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Fired Prosecutor Says He Was Warned to Keep Quiet
By Robert Schmidt
March 6, 2007

March 6 (Bloomberg) -- A prosecutor dismissed by the Bush administration last year said he and other former U.S. attorneys were warned to keep quiet about their firings by a senior Justice Department official.

H.E. "Bud" Cummins told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Mike Elston, the deputy attorney general's top aide, threatened him with retaliation in a phone call last month if he went public. Cummins said he passed the warning on to five U.S. attorneys who were ousted last December, believing that was what Elston wanted.

"They feel like they are taking unnecessary flak to avoid trashing each of us specifically or further, but if they feel like any of us intend to continue to offer quotes to the press, or to organize behind-the-scenes congressional pressure, then they would feel forced to somehow pull their gloves off," Cummins wrote in an e-mail to the other fired prosecutors that was released by the committee today.

Cummins, of Little Rock, Arkansas, testified today along with former U.S. Attorneys Carol Lam of San Diego, David Iglesias of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and John McKay of Seattle.

Iglesias said that Republican Senator Pete Domenici hung up on him in anger after the prosecutor said he wasn't going to bring indictments before the November elections in a local corruption case involving Democrats. "I felt leaned on," Iglesias said.

A Firestorm

The four ex-U.S. attorneys were among eight prosecutors, all Republican appointees, notified by the Justice Department last year that they were being let go. Two of the remaining four, Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Paul Charlton of Arizona, added their views this afternoon in testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee.

The dismissals prompted Democrats to compare the firings to the so-called Saturday Night Massacre in 1973 when President Richard M. Nixon dismissed Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Today, Democrats demanded to know whether the Bush administration forced out the prosecutors to influence politically sensitive criminal investigations. Most of the ex- U.S. attorneys were supervising at least one high-profile corruption probe.

William Moschella, a Justice Department official, told the House panel the prosecutors were ousted for legitimate reasons, including poor management, differences over death penalty policies and failure to crack down on illegal immigration. Cummins was asked to leave to create an opening for a former aide to Karl Rove, Moschella said.

Poor Handling

"In hindsight, perhaps this situation could have been handled better," Moschella said. The agency's failure to explain the firings to the U.S. attorneys "only served to fuel wild and inaccurate speculation about our motives."

Democrats on both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary subcommittee said they will continue to press for an explanation from Justice Department officials.

"We will not rest until we get the answers we seek," said New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the senior Republican on the committee, agreed.

"It is very important to withhold judgment on the allegations until we have worked through this very complex" matter, said Specter. "This may take a lot of time and a lot of hearings."

Show Trial

On the House side, Republicans likened the hearing to a political show trial, pointing out that President George W. Bush has the authority to fire prosecutors at will.

Representative Christopher Cannon, a Utah Republican, chastised Democrats for trying to "stir up a groundless partisan controversy." The prosecutors "are not entitled to their jobs," he said.

In his e-mail to the other fired prosecutors, Cummins said Elston "reacted quite a bit to the idea of anyone voluntarily testifying" before Congress. "It seemed clear that they would see that as a major escalation of the conflict meriting some kind of unspecified form of retaliation."

Questioned by Specter, Cummins said he couldn't say for sure Elston was passing along a threat.

`Friendly Advice'

"Some people would want to interpret it as a threat, but it could also be, `hey, there's some friendly advice,"' Cummins said. "I've attempted to not characterize the call, I just tried to pass the substance on to my colleagues."

Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said Elston never told the fired prosecutors what to say in public.

"A private and collegial conversation between Mike Elston and Bud Cummins is now somehow being twisted into a perceived threat by former disgruntled employees grandstanding before Congress," Roehrkasse said.

Iglesias testified today that Domenici and Republican Representative Heather Wilson, both of New Mexico, pressured him in phone calls last October to move forward on the corruption case.

Iglesias said Wilson asked him about sealed indictments and he provided "evasive and non-responsive answers."

When Domenici called him about the probe at home two weeks later, Iglesias said he "felt sick afterwards."

Both lawmakers have acknowledged making the calls but said they didn't seek to influence any case or to pressure Iglesias.

The 93 U.S. attorneys are appointed by the president and serve at his discretion. The positions require Senate confirmation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Schmidt in Washington at rschmidt5@bloomberg.net .
Last Updated: March 6, 2007 17:14 EST

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