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Report: Bond opposition led to Graves’ departure

Monday, September 29, 2008 | 7:37 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves of Missouri likely was 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. According to Bartling, Bond's staff had asked Todd Graves "to try to rein in his brother," but Todd Graves declined to do so.

Questions about why Todd Graves was asked to leave his post as the top federal prosecutor in Kansas City led 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 on the U.S. attorney scandal, which includes a separate chapter on Todd Graves, called the reason for Graves' dismissal "extremely troubling" and 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.

The report also provided a measure of vindication for Graves, concluding that he was not asked to resign for any reason related to allegations of misconduct.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed a prosecutor 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.

The inspector general's office tried to interview Bond, but the senator declined. Bond offered a written statement to investigators 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."

In a separate statement Monday to the Associated Press, Bond said the report "on Todd and my staff is extremely troubling to me. I had no knowledge of my staff's action, did not approve it and would not have approved it. Missouri deserves better and I expect better of my staff. To the people of Missouri and to Todd I apologize."

Bond stressed that he supports Sam Graves, who is facing a tough re-election bid this year.

Sam Graves' spokesman Ryan Steusloff said Monday that the congressman is proud of the work his brother did and wants to move past the scandal.

"All of this is ancient history," Steusloff said. "Sam Graves is committed to working with Sen. Bond to move Missouri forward."

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 his 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 says 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.

The report does not lend any credence to suspicions among some Democrats that Graves was targeted because he disagreed with senior Justice Department officials over his refusal to sign off on a voter fraud case in Missouri.

Graves was replaced in 2006 by Bradley Schlozman, a one-time Justice Department official who is now the subject of a separate investigation into improper hiring decisions.

Roe, known for his bare-knuckles political style, eventually left Sam Graves' office in 2006 to start a private consulting firm in Missouri. In an interview Monday, he claimed that Bond's then-state director, Jason Van Eaton, was responsible for fueling the discord between legislative offices.

"It is breathtaking that Jason Van Eaton, a political pygmy, was able to use the power and majesty of the United States Senate to settle a petty personal political squabble," Roe said.

Eaton did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Todd Graves, now in private practice, said he is "extremely disappointed that a petty political dispute between two congressional staffers could result in this."

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.

The report also concluded that Todd Graves' dismissal did not appear to be linked to the 2005 controversy over Missouri's driver's license office system. The Justice Department had investigated whether Graves violated conflict-of-interest rules after his wife and brother-in-law accepted lucrative Missouri license office contracts from Gov. Matt Blunt. But the issue was investigated and eventually resolved in Graves' favor.

Investigators found that Bartling had encouraged a White House official to use the fee office investigation as an excuse to get rid of Graves, but keep secret the real reasons that Bond's office wanted him out. Investigators found no evidence the fee office incident - or a separate inquiry into Graves' appearance at a political fundraiser - were the reasons for his dismissal.

Graves, said he was "disappointed that in an attempt to cover their tracks, people would shred people's reputation without a second thought."

 

 


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