TPM News

Among the documents last night are some showing that the "performance related" reasons for firing eight prosecutors were the result of an ongoing collobaration at Justice. In other words, the officials appear to have brainstormed on the reasons they had fired the eight.

This document (the date's unclear, but it was clearly done after the firings), for instance, shows a list of the fired prosecutors with a "Leadership Assessment" column laying out the supposed problems with the prosecutors' performance. A Justice Department official made handwritten notes on the document, for instance adding to U.S. Attorney David Iglesias' deficiencies (a scant two bullet points) two items: "under-performing generally" and "lackluster manager." The official also added "use of time management" to San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam's performance woes.

Here's just one demonstration of the shifting rationale for the firings.



On the list of deficiencies for Nevada's Daniel Bogden, you can see a lot of writing in and crossing out going on. One of the bullet points (written in and then crossed out) is "Resistance to obscenity prosecutions." Now, as Salon detailed yesterday, that's a bogus charge. But that didn't stop them from using it. When Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), who had nominated Bogden, inquired as to the reason for Bogden's firing, he was told it had to do with Bogden being insufficiently aggressive on "adult obscenity cases." But when Justice Department official William Moschella testifed before Congress in March, he said that there wasn't a "particular" reason for Bogden's firing, but "given the importance of [Bogden's] district," the department felt they needed "renewed energy, renewed vigor" in that office in order to "take it to the next level."

Read More →

At 10:15 tomorrow morning, the House Judiciary Committee will vote on whether to issue subpoenas to Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson, Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers, deputy White House counsel William Kelley, and Rove's aide Scott Jennings, as well as White House and Justice Department documents, which have not been provided to date.

Today, current White House counsel Fred Fielding is expected to notify the congressional committees whether the White House will make Rove and others available. But House Democrats appear determined to hear from White House officials on their terms.

It was nothing personal.

Four months after the San Diego United States Attorney's office launched an investigation into whether he had accepted bribes from defense contractors, and little more than a month before he pled guilty to those charges, Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) signed on to a letter criticizing U.S. Attorney Carol Lam's "lax" handling of immigration crimes.

The letter, signed by 18 other Republican lawmakers, was sent October 20, 2005. Cunningham pled guilty November 28 to bribery charges and resigned from office.

You can see the letter, released last night, here.

Thanks to TPM Reader JM for the catch.

Note: A friend adds dryly: "Cunningham, in October '05, apparently thought there were crimes being committed that Lam wasn't prosecuting."

Fight to the finish? At a call around 7:15 this morning, President Bush called Alberto Gonzales to "reaffirm his support."

Here's the report from earlier this morning on MSNBC:



And the White House is also denying that it's looking for a successor to Gonzales.

Justice Job Considered for Ousted Prosecutor "With the Senate poised to rein in the attorney general's powers to appoint federal prosecutors, the Justice Department is engaged in discussions aimed at giving a new job to one of the seven U.S. attorneys dismissed without explanation on Dec. 7, according to a Capitol Hill Republican. Under fierce pressure from a Senate Republican, Justice Department officials are considering a new position for Daniel Bogden, the ousted U.S. attorney from Nevada who, agency officials explained to Congress, was dismissed in an effort to get "new energy" into the job." (Washington Post)

Read More →

OK, reporters from the major papers, like TPM readers, spent a bleary-eyed night scanning the emails released last night. Let's look at the highlights.

The Washington Post reports that Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney for Chicago, got a middling rating from Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff and purge meister Kyle Sampson in early 2005 (the Plame investigation was in full swing). Since that information is actually redacted in the released emails, the Post got that helpful bit of information from certain "administration officials."

Sampson had a three-tiered rating system, remember -- loyal Bushies, "not distinguished" and weak. Certainly Fitzgerald is no loyal Bushie, and apparently even Sampson couldn't bring himself to rate him as weak, given that he'd won the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in 2002.

The Post also notes the email cited last night by U.S. News as the "most worrisome" to Justice Department officials -- one that has Gonzales "extremely upset" at his deputy Paul McNulty because McNulty had the gall to admit that U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins was pushed out for no other reason than to install Karl Rove's former aide. But why was he really so upset? As Gonzales' spokesman put it in the email, "I think from a straight news perspective we just want the stories to die."

The AP cites an email written on February 1st, as the scandal was brewing. At the time, Kyle Sampson was understandably unhappy at the prospect of Bud Cummins testifying:

"I don't think he should," Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, wrote... "How would he answer: Did you resign voluntarily? Who told you? What did they say?"


One subscandal of this overarching scandal, remember, is that a Justice Official, on at least two separate occasions, threatened the fired U.S. attorneys with the release of bad information if they continued to speak out.

The AP also flags one of the more embarrassing emails, which shows DoJ #2 McNulty having second thoughts about canning Nevada's Daniel Bogden:

'I'm a little skittish about Bogden," McNulty wrote in a Dec. 7 e-mail to Sampson. "He has been with DOJ since 1990 and, at age 50, has never had a job outside government."

Still, McNulty concluded: "I'll admit have not looked at his district's performance. Sorry to be raising this again/now; it was just on my mind last night and this morning." [my emphasis]


And yes, Bogden was one of those "performance related" firings.

The Los Angeles Times flags an exchange that has Kyle Sampson assuring everyone after McNulty's testimony before the Senate in early February that this whole flap is blowing over:

[DoJ spokeswoman Tasia] Scolinos also told Sampson that she "didn't think the hearing had gone all that well" for the Justice Department.

But Sampson told Roehrkasse and Scolinos that McNulty felt good after testifying, and believed the matter was about over.

"He's hearing good reports from the committee. In particular, Sen. [Charles E.] Schumer's counsel told him that the issue has basically run its course, that they need to get a little more information from us … but that will be it."


The LA Times also focuses on the many emails from one of the fired prosecutors we haven't heard very much about, Margaret Chiara. Chiara, apparently, got wind that she would be fired in early November, and immediately contacted McNulty with the hope of keeping steady work. And after it was said publicly that she was being asked to step aside for "performance reasons, she wrote McNulty asking him to "reconsider" that rationale, adding "It is in our mutual interest to retract this erroneous explanation."

Apparently Chiara thought she was being forced out for other reasons. As The New York Times reports, Chiara also wrote in the emails that "she was being removed to make way for a member of Congress who was expected to lose his seat in the November election."

The Times also flags an exchange that displays the wooden comedy of assistant AG Bill Mercer:

After a colleague said in a July 8 e-mail message that he was “sad” about something, Bill Mercer, a top Justice Department official, jokingly suggested some reasons.

“That Carol Lam can’t meet a deadline,” he wrote, “or that you’ll need to interact with her in the coming weeks or that she won’t just say, ‘O.K. You got me. You’re right, I’ve ignored national priorities and obvious local needs. Shoot, my production is more hideous than I realized.’ ”


Apparently, Lam was something of a punching bag for Mercer and his buddies. Yet somehow that disdain didn't work it's way into the department's official evaluations of Lam's performance.

Stay tuned as we dive in to last night's comment thread to see what TPM readers have dug up. And did I mention that there are some 2000 more pages to be put online today?

Josh and I were just discussing how in the world we are ever going to make our way through 3,000 pages when it hit us: we don't have to. Our readers can help.

So here's what we're going to do. This comment thread will be our HQ for sorting through tonight's document dump.



And to make it efficient and comprehensible, we'll have a system. As you can see on the House Judiciary Committee's website, they've begun reproducing 50-page pdfs of the documents with a simple numbering system, 3-19-2007 DOJ-Released Documents 1-1, then 1-2, then 1-3, etc. So pick a pdf, any pdf and give it a look. If you find something interesting (or damning), then tell us about it in the comment thread below.

Please begin your comment with the pdf number and please provide the page number of the pdf.

So, for instance, a comment might read:

1-3

Hey, there's an email here on page 27 from Kyle Sampson where he says, "I'm thinking that we should make up bogus justifications for the firing of all eight U.S. attorneys in order to cover up our true, political motivations. Judge says it's a great idea, so does Karl. What do you think, Mr. President?"


If you want to be a trailblazer and read through a virgin pdf, then you should be able to see which pdfs haven't been looked at by scrolling through the comment thread. Have at it!

This evening, as you probably know by now, the Justice Department turned over 3,000 pages of documents to Congress. And hard working staffers are working the scanners to pump out pdfs at an impressive rate. You can see the result here.

We'll get started early in the morning on those documents (and in the meantime, please let us know what you find).

Also, just for contrast, here are two statements out about the release tongiht. One from the Justice Department:

"Taking a virtually unprecedented step, the Justice Department released 3,000 pages of documents today on the dismissal of the eight U.S. Attorneys and has offered to make Department officials available voluntarily for "on the record" interviews and hearings. The Attorney General wants the Congress and the American people to understand both the reasons for the Department's decisions and its efforts to inform Congress about this matter. The Department did not remove the U.S. Attorneys for improper reasons, such as to prevent or retaliate for a particular prosecution in a public corruption matter. Because the American public must have confidence that such considerations did not factor into the decisions here, the Justice Department is being transparent and forthcoming with the Congress."


And from House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), who's marvelling at the DoJ's ability to withhold some of the most important information while drowning Congress in documents:

"While I appreciate the Department's willingness to make these voluminous documents regarding the U.S. Attorney firings available to us for review, I am disappointed that they are denying other important information to Congress without any real authority to do so. This investigation has uncovered serious charges of misleading congress, obstructing justice, and abuse of power. I hope we can resolve the outstanding issues over redactions, but if necessary, we are prepared to press ahead to get to the bottom of this growing scandal, using subpoenas if necessary."

U.S. News gives a taste of what's to come:

...one day after Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty testified on Capitol Hill about the reasons why eight U.S. attorneys were fired summarily, a Justice Department spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse -- on travel abroad with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- sent an E-mail to McNulty* saying Gonzales was unhappy with McNulty's testimony regarding why U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins of Arkansas had been let go.


That email, U.S News reports, is "causing the most concern" at the Justice Department as they ready to turn over thousands more.

Now, why would Gonzales have been upset at McNulty? McNulty had testified about Cummins that "there was a change made there that was not connected to, as was said, the performance of the incumbent, but more related to the opportunity to provide a fresh start with a new person in that position."

So, in other words, McNulty publicly admitted that Cummins was pushed out for no other reason than to give Karl Rove's deputy a shot (which was, by the way, the truth). And that made Gonzales upset. And it looks like there might be more in that email.

Update: An update to the post adds some detail: "In the E-mail to McNulty, Roehrkasse said the attorney general disagreed with his characterization of Cummins's firing, because Gonzales believed that it was at least in part performance related." Right, "in part" performance related, just like all the other firings? Too bad they couldn't keep their stories straight.

*Late Update: The Justice Department has responded to the story with a statement to U.S. News:

The attorney general was "upset," Roehrkasse said, because he believed that "Bud Cummins' removal involved performance considerations and it was that aspect of the DAG's testimony that the Attorney General was questing."


And apparently the email is not sent from Gonzales' spokesman to McNulty, but rather to Kyle Sampson and another DoJ spokesperson.

Note: A Justice Department official also laments to U.S. News amidst the chaos of collecting hundreds and hundreds of documents: "You have no idea ... how bad it is here." I think that's another way of saying that you shouldn't hold your breath for the timely delivery of those documents tonight.

Uh-oh. From The Politico:

Republican officials operating at the behest of the White House have begun seeking a possible successor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose support among GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill has collapsed, according to party sources familiar with the discussions.

Among the names floated Monday by administration officials are Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and White House anti-terrorism coordinator Frances Townsend. Former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson is a White House prospect. So is former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, but sources were unsure if he would want the job.

Republican sources also disclosed that it is now a virtual certainty that Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, whose incomplete and inaccurate congressional testimony about the prosecutors helped precipitate the crisis, will also resign shortly. Officials were debating whether Gonzales and McNulty should depart at the same time or whether McNulty should go a day or two after Gonzales.

TPMLivewire