November 16, 2007
(The following appeared in The Hill on 4/11/07)
A Justice Department official pledged that the ongoing investigation into disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s activities and connections to several sitting lawmakers would be handled fairly and without political interference, despite the ongoing controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year and questions about whether they were dismissed for purely political reasons.
The commitment came in response to a five-page letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales from Fred Wertheimer, president of the watchdog group Democracy 21, who called on the Department of Justice (DoJ) to assure the public that the Abramoff investigation is free from political interference and has adequate resources.
“The investigation will be handled fairly, appropriately, and impartially by dedicated career professionals in the Department of Justice, and the Department will insure that ample personnel and resources are dedicated to this matter,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Keeney wrote in a letter dated April 5 and received by Wertheimer Tuesday.
Keeney’s letter, however, did not address Wertheimer’s question about whether there had been any political intervention in the probe in the past. It also didn’t respond to his request that Gonzales inform the public about the level of resources currently assigned to the Abramoff-related criminal investigations and how those resources compare with resources previously available for the Abramoff-related investigations.
The letter also sidestepped the issue of what the DoJ is doing to resolve questions about Abramoff’s relationship with other former and current members of Congress, as well as their spouses, and whether their ties to Abramoff resulted in any criminal activity.
“… Based on recent serious questions that have been raised about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and about political interference and partisan intervention at the Justice Department, Democracy 21 believes it is incumbent that you make clear to the public whether there have been any attempts at political interference or partisan intervention in the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of the Abramoff scandals, by members of Congress, White House officials or others,” Wertheimer wrote.
Even though Wertheimer complained in his earlier letter that he had already sent his questions to the DoJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and both offices had responded that neither was in charge of such matters, Keeney again referred Wertheimer to these offices.
“In the event that the OIG or OPR find evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, they will bring that information to the Department of Justice,” Keeney wrote. “The Department of Justice will take steps that are necessary to insure public confidence in the handling and review of this matter.”
Democrats such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have charged that Carol Lam, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted the bribery case against former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), who is now in jail, was dismissed because she had expanded that investigation to include other members of Congress as well as the former third-ranking official at the CIA. DoJ officials have denied the accusation, saying that Lam was fired for performance reasons, specifically for not prosecuting enough immigration cases.