TPM News

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

When it rains...

Following up on National Journal's story earlier today, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter (pdf) to Alberto Gonzales asking him to respond to the story's allegation:

"It would be an extraordinary abuse of authority if you advised the President on this matter after learning that your own conduct was to be investigated... The decision by the President to shut down the OPR investigation by denying security clearances to key Department personnel was itself extremely unusual, controversial and, in our view, improper. But the issue of your role in advising the President on this question raises what may be even more serious concerns."

From ABC:

New unreleased e-mails from top administration officials show the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys was raised by White House adviser Karl Rove in early January 2005, indicating Rove was more involved in the plan than previously acknowledged by the White House....

White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters Tuesday that Miers had suggesting firing all 93 and that it was "her idea only." Snow said Miers' idea was quickly rejected by the Department of Justice.

However, Miers was Bush's staff secretary at that time in January 2005. She did not become White House counsel for another month, after Gonzales left to become attorney general.

The latest e-mails show that Gonzales and Rove both were involved in the discussion, and neither rejected it out of hand.