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From McClatchy this morning:

In an interview Wednesday, [former U.S. Attorney for Little Rock, Arkansas Bud] Cummins questioned whether the Justice Department seriously evaluated any of the other U.S. attorneys who they insisted were removed for performance reasons.

"If they had serious questions, where are the memos proving there was a real performance review?" he asked. "They released all of these embarrassing memos, don't you think they would have released the paper trail?"

Cummins also said that e-mails released by the White House earlier this week demonstrated that performance wasn't the issue. "It's clear that, in at least some instances, politics played a significant part," he said.

So what's next? Culled from the papers this morning, here's a roundup of where the attorney purge scandal is headed these next couple of days.

Alberto Gonzales, in an increasingly desperate attempt to keep his job, has said that he'll meet with members of Congress sometime this week to explain himself. It's unclear when or where that will be.

Meanwhile, both the House and Senate judiciary committees are pressing forward with their investigations.

A small group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate met with White House counsel Fred Fielding yesterday concerning their request for documents and to interview White House officials, including Karl Rove. Fielding, apparently, told them he'll get back to them Friday after speaking with the president. At issue, of course, is whether the White House will assert executive privilege. That would mean war.

According to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who was at the meeting, Fielding "said that he wanted to make this work because he had a reputation, his own reputation, to uphold.”

But though the committees have gone out of their way to be amicable, that doesn't mean they'll be sitting on their hands waiting for an answer from the White House.

As Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) put it: “Frankly, I don’t care whether Fielding says he’s going to allow people or not. We’ll subpoena the people we want.... If they want to defy the subpoena, then you get into a stonewall situation I suspect they don’t want to have.”

And so this morning, the Senate committee will vote on whether to issue subpoenas to Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers, and William Kelley, a former top aide to Miers.

We'll know tomorrow, it seems, whether they'll have to use them.

I don't think this counts as an outright call for resignation -- put it in the growing number of Republican "I'm on my last nerve" statements -- but at least it's straightforward:

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa said Wednesday he was "outraged" that executive branch officials recently gave a congressional hearing misleading and inaccurate testimony based on information that both the Department of Justice and the White House knew to be untrue.

"We can soft-pedal it a lot of ways, but Congress was lied to," Issa, R-Vista, said in a Wednesday phone interview from his Washington office....

He said that if Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had any role in false information being given to Congress, "he should not be able to continue in his job."

I'll be on Open Source with Christopher Lydon at 7 EST tonight discussing the U.S. attorney purge story.

Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson was supposedly fired because he's not a good communicator -- namely, he failed to tell others at the Justice Department that he had been consulting the White House for nearly two years about the firing of U.S. attorneys before it happened. Because Sampson didn't spread the word, the story goes, Justice Department officials gave false information to Congress. But it's apparent that Sampson wasn't the only one with knowledge of his contacts with the White House.

As Gonzales put it yesterday, "the mistake that occurred here was that information that [Sampson] had was not shared with individuals within the department who was [sic] then going to be providing testimony and information to the Congress."

Setting aside for the moment the implication that Sampson lied to the officials who then gave false information to Congress, let's look at one of those instances of false information.

In late February, Richard Hertling, the acting Assistant Attorney General, wrote a letter to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in which he claimed that the "Department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint [Karl Rove's former aide Timothy] Griffin."

Sampson, meanwhile, wrote in an email in December that getting Tim Griffin appointed was "important to Harriet, Karl, etc." And emails from last summer show that Rove's deputy was intimately involved in getting Griffin installed as the U.S. attorney for Arkansas.

So maybe Hertling didn't ask Sampson (the man at the department supposedly in charge of the purge) or Sampson lied to him.

But there's somebody else who knew: Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's liaison to the White House.

Read More →

I can think of about a hundred more, but it's a good start.

Today, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to President Bush, posing five questions about the administration's mass firings of federal prosecutors:

1. In an email to the White House, Mr. Sampson refers to a “problem” with Carol Lam. What was this “problem” and was Lam’s firing motivated by her investigation into former Congressmen Randy Cunningham and Representative Jerry Lewis?

a. Gonzales’ chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, contacted William Kelley, Deputy Counsel to the President, on replacing Carol Lam, stating, “[t]he real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.”

b. Mr. Sampson’s email was sent the same day that the Los Angeles Times had broken the news that Ms. Lam’s investigation of former Congressman Randy Cunningham (R-CA) had expanded to include Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA).

Read More →

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has been a kind of side character in the purge scandal. Comey, who left the Justice Department in 2005, may best be known as the guy who appointed Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Plame affair.

It seems pretty apparent that if he were still in charge, things would have been different.

U.S. News reports that Comey, when he was still with the department (he left in August of 2005), produced his own list of "weak U.S. attorneys" who, in his opinion, were underperforming.

Only, it was, well, different:

...a former Justice official says that Comey's list bore little resemblance to the list of those fired last year. The only prosecutor on the fired list who also was on Comey's list was Kevin Ryan, in San Francisco, who, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, had "widespread management and morale problems in his office."


As we pointed out before, Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson had Ryan on his list as a "strong" U.S. attorney. In other words, not only was he not to be fired, he was to be commended.

What accounts for the discrepancy? Maybe it had something to do wtih the criteria. A "strong" U.S. attorney to Sampson, remember, was one who had "exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General."

Comey also had a particularly strong difference of opinion on New Mexico's David Iglesias, whom the Justice Department insists was fired for "performance related" concerns. He told The Washington Post last month that Iglesias "was one of our finest and someone I had a lot of confidence in as deputy attorney general."

Update: And it seems especially worth pointing out that San Diego's Carol Lam didn't make Comey's list at all.

Bush commented this afternoon on his administration's mass firing of federal prosecutors:



Update: This clip only comprises one half of Bush's remarks today -- we'll have the rest up shortly.

Update: Here it is:



Update: Transcript below.

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In March of 2005, Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff sent White House counsel Harriet Miers a list rating U.S. attorneys.

Certain prosecutors were rated “strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General," others had not "distinguished themselves either positively or negatively, and others Sampson “recommend[ed] removing" -- those were “weak U.S. Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives.”

Carol Lam was one of the prosecutors Sampson recommended removing.

This was, of course, a full three months before the Duke Cunningham scandal came to light. The San Diego Union-Tribune broke the story on June 12, 2005.* So does that mean that Lam really was removed for other reasons?

Well, Sampson also wrote this list a number of months before Republicans started raising complaints about Lam's handling of border cases. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who led the charge against Lam, began publicly raising concerns in the summer of 2005.*

And while the list makes clear that Lam, one way or another, got on Sampson's hit list, it's very unclear whether that was because of some deficiency in performance.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee sent five letters late yesterday asking White House Counsel Harriet Miers, her deputy White House counsel William Kelley and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the mass firings of US attorneys.

"We would like to work out a process for you to make yourself available to the Committee for interviews, depositions, or hearing testimony, on a voluntary basis, and to produce documents in your possession, control, or custody related to our investigation," the letters, signed by Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-PA), read. "We fully expect that we will be able to devise a convenient arrangement."

In a White House briefing yesterday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said, "I find it highly unlikely that a member of the White House staff would testify publicly to these matters, but that doesn't mean we won't find other ways to try to share that information."

The House Judiciary Committee has also requested to speak with Kelley, Rove, and Miers.

The committee also sent letters to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House Counsel Fred Fielding requesting documents relating to the investigation.

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