Two former U.S. attorneys said today they believe ongoing investigations into the dismissals last year of eight federal prosecutors could result in criminal charges against senior Justice Department officials.
John McKay, the former U.S. attorney for Western Washington, and David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico, also said they believe White House political operative Karl Rove and his aides instigated the dismissals and ultimately decided who among the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys should be fired. But the White House on Wednesday flatly denied the firings were instigated by the White House.
"I think there will be a criminal case that will come out of this," McKay said during his meeting with Times journalists. "This is going to get worse, not better."
McKay cited ongoing investigations into the dismissals by the Senate and House Judiciary committees, and inquiries now under way by the Justice Department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility.
McKay said he believes obstruction-of-justice charges will be filed if investigators conclude that the dismissal of any of the eight prosecutors was motivated by an attempt to influence ongoing public-corruption or voter-fraud investigations.
McKay said he believes the strongest evidence of obstruction is related to the dismissals of Iglesias and Carol Lam, the former U.S. Attorney in San Diego.
Circling the Wagons
The White House has so far refused to turn over e-mails related to the firings, and has said it may no longer have access to millions of e-mails sent through Republican National Committee servers. Consequently, Iglesias said, "it's hard for us to know who in the White House said what, on what date."
"The people that would have a voice in this would be Karl Rove, [Rove aide] Scott Jennings, [former White House counsel] Harriet Miers, probably, yes," he said. "But it's hard for me to say 'yes,' [without] looking at those e-mails and memos that are probably out there and missing that this is what they said on this date about John and me and my colleagues.
"But that would explain why the wagons are so tightly circled," Iglesias added.
"You Work for the White House"
So much for the independence of the judicial branch of government:
McKay said he began to have concerns about politics entering the Justice Department in early 2005, when Gonzales addressed all of the country's U.S. attorneys in Scottsdale, Ariz., shortly after he took over as attorney general.
"His first speech to us was a 'you work for the White House' speech," McKay recalled. " 'I work for the White House, you work for the White House.'"
McKay said he thought at the time, "He couldn't have meant that speech," given the traditional independence of U.S. Attorneys. "It turns out he did."
He looked around the meeting room and caught the eyes of his colleagues, who gave him looks of surprise at Gonzales' remarks. "We were stunned at what he was saying."