Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Congress seeks more testimony in expanded U.S. Justice Department inquiry

Congress seeks more testimony in expanded U.S. Justice Department inquiry

WASHINGTON — Congress is stepping up its inquiry into the politics of Justice Department decision-making, seeking cooperation from one department official and preparing to put the department's former White House liaison under oath.

The Senate Judiciary Committee asked Bradley Schlozman, a former senior civil rights attorney and U.S. attorney, to speak with investigators. The Justice Department, meanwhile, said it would not try to prevent Congress from granting immunity to White House liaison Monica Goodling if she should testify before a committee.

Lawmakers want to talk to Schlozman and Goodling as part of an inquiry into whether the department played politics with the hiring and firing of department officials. The inquiry began as a question about whether U.S. attorneys _ presidential appointees who serve as the top federal law enforcement officials in their state districts _ were fired for political reasons.

It has grown, however, into an investigation of whether the agency let politics affect criminal investigations and whether officials made employment decisions for political reasons.

Lawmakers want to question Schlozman, who now works for the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, about a voter fraud lawsuit he filed against Missouri in the lead-up to the 2006 election. Committee members said they wanted to know whether Schlozman's predecessor was forced out for not endorsing that lawsuit, which was ultimately dismissed.

"The Committee would benefit from hearing directly from you in order to gain a better understanding of the role voter fraud may have played in the administration's decisions to retain or remove certain U.S. attorneys," the Judiciary Committee's Democratic chairman, Patrick Leahy, wrote in a letter co-signed by the committee's top Republican, Arlen Specter.

The letter asked Schlozman to submit voluntarily to interviews and testimony and provide documents to the committee.

Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said politics do not influence decisions about whether to bring a case.

"The Justice Department brings its civil actions and criminal prosecutions based on evidence, not on politics," Boyd said. "We expect U.S. attorneys to bring election and voter fraud cases where evidence of such fraud exists."

The Justice Department is conducting an internal review of the firings of U.S. attorneys and other decisions. As part of that investigation, the agency is reviewing whether Goodling sought to place Republicans as front-line prosecutors in state U.S. attorney districts.

Lawmakers want to question Goodling but, without a promise of immunity, she has refused. In a letter to the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, the Justice Department said it would prefer not to see an immunity deal.

"However, we understand the committee's interest in obtaining Ms. Goodling's testimony," the letter said. "Therefore, after balancing the significant public interest against the impact of the committee's actions on our ongoing investigation, we will not raise an objection or seek a deferral."

The letter was signed by Inspector General Glenn Fine and H. Marshall Jarrett, counsel to the Office of Professional Responsibility.


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