoena requires the DOJ to turn over complete, uncensored versions of the previous emails as well as any emails or other correspondence that might have occurred during the 18-day gap.

In a letter accompanying the subpoena, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan) states: "The incomplete response we have received thus far falls far short of what is needed for the committee to effectively exercise their oversight responsibilities.... The [Justice] Department has not indicated any meaningful willingness to find a way to meet our legitimate needs, and at this point, further delay in receiving these materials will not serve any constructive purpose." Both the House and Senate judiciary committees want the additional documents prior to interviewing the attorney general. He is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17.

According to Conyers, the DOJ has not released additional information regarding other US attorneys who the DOJ considered firing. These documents could help to shed light on the motivations of the Bush administration in its firing of the eight attorneys in question by revealing the criteria that the administration used to determine who stayed and who was asked to resign.

Additionally, the letter points to "an unspecified number of documents 'generated for the purpose of responding to the Congressional (and media) inquiries'" not yet turned over by DOJ. Conyers wants these documents in order to determine "whether Department officials ... attempted to obstruct our primary investigation or misled Congress."

Importantly, the subpoena requires electronic copies of messages and emails contained on hand-held email devices, as well as all relevant documents contained on laptop computers and servers. The subpoena also states that the DOJ is "required to produce all responsive documents that ... you have placed in the temporary possession, custody or control of any third party." This could include all email correspondence relating to the attorney firings that has been sent using private email addresses.

The use of private email addresses and non-White House servers has been revealed during this and other recent Congressional investigations. Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) documented correspondence between convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Karl Rove's former aide Susan Ralston that purposely avoided official channels in order to bypass the mandatory archiving system for official White House emails.

In a separate letter on Monday, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Charles Schumer (D-New York) also requested documents from the DOJ that have not yet been disclosed. While much of their request overlaps with the information being subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee, they are looking at some additional factors as well.

The Senator's letter references an article in the American Spectator from April 2 which says that "a series of files and documents that could prove critical to the Congressional investigation into the firings ... remain in the office of the deputy attorney general and the executive office for the US attorneys, but have not been produced by the Department." These documents are reported to include evaluations and rankings of all 93 US attorneys, as well as relevant briefing materials known to have been provided to the attorney general prior to the investigation into these firings.

The Senate letter sets a deadline of Wednesday April 11 for full cooperation by the DOJ. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday to authorize subpoenas for this material. According to Democratic staffers, subpoenas will only be issued if the DOJ does not cooperate voluntarily.

In his letter to the attorney general, Congressman Conyers explained why subpoenas have become necessary: "Recent developments, including the apparent inconsistencies between your statements and the testimony of ... Kyle Sampson; declarations that your former senior counsel and White House liaison, Monica Goodling, intends to invoke her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination rather than answer the subcommittee's question; and a series of recent resignations by senior officials at the Department.... Under these circumstances, you must understand why we cannot accept the Department's unilateral judgment as to how much of this information it needs to disclose...."


Matt Renner is a reporter for Truthout.

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