The Bush administration's Justice Department's actions were inappropriately political, but not criminal, when it fired a U.S. attorney in 2006, prosecutors said Wednesday in closing a two-year investigation without filing charges.
The decision closes the books on one of the lingering political disputes of the Bush administration, one that Democrats said was evidence of GOP politics run amok and that Republicans have always said was a manufactured controversy.
Investigators looked into whether the Bush administration improperly dismissed nine U.S. attorneys, and in particular New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, as a way to influence criminal cases. The scandal added to mounting criticism that the administration had politicized the Justice Department, a charge that contributed to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
In 2008, the Justice Department assigned Nora Dannehy, a career prosecutor from Connecticut with a history of rooting out government wrongdoing, to investigate the firings.
"Evidence did not demonstrate that any prosecutable criminal offense was committed with regard to the removal of David Iglesias," the Justice Department said in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday. "The investigative team also determined that the evidence did not warrant expanding the scope of the investigation beyond the removal of Iglesias."
Prosecutors also said there was insufficient evidence to charge someone with lying to Congress or investigators.
Mr. Iglesias was fired after the head of New Mexico's Republican Party complained to the White House that Mr. Iglesias was soft on voter fraud. He asked that Mr. Iglesias be replaced so that the state could "make some real progress in cleaning up a state notorious for crooked elections."
Harriet Miers, then White House counsel, told lawmakers that presidential political adviser Karl Rove was "very agitated" over Mr. Iglesias "and wanted something done about it." Mr. Rove has said he played no role in deciding which U.S. attorneys were fired, that the firings weren't politically motivated and that he never sought to influence prosecutions.
Miss Dannehy faulted the Justice Department for firing Iglesias without even bothering to figure out whether complaints about him were true. That indicated "an undue sensitivity to politics on the part of DOJ officials who should answer not to partisan politics but to principles of fairness and justice," the Justice Department wrote in its letter.
But that was not a crime, and was not an effort to influence prosecutions, the letter said.
Mr. Gonzales' lawyer, George Terwilliger, called the conclusion long overdue.
"Those who made unwarranted allegations to the contrary owe him an apology," Mr. Terwilliger said. "After having spent months cooperating with inquiries that produced no evidence of his wrongdoing, Judge Gonzales is pleased to be free to resume a career marked to date by service to the public."