Dems to file request for immediate investigation of former US Attorney General

Larisa Alexandrovna

Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) will be issuing a formal request for an immediate investigation with the US Inspector General's office into John Ashcroft - former US Attorney General, Raw Story has learned.

The request - released to Raw Story - cites conflict of interest on the part of Ashcroft in his failure to promptly recuse himself during the initial investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Wilson. Ashcroft was US Attorney General at the time.

The CIA filed charges with the FBI and Justice after columnist Robert Novak made Wilson's identity public in July of 2003. It has since been learned, as part of a case currently in front of a grand jury, that Karl Rove - Senior Advisor to President Bush, was the source for several reporters on the Wilson story.

Ashcroft was appointed to the AG office on the suggestion of Rove, who was also the political consultant for Ashcroft's 2000 US Senate campaign bid against the late Governor Mel Carnahan (D-Missouri), for which Rove was paid an estimated $750,000 in services.

Conyers, ranking member on the House Committee on the Judiciary, and Hinchey, a member on the House Committee on Appropriations, both request that US Inspector General, Glen A. Fine, also investigate the Justice Department's procedural failures, including failure to preserve documents.

The request is to be filed early this afternoon, but a fully transcribed version - excluding footnotes - is available below.

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Congress of the United States
Washington, D.C. 20515

August 17,2005
The Honorable Glenn A. Fine
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20530

Dear Mr. Fine:

As the Ranking Member of the Committee on the Judiciary and a Member of the Committee on Appropriations, both of which have oversight jurisdiction over the U.S. Department of Justice, we write to request that your Office immediately investigate whether then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft violated explicit rules on conflicts of interest when he failed to recuse himself from, and in fact was briefed on, the CIA name leak investigation despite his personal connection to Karl Rove, a person of interest to investigators. This investigation would not conflict with the investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald into the actual leak; instead, it would focus on Mr. Ashcroft�s failure to recuse himself at the appropriate time in the case. Furthermore, the investigation into the recusal delay would be a logical extension of the request that you also investigate the Department's failure to comply with proper procedures by not ensuring the preservation of documents and other evidence connected with the leak.

Early in the Department's investigation of who had leaked a covert CIA operative's identity to the media, it became clear that Karl Rove, a senior advisor to the President, was receiving public attention as someone who may have been involved in the crime. We have now learned that, according to law enforcement officials close to the investigation, Mr. Rove failed to disclose to the FBI that he had ever spoken with Time's Mathew Cooper, a reporter involved in the case. These officials also have indicated that then-Attorney General Ashcroft was personally and privately briefed on the Rove interview.

These new disclosures are troubling because, at the time of these events, Mr. Ashcroft had known personal and political connections to Mr. Rove. Mr. Rove was an adviser to Mr. Ashcroft during the latter's political campaigns, earning almost $750,000 for his services. Mr. Rove also had urged the President to nominate Mr. Ashcroft to be Attorney General after Mr. Ashcroft lost his Senate re-election campaign to the deceased Mel Carnahan.

The fact that Mr. Ashcroft recused himself eventually demonstrates that there in fact were conflicts of interest with his continued involvement in the investigation. The fact that he did not recuse himself early on and was briefed on the mater may well have violated ethical rules and guidelines.

Existing law and rules of professional conduct govern when Department attorneys must recuse themselves from particular investigations. Federal law requires the Attorney General to promulgate rules mandating the disqualification of any officer or employee of the Justice Department "from participation in a particular investigation or prosecution if such participation may result in a personal, financial, or political conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof." Pursuant to this requirement, the Department has promulgated regulations stating that:
no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with: (1) any person ... substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution; or (2) any person ... which he knows or has a specific and substantial interest that would be affected by the outcome of the investigation or prosecution.

In this case, Mr. Ashcroft would have been prohibited from involvement in the leak investigation under both provisions. His relationships with the President and Mr. Rove consists of both personal and political connections with individuals who might have been the investigation�s subjects. At a minimum, his friend, Mr. Rove, had a "specific and substantial interest that would be affected by the outcome" in that his entire political legacy would be tarnished if he were implicated in the leak.

To reiterate the importance of preventing conflicts of interest, the Justice Department has further explicated the guidelines in its U.S. Attorneys� Manual. The Attorneys' Manual provides that:

When United States Attorneys, or their offices, become aware of an issue that could require a recusal in a criminal or civil matter or case as a result of a personal interest or professional relationship with parties involved in the matter, they must contact General Counsel�s Office (GCO), EOUSA.
The requirement of recusal does not arise in every instance, but only where a conflict of interest exists or there is an appearance of a conflict of interest or loss of impartiality.

In the leak investigation, Mr. Ashcroft clearly had a professional relationship with a party involved in the mater. His failure to have recused himself earlier may have been an instance of "too little, too late," as the conflict may have impeded the investigation.

Furthermore, rules of professional conduct bar lawyers such as Mr. Ashcroft from maters in which they have conflicts of interest. Because Department attorneys must follow the ethical rules of the bar in which they practice,8 as an official at Main Justice he would have been obligated to comply with the District of Columbia Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct. These Rules state that, without consent, a lawyer shall not represent a client if "the lawyer's professional judgment on behalf of the client will be or reasonably may be adversely affected by the lawyer�s responsibilities to or interests in a third party or the lawyer�s own financial, business, property, or personal interests." In the instant situation, Mr. Ashcroft clearly had a personal connection to Mr. Rove that would have interfered with proper oversight of the case.

We look forward to hearing whether you will open such an investigation and, if not, the reason for your decision.


John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary

Maurice Hinchley
Committee on Appropriations

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