Wednesday, March 28, 2007

FBI Agent told to keep quiet after objecting to US Atty Lam's dismissal...

From Reuters via :

FBI Agent Told to Keep Quiet Over Attorney Firings
By Thomas Ferraro
Tuesday 27 March 2007

An FBI agent was warned to keep quiet about the dismissal of a U.S. attorney after he told a newspaper her firing would hurt the agency's ongoing investigations and speculated politics was involved, a U.S. Senate panel heard on Tuesday.

FBI Director Robert Mueller defended the handling of the incident, saying: "I do not believe it's appropriate for our special agents in charge to comment to the media on personnel decisions that are made by the Department of Justice."

"I profoundly disagree," replied Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, who told the panel of the warning to the agent. "He (the agent) was simply saying that it would affect cases that were ongoing. And I think he's entitled to his opinion."

The exchange came as Mueller's testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is ramping up its investigation into the firing last year of eight of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys.

The Bush administration contends the firings were justified. The mostly Democratic critics of the dismissals question whether the prosecutors were fired for political motives.

The furor has prompted calls for President George W. Bush to fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who heads the Justice Department. Bush has rejected such calls, saying he retains confidence in the chief U.S. law enforcement officer.

At a wide-ranging hearing on the FBI, Mueller said he was unaware that any ongoing investigation had been damaged by the dismissals. FBI agents help investigate cases brought by federal prosecutors.

"Politics Involved?"

Carol Lam, who helped win the 2005 political corruption conviction of then-U.S. Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California, was among seven prosecutors fired on December 7.

On January 13, the San Diego Union-Tribune quoted Dan Dzwilewski, head of FBI's San Diego office, as saying Lam was crucial to ongoing investigations. "I guarantee politics is involved," he was quoted saying.

Feinstein said her chief counsel had called the FBI's San Diego office to verify the accuracy of the story. She said the office confirmed it was true "but they also said they'd been warned to say no more."

Mueller said he had heard about the article and followed up.

"Well, my understanding is that our chief out there believes he was misquoted (and) ... that our investigations were continuing, without any diminishment," he said.

Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record), a New York Democrat, noted that among the shifting reasons given for firing prosecutors was failure to energetically pursue voter-fraud investigations.

Schumer asked Mueller if he was aware of any FBI voter-fraud probe that should have resulted in an indictment but did not.

"Not to my knowledge," the FBI director replied.


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