San Diego FBI chief Dan Dzwilewski was scolded and then muzzled by an FBI official in Washington after he commented to The San Diego Union-Tribune in January that then-U.S. Attorney Carol Lam's firing was political and would affect ongoing corruption cases.
FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that one of his subordinates, John Pistole, told Dzwilewski his statements were inappropriate and that he should keep quiet. Mueller also told senators that Dzwilewski claimed he was misquoted. Dzwilewski, the first prominent official to label Lam's firing politically motivated, declined to discuss the matter Wednesday. He has never complained to the Union-Tribune about the Jan. 13 story, which was published the day after the newspaper broke the story of Lam's dismissal.
At that point, Lam had not commented publicly on the matter, nor had she announced her resignation. But Dzwilewski defended Lam at the time, saying that her continued employment as U.S. attorney was crucial to the success of multiple investigations.
As for the reason for any pressure to resign, Dzwilewski was quoted as saying, "I guarantee politics is involved." Lam announced her resignation Jan. 16 and left office Feb. 15.
During the judiciary hearing, Mueller responded to questions about the Union-Tribune story from Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., saying, "My understanding is that our chief out there believes he was misquoted, but that our investigations were continuing, without any diminishment."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told Mueller she had confirmed the accuracy of the story.
"Well, we followed up and I had my chief counsel call (the FBI's San Diego office) to verify what they said," Feinstein said. "And they said, yes, they said it. But they also said they'd been warned to say no more. Are you aware that they had been warned to say no more?"
Mueller: "Yes, I am."
Feinstein: "And why would that be?"
Mueller: "Because I do not think it's appropriate for us to comment on personnel decisions that are made by the Department of Justice . . . "
Feinstein: "Well, I profoundly disagree that he was commenting on a personnel matter per se. He was simply saying that it would affect cases that were ongoing. And I think he's entitled to his opinion."
The House and Senate judiciary committees are investigating Lam's firing and those of seven other U.S. attorneys.
The Bush administration maintains that the firings were justified because of job performance. But critics of the dismissals question whether the prosecutors were fired for political motives.
Lam's office had successfully prosecuted former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., and was involved in spinoff investigations targeting Republican congressmen and fundraisers as well as a top CIA official, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, and former Poway, Calif., defense contractor Brent Wilkes.