WASHINGTON - Former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves of Missouri was likely forced out of his post two years ago because of opposition from Missouri Sen. Kit Bond's office, a Justice Department investigation concluded Monday.
The report by the department's internal watchdog found that the Republican senator's legal counsel, Jack Bartling, asked the White House at least twice in 2005 to remove Graves because of political friction between Bond's staff and that of Graves' brother, Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.
Bartling told investigators that he wanted Graves out because Sam Graves' operation "did not run business" the way Bond's office wanted, the report stated. Bartling said Bond's staff had asked Todd Graves "to try to rein in his brother," but Todd Graves declined to do so.
Questions about why Graves was asked to leave his post lead to his becoming part of the broader inquiry into whether partisan political reasons fueled the controversial firings of at least nine U.S. attorneys in 2006.
The 358-page report, which includes a separate chapter on Todd Graves, concluded that "the manner in which the department handled Graves' removal was inappropriate."
"To allow members of Congress or their staff to obtain the removal of U.S. attorneys for political reasons, as apparently occurred here, severely undermines the independence and nonpartisan tradition of the Department of Justice," the report said.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed a prosecutor on Monday to pursue possible criminal charges against Republicans who were involved in the controversial firings of U.S. attorneys.
Bartling claims Bond had no knowledge and was not involved in the multiple requests for Graves' removal. A spokeswoman for Bond did not immediately return a request for comment, but his office has said he did not know of Bartling's effort and would not have approved it.
The inspector general's office tried to interview Bond, but the senator declined. Bond offered a written statement saying that "to the best of his recollection, he did not communicate with anyone in the administration concerning Graves' performance at any time during Graves' tenure as U.S. attorney, and that he did not believe he personally had any additional information to contribute."
The tension between Bond and Sam Graves has been well-known for years in political circles, though the lawmakers have never publicly acknowledged it and make every effort to play it down. But the report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General places several details in the open for the first time.
Bond initially supported Todd Graves and even sponsored Graves' nomination as U.S. attorney in 2001. But that support vanished three years later as the acrimony grew between Bond's office and that of Sam Graves.
Todd Graves told investigators that a member of Bond's staff called him in 2004 and "angrily insisted that Graves use his influence to persuade his brother to fire his brother's chief of staff (Jeff Roe)." Graves added that after he declined to get involved, the Bond staffer told him "'they could no longer protect (his) job.'"
Todd Graves claims he never discussed the call with his brother, the congressman, and did not report it to anyone in the Justice Department. "Graves told us that 'if something like this could cost me a prosecutor's job, they could have it,'" the report said.
Todd Graves' name appeared on a March 2, 2005, list of U.S. attorneys that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, sent to the White House in the category of those "who had not distinguished themselves either positively or negatively."
Graves later was among seven U.S. attorneys Sampson suggested for removal on a list he sent to former White House counsel Harriet Miers on January 9, 2006.
A senior Justice Department official called Graves in January 2006 to tell him only "that the administration had decided to make a change, that his service was appreciated, and that the request was not based on any misconduct by Graves but simply to give someone else a chance to serve."
Graves said he was "stunned and shocked" when he got the call, but complied with the request and resigned in March 2006.