DoJ Official to Cummins: Circumventing Senate Was “White House Plan”

Alberto Gonzales and others at the Justice Department have been desperately claiming for months that they’d never intended to circumvent the Senate in the confirmation of U.S. attorneys.

But apparently Timothy Griffin, the former aide to Karl Rove who was appointed as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock, didn’t know it was so taboo.

In written response to questions from Congress made public today, Griffin’s predecessor Bud Cummins says that Griffin had been telling a number of people in Arkansas that he would remain as the U.S. attorney there for the remainder of Bush’s term whether he was confirmed by the Senate or not. An obscure provision in the Patriot Act reauthorization bill, of course, had made just such a thing possible.

Cummins writes of a conversation he had with Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, in late January, the day after Alberto Gonzales had testified to the Senate. Gonzales had said, among other things, that the Justice Department would seek a presidential nomination for the U.S. attorneys in every district. Cummins had called Elston to contest this idea, because “it appeared to [him] that there was no intention to put Tim Griffin through a nomination.” Elston disagreed…

Elston rejected that notion and assured me that every replacement would have to be confirmed by the Senate. I told him if that was the case, then he had better gag Tim Griffin because Griffin was telling many people, including me, that officials in Washington had assured him he could stay in as USA pursuant to an interim appointment whether he was ever nominated or not. Elston denied knowing anything about anyone’s intention to circumvent Senate confirmation in Griffin’s case. He said that might have been the White House’s plan, but they “never read DOJ into that plan” and DOJ would never go along with it. This indicated to me that my removal had been dictated entirely by the White House. He said Griffin would be confirmed or have to resign. I remember that part of the conversation well because I then said to Elston that it looked to me that if Tim Griffin couldn’t get confirmed and had to then resign, then I would have resigned for nothing, and to that, after a brief pause Elston replied, “yes, that’s right.” [emphasis mine]

Remember that emails show that Kyle Sampson didn’t want Bud Cummins testifying to Congress because he worried that Cummins would testify that Griffin had been blabbing about the Patriot Act provision.

The entirety of Cummins’ account of this phone call with Elston is below.

You can see all of the U.S. attorneys questions and answers here.Here’s Cummins’ account of the call:

I called the DAG on or about January 19 after the AG testified in the Senate and left a message. He called back and left a message. I called back, the DAG was unavailable, and Mike Elston took the call saying the DAG asked him to see what I needed. I was calling to bring three things to their attention that I thought were all probably inadvertent misrepresentations that should and likely would be corrected. The first concerned a DOJ spokesman’s statement to the press on or about December 26 stating that one reason Tim Griffin had been named as interim USA was because the First Assistant was on maternity leave. I told Elston that most people in our relatively small legal community had instantly mocked that statement because it was obvious Tim Griffin had been here for months for the purpose of taking over on my departure, because no person was aware of any conversations or other communications that might demonstrate that appointing the First Assistant was EVER a consideration, and because even though she actually had left the office a week before (on or about December 14) to give birth to twins, her due date was much later in early February and until she went out for an emergency delivery the week before she had been widely expected to continue to work in the office until February, so she actually could have been available for six weeks or more to serve as an interim had anybody ever considered that option. Nobody had and that was obvious. I told them it was a ridiculous thing to say in light of what many people here knew and that they shouldn’t repeat it. Second, I told him that the AG had made two statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee that I thought were inconsistent with the facts. First, the AG had said that every change in USA spots had been made to improve the management in those districts. I knew or thought I knew that improving management had nothing to do with the change in my district, and I not only thought the statement was unfair to me, but also that it was going to be challenged because Senator Pryor knew better. I thought they might want to supplement the AG’s testimony in a way to except my district. At that time I neither knew who else had been fired or why. Elston agreed with me that I had been fired simply to allow Tim Griffin to have the job. He assured me that the other cases were different and that if I knew the reasons behind those firings I would agree that “they had to go.” He didn’t know if they would ever be able to fix the record in regard to me, but he said he would see if they could avoid repeating similar statements in the future. Finally, I expressed concern that the AG’s statement that DOJ would seek a presidential nomination for the USA in every district was going to cause trouble here in Arkansas because it appeared to me that there was no intention to put Tim Griffin through a nomination. Elston rejected that notion and assured me that every replacement would have to be confirmed by the Senate. I told him if that was the case, then he had better gag Tim Griffin because Griffin was telling many people, including me, that officials in Washington had assured him he could stay in as USA pursuant to an interim appointment whether he was ever nominated or not. Elston denied knowing anything about anyone’s intention to circumvent Senate confirmation in Griffin’s case. He said that might have been the White House’s plan, but they “never read DOJ into that plan” and DOJ would never go along with it. This indicated to me that my removal had been dictated entirely by the White House. He said Griffin would be confirmed or have to resign. I remember that part of the conversation well because I then said to Elston that it looked to me that if Tim Griffin couldn’t get confirmed and had to then resign, then I would have resigned for nothing, and to that, after a brief pause Elston replied, “yes, that’s right.” [UPDATE: I saw in some of the documents that I may have placed a call to the DAG immediately before the AG testified in January. I frankly don’t remember it that way, but it is possible that I was calling even then to express concerns based on the reporting I was seeing at the time on the issues described above.]

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