Email Raises More Questions about Rove’s Role in U.S. Attorney Appointment

May 25, 2007 5:17 p.m.

It’s been apparent from very early in the U.S. attorney scandal that Tim Griffin, the former aide to Karl Rove who was appointed the U.S. attorney for Little Rock, was different from the others.

Emails show that White House and Justice Department officials worked together for months to install Griffin, dating back to last summer. Rove’s aides in the White House Office of Political Affairs were intimately involved. Up until now, however, there had been no evidence of direct communication between Rove and Griffin about the appointment. But an email contained in documents released earlier this week shows Griffin directly emailing Rove and his deputies in the White House Office of Political Affairs (click to enlarge):

David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney for New Mexico who was among those fired last year, told me that he thought the direct contact was “really inappropriate and over the line.” The only time he ever contacted anyone there, he said, was to return phone calls about job opportunities. He’d twice been considered for positions, he said: once as director for Executive Office of United States Attorneys and another time as the assistant secretary of homeland security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The White House had called to see if he was interested in the appointments; he told them he was not. He said that he’d never heard of a U.S. attorney speaking to someone in the Office of Political Affairs for any other reason.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

The email, dated February 16, 2007, shows Griffin forwarding a copy of a local news article about his announcement that he would not seek Senate confirmation. Griffin wrote Rove, three of his deputies, and Christopher Oprison of the White House counsel’s office that he was “glad” that he “did this” (“this” presumably being his announcement not to seek the nomination), and explaining why he’d taken a “swipe” at Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR).

Griffin had been a controversial figure ever since his December 15th appointment, due not least to his ties to Rove. But Sen. Pryor had been most alarmed by the administration’s apparent scheme — which Alberto Gonzales’ chief of staff Kyle Sampson laid out in a December 19, 2006 email that was later turned over to Congress in March — to appoint Griffin indefinitely without Senate confirmation, via a little noticed provision in the USA PATRIOT ACT Reauthorization bill. Griffin’s appointment drew even more scrutiny after it was revealed in January that at least six other U.S. attorneys besides Griffin’s predecessor Bud Cummins had been fired by the administration.

“It’s unfortunate,” Griffin is quoted as saying in the article, “that Sen. Pryor is blaming the administration for using a law that he voted for to appoint me, apparently with the excuse that he didn’t know what he was voting for when he voted.” After explaining in the email to Rove why he’d said that, Griffin added, “I am going to go back to focusing on my job until I am told otherwise.”

Responding to the email, Michael Teague, spokesman for Sen. Pryor, wondered how many other contacts Griffin had with Rove. “This is just an email. Was he calling him every day?”

In fact, the email was only produced by the Justice Department because Oprison of the White House counsel’s office had forwarded it on to Monica Goodling at the Justice Department, who forwarded it to Kyle Sampson the same morning. Despite requests from Congress, the White House has not produced any emails related to the firings.

Sampson’s and Oprison’s appearance in the email raises an additional question.On February 24th, just eight days after the email, the Justice Department wrote in a letter to Congress that the department wasn’t aware of Karl Rove playing “any role” in the decision to appoint Griffin. The letter was drafted by Sampson and signed off on by Oprison of the White House.

Sampson, who wrote in that earlier December 19th email that Griffin’s appointment was “important to Karl,” explained the letter’s disavowal of Rove’s role in testimony before the Senate by saying that “the e-mail was based on an assumption”:

I knew that [Rove’s deputies] Sara Taylor and Scott Jennings had expressed interest in promoting Mr. Griffin for appointment to be U.S. attorney, and I assumed, because they reported to Karl Rove, that he was interested in that. But later in February, when I participated in the drafting of that letter, I did not remember then ever having talked to Mr. Rove about it…. I don’t remember anyone telling me that Mr. Rove was interested in Mr. Griffin being appointed, and that was my understanding at the time I participated in the drafting of that letter.

Sampson’s answer — and by extension the letter to Congresss — nakedly relied on (barely) plausible deniability of Rove’s interest in Griffin’s appointment.

Rove’s presence on the February 16th email does not shatter that delicate stance — but it’s just another sign of Sampson’s willful blindness and the basic dishonesty of the denial. The Justice Department has apologized for “the inaccuracy.”

The White House, however, still has not taken responsibility for the misstatement. A White House spokesman has said that Oprison “did not recall Karl’s interest when he reviewed the letter.”

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