The Bush Assministration’s attempts to protect Jack Abramoff by reassigning federal prosecutor Frederick A. Black are now themselves the center of an investigation.
The Justice Department’s inspector general and the F.B.I. are looking into the demotion of a veteran federal prosecutor whose reassignment nearly three years ago shut down a criminal investigation of the Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, current and former department officials report.
They said investigators had questioned whether the demotion of the prosecutor, Frederick A. Black, in November 2002 was related to his alert to Justice Department officials days earlier that he was investigating Mr. Abramoff. The lobbyist is a major Republican Party fund-raiser and a close friend of several Congressional leaders.
Colleagues said the demotion of Mr. Black, the acting United States attorney in Guam, and a subsequent order barring him from pursuing public corruption cases brought an end to his inquiry into Mr. Abramoff’s lobbying work for some Guam judges.
…F.B.I. agents questioned several people in Guam and Washington this summer about whether Mr. Abramoff or his friends in the Bush administration had pushed for Mr. Black’s removal. Mr. Abramoff’s internal e-mail messages show that he boasted to clients about what he described as his close ties to John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, and others at the department.
Mr. Black’s colleagues said that similar questions had been raised by investigators for the Justice Department’s inspector general’s office, which serves as the department’s internal watchdog.
Colleagues said they recalled that Mr. Black was distressed when he was notified by the department in November 2002 that he was being replaced.
The announcement came only days after Mr. Black had notified the department’s public integrity division in Washington, by telephone and e-mail communication, that he had opened a criminal investigation into Mr. Abramoff’s lobbying activities for the Guam judges, the colleague said. The judges had sought Mr. Abramoff’s help in blocking a bill in Congress to restructure the island’s courts.
The colleagues said that Mr. Black was also surprised when his newly arrived bosses in Guam blocked him from involvement in public corruption cases in 2003. Justice Department officials said Mr. Black was asked instead to focus on terrorism investigations, which had taken on new emphasis after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Whatever the motivation in replacing Fred, his demotion meant that the investigation of Abramoff died,” said a former colleague in Guam.
Representative George Miller, a California Democrat who has long focused on issues involving American territories in the Pacific, said the disclosures about Mr. Black’s demotion raised questions about a possible conflict of interest at the Justice Department in its investigation of Mr. Abramoff.
“What this starts to suggest is that Abramoff’s ability to corrupt the system was far more pervasive, certainly than we knew at the time,” Mr. Miller said.