Did Justice stall probe of GOP congressman?

The Wall Street Journal cites "unexpected obstacles," at least until the 2006 elections were over.

Published April 25, 2007 1:23PM (EDT)

When there were developments this month in the investigations into the dealings of Republican Reps. John Doolittle and Rick Renzi, we allowed ourselves -- privately, at least -- the cynical thought that Justice Department officials were making a good show of things in order to help Alberto Gonzales weather the storm he's facing.

It seems to be worse than that.

Sources tell the Wall Street Journal that investigators had begun asking senior Justice Department officials to approve search warrants, subpoenas and the like in the Renzi case more than a year ago. A wiretap request was approved just before the November elections, but then somebody leaked its existence, thereby rendering the wiretap itself completely useless. As for other requests? The investigators faced "unexpected obstacles" in getting the search warrants and subpoenas, the Journal says, until after the 2006 elections were over.

Those would be the elections in which Renzi held off his Democratic opponent, 51 percent to 44 percent; the elections in which George W. Bush visited Scottsdale, Ariz., for a fundraiser on Renzi's behalf. (Coincidentally, Bush held an event for Doolittle on the same Western swing.) "About the same time" as the Bush-Renzi fundraiser, the Journal notes, Gonzales' then chief of staff sent then White House counsel Harriet Miers an e-mail message in which he suggested that Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney overseeing the Renzi case, should be added to the list of prosecutors to be ousted.

Charlton was told to resign a month after the November elections. In an e-mail message sent then to a senior Justice Department official, Charlton noted that reporters were asking whether the Renzi case had been a factor in his ouster. So far as anyone can tell, he never got a response.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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