The New York TimesE-mails Contradict Testimony in FiringsSat Apr 14, 2007 03:57
E-mails Contradict Testimony in Firings
Replacements Proposed Year Earlier
BY DAVID JOHNSTON and ERIC LIPTON, The New York Times
WASHINGTON - A Justice Department e-mail message released Friday shows that the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales proposed replacement candidates for U.S. attorneys nearly a year before they were fired in December 2006, contradicting repeated statements by department officials that no successors had been selected before the dismissals.
The Jan. 9, 2006, message, written by D. Kyle Sampson, who resigned last month as the top aide to Gonzales, identified five Bush administration officials, most of them Justice Department employees, whose names were sent to the White House for consideration as possible replacements for prosecutors slated for dismissal.
The e-mail and several related documents provide the first evidence that Sampson, the Justice Department official in charge of the dismissals, had focused on who would succeed the ousted prosecutors. Justice officials have said repeatedly that seven of the eight prosecutors were removed without regard to who might succeed them.
Some of the new documents show the department's acute awareness of individual U.S. attorneys' political and ideological views. An undated spreadsheet attached to a Feb. 12, 2007, e-mail message listed the federal prosecutors who had served under President George W. Bush along with their past work experience.
The chart included a category for Republican Party and campaign work, showing who had been a delegate to a Republican convention or had managed a Republican political campaign. The chart had a separate category indicating who among the prosecutors was a member of the Federalist Society, a Washington-based association that serves as a talent pool for young conservatives seeking appointments in Republican administrations.
Taken together, Democrats asserted, the e-mails supported their contention that the fired attorneys were dismissed to make room for favored candidates who were chosen on the basis of their political qualifications as much as prosecutorial experience.
The latest collection of documents, the sixth batch produced by the Justice Department in recent weeks, also cast further light on the frantic scramble by the Bush administration since January to contain the public-relations damage caused by the ouster of eight U.S. attorneys.
The electronic messages, some written as recently as March, offer a rare and almost contemporaneous account of the tactics used by a sitting administration attempting to manage a political firestorm.
One e-mail message shows the White House urging the Justice Department to call Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to plant information with him about the placement of J. Timothy Griffin, a former aide to Karl Rove, as the interim U.S. attorney in Arkansas.
"WH political reached out to Sen. Sessions and requested that he ask helpful questions to make clear that Tim Griffin is qualified to serve," said a January 2007 e-mail message from Monica Goodling, a former senior aide to Gonzales, to other department officials. "Here are the talkers on Griffin, as well as a narrative that can be used by staff and his resume. I think it would actually be helpful for all of the Rs to have it."
It was not clear whether the "talkers," shorthand for talking points, were sent to Sessions and other "Rs," or Republicans. But Sessions, during a later hearing on the matter, ran through all of the highlights, praising Griffin's r sum , just as the White House and Justice had apparently requested.
Other documents show that Goodling, the Justice Department's liaison to the White House, prepared a list of reasons in February to explain publicly why the prosecutors had been ousted.
Notes, in handwriting identified by a Justice official as Goodling's, run quickly through a list of alleged transgressions by the fired prosecutors, such as "incredibly fractured office, morale low, lost confidence of her subordinates and superiors," in describing Margaret Chiara, the former U.S. attorney from Western Michigan, who disputes the claims. In the case of David Iglesias, who was fired as the top federal prosecutor in New Mexico, she writes of a complaint from Pete V. Domenici, a Republican senator from the state: "Domenici says he doesn't move cases."
The e-mails were among more than 2,000 pages of documents released by the Justice Department as part of a continuing outpouring of more than 6,000 pages of e-mails and other internal records produced in the past month in response to requests by House and Senate committees as the furor over the dismissals has grown into the most serious crisis of Gonzales' service as attorney general.
Gonzales is scheduled to appear Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Justice Department said Sampson's e-mail message did not contradict either his sworn testimony or the department's past statements. Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the department, said: "We have consistently stated that, with the exception of Griffin, individuals were not pre-selected for any of the eight U.S. attorney positions prior to asking the U.S. attorneys to resign. The list made public today had previously been shared privately with Congress, and it in no way contradicts the Department's prior statement. The list, drafted 10 months before the December resignations, reflects Kyle Sampson's initial thoughts, not pre-selected candidates by the administration."
Sampson's lawyer, Bradford Berenson, also denied that the e-mail contradicted Sampson's testimony. "Kyle's testimony regarding the consideration of replacements was entirely accurate. In December 2006, when the seven U.S. attorneys were asked to step down, no specific candidate had been selected to replace any of them, and Kyle had none in mind. Some names had been tentatively suggested for discussion much earlier in the process, but by the time the decision to ask for the resignations was made none had been chosen to serve as a replacement."
The possible replacements selected by Sampson - with the exception of Griffin - never materialized, at least in part because the controversy regarding the ousters has pushed aside consideration of who will fill the vacancies. But it is clear from actions taken over the past two years that Justice officials had placed lawyers from department headquarters, who were known to be loyal to Gonzales and Bush, into open posts.
The Jan. 9, 2006, e-mail message was sent by Sampson to Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, and William Kelley, another White House lawyer. In the message, Sampson proposed the dismissal of a total of seven U.S. attorneys and named at least one replacement candidate for each prospective vacancy.
Because of deletions in the e-mail copies turned over to Congress, the document discloses only the names of four U.S. attorneys slated for removal and five of their possible successors. The names of the replacement candidates, in most cases, are followed by a question mark, suggesting that Sampson might have been uncertain about them.
The U.S. attorneys identified for removal are four who were ultimately dismissed: Chiara in Michigan, Kevin Ryan in San Francisco, Carol C. Lam in San Diego and Cummins in Arkansas. Justice Department officials have acknowledged that Cummins was an able prosecutor who was removed solely to make room for Griffin, a former aide to Rove, the White House senior political adviser, who was appointed to the job on a temporary basis.
"Please treat this as confidential," Sampson wrote in the e-mail message. He concluded, "If a decision is made to remove and replace a limited number of U.S. attorneys, then the following might be considered for removal and possible replacement."
Sampson testified March 29 at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had no candidates in mind to replace any of the fired prosecutors. In his prepared statement, he said, "None of the U.S. attorneys was asked to resign in favor of a particular individual who had already been identified to take the vacant spot."
At one point in the hearing, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., asked Sampson, "Did you or did you not have in mind specific replacements for the dismissed U.S. attorneys before they were asked to resign on Dec. 7, 2006?"
Sampson, who was under oath, replied: "I personally did not. On Dec. 7, I did not have in mind any replacements for any of the seven who were asked to resign."
Similarly, William E. Moschella, an associate deputy attorney general, testified March 6 at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing at which he said he wanted to correct the impression by some that the department asked U.S. attorneys to resign to make way for "pre-selected, Republican lawyers." "The facts, however, prove otherwise," Moschella said.
America: We need to find our conscience.
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