TPM News

Speaking by phone today, former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins made his view of the Justice Department's firing of seven other U.S. attorneys perfectly clear: not only did the DoJ not fire them for performance-related reasons, but they fabricated such issues to cover that up.

Cummins is a unique case of the eight prosecutors, since the Justice Department has admitted that he was dismissed for no other reason than to give former aide to Karl Rove, Timothy Griffin, a job.

"I've heard every one of the [Justice Department's "performance related" issues with the other dismissed US attorneys], and I'm completely convinced at this point that they are fabricated assertions, and that they were in no way on the table when the decisions to dismiss those seven USAs were made," he told me, continuing:

"I gave them the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of this. They told me directly that my case was completely different from the others, that there were significant performance issues involved in the other decisions, and if I saw, I'd agree that they'd have to go.

Now that I've seen the decisions, not only don't I see why they had to go, I see that [the charges of performance issues] are really not true."

Cummins, who is a lifelong Republican, even running for the House once in the nineties, says that this was a ""reluctant conclusion," but one he was forced to reach, and one he felt compelled to speak out about.

"When they made the decision to lie about these seven people to Congress, that's when the trouble started," he said.. Cummins added that if the Justice Department were to retract the statements that the others were fired for deficiencies in performance, "I'll disappear."

From today's press briefing:

Q: Tony, you had said that politics and loyalty didn't play a part in this.

Snow: Yes, and let me... you know, there's been a lot of conversation about loyalty. So let me -- I don't want to -- we'll just begin with a caveat: I do not know precisely what Kyle Sampson had in mind when he used the term.

But let me tell you how the term applies in this White House, which is that certainly we all serve at the pleasure of the president. We're loyal to the president in that sense. But the president's charge to each one of us is to do our jobs -- to do our jobs, to perform the public trust.

That also means to follow the principles and the priorities of the administration.

When it comes to the administration of justice, the president lays down broad guidelines, when it comes to U.S. attorneys, broad prosecutorial guidelines. Those guidelines may shift from district to district. There are 93 around that country that have different priorities.

But if somebody has difficulty, or somebody decides, for reasons of conscience or whatever, that they disagree with the key priority, whether it be like something like the death penalty or pornography statutes or whatever, that's certainly a suitable basis for review.

But, again, the most important principle here is people do serve at the pleasure of the president.

It seems that Snow's polishing up his riff on loyalty, first auditioned during this morning's gaggle.

Update: More below....

Read More →

Earlier, we noted an article in today's Los Angeles Times, which quoted former U.S. attorney Bud Cummins as wondering whether his forced resignation had anything to do with his office's investigation into Missouri's Republican governor Matt Blunt.

In response, Cummins wrote in to TPMm, wanting to make it clear that " I do not know of any connection whatsoever to the Missouri investigation and my firing. I am not asking myself (or anyone else) about that."

We've posted his entire email below.

Read More →

See Tony spin the email by Kyle Sampson released yesterday. Sampson wrote in the email, to refresh your memory that "80-85 percent [of the United States attorneys], I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc."

From this morning's press gaggle:

QUESTION: Tony, you addressed this yesterday, the question about loyalty and how much that factors in ... into the role U.S. attorneys play. You know, these emails are coming out, and this other one about their Bushies, et cetera. What is the role of loyalty in how U.S. attorneys perform?

SNOW: Again, if you want to take a look ... let's first go back to that particular memo, because in the sentence before it says, "This is an operational matter. We'd like to replace 15 to 20 percent of the current U.S. attorneys, the underperforming ones." No mention of political loyalty; it's performance. So I think ...

QUESTION: But the next line says ...

QUESTION: Excuse me ...

SNOW: Then it says, "This is a rough guess. We might want to consider doing performance evaluations after Judge comes on board. The vast majority of U.S. attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, loyal Bushies," et cetera. I mean, I don't see in there that there is political loyalty tests. It's a characterization.

QUESTION: Oh, come on. That seems to define a good job as political loyalty ... the loyal Bushies.

SNOW: No, I don't think so. It talked about underperforming, and then it talks about the history of these things. If you take a look ... what you're trying to do is cherry-pick your phrase. But the fact is ...

QUESTION: You've never done that, have you?

SNOW: What I'm trying to do is accentuate the key phrases.

QUESTION: And we appreciate it.

SNOW: But I don't want to start serving as the witness, the “what Kyle Sampson intended to mean” with that memo. So I'm -afraid ... I'm going to let him ... but the President's view is, you need U.S. attorneys ... the job of a U.S. attorney is to uphold law. And you have people who are going to be effective in that and who are going to serve the public interest.

Snow refused to say whether certain White House officials will testify to Congress, saying that's up to White House Counsel Fred Fielding.

Read More →

The list of White House officials that Congress wants to hear from continues to lengthen.

Last night, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Karl Rove's deputy Scott Jennings, the Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Political Affairs, asking him to appear before the committee "for interviews, depositions, or hearing testimony." The emails show Jennings right in the thick of the efforts to get Rove's former aide Scott Jennings installed as the U.S. attorney -- and to avoid the unnecessary hurdle of senate confirmation. The committee's already asked to hear from Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and deputy White House counsel William Kelley.

The committee also sent a letter asking to hear from Justice Department official William Moschella. Moschella, McClatchy reported earlier this week, claims responsibility for having pushed a measure slipped into the Patriot Act Reauthorization in late 2005 that made it possible for the attorney general to appoint interim U.S. attorneys for indefinite terms without Senate confirmation. Moschella claims that he advocated the change "without the knowledge or coordination of his superiors at the Justice Department or anyone at the White House."

Yesterday, the Senate committee authorized issuing subpoenas for Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff who quit this week, Michael Elston, top aide to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, Associate Attorney General Bill Mercer, Monica Goodling, Gonzales' senior counsel and White House liaison, and Mike Battle, the departing director of the office that oversees all 93 U.S. attorneys.

From The Los Angeles Times:

Still uncertain exactly why he was fired, former U.S. Atty. H.E. "Bud" Cummins III wonders whether it had something to do with the probe he opened into alleged corruption by Republican officials in Missouri amid a Senate race there that was promising to be a nail-biter.

Cummins, a federal prosecutor in Arkansas, was removed from his job along with seven other U.S. attorneys last year.

In January 2006, he had begun looking into allegations that Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt had rewarded GOP supporters with lucrative contracts to run the state's driver's license offices. Cummins handled the case because U.S. attorneys in Missouri had recused themselves over potential conflicts of interest.

But in June, Cummins said, he was told by the Justice Department that he would be fired at year's end to make room for Timothy Griffin — an operative tied to White House political guru Karl Rove.

In an interview Thursday, Cummins expressed disgust that the Bush administration may have fired him and the others for political reasons. "You have to firewall politics out of the Department of Justice. Because once it gets in, people question every decision you make. Now I keep asking myself: 'What about the Blunt deal?' "

A couple points to be made about this, one that adds credence to Cummins' charge, and one that doesn't.

Read More →

President Turns to an Insider to Negotiate on Dismissals Fred F. Fielding, the new White House counsel, turned up Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill. He had come to negotiate with Democrats, who are investigating whether politics played a role in the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors and demanding testimony from Karl Rove and other top aides to President Bush. But Mr. Fielding’s real task is even bigger and more delicate: to serve as the point man for the White House as it decides the future of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, a longtime Texas friend and confidant of Mr. Bush." (New York Times)

Read More →

You can see it right here.

As with all our timelines, it's a work in progress, so suggestions and corrections are welcome -- send an email to talk(at) with the subject line "timeline."

I've put a permanent link to the timeline on the right sidebar for those who want to refer back to it in the future.

Now that the morning papers have taken a shot interpreting the email released late yesterday, let's take another look.

Shortly after the email's release, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters that the email does not show that the idea of firing certain or all U.S. attorneys began with Karl Rove. And, admittedly, the email backs her up. Of course, it certainly doesn't show that Rove didn't come up with the scheme, either.

The January 9th, 2005 email (subject line: "Re: Question from Karl Rove"), in which Justice Department official Kyle Sampson brainstorms on what to do about the U.S. attorneys, begins with "Judge and I discussed briefly a couple of weeks ago." He then goes on to say, “As an operational matter we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current U.S. attorneys — underperforming ones," the "we" there being Sampson and Alberto Gonzales (who is called "Judge" because he was once a a Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas).

That puts Sampson and Gonzales discussing the idea way back in December, 2004. (A DoJ spokesperson said in a statement yesterday that Gonzales "has no recollection" of that discussion.)

Perino stuck to the line yesterday that the whole idea of firings all 93 U.S. attorneys started with White House counsel Harriet Miers. Perino says that "Karl Rove has a recollection of hearing it from Harriet, and thinking it was a bad idea. There is nothing in this e-mail that changes that.... [It] does not contradict nor is it inconsistent with what we have said."

Now, Miers didn't even take over as White House counsel until early February, 2005. But Perino said that in the months between her being named to the spot (November, 2004) and actually starting work, "she would have been thinking about transition issues." But Perino admits that it's "not clear when the idea first originates, but the bottom line is, the idea is never pursued."

But let's step back here for a moment.

Whether the idea of firing all the sitting U.S. attorneys was originally Miers' or Rove's brainchild or not is mostly a red herring at this point. Whatever the original seed of the purge, it clearly became an opportunity for the administration to push out federal prosecutors who were not "loyal Bushies." That's the idea that really matters. And Rove was involved in that effort from its first steps.

As reported earlier on ABC News, here is the email that shows that Karl Rove was involved in the whole U.S. attorney purge scheme from the beginning of 2005.* It was released this evening by the Justice Department.

In the email, which has the subject line "Re: Question from Karl Rove," Kyle Sampson, who was then at the Justice Department, discusses with then-deputy White House Counsel David Leitch the idea of replacing "15-20 percent of the current U.S. Attorneys," because "80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc."

"[I]f Karl thinks there would be policitical will to do it, then so do I," Sampson concludes.

Sampson's email was in response to Leitch's relaying of Rove's query about how the administration would handle the U.S. Attorneys. As paraphrased by Colin Newman, a legal aide in the White House counsel's office, Rove asked "how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc."

Update: The Justice Department has also released a statement from DoJ spokesperson Tasia Scolinos:

"The Attorney General has no recollection of any plan or discussion to replace U.S. Attorneys while he was still White House Counsel. The period of time referred to in the email was during the weeks he was preparing for his confirmation hearing, January 6th, 2005, and his focus was on that. Of course, discussions of changes in Presidential appointees would have been appropriate and normal White House exchanges in the days and months after the election as the White House was considering different personnel changes Administration wide."

Update: Of course, the email ought to be considered in light of the fact that it was written just before Gonzales' confirmation hearings to be the attorney general, and that Sampson frames the solution in terms of how Gonzales would deal with it. Sampson writes that "we might want to consider doing performance evaluations after Judge comes on board," referring to Gonzales becoming the AG.

Update: To answer those reader queries about whether Gonzales is the "Judge" Sampson refers to in the email -- Gonzales was a Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas before moving to D.C. to become Bush's White House counsel.

*Update: This first sentence originally read, " is the email that shows that the whole U.S. attorney purge scheme originated with Karl Rove," which overstated what the email shows.