By ANDREW DeMILLO
Associated Press Writer
LITTLE ROCK — Five of the federal prosecutors whose firings in 2006 sparked an investigation into President George W. Bush’s Justice Department blamed their ouster Monday on politics in the department, which one of them said became a "laughingstock."
The five former U.S. attorneys, among nine who were let go, appeared together during a forum in Little Rock.
They blamed former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ intense political loyalty to Bush for costing them their jobs.
"There were a number of people who made terrible decisions," said John McKay, a former U.S. attorney for the western district of Washington state. "They turned the Justice Department into the laughingstock of the country."
Prosecutors closed a two-year investigation into the firings in July with a conclusion that the Justice Department’s actions were inappropriately political but not criminal. The episode contributed to Gonzales’ resignation.
Other ousted prosecutors participating in the forum were Bud Cummins of Arkansas, Paul Charlton of Arizona, Carol Lam of California and David Iglesias of New Mexico.
The forum, held by the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, comes as the man who temporarily replaced Cummins seeks a congressional seat in central Arkansas.
Skip Rutherford, the Clinton School dean, said the event had been in the works for several months and was not related to the election.
Tim Griffin, now the Republican nominee for the 2nd Congressional District, was named interim U.S. attorney for eastern Arkansas after Cummins’ firing. Griffin is running against Democratic state Sen. Joyce Elliott, who attended Monday’s forum.
Democratic Congressman Vic Snyder, who represents the 2nd District and is retiring at the end of his term, also attended. Cummins, who ran unsuccessfully against Snyder for the 2nd District seat in 1996, praised the retiring congressman and Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor for their support during the controversy.
Griffin worked in the White House office of political affairs during Bush’s presidency, and Bush adviser Karl Rove has said he backed Griffin for the attorney post. Griffin resigned the prosecutor post after six months.
Cummins, a Republican, did not mention Griffin by name during the forum and later declined to say whether he would support Griffin in the November election. Cummins suggested that the firings would not have occurred when John Ashcroft led the Justice Department.
"Once (Ashcroft’s team) left, they just sent people over from the White House to fill these jobs... There was no grown-up there to say, ’Whoa, this doesn’t work,"’ Cummins said.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Cummins declined to say whether he believed Griffin was qualified for the prosecutor post. Griffin has said he respects the decision to not file any charges in the firings, and has said the controversy was mishandled by the Justice Department.
Iglesias said the scandal was about preventing politics from interfering with the Justice Department, not just about the prosecutor firings.
"This is not about us losing our jobs," Iglesias said. "This is about one of the premiere institutions of our country being threatened and surviving that."