Justice IG calls attorney firings 'fundamentally flawed'

Report recommends criminal investigation into dismissals.

House Judiciary Committee Democrats renewed their calls for sworn testimony from Karl Rove and other former top White House officials on the 2006 firings of nine U.S. attorneys as Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine presented his report concluding the removals were "fundamentally flawed" and recommending a criminal investigation.

"A president can fire a U.S. attorney for any reason or no reason ... but not for an illegal reason," Fine said in response to committee Republicans who charged that his report failed to recognize that federal prosecutors serve as political appointees. Democrats said the report vindicated the committee's investigation of the firings.

"There can no longer be any dispute that the firings were improper (and) that false statements were made to Congress," said House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich. House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee Chairwoman Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., said the report should prompt the White House to stop backing the refusals of Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to testify before the committee on their role in the removals.

Unless the White House cooperates with the congressional probe, "the Justice Department will not be able to remove the dark clouds of scandal that have devastated this once venerable institution," Sanchez said. Fine said he failed to uncover evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the firings but suggested that the possibility of illegal activity could not be dismissed because of gaps left in his office's investigation by the lack of cooperation from Rove, Miers and other Bush administration officials.

"We believe that the evidence collected in this investigation is not complete and that serious allegations have not been fully investigated or resolved," he said.

Committee Republicans assailed Fine's recommendation for a criminal probe. House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee ranking member Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said the report failed to expose "any grand conspiracy" on the part of the White House to break the law, and added that he was sorry that "so much time and effort" was put into investigating people "who committed no crime."

He said the report was part of a recent trend toward the "criminalization of politics" and argued that Fine was creating "new standard" by insisting that an administration could not remove political employees without a formal review of their performance. Sanchez also faulted U.S. Attorney General Mukasey's decision this week to have the criminal investigation done by an in-house special prosecutor, Acting Connecticut U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy. Sanchez said Dannehy's probe was likely to remain hidden because of criminal grand jury secrecy requirements.