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US Attorney earned tribal praise despite Bush ouster

The ousted U.S. Attorney for Arizona sought to record FBI interviews with people suspected of committing crimes in Indian Country, documents released on Monday show.

Officials at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., did not outright oppose the proposal, according to a slew of e-mails and memos. In fact, some supported the use of taped interviews and confessions in order to secure more guilty pleas and convictions.

Former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton "thoughtfully articulated" the need for the project, a memo to a high-ranking DOJ official last June stated. Charlton was worried that the failure to record FBI interviews "has created an unfair disparity between the way crime is treated in the Native American community and all other communities in Arizona," the document said.

Just a few months later, Charlton was out of a job. According to the Bush administration, he wasn't tough enough on crime in Indian Country because he failed to pursue death penalty cases against tribal members.

Along with concerns over their stances on immigration, political corruption and drugs, Charlton and seven other federal prosecutors were ousted in December. But as Democrats, and some Republicans, on Capitol Hill try to find out why, they see conflicting explanations coming from U.S. Attorney General Alberto General and the White House.

"We will not stop our investigation until we know who ordered the purge of federal prosecutors, why they did it, and who is trying to cover it up," said Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which released the documents yesterday.

"The White House can't ignore this investigation," he added.

In Arizona, Charlton earned praise for his respect of the government-to-government relationship and for his commitment to prosecuting crimes on reservations. His office brought charges in a number of high-profile cases, including the grisly murders of a 63-year-old Navajo woman and her nine-year-old grandmother.

He also went after methamphetamine, a growing concern among Arizona tribes. In 2005, he met with tribal officials and law enforcement to discuss ways to combat the drug, which resulted in the creation of the Arizona Indian Country Methamphetamine Eradication Initiative.

"Paul has proven to be very responsive to the law enforcement needs of tribal governments in Arizona," said John Lewis, the executive director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. "He understands the sovereign status of the tribes and the U.S. government's commitment to recognize this status and at the same time the need to carry out the U.S. government's constitutional directed responsibility of trust for Indian tribes."

In previously released documents, DOJ officials in Washington expressed concern that Charlton wasn't prosecuting marijuana seizures of less than 500 pounds. But Charlton always went after drug cases on the Tohono O'odham Nation "because of our trust responsibility," one e-mail stated.

Bolstering Charlton's role in Indian Country was Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe of Arizona who serves as assistant U.S. Attorney and focuses on criminal and civil matters affecting tribes in the state. Her credentials prompted Sen. Jon Kyl and Sen. John McCain, both Republicans, to recommend her as Charlton's replacement.

That was before the scandal erupted, however. In one e-mail between the White House and DOJ, Kyl was said to have been "fine" with Charlton's ouster, but he has since denied knowing about the Bush administration's activities. The documents indicate McCain was not contacted at all about the firings.

With over 3,000 pages of e-mails, documents and memos to sift through, members of Congress are still trying to piece together what happened and why the administration has shifted its explanation for the firings. Several Democrats, along with one or two Republicans, have called for Gonzales to step down.

Relevant Documents:
Paul Charlton and Indian Country Crime | More Documents

Relevant Links:
U.S. Attorney, Arizona -