I think you could conclude Deputy AG Paul McNulty doesn’t want to be standing on the tracks for this freight train (from McClatchy) …
According to a congressional aide, McNulty said he attended a White House meeting with Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, and other officials on March 5, the day before McNulty’s deputy William Moschella was to testify to Congress about the firings.
White House officials told the Justice Department group that they needed to agree on clear reasons why each prosecutor was fired and explain them to Congress, McNulty said, according to the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the transcript of McNulty’s interview hasn’t been made public.
McNulty said that White House officials never revealed during the meeting that they’d been discussing plans to replace some prosecutors with Gonzales aides, the congressional aide said.
McNulty recalled feeling disturbed and concerned when he found out days later that the White House had been involved, the congressional aide said. McNulty considered the extent of White House coordination to be “extremely problematic.”
Remind me. Why do you need to ‘agree on clear reasons why each prosecutor was fired’ if the reasons were actually clear when you did the firing and if the reasons can be stated publicly? Think about it. Why do Rove and the other heavies from the White House need to tell these guys how important it is to get their stories straight? If I fire someone, I know why I fired them. I don’t need to get my story straight unless the real reason can’t be stated and I need to come up with a defensible and plausible alternative explanation.
But look what McNulty told Carol Lam when she called him to ask why she was being fired.
From Lam’s written responses to questions from congressional staff investigators …
He responded that he wanted some time to think about how to answer that question because he didnât want to give me an answer âthat would leadâ me down the wrong route. He added that he knew I had personally taken on a long trial and he had great respect for me. Mr. McNulty never responded to my question.
I do not think it is too much to infer from McNulty’s response that he was either unaware of the ‘immigration enforcement’ storyline for Lam’s firing or was unwilling to say it to her face. (For my part, I strongly suspect it was the former.) And if Lam is faithfully portraying the tenor of the conversation it sounds very much like McNulty knew the answer to the question was not a good one.
This is the key to remember. On its own this might all be a tempest in a teapot. Why was she fired? Maybe someone didn’t like her attitude or her haircut or whatever. But it’s not on its own. Lam was in the midst of an historic public corruption investigation targetting White House allies on Capitol Hill, White House appointees at the CIA and — though it’s seldom been discussed publicly and the evidence remains murky — I suspect, appointees at the Department of Defense.
The mere fact that DOJ officials can apparently point to no discussions, thought process or paper trail of any deliberations about how Lam’s firing would affect these cases speaks volumes. And when you look at the whole picture you see that everything about Lam’s firing comes down to corruption cases stemming out of the Cunningham investigation.
And look what Lam was told by McNulty’s nominal deputy (see this post for McNulty’s apparent power at DOJ) Michael Elston when she asked for a brief reprieve to deal with these highly sensitive cases. He made clear she was to be gone in “weeks, not months” and that the order for her firing was “coming from the very highest levels of the government.”
Those, again, are Lam’s words from her written responses to congressional interrogatories. If they’re accurate, what do you think ‘very highest levels of the government’ means? And if this is all about disagreements over immigration enforcement policy, why the rush?
The US Attorney Purge story is many things. But the focal point has always been the Lam firing. And White House orders notwithstanding, the cover stories have just never cut it.
Late Update: TPM Reader AG points us to this article in Newsweek where Isikoff shares more details of the March 5th meeting with Rove and those DOJ officials.