Monday, February 26, 2007

Firing Attorneys Who Expose Corruption

Is the Bush administration obstructing justice by removing U.S. attorneys who have been investigating widespread corruption and bribes which resulted in indictments? Senate and House committees are starting to review what some are calling a purge -- or at least a surge in cronyism --directed by Attorney General Gonzales.

Here's some background via TPM:

Sometimes a really big story is sitting there, right in plain sight. That's the case with the firing of San Diego US Attorney Carol Lam and the on-going Duke Cunningham investigation.

As per Washington conventional wisdom we're now supposed to accept that the firing of seven US attorneys around the country was, yes, perhaps unprecedented, but more an example of Bush cronyism than an effort to short-circuit one or more investigations. But the firing of Lam just doesn't bear out that reading.

Earlier this month, Lam indicted Brent Wilkes, Dusty Foggo and John T. Michael.

By almost any measure this is a public corruption indictment of historic proportions. Wilkes corrupted the sitting US congressman who got the longest sentence ever given to a member of Congress. Foggo was the executive director of the CIA, the number three guy, the one who actually ran the agency on a daily basis. Michael helped bribing Duke and he also appears to have lied to investigators. He's also the nephew of Tommy Kontogiannis, a key player in the scandal who is listed as an unindicted briber-and-coconspirator in Duke Cunningham's plea agreement. One of the big mysteries in this case is why Kontogiannis still hasn't been indicted, especially now that his nephew -- whose role in the case was secondary to that of his uncle -- has. On Kontogiannis, it's probably worth considering the widespread reports of his role on the fringe of the intelligence and criminal underworlds to see why he might, as yet, have drawn a pass.

In any case, a pretty weighty indictment. And the prosecutor gets forced out so that she only barely has time to bring the main indictments? That sounds very fishy.

And what's the reason for her firing?

We were originally told that she was let go on the basis of poor performance and management. But McClatchy later reported that, like other fired US attorneys, Lam's performance reviews were strong.

So why was she fired?

We're now asked to believe that she was canned because a few conservative congressmen were complaining that she wasn't doing enough on the illegal immigration front.


A look at the cases against the men in question leave little doubt that this investigation wasn't over. But the job of the person who's led the prosecution from beginning is.

Who's foolish enough to believe this is all a coincidence?"

A wide range of other editorial writers and elected officials are raising some critical concerns about what appears to be attempts to stifle or simply end corruption investigations. Five of such editorials are cited here.

As WaPo story from Feb 15th reported:

The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to explain how the Justice Department's former top environmental prosecutor could sign consent decrees with the third-largest U.S. oil company after buying a $980,000 vacation home with its top lobbyist."

More on that here:

Last March, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, then the head of the Justice Department’s environmental division, bought a $1 million vacation home with Don R. Duncan, the top lobbyist for oil company ConocoPhillips. Nine months later, Ms. Wooldridge signed off on a settlement agreement that let ConocoPhillips delay the installation of pollution-control equipment and the payment of fines.

Just to make matters cozier, the third owner of the beach house is J. Steven Griles, the former No. 2 official at the Interior Department who’s now the target of a Justice Department criminal investigation into his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Oh, and Ms. Wooldridge, who lives with Mr. Griles, once worked with him at Interior, where she gave Mr. Griles ethics advice and defended his actions during an inspector general investigation."

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