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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.

Karl Rove broached the topic of U.S. Attorneys again today. And, as before, it was a battery of flat-out lies, half truths and distortions. Long after Alberto Gonzales backed off his line that the firings are an "overblown personnel matter," Rove's still flogging the same line that people are just "playing politics" with this.

But I want to focus in on one statement in particular. Depending on how you read it, it's either flagrantly tone deaf or a middle finger to those chasing this story:

When we came in in 2001, we reviewed all 93 U.S. Attorneys and over the course of time, replaced virtually all of them with appointees by the president… not all: several appointees were involved in high profile cases, important investigations, and as a result, even though they were appointees of the previous administration, we left them in office for, in some instances, years.

San Diego's Carol Lam was, of course, in the middle of one of the highest profile, important investigations that a United States attorney has undertaken in recent memory when she was fired last December. The suspicion around her firing is what has driven the scandal from the beginning.

But just to show that Lam isn't far from Rove's mind, he goes on to repeat his lie that Lam was ordered to make immigration cases a priority in her office and refused.

The former U.S. Attorney for Seattle John McKay, speaking on Seattle's KUOW earlier today, called for an investigation of the Justice Department's handling of the firings.

McKay said that at very least, there should be an investigation by the DoJ's Inspector General, but if that was opposed, a special prosecutor should be appointed:

I think that means the Inspector General of the Justice Department conducting an investigation, separate from the management of the department because it appears that they were involved at the highest level – including the Attorney General. The Inspector General should report, and if that isn’t done appropriately, there should be a special prosecutor.

McKay said that he wasn't looking to get his job back, but that he thought it was "important for the American public in restoring their confidence in the Justice Department to disavow what now looks like a political process, absolutely unacceptable political process."

Tony Snow fielded more questions on the U.S. Attorney firings during the White House press briefing this afternoon.

He seemed to get caught on one question in particular:

Q The President said, "I've heard those allegations about political decision-making; it's just not true." How can he say that when he hasn't seen all the emails, emails continue to come out, and of those that have already come out, some of them clearly seem to show that at some level, at least, there was political decision-making?

MR. SNOW: I'm not -- how would you define "political decision-making"?

Q Well, decision-making that involves politics.

Q How would you define it, Tony?

MR. SNOW: Well, it's a loaded term. I mean, I think what the President -- what the President is saying is that there is no -- that in evaluating U.S. attorneys, this is based on performance. And the important thing to do -- and furthermore, the Department of Justice made recommendations that the President has accepted. Also keep in mind, the President has the authority to remove people and put other folks in the job. That is at his discretion. That's presidential power.

Q But is he saying that he was so in the loop, then, that he definitely knew there was nothing political, or was he, in fact, removed, as you indicated this morning?

MR. SNOW: No, I think -- again, what the President has -- the Department of Justice has made recommendations, they've been approved. And it's pretty clear that these things are based on performance and not on sort of attempts to do political retaliation, if you will.

Yeah, "pretty clear."

Update: There was also this:

Q Do you think the White House made any mistakes in this whole matter of the discussions over the firings? And particular, I'm wondering if Attorney General Gonzales was making statements to members of Congress, beginning in January, that later proved to be not exactly in line with the facts, weren't people in the White House aware of that?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into extensive sort of fact witnessing....

From The Hill:

The full Senate will vote next Tuesday on whether to reverse its actions from last year and bring interim U.S. attorney appointments back to the federal courts, according to a deal announced Thursday morning by party leaders.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has said that he won't object to bringing up the bill, since he'll have the opportunity to offer an amendment.

A number of readers have pointed out that Karl Rove's deputy at the White House, Scott Jennings, used an outside domain,, for his emails. The domain, it turns out, is owned by the Republican National Committee.

Now Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has sent a letter to House government reform committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) requesting an investigation of whether the White House has been violating the Presidential Records Act -- in an attempt to keep certain correspondence away from prying eyes.

Jennings use of the RNC's email "raises serious questions about whether the White House was trying to deliberately evade its responsibilities under the PRA, which directs the president to take all necessary steps to maintain presidential records to provide a full accounting of all activities during his tenure," says CREW.

And there's evidence that Jennings' use of an outside domain was a pattern in Rove's office. CREW points out that Karl Rove's former assistant Susan Ralston also frequently used outside domains to communicate to her old boss, Jack Abramoff.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that House Democrats are also planning on investigating the White House's use of outside domains for correspondence. Namely:

Democratic congressional aides said they will investigate whether using the private address for government business violated laws against using taxpayer resources for political work or signaled that White House officials considered the firing of U.S. attorneys to be primarily a political issue. Jennings did not return a call to his office seeking a comment.

An RNC spokeswoman told the Post that "As a matter of course, the RNC provides server space and equipment to certain White House personnel in order to assist them with their political efforts."

But the question here is whether there is any line between "political efforts" and official duties in the Bush White House.

It was a rather brutal press gaggle for Tony Snow this morning. Some highlights:

Q: The attorney general said mistakes were made in the Patriot Act, mistakes were made in the prosecutors, so how many mistakes...

SNOW: There are a lot of things going on at the Department of Justice, and the president has confidence in his attorney general....

Q: Anybody calling Senator Sununu? What's your direct response to him? SNOW: We're disappointed.

My personal highlight is Snow dismissing the false testimony given to Congress by Justice Department officials as "testimony on the Hill where people weren't fully briefed on email trails and so on.."

Much more below the fold....

Update: Another highlight:

Q: Tony, in the email traffic, loyalty came down as a criteria for employment as a US attorney. Does the president believe that loyalty to him and his administration is an important criteria?

SNOW: No, the criteria -- and I don't want to be a fact witness. I think you have to go back and take a look at the emails. I'm not sure that the characterization is accurate, but you're going to have to ask the person who wrote the email --- and that would be Kyle Sampson -- what he meant by it.

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