Contrary to Justice Department and administration officials' attempts to paint U.S. Attorney Carol Lam as recalcitrant on prosecuting immigration cases, an internal email
shows that she was "willing to change course if people think that would be beneficial" regarding her handling of criticism on the cases. Lam volunteered to stay silent despite all the personal criticism because she did not want to put the DoJ in a bad light by complaining publicly about the lack of department resources.
The email, written by Associate Deputy Attorney General Ronald Tenpas in May of 2006 and sent to numerous high level Justice Department officials, relays a conversation that Tenpas had with Lam about her office's handling of immigration cases. The conversation followed complaints made by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and other Republicans about the number of border prosecutions in Lam's district.The email reads
FYI Carol Lam, USA Southern California, called me earlier today to discuss matters related to the criticism Congressman Issa has been directing at the District re its practices in prosecuting/not prosecuting alien smuggling.... She wanted to communicate the following:
1. In her view, although the unrebutted criticism is making the Department look bad, she has been sitting quiet rather than attempting to respond publicly by explaining the resource limitations that she maintains affect the office's ability to do more smuggling cases;
2. She is willing to change course if folks think that would be beneficial;
3. She notes that she has never even met with Congressman Issa and would be happy to do so if that is thought useful; and
4. She will do anything else that the DAG would wish, including continuing to stand silent despite the personal criticism to which she thinks she is being subject through these comments.
She acknowledged understanding that it may be the judgment that continued silence is the best option of a set of limited options. I explained to her that, given the larger debate going on related to immigration, we would probably evaluate her observations and her offer in the context of wanting to contribute to the Administration's overall goals with respect to immigration reform.
One way or another, somebody such as myself or PADAG or CoS should probably follow-up with her to confirm our guidance lest any silence be construed as lack of guidance/indifference to her activity.
Karl Rove has claimed
publicly that Lam was ordered by the attorney general to make immigration prosecutions a priority, and refused, and the Justice Department has publicly cited Lam's immigration policy as the reason for her removal.
*But Lam was apparently more than willing to change her department's policy on immigration cases* -- a policy that favored fewer, high-profile prosecutions over many more, lower-profile cases. But, despite the continued internal grumbling at the Justice Department, that request to change her policies never came, as Lam has testified under oath. Instead, she was abruptly fired.Update/Correction
: As a reader pointed out below shortly after this post went up, this might involve a misreading of the email. The line " She is willing to change course if folks think that would be beneficial" apparently refers to Lam's stance on staying silent in response to criticism, rather than her office's immigration policy.
Considering the overall context of the email, however, it's apparent the conversation that took place between two people on the same side of a debate trying to develop a PR strategy. In other words, if the Justice Department didn't agree with Lam's policy on immigration prosecutions, they would have been on Issa's side, not Lam's. But there was apparently no discussion about revising the policy, because that wasn't what was at issue.Ed. Note
: thanks to muchomaas for catching this in the comments.