New evidence is emerging that the Justice Department fired the U.S. attorney in Arizona, Paul Charlton, for investigating a land deal involving Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ).
Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Charlton was fired because of “his poor judgment in pushing forward a recommendation on a death penalty case.” But as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) pointed out, this explanation appears to be a “made up reason.” Documents show that even after Charlton was ousted, Justice Department officials were still “trying to settle on a complete explanation” for his firing:
In different drafts of an undated Justice Department memo prepared this year and released Tuesday, some possible reasons for Charlton’s ouster were crossed out, including a reference to obscenity prosecution, and others were added later.
Additionally, two weeks after he was fired in December, Charlton sent an e-mail to the Justice Department asking them how to deal with press questions that his firing was retribution for the Renzi investigation:
No one ever responded to Charlton.
Charlton’s office also received pressure from Renzi’s office on the investigation. A few weeks before the 2006 midterm elections, Renzi’s top aide, Brian Murray, called Charlton’s spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle to inquire about the investigation:
“I called Mr. Hornbuckle seeking information about press accounts which appeared just weeks before Election Day alleging a pending indictment,” Murray said in a statement. “I left him a message asking for information about these allegations, but I was called back and told they would not comment.”
Such calls are highly improper and potentially illegal. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) made similar calls pressuring then-U.S. attorney David Iglesias. The Justice Department fired Iglesias after Domenici took his complaints to Karl Rove and President Bush.
A report in the Wall Street Journal shows Charlton “faced unexpected obstacles in getting needed Justice Department approvals to advance a corruption investigation” against Renzi. While Charlton’s office opened the investigation no later than June 2005, the Justice Department didn’t issue subpoenas for key witnesses until early this year, some 18 months later.