Mukasey cuts off White House access to information on probes

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Michael Mukasey Wednesday reversed a controversial Bush administration policy that had allowed numerous White House officials to know about ongoing federal investigations.

In a memo to Justice Department employees, Mukasey said communications about criminal and civil investigations "must be limited."

During his confirmation hearings in October, Mukasey had promised that he'd change the policy after senators said it enabled White House officials to exert improper influence on the Justice Department.

Justice Department officials now will inform the White House about investigations "only where it is important for the performance of the president's duties" and crucial "from a law enforcement perspective," Mukasey said.

The original policy authorized more than 40 Justice Department officials and 400 White House officials to know about ongoing investigations, according to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a leading Democratic proponent of changing the policy.

During the Clinton administration, seven White House and Justice officials were permitted to receive such information.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said Mukasey's new policy mirrors the Clinton administration's, but allows more officials to receive details about national security matters.

Mukasey's predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, resigned after a nine-month long firestorm over the ouster of nine U.S. attorneys and allegations of improper political meddling in Justice Department business.

One of the fired U.S. attorneys, David Iglesias of New Mexico, accused Republican Senator Pete Domenici of trying to pressure him to indict Democrats before the 2006 congressional elections. Domenici admitted calling Iglesias but denied making any inappropriate demands.

White House officials also acknowledged contacting the Justice Department after they received Republican complaints about the department's handling of election fraud investigations.


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