Yesterday, the administration provided Congress with emails between White House aides and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ chief of staff Kyle Samson, who resigned earlier this week. The documents “show an orchestrated effort to fire several U.S. attorneys, counter to Mr. Gonzales’s previous assertions that the firings weren’t instigated by the White House.” The emails included a list of attorneys Samson thought the administration “should consider pushing out.” Gonzales said at a press conference yesterday, “I acknowledge that mistakes were made here.” Yet he pawned off responsibility to those working under him, saying, “I have 110,000 working in the department. Obviously, there are going to be decisions made that I’m not aware of all the time.” “I stand by the decision, “Gonzales concluded, “and I think it was the right decision.” Lawmakers are not accepting his non-apology. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) repeated his calls for Gonzales to step down, citing the multiple ways in which Gonzales has misled the public about the affair.
- The White House was directly involved in the firing of US Attorneys. The emails showed an “orchestrated effort” by the DOJ and the White House to purge attorneys they did not like. “I recommend that the Department of Justice and the Office of the Counsel to the President work together to seek the replacement of a limited number of U.S. Attorneys,” Sampson wrote to former White House counsel Harriet Miers in January 2006. Another email from Samson to Miers contained a list of “USA [U.S. Attorneys] in the Process of Being Pushed Out.” Indeed, Karl Rove was deeply involved in the installation of his former assistant Tim Griffin as a replacement for Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins. In an email, Sampson wrote that “getting [Griffin] appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.” Last month, the Justice Department told Schumer, “The department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin.”
- What happened at the Justice Department is vastly different than what the Clinton Administration did in 1993. Last week in Little Rock, Rove claimed the attorney firings were “normal and ordinary” because Clinton had done the same thing when he replaced all 93 U.S. Attorneys in 1993. The difference, as former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta told the Progress Report, is that “the Clinton administration never fired federal prosecutors as pure political retribution.” The Clinton administration, like the H.W. Bush and Reagan administrations before it, asked for all U.S. Attorneys to resign at the beginning of their respective presidential terms. As the Carpetbagger reports, replacing all the prosecutors is not “remotely unusual” — “Indeed, it’s how the process is designed.” “The Congressional Research Service has confirmed how unprecedented these firings are … It found that of 486 U.S. attorneys confirmed since 1981, perhaps no more than three were forced out in similar ways — three in 25 years, compared with seven in recent months.” (Read the full CRS report here.) The new emails show the Justice Department knew what they were doing had never been done before. “In recent memory, during the Reagan and Clinton Administrations, Presidents Reagan and Clinton did not seek to remove and replace U.S. Attorneys to serve indefinitely under the holdover provision,” Samson wrote.
- Attorney General Gonzales lied to Congress about the Justice Department’s intent to have the US Attorneys confirmed by the Senate. Congress inserted a little-noticed provision into the Patriot Act in 2005 that allowed the President to install “interim” U.S Attorneys for an indefinite period of time, without Senate confirmation. Earlier this year, Gonzales promised the Senate Judiciary Committee he would not use the provision to bypass the Senate. “I am fully committed, as the administration’s fully committed, to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney,” Gonzales said. Yesterday, Gonzales repeated this claim. “I believe fundamentally in the constitutional role of the Senate in advice and consent with respect to U.S. attorneys,” he said, “and would in no way support an effort to circumvent that constitutional role.” But emails from his Chief of Staff Sampson show the Justice Department had something else in mind. “I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments.”