No Comment — June 16, 2008, 8:18 am

The U.S. Attorneys Scandal Enters the Criminal Prosecutions Phase

Sources in Washington tell me that the year-long probe of the Bush Administration’s decision to fire a still-undetermined number of U.S. Attorneys for political and improper reasons is “substantially completed” and that it remains the subject of wrangling in a fairly transparent effort to slow down its release.

The probe is a joint effort between the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and Inspector General (OIG), though it seems clear that in this case, as in plenty of others, OIG has been the accelerator pushing the matter forward and OPR has been the brake coming up with a seemingly endless number of limp excuses and complications designed to frustrate it.

schlozman

Evidence that the probe is winding up can be found in this morning’s Wall Street Journal:

Justice Department lawyers have filed a grand-jury referral stemming from the 2006 U.S. attorneys scandal, according to people familiar with the probe, a move indicating that the yearlong investigation may be entering a new phase.

The grand-jury referral, the first time the probe has moved beyond the investigative phase, relates to allegations of political meddling in the Justice Department’s civil-rights division, these people say. Specifically, it focuses on possible perjury by Bradley Schlozman, who served a year as interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo….

It wasn’t clear which of Mr. Schlozman’s comments prosecutors are focusing on. He has declined to be interviewed by investigators since leaving the department. One possibility focuses on Mr. Schlozman’s 2007 testimony to Congress, one part of which he later retracted.

Indeed, the evidence uncovered on Schlozman’s political machinations while at Justice is stunning, leading one to wonder exactly which angle prosecutors may have decided to start with. As one of his colleagues put it in an interview with the Washington Post, “everything Schlozman did was political. And he said so.”

Schlozman served for a period as U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Missouri in Kansas City. Throughout his term at Justice, he demonstrated a strong interest in partisan politics, and appears to have been linked to efforts to pressure Missouri authorities to purge voter rolls in a way which would have benefited the Republican Party. He pushed forward a lawsuit against the Missouri secretary of state which was so absurd that the U.S. Attorney in Kansas City wouldn’t file it. (That U.S. attorney was forced out in curious circumstances, and Schlozman himself was appointed using the stealth process Gonzales had won through a secret amendment to the Patriot Act.)

Schlozman was also famous for his hiring standards, under which merely being a Republican wasn’t enough. Apparently only the right kind of Republicans who recognized that party politics trumps all could be considered for DOJ career posts. And he had a hand in one or more overtly political prosecutions, certainly including the prosecution of a local Democratic official, Katheryn Shields. She was promptly acquitted after the presentation of a ludicrously implausible and suspiciously timed indictment.

But I agree with the WSJ in their speculation, namely, the likely focus of the Schlozman criminal probe will be his Congressional testimony. Other aspects of Schlozman’s dealings would strike too close to Justice’s much abused notions of prosecutorial discretion. Moreover, few witnesses of Schlozman’s testimony were impressed with his candor (my initial take here), and Schlozman’s positions were so untenable in the end that he was required to retract substantial parts of his testimony.

Still, Schlozman is only the beginning. The investigation focusing on Kansas City did not produce “the highest profile or the most disturbing” issues linking Justice Department figures and others to potentially criminal conduct, I learned. Those came in New Mexico and California. Stay tuned.

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