David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

Is the attorney general apologizing for saying the purged U.S. attorneys were canned for "performance-related reasons"?

As I mentioned earlier, that's what McClatchy reported yesterday, and the AP has a similar report today on what transpired during a conference call between Gonzales and all the U.S. attorneys on Friday:

During the conference call, planned as a pep talk to raise morale at a Justice Department tainted by the firings and the FBI's misuse of the Patriot Act, Gonzales apologized for how the dismissals were handled and for suggesting there were problems with the prosecutors' job performances.

Without more information, it's hard to know what that means. Is he abandoning the Administration's defense that the prosecutors were removed for legitimate job performance reasons? Or is he saying that the Justice Department did act based on performance concerns but shouldn't have shredded the prosecutors' reputations in the process of defending the move? Since this was a "pep talk," I suspect it's the latter.

The most interesting testimony in yesterday's House committee hearing on the CIA leak case came not from Valerie Plame Wilson but from James Knodell, director of the White House security office, who testified that the White House had neither undertaken an internal investigation into the leak nor taken disciplinary action against the leakers. Here's a copy of the letter committee Chairman Henry Waxman sent to White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten following the hearing.

Think Progress has a good catch, from NPR:

According to Justice Department sources, after Kyle Sampson resigned as the attorney general’s chief of staff on Monday, he was going to work as a lawyer in the legislative section of the department’s environment division. The Justice Department started to set up a new office for Sampson in that section, and he only resigned from the department on Tuesday, when the scandal surrounding eight fired U.S. Attorneys continued to grow.

Yup. Mistakes were made.

Take a look at what the U.S. attorney scandal has wrought by way of media coverage in Pittsburgh--and consider the implications for every federal prosecutor in the country. As Bud Cummins wrote yesterday in an email to TPMmuckraker, "Once the public detects partisanship in one important decision, they will follow the natural inclination to question every decision made, whether there is a connection or not." [Thanks to TPM Reader NW for the tip.]

Newsweek poll: "Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed-–including 45 percent of Republicans-–say the ouster of the federal prosecutors was driven by political concerns."

Kyle Sampson may have resigned as Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, but he's showing signs of not being willing to be scapegoated for the entire U.S. Attorney scandal.

As Paul notes, Sampson's lawyer, former Bush Administration official Bradford Berenson, released a statement late Friday that includes this rat-jumping-ship gem:

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.

Sen. Schumer said this week that Sampson would not become the next Scooter Libby, a fall guy for a scheme hatched at the highest levels of the Bush Administration. Sampson seems to be saying the same thing.

TPM Reader JT shares my reaction to last night's McClatchy account of Alberto Gonzales' conference call with U.S. Attorneys:

The Bushie justification of the firings rests entirely on their adamant insistence that the firings were based on poor job performance, even to the point of finding convoluted ways to explain away the consistently positive performance reviews so many were getting right up to the minute they were fired.

So, if Gonzales has now admitted that the public statements about job performance were 'inaccurate', what is left as a rationale for firing the USA's except political reasons? Hasn't he just blown their whole defense here?

As I say, that raised my eyebrows, too. Without calling into question McClatchy's reporting here, because they have had a stellar record on this story, it is hard for me to believe that Gonzales didn't give a very carefully hedged apology that would have stopped short of saying the public statements about job performance were "inaccurate." This will be worth keeping an eye on because JT is right that if accurate this account leaves the Administration's defense in tatters.