Charges of political interference in U.S. attorney firings not reported by networks' evening newscasts


Many news reports on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys have suggested political interference in the justice system, but none of the broadcast networks' evening news programs has even mentioned the case.

In December 2006, the Bush administration fired eight U.S. attorneys and reportedly replaced several of them with interim appointments drawn from the administration's "inner circle." Three of the dismissed prosecutors were, according to a March 1 Washington Post article, "conducting corruption probes involving Republicans" when they were asked to step down, while another has claimed that, in mid-October 2006, he felt pressure to speed up an investigation involving local Democrats. Many news reports have suggested political interference in the justice system, and the House of Representatives issued subpoenas to four of the fired prosecutors on March 1. However, none of the broadcast networks' evening news programs -- ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams -- has even mentioned the case in the past three months, according to a search of the Nexis news database and a review of the programs' March 2 broadcasts.*

One of the dismissed prosecutors, Carol Lam in San Diego, was investigating allegations of corruption stemming from the bribery case involving former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA). That investigation recently resulted in indictments against defense contractor Brent Wilkes and former CIA Executive Director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who face charges including wire fraud and bribery. In addition, David C. Iglesias, formerly the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, has alleged that two members of Congress -- reportedly Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-NM) -- "attempted to pressure him to speed up a probe of Democrats just before the November elections."

Initially, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales claimed that each U.S. attorney had been fired for reasons related to their performance in their jobs. But, as Media Matters for America noted, at a February 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty conceded that performance played no role in at least one case: the forced resignation of H.E. "Bud" Cummins III as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Cummins was replaced by J. Timothy Griffin, a former research director for the Republican National Committee and aide to White House senior adviser Karl Rove. As Media Matters noted, Griffin has since said he will not seek Senate confirmation for the permanent post, although a recent change in U.S. law allows Griffin -- and all "temporary" replacements for the other fired U.S. attorneys -- to continue as an "interim" U.S. attorney until the president decides to replace him.

Lam, meanwhile, was replaced by the executive assistant U.S. attorney in her district, Karen Hewitt. According to a February 26 New York Times column by assistant editorial page editor Adam Cohen, Hewitt's résumé "shows almost no criminal law experience, but includes her membership in the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group."

Moreover, as Media Matters noted, a February 14 McClatchy Newspapers article reported that "at least five of [the U.S. attorneys] received positive job evaluations before they were ordered to step down." For example, a February 8 Seattle Times article reported that one of the fired U.S. attorneys, John McKay, of the Western District of Washington, received a "glowing performance review" from the Justice Department seven months before he was forced out. " 'McKay is an effective, well-regarded and capable leader of the [U.S. attorney's office] and the District's law enforcement community,' the team of 27 Justice Department officials concluded, according to a copy of their final report obtained by The Seattle Times."

More recently, a March 2 McClatchy Newspapers article reported that, in mid-October 2006, Domenici and Wilson called Iglesias to "press [him] for details" of a "federal corruption investigation that involved at least one former Democratic state senator," according to unnamed sources. McClatchy reported that Iglesias believes he was fired because "he resisted the pressure to rush an indictment," and he provided further details about his allegations in a March 1 interview on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. As the McClatchy article noted, Wilson was, at the time, "in a competitive re-election campaign that she won by 875 votes out of nearly 211,000 cast." As noted by the weblog, Iglesias confirmed that, in "an e-mail to a friend," he "described his dismissal as a political 'fragging,' " according to a February 28 Albuquerque Tribune article.

On March 1, the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Iglesias, Lam, Cummins, and McKay, ordering them to testify at a March 6 hearing before the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law.

A March 3 Washington Post article reported that "[t]he White House approved the firings of seven U.S. attorneys" -- apparently excluding Cummins' termination -- "late last year after senior Justice Department officials identified the prosecutors they believed were not doing enough to carry out President Bush's policies on immigration, firearms and other issues," according to "White House and Justice Department officials." According to the article, officials said the actions were "part of a routine process" and that, despite previous assertions that the firings were "performance-related," "the ousters were based primarily on the administration's unhappiness with the prosecutors' policy decisions and revealed the White House's role in the matter." The list of whom to fire was reportedly "based largely on complaints from members of Congress, law enforcement officials and career Justice Department lawyers." The article also reported that, according to Domenici's office, the senator specifically complained to the Justice Department about Iglesias -- though without commenting on Iglesias' allegation of pressure.

*March 2 broadcast review was conducted by reading the March 2 Factiva transcripts for World News and the CBS Evening News, and watching the video of the March 2 Nightly News. Nexis database search was for December 2, 2006 to March 1, 2007, in the "ABC News Transcripts," "NBC News" and "CBS News Transcripts" sources for "show(Nightly News or World News or Evening News) and (Iglesias or U.S. Attorney or US Attorney or Cummins or Griffin or subpoena! or (Carol w/2 Lam!) or (Heather w/2 Wilson) or (Pete! w/2 Domenici) or McNulty or prosecutor or Cummins or McKay)"

Posted In
Government, Ethics
ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News
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