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More on the Latest DOJ Whitewash

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As noted previously, the Justice Department’s criminal probe into the U.S. attorneys scandal ended with a “whimper not a prosecution” last week. The Department informed congressional overseers that, even though the probe found serious wrongdoing by senior Department officials, it was unable to string together the evidence needed to bring criminal charges against any of those involved. Now information has emerged that seriously undermines the reputation of former Connecticut U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy, tapped by former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to handle the probe. In a report prepared by the Justice Integrity Project, Harvard University’s Nieman Watchdog reports:

Four days before Nora Dannehy was appointed to investigate the Bush administration’s U.S. attorney firing scandal, a team of lawyers she led was found to have illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case. Andrew Kreig writes that this previously unreported fact calls her entire investigation into question as well as that of a similar investigation by her colleague John Durham of DOJ and CIA decision-making involving torture.

It’s striking that the court ruling about the unlawful suppression occurred just four days before Dannehy’s appointment as special prosecutor to handle the U.S. attorneys case was announced. This makes it likely that Mukasey was fully aware of the suppression findings before he finalized his decision. Did Mukasey tap Dannehy, and later her colleague John Durham, because he could count on both of them to take the probes nowhere and emerge with the conclusion that none of the political appointees could be prosecuted? In any event, that was Mukasey’s own predisposition, articulated in a number of speeches. Andrew Krieg reports:

Dannehy’s probe, my reporting suggests, was compromised from the beginning.
She was appointed by Bush Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey on Sept. 29, 2008. On Sept. 25, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City found misconduct in a 2003 trial she had led. The court found that the prosecution suppressed evidence that could have benefited the defendant, Connecticut businessman Charles B. Spadoni. Spadoni had been convicted of bribing former state Treasurer Paul Silvester to invest $200 million of state pension money with his firm.

When Dannehy was appointed, I told an NPR interviewer that my own examination of her background, based on discussions with Connecticut prosecutors and criminal-defense counsel, revealed a generally positive view of Dannehy. She was credited with work on a couple of high-level public-integrity prosecutions, and although she is an identifiable Republican, none of my interlocutors thought politics would play a role in her handling of the matter. However, the role of her office in suppressing exculpatory evidence was not understood at that time.

The issue of nondisclosure of exculpatory materials was right at the heart of the U.S. attorney’s scandal, playing a particularly prominent role in the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. As I noted previously, the Justice Department’s report makes clear that Dannehy neglected investigation of the entire sprawling scandal, electing instead to focus down on a single case, involving New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. He was threatened with firing and then was in fact fired because he would not bring a high-profile prosecution of a Democratic officeholder in the heat of an election campaign in a manner calculated to benefit a specific Republican candidate, Heather Wilson. Dannehy reached the farcical conclusion that threats against Iglesias, accompanied by melodramatic gestures like slamming down a receiver, and followed by his actual firing, did not constitute efforts to “influence, obstruct, or impede” a criminal case. A District of Columbia jury might have viewed the evidence quite differently from Dannehy. Her decision to take no action probably protected figures involved in her own appointment as a U.S. attorney.

Roger Shuler dissects the Justice Department’s unconvincing six-page letter here, while CBS News chief legal analyst Andrew Cohen takes a few swings at Dannehy’s feeble effort here.

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