Demoted U.S. attorney protested office shutdown, loss of resources

A U.S. attorney targeted by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff complained to his superiors in Washington about losing investigative resources little more than a month before his demotion.

Years before Abramoff was sent to jail, the Department of the Interior ignored an October 2002 letter from Frederick Black, then the acting U.S. attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, and had shut down the territories’ Inspector General’s office by the summer of 2003.

Obtained by The Hill through a Freedom of Information Act request, Black’s letter laid out ongoing investigations, including a probe into an Abramoff friend, Carl Gutierrez, then Guam’s governor.

Gutierrez and Abramoff had discussed removing Black from his position, “need[ing] to get this guy sniped out of there,” according to one of the lobbyist’s e-mails. Black had already indicted several members of Gutierrez’s administration and was starting to look at Abramoff.

Black’s case may get another look from Congress. Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) wrote to both the Senate and House judiciary committees last week, asking them to add Black’s demotion to their broader investigation of the U.S. attorney scandal.

In a statement made to The Hill, Miller repeated his calls for another investigation.

“The letter from Fred Black is another good example of why it’s necessary to re-open the investigation into Black’s demotion and to closely examine whether Abramoff or anyone working with him tampered with anti-corruption efforts in the U.S. attorney’s office,” he said.

“This letter is indicative of Fred Black’s perspective, which leads one to wonder why the Justice Department removed him, when he seems to be doing his job,” said Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D) in a statement.

Sent to Earl DeVaney, Interior’s inspector general, on Oct. 11, 2002, Black’s letter stated that “the loss of [the Inspector General’s office in Guam] would remove effective federal supervision over the local government’s expenditure of federal dollars, and would substantially handicap our investigations of official corruption.”

Another local official, Guam Public Auditor Doris Flores Brooks, also wrote a letter at the time in an effort to keep the office open.
“I certainly tried to get other people to write letters opposing it [the closing of the office],” said Brooks. “We tried our best to not get that office closed, but it was fait accompli.”

Interior’s plan was to move the investigative office to Honolulu, Hawaii, where it would still oversee Guam. Black took exception.

“You cannot possibly provide a satisfactory level of audit oversight on a TDY basis from Honolulu,” wrote Black in bold — “TDY” being a military abbreviation for temporary duty — with Guam being “seven hours flying time” from Hawaii.
Several high-ranking government officials at the time, including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Interior Secretary Gale Norton, were copied on the letter.

In November 2002, about a month after Black had sent the letter, the acting U.S. attorney was demoted to a lesser position at the Justice Department.

Interior did move the office to Honolulu, shutting down its operations in Guam by the summer of 2003. Department officials confirmed the move, saying the staff is now one person. According to Black’s letter, the staff in Guam had consisted of eight members.

Interior officials did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment on why the office was closed.

“The relocation of the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General’s office from Guam to Hawaii was in part due to the fact that Guam had established an independent Office of the Public Auditor,” said Bordallo. “The Guam public auditor was a newly established elected position, not appointed by the governor, and was free from political interference.”

In his letter, Black highlighted several key investigations the office assisted in, including the investigation into Gutierrez.
At a Washington, D.C., dinner in February 2002, Gutierrez and Abramoff discussed how to remove Black from his U.S. attorney spot, according to a June 2006 Justice Department Inspector General (IG) report. Gutierrez was troubled by Black’s investigation into members of his administration.

Abramoff was adamant about taking down Black, according to e-mails quoted in the IG report. “I don’t care if they appoint bozo the clown, we need to get rid of Fred Black,” the lobbyist wrote.

That same IG report, however, cleared Abramoff of influencing Black’s demotion. The White House had already picked Leonardo Rapadas to replace Black before Abramoff began his lobbying campaign against the then-acting U.S. Attorney.
Several politicians had problems with the report, though, and called for another investigation into Black’s demotion.

At the time, Bordallo said the report “could have been more comprehensive if it had been undertaken by an independent counsel,” according to press reports.

In regard to the Interior Inspector General’s office on Guam, many local officials were upset by its planned closure.
Black and other auditors registered their objections to the shutdown in The Pacific Daily News, based out of Hagatna on Guam. The paper would also editorialize against Interior closing the office.

“Ideally, sure, we would like to have [the office] back, but we have grown to accept the fact that [it is] no longer here and have moved on,” said Brooks. “We are continuing to do our work.”

In his letter, Black was committed in his opposition to the planned shutdown.

“I cannot emphasize enough, that closing the Guam office would seriously impact federal law enforcement efforts here,” wrote Black. “Believe me when I say, the loss of Interior’s Guam office would greatly impair our ability to control federal monies, and would result in even further waste and abuse of taxpayers’ dollars.”