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It's becoming one of the central rules of the U.S. attorney purge scandal: whatever "performance related" complaint the administration claims as the justification for a U.S. attorney's firing, it's actually an area of performance for which that U.S. attorney was lauded.

In this instance, the White House has said that U.S. Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico was removed in part due to his handling of voter fraud complaints. That's backed up by the numerous instances of powerful New Mexico Republicans (including Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM)) complaining to Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, and President Bush about Iglesias' decision not to prosecute certain cases of voter fraud.

What does this mean? It means that Iglesias must have been lauded by the Justice Department for his handling of voter fraud cases. And not just lauded -- but cited as an example for U.S. attorneys across the country. From The Washington Post:

One of the U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration after Republican complaints that he neglected to prosecute voter fraud had been heralded for his expertise in that area by the Justice Department, which twice selected him to train other federal prosecutors to pursue election crimes.

David C. Iglesias, who was dismissed as U.S. attorney for New Mexico in December, was one of two chief federal prosecutors invited to teach at a "voting integrity symposium" in October 2005. The symposium was sponsored by Justice's public integrity and civil rights sections and was attended by more than 100 prosecutors from around the country, according to an account by Iglesias that a department spokesman confirmed.

Iglesias, a Republican, said in an interview that he and the U.S. attorney from Milwaukee, Steven M. Biskupic, were chosen as trainers because they were the only ones identified as having created task forces to examine allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 elections. An agenda lists them as the panelists for a session on such task forces at the two-day seminar, which featured a luncheon speech by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

According to Iglesias, the agency invited him back as a trainer last summer, just months before a Justice official telephoned to fire him. He said he could not attend the second time because of his obligations as an officer in the Navy Reserve.


There are, of course, other instances of this rule.

Justice Department official William Moschella told Congress that U.S. Attorney John McKay of Seattle was fired because of he'd been too aggressively pushing his office's regional law enforcement information-sharing program. But McKay pointed out during the hearing that the DoJ had actually made his system the DoJ's pilot project and chosen McKay to lead the U.S. attorneys' work on the issue.

Similarly, San Diego's Carol Lam was supposedly fired because of her office's failure to prosecute immigration cases. But it turns out that the Justice Department vouched for Lam's handling of such cases just three months before she was fired, citing, for instance, the fact that half of her staff was devoted to prosecuting such crimes.

One of the more remarkable aspects of this story, indeed, is the fact that the Justice Department chose a small group of the most distinguished U.S. attorneys in the country and then tried to portray them as incompetent. As you can see, it's been a losing effort. And in every case where the cover story has been blown, it's revealed political motivations for the firing.

Note: The whole voter fraud thing is actually the second line floated as the reason for Iglesias' firing. The first (what might be called the cover story's cover story) was that there had been a failure of leadership in his office. Iglesias, Moschella announced to the Congress, had often "delegated to his first assistant the running of the office." What Moschella did not mention is that Iglesias is a Navy Reserve officer, which means that he's required to serve 40 days during the year -- something, of course, that the Justice Department knew full well when they gave him the job.

Buckle your seatbelts:

The Democratic senator leading the inquiry into the dismissal of federal prosecutors insisted today that Karl Rove and other top aides to President Bush must testify publicly and under oath, setting up a confrontation between Congress and the White House, which has said it is unlikely to agree to such a demand.

Some Republicans have suggested that Mr. Rove, as well as Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, and William Kelley, the deputy White House counsel, testify privately, if only to tamp down the political uproar.

But Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, seemed to rule out such a move today, saying that his committee would vote Thursday to issue subpoenas in the inquiry, which centers on whether the White House allowed politics to interfere with law enforcement.

“I do not believe in this, ‘we’ll have a private briefing for you where we’ll tell you everything,’ and they don’t,” Mr. Leahy said on the ABC News program “This Week.” adding: “I want testimony under oath. I am sick and tired of getting half-truths on this.”

I think they call this running the gauntlet. Get ready, Alberto.

From the AP:

On Monday, the Justice Department plans to turn over to Congress more documents that could provide more details of the role agency officials -- including Gonzales -- and top White House officials played in planning the prosecutors' dismissals.

On Tuesday, the White House is expected to announce whether it will let former White House counsel Harriet Miers, political strategist Karl Rove and other presidential advisers testify before Congress -- and whether it will release more documents to lawmakers, including additional e-mails and other items. That decision was to be made on Friday, but the White House asked for more time.

On Thursday, lawmakers are scheduled to quiz Gonzales about his agency's budget request, but likely will ask questions about the scandal, too.

Also on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on whether to authorize subpoenas for Miers; her deputy, William K. Kelley; and Rove, who said the controversy is being fueled by "superheated political rhetoric."...

And if Gonzales doesn't have enough on his plate, two congressional panels are holding hearings on the FBI's misuse of the USA Patriot Act to secretly pry out personal information about Americans.

From Newsweek:

...a pair of senior Justice officials gave accounts to lawmakers that were, at best, incomplete. At a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, William Moschella, a top aide to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, vigorously defended the firings of the U.S. attorneys as a purely managerial move that had originated within the Justice Department. He said nothing about any nudging from the White House. McNulty had earlier given similar testimony, saying the attorneys had been let go for "job performance" reasons, an assertion that infuriated the fired prosecutors. But the two Justice officials have told colleagues that when they saw the e-mail accounts showing the attorney-purge idea had originated in the White House, they were surprised and appalled. "I felt sick," Moschella told NEWSWEEK. "I basically saw my professional life flash before my eyes." Moschella and McNulty blamed [Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle] Sampson. The attorney general's chief of staff had sat in as they prepped for their testimony and "never said a word," according to a Justice Department official who wished to remain anonymous discussing a private meeting.


Sampson's lawyer, of course, released a statement late Friday that significantly dispersed the blame. According to him, "a number of other senior officials at the Department, including others who were involved in preparing the Department's testimony to Congress" knew about the White House involvement. They didn't bring it up, says Sampson, because "no one focused on it or deemed it important at the time."

But that certainly doesn't sound like McNulty and Moschella's view of things. Fortunately, all three men are scheduled to make appearances before the House and Senate judicial committees, so they'll have plenty of chances to lay blame.

The apology, of course, was to the 93 sitting U.S. attorneys, not the eight who deserve it. From McClatchy:

Gonzales apologized to the prosecutors not for the firings but for their execution, including for inaccurate public statements about poor job performance, according to people familiar with the afternoon conference call.


I wonder if those "inaccurate public statements" he's referring to include statements to Congress?

Apparently Alberto Gonzales thought this whole thing would just blow over.

NPR has learned that the Attorney General’s chief of staff [Kyle Sampson] resigned from his position this week, the Justice Department took steps to establish him as an attorney elsewhere in the building....he only resigned from the department on Tuesday, when the scandal surrounding eight fired U.S. Attorneys continued to grow.

Boy, has Kyle Sampson learned his lesson, or what? He hasn't resigned because of his role in a scheme to fire prosecutors for political reasons, oh no: he resigned because he didn't succeed in organizing "a more effective political response" to the charges of impropriety. No wonder people thought he'd be the next Karl Rove.



His lawyer, Bradford Berenson put out the following statement last night:

"Kyle did not resign because he had misled anyone at the Justice Department or withheld information concerning the replacement of the U.S. Attorneys. He resigned because, as Chief of Staff, he felt he had let the Attorney General down in failing to appreciate the need for and organize a more effective political response to the unfounded accusations of impropriety in the replacement process. The fact that the White House and Justice Department had been discussing this subject for several years was well-known to a number of other senior officials at the Department, including others who were involved in preparing the Department's testimony to Congress. If this background was not called to Mr. McNulty or Mr. Moschella's attention, it was not because any of these individuals deliberately withheld it from them but rather because no one focused on it or deemed it important at the time. The focus of preparation efforts was on why the U.S. Attorneys had been replaced, not how."


Alberto Gonzales has publicly blamed Sampson for his "mistake" of not sharing "information that he had" with those testifying before Congress.

But according to Sampson, everybody knew. The officials who were about to testify just didn't ask around -- because, he says, they were focused on the "why," not the "how." I think I'd need another statement from Sampson, though, before I could understand how the White House's involvement isn't part of the answer to the question: "Why did the Justice Department fire eight U.S. attorneys?"

Or maybe it's more that they just didn't "deem it important" at the time.

Funny thing, though. They didn't deem it important when preparing for testimony, but that didn't stop Justice Department official William Moschella from telling the House Judiciary subcommittee under oath that the White House was not consulted on the firings until the end of the process. I guess he just assumed?

Looks like Sampson doesn't like playing the fall guy.

Update: A revised statement drops the idea that DoJ officials didn't "deem" the White House role "important," and whereas before Sampson was regretting his inability to concoct an "effective politcal response" to the charges of impropriety, the word "political" has disappeared. After all, it's politics that got the DoJ into this mess.

As TPM Reader HR puts it: "Did someone go over his original release with a sharp blue pencil?"

From a release just out from House Judicary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI):

"The White House Counsel's office advised us this afternoon that the White House would not be providing documents to the Committee, or providing the White House's position with respect to the Committee securing the testimony of White House officials today. This is contrary to earlier expectations that the Committee would receive these answers and documents today and is, therefore, very disappointing. The Counsel's office has assured me that they will continue to work in good faith to get answers to those questions by early next week.

Despite those assurances and my continued hope that the White House will resolve these questions in a cooperative fashion, the Committee must take steps to ensure that we are not being stonewalled or slow walked on this matter. I will schedule a vote to issue subpoenas next week for the documents and officials we need to talk to. Allegations that our criminal justice system has been undermined by partisan politics and that the Congress was deceived about these activities are among the most serious this Congress will consider and we expect immediate answers."


From Subcommittee Chair Linda Sanchez (D-CA):

"The White House is playing a dangerous game of chicken. The House Judiciary Committee has been operating in good faith to get to the bottom of this growing scandal, and Chairman Conyers has shown particular restraint in working towards voluntary cooperation."


A vote will be scheduled next week on issuing subpoenas to Karl Rove, Rove's deputy Scott Jennings, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, Deputy Counsel William Kelley, and possibly others.

Update: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says, “It is disappointing that the White House is not coming forward with their plan to bring witnesses to testify. We hope that this delay is not a signal they will not cooperate.”

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."

TPMLivewire