Heffelfinger: Politics didn't play a role in leaving U.S. Attorney postby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
The former U.S. attorney for Minnesota says he never felt political pressure from the White House that allegedly led to the firings last year of eight other U.S. attorneys around the country. On Tuesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admitted the firings were mishandled, but rejected calls for him to resign. Tom Heffelfinger stepped down from the Minnesota post a year ago, but he says politics wasn't the reason.
St. Paul, Minn. — Documents released Tuesday showed the White House and the Justice Department worked for two years to fire U.S. attorneys for not aggressively pursuing voter fraud allegations against Democrats.
Tom Heffelfinger resigned his post as U.S. attorney in Minneapolis last February. He had served two stints -- the first from September 1991 to April 1993, and then again from September 2001 to February 2006.
He says no one ever pressured him to leave his post or asked him to leave. He resigned based on a personal decision, driven by his career and his family finances. Moreover, he says he was not pressured to investigate Democrats.
"I got no direction whatsoever at any time during this administration, or my last tour as U.S. attorney, to consider politics," he said. "To the contrary, partisan considerations are irrelevant to a public integrity investigation."
Heffelfinger says that he knows all of the eight fired U.S. attorneys personally, and five of them are among his best friends as U.S. attorneys. He said that he found them all to be dedicated and hard-working.
When asked whether there was any reason they would lie, Heffelfinger responded, "All of those people have in my experience the highest levels of integrity."
Two communications professors have been compiling a database of the Justice Department under George W. Bush. They found that U.S. attorneys were more likely to investigate Democrats than Republicans in the past six years.
One of those professors, John Cragan of the University of St. Thomas, says U.S. attorneys across the nation investigated Democrats seven times more often than Republicans.
"It's highly unusual. It's beyond statistical possibility -- one chance in 10,000 that this is not intentional," Cragan said.
The current U.S. attorney in Minneapolis, Rachel Paulose, declined to be interviewed for this story.
U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's office released a statement saying that Paulose "replaced someone who resigned, not someone who was fired, and her nomination should not be confused with the current controversy over the recent dismissal of several U.S. attorneys in other jurisdictions."
Andy Luger served as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York and in Minneapolis, for a total of seven years. During that time he served under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Luger says the current controversy is completely foreign to what he knew in those offices.
"There was never even a suggestion that either of the offices that I worked in were political or were politicized, or that our decisions were made under Democrats or Republicans for political reasons," Luger said.
The allegations that some federal prosecutors were pressured to investigate and indict individuals based on their political affiliations would be a major ethical breach.
Due to the enormous power that prosecutors have in investigating and charging individuals with crimes, they must abide by special ethical rules in addition to those followed by other attorneys.
- Morning Edition, 03/14/2007, 7:17 a.m.