Prosecutor Firing Scandal Widens

Ken AshfordAttorney FiringsLeave a Comment

Background here.  [UPDATE: An even better background — in the form of a timeline]

And this past week, Attorney General Gonzales denied that there was any political involvement relating to the firings of the U.S. Attorneys.

But today we learn differently:

The White House was deeply involved in the decision late last year to dismiss federal prosecutors, including some who had been criticized by Republican lawmakers, administration officials said Monday.

"Deeply involved"?  What does that mean, New York Times?  Perhaps WaPo can illuminate:

The White House suggested two years ago that the Justice Department fire all 93 U.S. attorneys, a proposal that eventually resulted in the dismissals of eight prosecutors last year, according to e-mails and internal documents that the administration will provide to Congress today

All 93?!? Wow!

Last October, President Bush spoke with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud, the White House said Monday.

So, it seems there was political involvement, going right to the top of the White House.

By the way, "voter fraud" = Democrats voting.  Seriously.  The reason why prosecutors refused to go after "voter fraud" was simply because there was no evidence of it.  Let’s go to Josh Marshall on this one:

The very short version of this story is that Republicans habitually make claims about voter fraud. But the charges are almost invariably bogus. And in most if not every case the claims are little more than stalking horses for voter suppression efforts. That may sound like a blanket charge. But I’ve reported on and written about this issue at great length. And there’s simply no denying the truth of it. So this becomes a critical backdrop to understanding what happened in some of these cases. Why didn’t the prosecutors pursue indictments when GOP operatives started yakking about voter fraud? Almost certainly because there just wasn’t any evidence for it.


Okay.  Back to the news coverage:

Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, was among the politicians who complained directly to the president, according to an administration official.

The president did not call for the removal of any specific United States attorneys, said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman. She said she had “no indication” that the president had been personally aware that a process was already under way to identify prosecutors who would be fired.

But Ms. Perino disclosed that White House officials had consulted with the Justice Department in preparing the list of United States attorneys who would be removed.

Hmm.  Who woud that White House official be, I wonder?

But the documents and interviews indicate that the idea for the firings originated at least two years ago, when then-White House counsel Harriet E. Miers suggested to {Gonzales Chief of Staff Kyle] Sampson in February 2005 that all prosecutors be dismissed and replaced.

Harriet.  I could have guessed.

WaPo’s coverage also contains some rather cold-blooded emails between Miers and Sampson:

Sampson, Sept. 7, 2006: "I am only in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed. It will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and then don’t have replacements ready to roll immediately. I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments. [By avoiding Senate confirmation], we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House."

Miers: "Kyle thanks for this. I have not forgotten I need to follow up on the info. But things have been crazy."

And then:

On Dec. 7, Miers’s deputy, William Kelley, wrote that Domenici’s chief of staff "is happy as a clam" about Iglesias.

A week later, Sampson wrote: "Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias’s body to cool)."

Sampson has resigned "after acknowledging that he did not tell key Justice officials about the extent of his communications with the White House, leading them to provide incomplete information to Congress."  That means what it means — that Justice officials were not telling the truth to Congress, and Sampson is the fall guy.

[UPDATE:  The NYT has a profile on Sampson, a young ambitious Mormon lawyer who became "the fox in charge of the henhouse".  Key line: "In 2002 Mr. Sampson told the Brigham Young University news service that he admired Mr. Bush because the president recognized that politics and religious beliefs could not be separated."  All in all, he sounds a lot like the character portrayed by Patrick Wilson in "Angels In America"]

What does this all mean?

Well, look — it’s true.  U.S. Attorneys, like all government employees, serve at the pleasure of the President.  But that’s not the beginning and end of the analysis.  U.S. attorneys are servants of the people, and must be allowed to do their jobs without political pressure.  This was a situation where competent U.S. Attorneys (many of them Republican, by the way) were relieved of their jobs for failing to prosecute Democrats (and only Democrats).  That, without any question, is an abuse of the legal system for political gain (or more accurately, firing people for refusing to use the legal system for political gain).

Josh Marshall again puts the final thought down:

As has happened so many times in the last six years, the maximal version of this story — which seemed logical six weeks ago but which I couldn’t get myself to believe — turns out to be true. Indeed, it’s worse. We now know that Gonzales, McNulty and Moschella each lied to Congress. We know that the purge was a plan that began at the White House — and it was overseen by two of President Bush’s closest lieutenants in Washington — Miers and Gonzales.

Yup.  Stay tuned. This is shaping up to be a very serious scandal.  Jophn Singer agrees:

For the first time in the last six years, there is now direct proof, documentary proof, that could implicate George W. Bush in some of the widespread impropriety within his administration. And though the Bush White House may believe in the at best controversial axiom that if the President does it, it’s not illegal, there is more than enough precedent in American history for holding a President accountable for his own actions.

So although Kyle Sampson, who did command some power as chief of staff in the Department of Justice, has now resigned, this is only the beginning of the bloodletting within the Bush administration over this scandal. Before too long, I would be surprised if higher ups (and I do mean higher ups, not higher up) are not also relieved of their positions in the hopes of salvaging the rest of George W. Bush’s term in office.

UPDATE:  Moments ago

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has "either forgotten the oath he took to uphold the Constitution or doesn’t understand that his duty to uphold the law is greater than his duty to protect the president," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., just told reporters on Capitol Hill.

UPDATE:  Gonzales to hold press conference at 2:00.

UPDATE:  Raw scandal docs (incl. the emails) available here.