Prosecutor named for U.S. Attorney scandal

PROSECUTOR NAMED FOR U.S. ATTORNEY SCANDAL…. Throughout the U.S. Attorney purge scandal, Republicans insisted this was just a routine personnel matter, of no real consequence. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed a prosecutor Monday to pursue possible criminal charges against Republicans who were involved in the controversial firings of U.S. attorneys.

His move follows the leading recommendation of a Justice Department investigation that harshly criticized Bush administration officials, members of Congress and their aides for the ousters, which were seen by many as politically motivated.

Results of the investigation were made public Monday. The report singled out the removal of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico — among 9 prosecutors who were fired — as the most troubling.

Republican political figures in New Mexico, including Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, had complained about Iglesias’ handling of voter fraud and public corruption cases, and that led to his firing, the report said.

Nora Dannehy, a career federal prosecutor, is needed, according to Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility director Marshall Jarrett, because “serious allegations involving potential criminal conduct have not been fully investigated or resolved.” The criminal conduct, the AP noted, may include lying to investigators, obstruction of justice and wire fraud.

Note to Domenici and Wilson: now would be a good time to put together a very good legal defense team.

Might disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also be in trouble? Apparently not — the IG report explained that Gonzales was largely clueless about the events going on around him, and had no real involvement with decisions regarding U.S. Attorneys. The report concluded that Gonzales, as the head of the Justice Department at the time, bears “primary responsibility” for what transpired, but he was nevertheless “remarkably unengaged.”

It also appears that the prosecutor may not have been necessary had it not been for the stonewalling the Justice Department ran into. Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, William Kelley, Monica Goodling, and Pete Domenici all refused to cooperate with requests for interviews, leading to the conclusion that a special prosecutor is needed to fill in the gaps.

What’s more, given the calendar, the decision to appoint a prosecutor guarantees “that the politically charged issue will extend into the next administration.”

The folks at TPM Muckraker, who’ve been all of this story from the very beginning, have more on today’s report and reactions to it on the Hill.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.