The sooner we realize that the better
What Paul Charlton Said in Our Interview
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Monday 02 July 2007
Paul Charlton, one of eight US attorneys fired last year under questionable circumstances, said an internal Justice Department probe to determine whether the dismissals were politically motivated may conclude that a special prosecutor needs to be appointed to further investigate the attorney firings.
Charlton, a career prosecutor who was the US attorney for Arizona, said he was interviewed by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General and the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility recently. Charlton told me the interview provided him with new information into the circumstances behind the firings. However, he was unwilling to share the details of what he has learned thus far because the probe is ongoing.
"I came out [of the interview with the inspector general] with new information and that information only further solidified my belief that [Congress] needs to continue this investigation," Charlton told me, during an exclusive interview recently that took place at the law offices of Gallagher & Kennedy in Phoenix, where Charlton now works as an attorney focusing on Native American issues. "I can say that at some point in time the inspector general is going to need to analyze the evidence he has at a certain date and determine whether a special prosecutor needs to be appointed to assist him."
Charlton told me he's unsure whether an investigation he launched last year into GOP Congressman Rick Renzi involving influence peddling and land deals led to his firing. But he does think that it's possible.
Charlton said he has doubts the reasons the Justice Department cited for his firing last December - his refusal to pursue the death penalty in one case - are genuine.
"I've come to the conclusion that I'm uncertain if those are the reasons," Charlton told me. "I'm not certain myself whether those are the genuine reasons or they are reasons more of convenience."
Last week, Charlton testified before a Senate committee about the death penalty. He discussed the case DOJ officials have used to justify their decision to fire him, the murder of a methamphetamine supplier allegedly at the hands of one of his dealers, and criticized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his senior staff for "ordering" him to pursue the death penalty for a murder case he was prosecuting despite the fact that his office did not obtain a murder weapon or the victim's body. Charlton said he advised the Justice Department that pursuing the death penalty in this particular case was unwarranted due to the absence of forensic evidence but was rebuffed by Gonzales.
"The lack of forensic evidence ... means you should not seek the death penalty," Charlton told me. "The first I heard that my recommendation had been ignored was when I received a letter from the attorney general, and they use this very euphemistic term: they say you're now 'authorized' to seek the death penalty, which in reality is an 'order' to seek the death penalty. I contacted the office of the attorney general, the office of the deputy attorney general [Paul McNulty] ... to try to reverse that decision and I was unsuccessful in the end."
Charlton said his office knew where the body was located and requested the DOJ spend $500,000 to $1 million to recover the body from a landfill which would have either strengthened the prosecution's case, and therefore provided the DNA evidence to justify his pursuit of to death penalty, or, it would have determined that the suspect wasn't responsible for the murder. Charlton said the DOJ denied his request. The victim's body remains buried in a landfill in Arizona.
Charlton told me he had "a memorable conversation" with McNulty's Chief of Staff Michael Elston who told Charlton that McNulty and Gonzales spent a "great deal of time" discussing the murder case - about five to ten minutes - before concluding that Charlton should seek the death penalty.
Charlton said it was unusual for the Department of Justice to "order" him to seek the death penalty without first discussing it with him.
"Under Attorney General [John] Ashcroft, I had the opportunity to speak with him on a death penalty case when I had a disagreement with him," Charlton told me, adding that the lack of prosecutorial experience at the senior level of the Justice Department is what Charlton believes led Gonzales and his underlings to make unilateral legal decisions without first consulting with career prosecutors like him.
Charlton told me that unlike his predecessor John Ashcroft, Gonzales has acted like President Bush's "consigliere" rather than an independent=minded attorney general.
Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.
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