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Attorney firings may have been against the law
Published: Monday March 19, 2007
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The Bush Administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys may have broken various laws, according to a New York Times op-ed by lawyer and editorial page assistant editor Adam Cohen.

"It is true, as the White House keeps saying, that United States attorneys serve 'at the pleasure of the president,' which means he can dismiss them whenever he wants," writes Cohen. "But if the attorneys were fired to interfere with a valid prosecution, or to punish them for not misusing their offices, that may well have been illegal."

Cohen lists four crimes that may have been committed in the firing of the attorneys and the subsequent statements made by Administration officials.

Cohen writes that "It is illegal to lie to Congress" and to impede its getting information. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as well as Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson, are all under scrutiny for conflicting statements made to Congress.

Contacting prosecutors to influence or impede investigations is also a punishable crime, writes Cohen. Both Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) have been found to have contacted one of the fired U.S. attorneys, David Iglesias, in order to inquire about ongoing investigations.

The intimidation of Congressional wittnesses also violates the law, writes Cohen. One of the fired U.S. attorneys, H.E. Cummins, stated that he had been contacted and threatened with retaliation by McNulty's chief of staff.

Finally, the firings themselves may be punishable. "United States attorneys can be fired whenever a president wants, but not, as 1512 (c) puts it, to corruptly obstruct, influence, or impede an official proceeding," writes Cohen. "Anyone involved in firing a United States attorney to obstruct or influence an official proceeding could have broken the law."