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Justice Department will not pursue charges in U.S. attorney dismissals

WRITETHRU (EDITORS: Adds reaction from Gonzales' attorney)

By Richard A. Serrano

Tribune Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that "no criminal charges are warranted'" against officials in the Bush administration for the firing of nine U.S. attorneys four years ago that led to allegations of improper political pressure and ultimately cost Alberto Gonzales his job as U.S. attorney general.


The decision, revealed in a letter to Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, brings to a close any consideration of criminal misconduct in what became one of the most searing political controversies in the Bush administration.

Ronald Welch, an assistant attorney general, said in his letter to Conyers that Nora R. Dannehy, an assistant prosecutor from Connecticut who led the investigation, was unable to unearth enough evidence to bring criminal charges in the matter, particularly as it involved the ouster of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in New Mexico and whether "misleading statements" from Gonzales and other top Justice officials were tantamount to perjury.

Welch said the investigation did find that Gonzales made a "series of statements'" that were "inaccurate and misleading'" about the firings after they became a political scandal in Washington. He said Kyle Sampson, then a top Justice Department official, also made "various misleading statements."

However, Welch said there was "insufficient evidence to establish that persons knowingly made false statements or corruptly endeavored to obstruct justice."

He said the investigative team also determined that the evidence did not warrant expanding the scope of the investigation beyond the removal of Iglesias."

Iglesias asserted after his removal in 2006 along with eight of his colleagues that it appeared to be politically motivated because then-Sen. Pete V. Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, called him about the status of a corruption probe that, had it been moving faster, could have helped a GOP candidate.

Welch said the "weight of the evidence established not an attempt to influence but rather an attempt to remove David Iglesias from office, in other words, to eliminate the possibility of any future action or inaction by him."

More than 60 people were interviewed in the investigation, and the Bush White House cooperated in the probe, Welch said.


He added that current Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is committed to ensuring that "partisan political considerations play no role" in his Department of Justice. "He has taken steps to ensure those mistakes will not be repeated," Welch said.

George J. Terwilliger, an attorney for Gonzales, said the results of the investigation refute any contentions that the nine U.S. attorneys were removed for political reasons. "Those who made unwarranted allegations and predicted a prosecution owe Gonzales an apology," he said.


(c) 2010, Tribune Co.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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