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OIG/OPR Report on U.S. Attorney Firings:

The full report from the Justice Department Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility is no available. Here are some excerpts from the lengthy report's conclusions.

In sum, we believe that the process used to remove the nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 was fundamentally flawed. While Presidential appointees can be removed for any reason or for no reason, as long as it is not an illegal or improper reason, Department officials publicly justified the removals as the result of an evaluation that sought to replace underperforming U.S. Attorneys. In fact, we determined that the process implemented largely by Kyle Sampson, Chief of Staff to the Attorney General, was unsystematic and arbitrary, with little oversight by the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, or any other senior Department official. In choosing which U.S. Attorneys to remove, Sampson did not adequately consult with the Department officials most knowledgeable about their performance, or even examine formal evaluations of each U.S. Attorney's Office, despite his representations to the contrary. . . .

We believe the primary responsibility for these serious failures rest with senior Department leaders -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty -- who abdicated their responsibility to adequately oversee the process and to ensure that the reasons for removal of each U.S. Attorney were supportable and not improper. These removals were not a minor personnel matter -- they were an unprecedented removal of a group of high-level Department officials that was certain to raise concerns if not handled properly. Yet, neither the Attorney General nor the Deputy Attorney General provided adequate oversight or supervision of this process. We also concluded that Sampson bears significant responsibility for the flawed and arbitrary removal process. Moreover, they and other Department officials are responsible for failing to provide accurate and truthful statements about the removals and their role in the process.

We believe our investigation was able to uncover most of the facts relating to the reasons for the removal of most of the U.S. Attorneys. However, as described in this report, there are gaps in our investigation because of the refusal of certain key witnesses to be interviewed by us, . . .

The Department's removal of the U.S. Attorneys and the controversy it created severely damaged the credibility of the Department and raised doubts about the integrity of Department prosecutive decisions. We believe that this investigation, and final resolution of the issues raised in this report, can help restore confidence in the Department by fully describing the serious failures in the process used to remove the U.S. Attorneys and by providing lessons for the Department in how to avoid such failures in the future.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. A New Special Prosecutor:
  2. OIG/OPR Report on U.S. Attorney Firings:
  3. No Grand Jury for Gonzales:
Smokey:
These removals were not a minor personnel matter -- they were an unprecedented removal of a group of high-level Department officials that was certain to raise concerns if not handled properly.
Horse manure. Clinton fired a lot more than Bush.
9.29.2008 5:11pm
Constantin:
Whatever. Smokey beat me to it. Besides, whoever might be in trouble just has to hold out until Jan. 20. On that day, Obama will fire every sitting U.S. Attorney, as is his right, and the idiocy of this investigation will be illustrated.
9.29.2008 5:12pm
constant (mail):
While Presidential appointees can be removed for any reason or for no reason
...


...let's treat it like a scandal anyway.
9.29.2008 5:16pm
Steve:
I guess it never occurred to the OIG or the OPR that prior administrations have replaced the US Attorneys en masse, which would have made the entire 356-page report moot, I guess.

Or, perhaps - and this is a really crazy thought - they believed routine replacements of political appointees by an incoming administration were different for some reason!
9.29.2008 5:19pm
Nunzio:
"damaged the credibility of the Department of Justice"?

After Mitchell and Reno, was there any credibility left?
9.29.2008 5:29pm
ObeliskToucher:
You'd almost think that there were career prosecutors in the Justice Department who disagree with the policies of the administration...
9.29.2008 5:37pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"While Presidential appointees can be removed for any reason or for no reason, as long as it is not an illegal or improper reason, Department officials publicly justified the removals as the result of an evaluation that sought to replace underperforming U.S. Attorneys."

What's a legal but improper reason? Who decides? Why can't someone be removed for a legal but improper reason? What statute says they can't?
9.29.2008 5:40pm
Sarcastro (www):

the process used to remove the nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 was fundamentally flawed


but the substance was okay! All's well that ends well, right?

It's like if I shoot someone, it's okay cause the US government puts lots more people to death all the time! What are you gonna do, put Texas in jail?

Also the only place more liberal than the DoJ in general is the OIG and OPR.
9.29.2008 5:43pm
PC:
After Mitchell and Reno, was there any credibility left?

Not much, but Gonzales made sure any that was left got shoved out the door.
9.29.2008 5:48pm
A.S.:
In fact, we determined that the process implemented largely by Kyle Sampson, Chief of Staff to the Attorney General, was unsystematic and arbitrary

And?

Who says that the process to ged rid of them must be "systematic" and "non-arbitrary"? Can someone point me to the law or regulation or rule that requires systematism where the people could be removed "for any reason or for no reason"?

Unless there was an "an illegal or improper reason", I don't see the scandal here.
9.29.2008 6:01pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
The scandal is not the the attorneys were dismissed, but that the administration lied about the reasons for that dismissal. Remember how Martha Stewart went to jail for lying to the feds during their investigation even though they couldn't bust her for any of the things they were investigating her for? This is kinda the same thing in reverse: the gummint is being harshed on for lying to the people even though the topic they lied about was a non-issue.
9.29.2008 6:12pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
What's a legal but improper reason? Who decides? Why can't someone be removed for a legal but improper reason? What statute says they can't?

I'm not sure whether there's any law against it, but certainly claiming that people were fired for bad performance when they weren't is a form of defamation, which is a civil tort.

Unless there was an "an illegal or improper reason", I don't see the scandal here.

Besides the fact that government officials shouldn't lie about firing people for performance reasons when they didn't, the scandal is that they may have been trying to compromise the independence of ongoing investigations and prosecutions. Yes, DOJ lawyers serve at the pleasure of the President, but for very good reasons, we don't want Presidents using the DOJ to pursue political vendettas or to lay off the President's party apparatchiks when they break the law.

That's what this scandal is about, and saying that the President CAN fire people doesn't mean that there aren't well-established traditional strictures against political interference with DOJ investigations.
9.29.2008 6:14pm
Kirk:
The scandal is not the the attorneys were dismissed, but that the administration lied about the reasons for that dismissal.
Ah, so this makes it comparable to the Clinton travel-office scandal, then? Minus the bogus legal charges against the fired employees, that is...
9.29.2008 6:20pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Ah, so this makes it comparable to the Clinton travel-office scandal, then? Minus the bogus legal charges against the fired employees, that is...

No, because the independence of DOJ prosecutions is crucial and, not to put too light a point on it, is one of the things that separates us from pure tyranny.

Whereas the travel office was the travel office.

None of this, of course, is to excuse what Clinton did; it just isn't the same thing as attempting to compromise the integrity of the prosecutorial apparatus of government and then defaming good DOJ employees to avoid admitting what was done.
9.29.2008 6:40pm
theobromophile (www):
Dilan,

What your saying makes complete sense, but for the fact that Clinton fired 93 U.S. Attorneys in 1993. If this is "interference" with ongoing investigations, then letting almost every single U.S. Attorney, save one, go, is a scandal on par with having murder victims found in one's freezer.
9.29.2008 7:10pm
Steve H (mail):
Are people here really willing to claim that firing all US Attorneys at the end of a term poses more of a threat to prosecutorial independence than firing US Attorneys for failing to pursue bogus claims against Democrats?

Seriously?
9.29.2008 7:52pm
cboldt (mail):
-- Clinton fired a lot more than Bush. --
.
Not much difference between them. Use Nominations Search Tool to check for yourself.
.
* US Attorneys Confirmed by the Senate Under President Clinton
+ 103rd Congress: 87
+ 104th Congress: 4
+ 105th Congress: 18
+ 106th Congress: 14
* US Attorneys Confirmed by the Senate Under President Bush
+ 107th Congress: 84
+ 108th Congress: 14
+ 109th Congress: 26
+ 110th Congress: 12
9.29.2008 8:08pm
MarkField (mail):

What your saying makes complete sense, but for the fact that Clinton fired 93 U.S. Attorneys in 1993. If this is "interference" with ongoing investigations, then letting almost every single U.S. Attorney, save one, go, is a scandal on par with having murder victims found in one's freezer.


The difference is crucial: what Clinton did is what Reagan and Carter both did (and what W would do). It's become common practice, for better or worse, for incoming presidents of a different party to replace all the US Attorneys en masse. That's entirely different than firing attorneys Bush himself appointed for what appear to have been corrupt reasons (and then lied about it).
9.29.2008 9:16pm
JohnO (mail):
The firing of U.S. Attorneys, which is the President's prerogative, strikes me as a complete non-issue.

The only termination that really bothered me was the one in New Mexico IF it was because the U.S. Attorney wouldn't hurry up with a proscution of a Democrat politico before the election.

The DOJ shouldn't have lied about he reasons for the firings, and shoukld have just said we fired them because we could. Gonzalez made all this worse by doing that.

This situation is distinct from the scandal where Sampson and Goodling were using political criteria for career hirings and etails, which is clearly wrong (and, I have been told, illegal). But what right does a political appointee U.S. Attorney have to complain about getting fired from that politically apointed job?
9.29.2008 10:16pm
LM (mail):
Just because at will employees can be fired for no reason doesn't mean they can be fired for any reason. You can fire them because you want to fill every political appointment with someone who shares your prosecutorial priorities (i.e., what happens en mass in most new administrations), but you can't fire them for applying those priorities even-handedly to Republicans and Democrats -- and that's what apparently motivated these firings.

At best it improperly sent a message to other U.S. Attorneys about whom to and not to prosecute, and at worst it illegally punished specific decisions to bring cases against Republicans, and refusals to target Democrats. This phase of investigation was unable to collect all the details because key players refused to cooperate, so pinning them down (the players and the details) will be up to the next phase.
9.29.2008 10:32pm
Psalm91 (mail):
Great to see those who actually followed the developments in this case in 2006 and 2007, through the televised hearings and testimony of Goodling, Sampson, Gonzalez, etc., now have opinions! This repetition of the Republican "pretrial" talking points after the record has been made is pretty silly.
9.30.2008 1:55am
Brian G (mail) (www):

While Presidential appointees can be removed for any reason or for no reason


Hence, no need for an investigation. Of course, I am sure if obama wins and cleans house, no one will notice and no one will listen to those guys whining about it.


as long as it is not an illegal or improper reason,


What exactly are "illegal and improper" reasons when one can be remoed for any reason or no reason at all?
9.30.2008 2:05am
LM (mail):
Brian G:

What exactly are "illegal and improper" reasons when one can be remoed for any reason or no reason at all?

As I said, just because at will employees (e.g., U.S. Attorneys) can be removed for no reason doesn't mean they can be removed for any reason. That's a popular fallacy that defenders of these firings have long relied on to ignore or dismiss all the wrongdoing now confirmed by this OIG/OPR Report.
9.30.2008 2:27am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> As I said, just because at will employees (e.g., U.S. Attorneys) can be removed for no reason doesn't mean they can be removed for any reason.

Okay - so what are some of the unacceptable reasons and what is the governing legal authority?

Could the Libras be fired because the President decided that Libras were likely to be dishonest during the year of the Horse? (That sounds pretty arbitrary to me.)

As far as "lie" go, lying is perfectly legal in many circumstances. If this isn't one of them, what is the relevant statute?
9.30.2008 4:27am
A.S.:
The idea that a person can be fired for any reason or no reason - except an illegal or improper reason - is perfectly understandable and reasonable. In normal employment situations, an employer can fire an employee for any reason or no reason - EXCEPT, for example, because the employee is black. Racial discrimination is an example of an illegal or improper reason for firing someone.

In this case, firing a US Attorney in order to influence an ongoing case would, I assume, be an improper or illegal reason to fire him. As for the statute involved, I assume it would be the Obstruction of Justice statute, or something like that - there is likely not an explicit statute saying that the President can't remove someone to influence a case, but that is implied by the general obstruction of justice laws.

That said, without fully reading the report, it appears that there is no evidence that anyone was fired to influence a case.

Lying under oath should be prosecuted, of course, but it would make this case like the Martha Stewart case, or the Scooter Libby case - punishment for lying about conduct that was not itself a crime.
9.30.2008 11:14am
PLR:
Could the Libras be fired because the President decided that Libras were likely to be dishonest during the year of the Horse? (That sounds pretty arbitrary to me.)
The issue du jour concerns non-arbitrary firings.
As far as "lie" go, lying is perfectly legal in many circumstances. If this isn't one of them, what is the relevant statute?
18 U.S.C. Section 1001.
That said, without fully reading the report, it appears that there is no evidence that anyone was fired to influence a case.
But one can draw the inference that Mukasey believes the report contains evidence of commission of a federal crime.
9.30.2008 12:08pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
> The issue du jour concerns non-arbitrary firings.

Oh really - let's review the complaint. I'll quote

>> In fact, we determined that the process implemented largely by Kyle Sampson, Chief of Staff to the Attorney General, was unsystematic and arbitrary
9.30.2008 12:25pm
PLR:
In fact, we determined that the process implemented largely by Kyle Sampson, Chief of Staff to the Attorney General, was unsystematic and arbitrary
The process and the firings are not the same things.
9.30.2008 1:24pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"As I said, just because at will employees (e.g., U.S. Attorneys) can be removed for no reason doesn't mean they can be removed for any reason. That's a popular fallacy that defenders of these firings have long relied on to ignore or dismiss all the wrongdoing now confirmed by this OIG/OPR Report."

But the report makes a distinction between illegal and improper. So, I have to ask what legal but improper reason is illegal?
9.30.2008 1:28pm
Iseewhatyoudidthere:

So, I have to ask what legal but improper reason is illegal?


I'm not sure what the relevance of this question is. From here, it seems a fairly transparent attempt to obfuscate the substantive issue by quibbling over the parsing of a random sentence.


If the people in question did nothing wrong, why have they universally chosen to either lie about it or refuse to cooperate?
9.30.2008 2:41pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I'm not sure what the relevance of this question is. From here, it seems a fairly transparent attempt to obfuscate the substantive issue by quibbling over the parsing of a random sentence."

Quibbling over parsing? Isn't that how lawyers make their living?

It's a perfectly reasonable question. The report used two different terms. One is "illegal." The other is "improper." Can we presume the authors had some reason to use both terms? Was their use an attempt to obfuscate the substantive issue? If the report is wrong, just say so. Does anyone know?
9.30.2008 7:56pm
LM (mail):
Elliot,

You don't need anyone to explain how something can be improper yet legal. Is spitting on the American flag proper? Is it proper to shout at parents burying GI's killed in Iraq that God killed their kids as punishment for homosexuality? There are a million things that are improper but not illegal. In this case, the most obvious would be anything that brings disrepute on the justice system, especially the criminal justice system. Some of those things may be prosecutable crimes. Many probably aren't. They all do real harm. We have to call them out if we don't want them repeated.
10.1.2008 12:58am
Elliot123 (mail):
I agree there are things that are improper but not illegal. That's not difficult.

Of the "million things that are improper but not illegal," which one of them cannot be used as a reason to fire an appointee? If it cannot be used, by what standard can it not be used? Who says?
10.1.2008 12:34pm