DiFi grills Mukasey on corruption unit shutdown

mukasey.jpgU.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey will address the Commonwealth Club of California at noon tomorrow in San Francisco’s Intercontinental Hotel on “how he has made public confidence in government a priority, and highlight the Justice Department’s success in investigating and prosecuting public corruption.”

But color U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., underwhelmed with Mukasey’s dedication to rooting out public corruption. She sent him a letter today asking him to explain the decision made earlier this month to disband and eliminate the public-corruption unit in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles; she worries whether pending and future cases of public corruption will be rigorously pursued given the reassignment of 17 lawyers away from this unit.

Of course, y’all could go ask Mukasey yourselves tomorrow. Tickets are available here; they’re $15 for club members or $30 for nonmembers, but premium seats in the first few rows costs $45 for members or $65 for nonmembers. The hotel is at 888 Howard St., and check-in starts at 11:15 a.m.; attendees will be subject to search, no bags or packages allowed.

UPDATE @ 1:35 P.M. THURSDAY: You can read Mukasey’s remarks as prepared for delivery here, on the Justice Department’s Web site. “Let me be clear: Politics has no role in the investigation or prosecution of political corruption or any other criminal offense, and I have seen absolutely no evidence of any such impropriety in my time at the Department, and would not tolerate it.”

Read the complete text of Feinstein’s letter, after the jump…

March 26, 2008

The Honorable Michael Mukasey
Attorney General of the United States
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Mukasey:

I write to express my concern about the recent decision to eliminate the public corruption section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

According to press reports, the 17 Assistant United States Attorneys assigned to the public corruption/environmental crimes unit in the Los Angeles office are being reassigned to other sections within the office. Public corruption cases will now apparently be mixed in with other types of cases and handled by a larger pool of prosecutors, rather than by a specialized section. Press articles have also mentioned the low morale and ill will that this decision has generated among prosecutors in the Los Angeles office, as well as the need to train new prosecutors to bring them up to speed on the complexities involved in corruption investigations.

While I respect the need for U.S. Attorney’s to make necessary management decisions, I have serious concerns about the potential impact of this change.

The decision raises serious questions about the future of public corruption cases, and whether they will be as vigorously pursued in the Central District of California especially given all the turn over and disruption that has occurred. And now, by eliminating the corruption unit, I am concerned that the Los Angeles office is sending a message that these cases will not receive sufficient attention, resources, and leadership.

Public corruption cases are ranked first on the FBI list of criminal priorities, ahead of fraud and organized crime – the units that will now apparently have the primary responsibility for prosecuting corruption cases in Los Angeles. There appears to be a disconnect between the FBI and the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s office on this issue. I want to ensure that these cases will be vigilantly pursued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

Please provide me with the Department of Justice’s rationale behind eliminating the public corruption unit in Los Angeles, including the specific facts, statistics, and circumstances that drove this decision. What initiated this decision? Who was consulted before making this decision? What was the role of Main Justice and the White House, if any? Did any of the DOJ’s prosecutors in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section have any input into the decision-making process? How will this decision affect the public corruption cases that have been and are currently being investigated in Los Angeles?

I would appreciate your immediate attention to this issue, and look forward to your response to my letter.


Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Progressive Democrat

    Bush has defended every single regulatory agency around. FDA, EPA, etc. etc. Is it any wonder that an office investigating corruption should be defunded? not only that,he’s put the foxes inside the henhouse to guard the chickens as well. Result, dangerous medicines being released to the public, environmental contamination, unmonitored food supply,… it’s just the beginning

  • Progressive Democrat

    Whoops, make that defunded, not defended, but de-fanged.

  • Concerned American

    The US Attorney in LA is a paranoid guy who holds grudges, makes split second decisions without much thought that have long term effects, and has been trying to “dumb down” the office since he got there. He is intimidated by people who went to top 15 law schools and does not understand the complexity of a white collar or corruption investigation and prosecution. The problem is therefore twofold. First, the Bushies emphasize terror, child pornography, immigration, and guns over all other cases, and O’Brien is a boob.

  • Concerned American

    Mukasey danced around the issue in SF. However, an apt analogy to what OBrien did and his rationale would be if a hospital disbanded their surgery unit and then allowed all attending physicians to operated AND then claimed that would not hurt the quality of surgeries and actually make them more efficient. Like surgery, prosecuting corruption cases and environmental cases takes specialized training and experience. Arguing that allowing generalists or people specializing in a different area to handle it is more efficient is disengenuous at best.

  • One need only ask Californian US Attorney Tom O’Brien why he received a formal Complaint ( here ) about the US Attorney in Delaware connections to the MNAT Law firm ( here ) that the Delaware Dept of Justice has declined to even Name, much less prosecute, concerning the fact that the MNAT law firm confessed to filing 17 false affidavits and complicity in deceiving the Delaware Federal Bankruptcy Court concerning the eToys case in 2001. ( Opinion here ) (NOTE, the Opinion is deceptive in stating that Haas and Alber’s complaints are similar, the Court tossed out Haas’s proofs including the Affidavit by the Chairman of the Creditor’s committee as the Delaware Court only addressed 3 of the 100 felony violations that Haas had sworn an oath to).

    Laser Haas, a party that was Court approved to handle the eToys Liquidation, discovered the fraud and perjury, reported to the Court and Delaware Dept of Justice, only to be ostricized and stripped of his $3 million dollar court approved work, after the job was completed.

    When Haas discovered that Colm F Connolly was a partner with the MNAT law firm in 2001, he reported it on Dec 7 2007 to Tom O’Brien’s office.

    just after 12 weeks later, when the CA Dept of Justice was required to respond to Haas’s complaint, O’Brien disbanded the Public Corruption Unit and threatened career prosecutors with retaliation if they revealed any other reason for the dismantling.

    Online affidavit and Court docket record proofs of perjury, fraud and coverup.