Democrats want details from Bond on U.S. attorney’s dismissal

Thursday, October 2, 2008 | 7:57 p.m. CDT; updated 8:39 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 2, 2008

WASHINGTON — Democrats are calling on Republican Sen. Kit Bond to come clean after a Justice Department report this week found that Bond’s office pushed the White House to dismiss then-U.S. Attorney Todd Graves of Missouri for political reasons.

But the Missouri senator insists he shared everything he knows with investigators probing the reasons that Graves, who was the top federal prosecutor in western Missouri, and eight other U.S. attorneys around the country lost their jobs in 2006.

The report from the Justice Department’s internal watchdog concluded that Bond’s former legal counsel, Jack Bartling, repeatedly asked White House officials in 2005 to remove Graves because he wouldn’t intervene in the affairs of his brother, Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.

A senior Justice Department official eventually asked Todd Graves to step down in January 2006, and he resigned two months later.

Investigators spoke to Bartling and Graves, but the report indicated in a footnote that Bond declined to be interviewed about his involvement.

Instead, Bond submitted a brief letter explaining that he did not personally communicate with the Bush administration about Graves, except to seek extra time for Graves to wrap up case work before he left the post.

“I think he has some explaining to do,” Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Jack Cardetti said Thursday. “I think Bond has to tell the people why he wouldn’t answer these questions.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., also rapped Bond’s decision to send a written response instead of submitting to an interview with investigators.

“I am surprised that any sitting senator would decline to cooperate with an investigation by the Justice Department,” McCaskill told reporters Wednesday. “That is a startling position to take.”

Bond takes issue with perceptions that he was less than forthcoming in the investigation.

“I told them everything I knew,” Bond said Thursday in a statement released by his office. “It would have been the same whether in person or in writing. At least this way they had it in writing as soon as possible.”

Bond spokeswoman Shana Marchio said investigators at the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General never indicated they wanted more information than the three-paragraph letter Bond sent them.

In the letter, Bond wrote: “To the best of my recollection, at no time during his tenure, or any other time, did I communicate with anyone in the administration regarding Todd’s performance as U.S. Attorney.”

Bartling appeared to validate Bond’s response when he told investigators that Bond had no knowledge of Bartling’s communications with White House staff.

But Cardetti said there’s a big difference between responding in a letter and being questioned in person, under oath. He and other Democrats are skeptical that Bond would not have known his own counsel was calling the White House urging the dismissal of Graves.

The report found that Bartling’s action was triggered by a simmering dispute among staff in the offices of Bond and Sam Graves. Bond staffers complained that Sam Graves’ office “did not run business” the way Bond’s office wanted. When a Bond staffer called Todd Graves to demand that he urge his brother to fire his chief of staff, Todd Graves refused. The Bond staffer then told Todd Graves he “could no longer protect” his job.

After the report was released on Monday, Bond issued a brief statement saying, “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.”

Asked earlier this week whether he believed Bond had no idea what his staff was doing, Todd Graves said: “I take him at his word.”

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