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AG wants investigation into firings

From NBC's Pete Williams
Attorney General Michael Mukasey has appointed a career federal prosecutor to further investigate the firings of nine U.S. attorneys two years ago and determine whether any crimes were committed.

Video: Attorney General Michael Mukasey says he's launching an investigation into whether top-ranking administration officials broke the law when they fired a group of U.S. attorneys. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

Mukasey's action follows this morning's release of a 300-plus page report on the firing saga, which resulted in the resignation of former attorney general Alberto Gonzales and several of his deputies.

"At a minimum, the process by which nine U.S. attorneys were removed in 2006 was haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional and the way in which the Justice Department handled those removals and the resulting public controversy was profoundly lacking," Mukasey said. But he said today's report leaves many questions unanswered. He wants the career prosecutor to look further into the firings and decide whether anyone should be prosecuted.

One reason the inspector general was unable to get all the answers is that his office has no subpoena authority.

*** UPDATE *** Senior leaders of the Justice Department were "remarkably unengaged" in the process that led to the firing of nine federal prosecutors in 2006, says a report out this morning from the department's inspector general.

Instead, the process was designed and carried out by an aide to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It allowed partisan political considerations to be an important factor in several of the firings, most troublingly in the case of the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, David Iglesias, who was booted after complaints from Republican politicians and party activists, the report says.

Once the firings became a public controversy, the explanations for the removals from Gonzales and others were "inconsistent, misleading, and inaccurate." But because investigators were unable to subpoena former DOJ officials, they recommend that a career federal prosecutor look into whether any crimes were committed by the firings, which the current attorney general today agreed to do. 

Gonzales, the report finds, delegated the entire project to one of his senior DOJ aides, Kyle Sampson, and provided little supervision or direction. Once a decision was made to fire "underperforming" US attorneys, Gonzales never talked with Sampson about what factors to use in evaluating the prosecutors -- never even asking what the reasons were when he approved the eventual firing list. 

When asked about it later, Gonzales said he remembered almost nothing about it, not even a meeting in his office to talk about it. 

"This was," the report dryly notes, "not a minor personnel matter that should have been hard to remember." His claim to have forgotten most of it is "difficult to accept," the report says.