MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block. Today, the Justice Department released a scathing report on the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. Who fired them and why? The report is harsh but incomplete. The White House would not cooperate with the investigation, and now a criminal prosecutor is taking over. NPR's Ari Shapiro has the story.
ARI SHAPIRO: This report is essentially a road map to one of the most chaotic periods in the Justice Department's history. And it has no praise for anyone who was in charge then. A few quotes. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, quote, failed to exercise appropriate leadership and supervision throughout this entire process. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty made public statements that were, quote, inconsistent, misleading or inaccurate. Chief of staff Kyle Sampson, who oversaw the U.S. attorney firings, quote, mishandled the removal process from the outset.
Those men resigned over the controversy, as did many others. Investigators found no evidence that anyone at the Justice Department evaluated the reasons for firing each U.S. attorney. And they found that no one tried to keep improper political considerations out of the firing process. That means prosecutors might have been fired for refusing to indict Democrats or for going after Republicans. The report, in fact, says there is quote, substantial evidence that partisan political considerations played a role in some of the dismissals. When New Mexico's former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias read the report this morning, he says he felt a tremendous sense of relief and vindication.
Mr. DAVID IGLESIAS (Former U.S. Attorney, New Mexico): What I've been saying all along has now been substantiated, that these firings were wrongful. There was no legal basis for them, and now it's going to the next level, which is they may have broken criminal laws.
SHAPIRO: The report describes the Iglesias case as the most troubling. He was fired after New Mexico's Republican Senator Pete Domenici complained to the White House and to Attorney General Gonzales that Iglesias was not prosecuting Democrats before Election Day. Investigators can't say for sure whether anyone broke a law in the Iglesias case or others because neither Domenici nor the White House would cooperate with the investigation. Former White House Counsel Harriet Miers refused to testify, and so did former political adviser Karl Rove. At one point, the White House created a timeline of the U.S. attorney firings. They shared that timeline with the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and when investigators asked for the timeline, the White House told the Office of Legal Counsel not to hand it over. Today, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island blamed current Attorney General Michael Mukasey for tolerating Bush administration stonewalling.
Senator SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (Democrat, Rhode Island): Why did the attorney general not direct the Office of Legal Counsel to provide the reports? Why did he not go to the White House and say, if you're not cooperating, I'm not your attorney general any longer?
SHAPIRO: Attorney General Mukasey did follow the inspector general's top recommendation. He appointed a prosecutor named Nora Dannehy to pursue the questions the inspector general was unable to answer. One issue she'll examine is whether Alberto Gonzales committed any crimes. George Terwilliger is Gonzales' lawyer, and he's upset that the investigation will continue.
Mr. GEORGE TERWILLIGER (Alberto Gonzales' Lawyer): Look, the bottom line is the report does not report any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. And whether they were able to answer all the questions they wanted to ask or not is beside the point.
SHAPIRO: Former U.S. attorneys are a close bunch, and this morning, lots of them were reading this report, including Republican Matt Orwig of Dallas.
Mr. MATT ORWIG (Former US Attorney): It's literally sickening.
SHAPIRO: Orwig was once called a loyal Bushie, a description he finds offensive. He says the Justice Department has always had a wall of independence from political influence.
Mr. ORWIG: That wall of independence was just completely torn down, burned and hauled off.
SHAPIRO: He says it will take years to rebuild that wall. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.