Nice.


All this new information comes from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which last week finally released a trove of records, e-mails, and transcripts generated by its probe into the resignations of the attorneys.

George W. Bush's top aides pushed the Justice Department to "deviate from normal course" in the investigation of Rick Renzi.
George W. Bush's top aides pushed the Justice Department to "deviate from normal course" in the investigation of Rick Renzi.

Even with all the transcripts and documents, sadly, it's still not precisely clear why Bush decided to give Charlton the heave-ho. Reporters like me have long theorized that it was the Renzi case, while Bush's people have tried to claim that it's because he opposed their orders in a death penalty case.

The nonpartisan Office of Inspector General concluded that the Bushies may well have been telling the truth. Its report says that "Charlton persistently opposed the Department's decision to seek the death penalty in a homicide case, and he irritated Department leaders by seeking a meeting with the Attorney General to urge him to reconsider his decision.

"We are troubled that Department officials considered Charlton's actions in the death penalty case, including requesting a meeting with the Attorney General, to be inappropriate. We do not believe his actions were insubordinate or that they justified his removal."

But I can't help it. I still suspect that Charlton's aggressive pursuit of Renzi couldn't have helped but play a role. The documents make it clear that Charlton's name first appeared on a list of possible removals in mid-September — at a time when the Renzi investigation was already hot and heavy.

And the record indicates that Charlton wanted to pursue the congressman with much more intensity than the Justice Department would have preferred.

In early November, the record shows, the chief of the department's criminal division actually ordered Charlton not to do any more work on the case until after the election. At one point, Charlton complained to an assistant attorney general that the chief's oversight was becoming "far too restrictive," records show.

And we know that Bush cared about the congressional seat. Renzi won re-election that November and won it convincingly. But a month earlier, nothing seemed quite so settled in Renzi's district, which covers a wide swath of rural Arizona and tends to swing back and forth between parties. The freshman congressman had been elected mainly by outspending his rivals in 2004, but in 2006, he faced a wealthy lawyer, Democrat Ellen Simon, who put plenty of her own money into play.

Bush must have been worried. The president actually made a whirlwind 12-hour stop in Phoenix in early October 2006. He raised $500,000 for his fellow Republican with a snap of his fingers.

It was just a week later that my story about the land swap broke. Then, one week after that, Charlton took his request for a wiretap to the powers that be in Washington.

"I'm disappointed in the way Gonzales' Department of Justice saw politics as more important than doing what was right," Charlton told me last week. "I believe the current Department of Justice has a different perspective." And that's coming from a Republican.

Indeed, the facts developed through the course of Senate hearings on the U.S. Attorney resignations suggest that Gonzales' department wasn't just partisan — it was blatantly political.

During the Clinton years, according to Senate testimony, there were only three people at the Justice Department who were authorized "points of contact" with the White House. During the Bush years, there were 447.

You think all of those 447 people were thrilled that Paul Charlton had the chutzpah to take on a fellow Republican who'd managed to win a swing district?

But there is one irony to this sad story, and it's that the reason that Renzi was in electoral trouble in the first place was, in fact, thanks to someone at the Justice Department.

The record shows that the FBI had begun investigating Renzi in 2005. The investigation had been active for more than a year, without a single leak, by the time I was making phone calls that October.

Within a week of my scoop, Charlton swung into action, submitting a request to the criminal division of the Justice Department to wiretap the congressman. The department didn't get around to authorizing the wiretap until a full week had passed — and Charlton sent a second request for "expedited consideration," according to court records.

But even if Justice staffers couldn't get off their seats long enough to take action, they knew how to do one thing: gossip.

Within just 24 hours of Charlton's request, a reporter at the Associated Press in Washington called the Justice Department spokesman saying that the AP was planning to publish a story saying the department was investigating Renzi — and was using a wiretap. The scoop actually made it into both the New York Times and the Washington Post before Charlton even got his wiretap!

And don't think for a minute that didn't affect what Renzi was saying on his phone from that point on. The record shows that federal prosecutors had to stop listening to at least 50 phone calls because Renzi was actually consulting with his attorneys. (Yes, attorney/client privilege applies even in a wiretap situation.) In at least one case, the record shows, Renzi even joked about the feds listening in.

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3 comments
azsunset1982
azsunset1982

I believe that there are NO honest Politicians from Arizona anymore and the ones that are honest can't get elected because the Crooks will have slush funds; crooked friends lying commercials and than the likes of John McCain standing on Stage spouting "I am a War Hero". Good grief I am also of the Vietnam era and trust me I have met some real Hero's( not in Politics) But I tell you NOTHING that happened under George W. surprises me anymore.........a matter of fact I hope I never hear the name Bush connected to Washington again in my Life time and I hope I live at least another 20 years.

50GreenDodge
50GreenDodge

I've been amused at how the media bit down hard on the Democrat spin that firing 8 US Attorneys was some how inappropriate, immoral (and fattening). Those jobs are 'political' appointments and the US Attorneys serve 'at the pleasure' of the President.

But the Dems knew they had a media that would take any opportunity to kick dirt on President Bush and validate their story line that Karl Rove was the evil genius at 1600.

Rove's weekly column in the Wall Street Journal is about this whole kerfuffle and his non-involvement in it. It's pretty convincing. He's posted all the material from the Congressional committee hearings at Rove.com. Maybe it's worth a look.

Coz
Coz

Arizona, home of the scumiest politicians money can buy.

 
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