Justice Department investigations into the dismissal of nine US attorneys – allegedly for political reasons – have led officials to convene a grand jury inquiry into whether the actions of the department might be deemed criminal. The Washington Post and the New York Times are reporting that the grand jury has been empanelled to investigate claims made by former head of the Civil Rights Division Bradley Schlozman that he had been pressured to pursue a partisan agenda while moving forward with certain prosecutions.
According to reports, the grand jury is examining discrepancies in testimony provided by Mr. Schlozman who originally told a Senate committee last June that “while he was acting United States attorney in Kansas City, a Justice Department supervisor ‘directed’ him to bring an indictment in a voter fraud case against a liberal group.” Mr. Schlozman then “clarified” his statement some days later in a letter, writing that his decision to pursue those charges was his alone and that he took “full responsibility.”
The New York Times claims that an attorney speaking on the condition of anonymity – grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret – said that the issue at hand is whether department officials have been truthful in their responses to congressional inquiries.
While grand jury proceedings do not necessarily mean that criminal charges will be brought, this is still a promising sign that Justice Department officials are finally taking allegations of politicization seriously. Ensuring that those who testify provide honest and accurate information is essential to rooting out any potential corruption at this critical institution.
We can only hope that Justice Department officials will apply the same standard when considering whether to move forward with contempt charges for those who refuse to respond to congressional subpoenas on the issue. Until now, Attorney General Michael Mukasey has refused to enforce contempt of Congress citations for Bush administration officials. Not only is it important to ensure that those who testify are truthful, Congress must also be able to compel those with critical information to testify if its investigations are truly to be of any value.