WASHINGTON - A senior Justice Department official who testified about performance shortcomings of several fired U.S. attorneys has told congressional investigators he was coached the day before at a White House meeting attended by political adviser Karl Rove.
The witness, Associate Deputy Attorney General William Moschella, said he was urged during the dinner hour meeting on March 5 to publicly specify reasons for the dismissals, according to a transcript of the investigators' April 24 interview with him.
Until the March 6 hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee, Justice Department officials had said publicly only that some of the firings were based on performance, offering no specifics. At the hearing, Moschella laid out detailed criticism of each of five fired prosecutors' specific performance.
Moschella's boss, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, told investigators in an April 27 interview that he also was at the March 5 White House meeting and that Rove was there. McNulty recalled Moschella's being told to be sure to lay out the justifications for the firings, according to the transcript of his interview by investigators.
Neither Moschella nor McNulty recalled in the interviews what Rove said at the meeting. Portions of transcripts were made available to the Associated Press yesterday by a senior congressional aide on condition that they not be quoted directly and that the aide not be further identified because the interviews weren't supposed to be made public.
Democrats, relying on thousands of e-mails among White House and Justice Department officials and testimony at other hearings, have insisted that the firings were a political purge.
Questions about Rove's role in the firings have spun off into probes over whether he and other White House officials conducted official business on e-mail accounts intended for political work, and then deleted them in violation of federal law.