Image: Nora Dannehy
Bob Child  /  AP
Nora Dannehy, a career prosecutor, has been appointed to investigate whether criminal charges are warranted in the firings of U.S. attorneys. The White House said it would cooperate fully with her, despite its refusal to give investigators some key documents.
updated 10/3/2008 2:18:49 PM ET 2008-10-03T18:18:49

Democratic lawmakers on Friday questioned the independence a veteran federal prosecutor named to investigate whether laws were broken in the partisan political firings of U.S. attorneys.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., who has led the House Judiciary Committee's investigation into the firing of nine prosecutors, said the Justice Department could interfere with the career prosecutor who will conduct the probe — a department employee.

Nora Dannehy, the acting U.S. attorney in Connecticut and white-collar crime specialist, was named early this week by Attorney General Michael Mukasey to continue an inquiry that so far has found incompetent, unethical and possible criminal conduct surrounding the firings.

Mukasey assigned Dannehy to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, his former top aides and other officials for their roles in the scandal.

Sanchez commented before the Justice Department's inspector general, Glenn Fine, reviewed his 358-page report that documented politically inspired firings of at least four of the nine prosecutors dismissed two years ago.

Aggressive inquiry expected
Despite Sanchez' concerns, Fine told the committee that he expects Dannehy "to move aggressively and expeditiously to obtain additional evidence and to make a determination as to whether any criminal offense was committed with regard to the removals or their aftermath."

When several Democrats continued to hammer him on the prosecutor's independence, Fine said Dannehy will have "full authority to take this where she thinks is appropriate."

Asked by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., whether the attorney general could overrule the prosecutor, Fine said, "I will have to leave that for another day."

Sanchez said grand jury secrecy and the absence of a requirement for Dannehy to issue a public report could keep her findings hidden. The lawmaker added that Dannehy was not named under Justice Department regulations that would have granted her more independence.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement, "Ms. Dannehy has the authority to conduct this investigation however she sees fit, including the independence and ability to seek documents, information and testimony as she believes is necessary."

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said there was "no evidence to support claims of a grand conspiracy" and "no evidence of a politically motivated plot at the White House."

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He defended White House officials, saying they were misled by Gonzales aides.

Resignations followed firings
The U.S. attorney firings led to a housecleaning at the Justice Department, with resignations by Gonzales, top deputy Paul McNulty, White House liaison Monica Goodling and chief of staff Kyle Sampson.

President Bush's refusal to let former White House officials Karl Rove and Harriet Miers — along with White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten — testify before Congress about the firings touched off a legal fight that is now before a federal appeals court. Most recently a judge ordered Miers to answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee.

In their 358-page report, internal Justice Department investigators said the lack of cooperation by senior White House and Justice Department officials left gaps in their findings.

"Serious allegations involving potential criminal conduct have not been fully investigated or resolved," the report said, listing lying to investigators, obstruction of justice and wire fraud among the potential felony crimes.

The report by Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility Director Marshall Jarrett described Gonzales and McNulty as "remarkably disengaged" from the process that led to the dismissal of the prosecutors.

The White House said it would cooperate fully with Dannehy, despite its refusal to give the Justice Department investigators some key documents.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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