Thursday, April 26, 2007

RE: Another Dubious Firing

----------------- Bulletin Message -----------------
From: The Man Common
Date: Apr 26, 2007 11:07 AM

    Another Dubious Firing

    The New York Times | Editorial

    Go to Original

    Congressman Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican, was locked in a close re-election battle last fall when the local United States attorney, Paul Charlton, was investigating him for corruption. The investigation appears to have been slowed before Election Day, Mr. Renzi retained his seat, and Mr. Charlton ended up out of a job - one of eight prosecutors purged by the White House and the Justice Department.

    The Arizona case adds a disturbing new chapter to that scandal. Congress needs to determine whether Mr. Charlton was fired for any reason other than threatening the Republican Party's hold on a Congressional seat.

    Mr. Renzi was fighting for his political life when the local press reported that he was facing indictment for a suspect land deal. According to The Wall Street Journal, federal investigators met unexpected resistance from the Justice Department in getting approval to proceed and, perhaps as a result, the investigation was pushed past the election.

    Mr. Renzi's top aide, Brian Murray, admitted this week that when reports surfaced that his boss was being investigated, he had called Mr. Charlton's office asking for information. Mr. Charlton's office did the right thing, according to Mr. Murray's account: it refused to comment. Weeks later, Mr. Charlton was fired.

    There is reason to be suspicious about these events. Last week, all Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could offer was weak excuses for the firing - that Mr. Charlton had asked Mr. Gonzales to reconsider a decision to seek the death penalty in a murder case and that he'd started recording interviews with targets of investigations without asking permission from Justice Department bureaucrats.

    Beyond that, this story line is far too similar to one involving a fired prosecutor in New Mexico. Senator Pete Domenici, a Republican, asked the prosecutor there, David Iglesias, about the status of an investigation of prominent Democrats. If Mr. Iglesias had brought indictments before the election, it could have helped Heather Wilson, a Republican congresswoman locked in a tight re-election battle. He didn't. Mr. Domenici reportedly complained to the White House. Mr. Iglesias was fired.

    Since this scandal broke, the White House has insisted that the firings were legitimate because United States attorneys serve "at the pleasure of the president." They do. But if prosecutors were fired to block investigations, that might well be obstruction of justice, which is itself a federal crime.

    Yesterday, Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, wrote to Mr. Gonzales to request all White House and Justice Department communications about the Renzi investigation. Given what has already come out, the burden is now on the Justice Department to show that Mr. Charlton's firing was legitimate.

    Congress stepped up this investigation in other ways yesterday. The House authorized immunity for Monica Goodling, a former Justice Department official who has invoked her right against self-incrimination. And the Senate approved a subpoena for Sara Taylor, a top aide to Karl Rove.

    These interviews are important, but the major players need to testify. The Senate has approved subpoenas for Mr. Rove; for Harriet Miers, who was the White House counsel; and for other officials who seem deeply involved in the firings. It is time to serve them.


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