It took a while for the painfully obvious to finally be brought up in a mainstream media outlet, but Thursday's Los Angeles Times features an interview with fired U. S. Attorney Bud Cummins of Arkansas in which he questions whether his investigation into Matt Blunt's administration led to his removal. In the interview, Cummins also acknowledged that he had been improperly contacted by a lawyer acting on behalf of Matt Blunt. For the first time, he also revealed that he was never able to complete the investigation.
Most of the speculation has concerned efforts by Karl Rove to get one of his buddies into Cummins' position, but Cummins wonders if something else was at play:
In January 2006, he had begun looking into allegations that Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt had rewarded GOP supporters with lucrative contracts to run the state's driver's license offices. Cummins handled the case because U.S. attorneys in Missouri had recused themselves over potential conflicts of interest.
But in June, Cummins said, he was told by the Justice Department that he would be fired at year's end to make room for Timothy Griffin — an operative tied to White House political guru Karl Rove.
In an interview Thursday, Cummins expressed disgust that the Bush administration may have fired him and the others for political reasons. "You have to firewall politics out of the Department of Justice. Because once it gets in, people question every decision you make. Now I keep asking myself: 'What about the Blunt deal?' "
Later in the article, Cummins talks about how the license fee office investigation was conducted and the improper interference by the Blunt attorney:
The Missouri corruption allegations centered on a change in the law that allowed for privatization of the state's license fee agencies. In 2005, Missouri newspapers began reporting that some of the contracts went to Blunt's supporters, including the wife of the U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Todd Graves.
When Cummins started investigating, he said, he followed Justice Department protocol by refusing to acknowledge whether his office had opened a probe. Policy also stipulates that when an investigation ends with no charges, it should never be publicly acknowledged.
As the months wore on, Cummins said, he "had no communication with anybody in any senior level" at the Justice Department in Washington.
But, he said, the governor had hired a private attorney who called and inquired about the status of the investigation. "The attorney said it was creating a lot of media in Missouri about political pressure and other allegations that the governor was under investigation," Cummins said.
He said the attorney wanted assurances that the governor was not the target "because we'd like to be able to say that."
Cummins said he did not comment to the attorney because the investigation was confidential. He declined to identify the governor's lawyer.
Cummins said the investigation was never truly completed because FBI agents were too busy to conduct the interviews before Cummins left office.
In October, Cummins announced that the investigation was over. He broke with precedent, he said, because of all the media reports in Missouri.
"The matter has been closed with no indictments sought or returned," he said on Oct. 4. He added that "at no time was Gov. Blunt a target, subject or witness in the investigation, nor was he implicated in any allegations being investigated. Any allegations to the contrary are uninformed and erroneous."
In the Thursday interview, Cummins denied that he took that extra step as a favor to Blunt. "I didn't know what the politics were up there in Missouri," he said. "I couldn't pick Matt Blunt out in a lineup."
Cummins later told AP the Blunt investigation was not a factor in his firing and that he never said he wondered if the Blunt situation had anything to do with it, but he acknowledged he had been contacted by a private attorney representing the governor.