So here’s the storyline (and please save your expressions of disbelief until the end):
The idea to replace U.S. attorneys was first floated by White House counsel Harriet Miers in February 2005. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales “rejected that idea as impractical and disruptive.” And Karl Rove “vaguely recalls telling Miers that he also thought firing all 93 was ill-advised.”
So in March 2005, Gonzales’ chief of staff Kyle Sampson (who used to work for Miers) sent an e-mail to Miers in March 2005 that ranked all 93 U.S. attorneys. Here’s how the Post describes the breakdown:
Strong performers “exhibited loyalty” to the administration; low performers were “weak U.S. attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.” A third group merited no opinion.
The Post doesn’t mention it, but in December 2005, the administration,via Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter’s (R-PA) chief counsel, slipped a provision into the Patriot Act reauthorization bill that made it possible to replace U.S. Attorneys permanently without Senate confirmation.
In January 2006, “Sampson sent to the White House the first list of seven candidates for dismissal, including four who were fired at year’s end: [Michigan’s Margaret] Chiara, [Arkansas’ Bud] Cummins, [San Diego’s Carol] Lam and [San Francisco’s Kevin] Ryan. The list also recommended Griffin and other replacements, most of whom were edited from documents viewed by The Post.”
In March, the Patriot reauthorization bill finally passed Congress and was signed into law.
In June, U.S. Attorney for Arkansas’ Eastern District Bud Cummins gets a call asking him to resign.
In August, “Justice officials” discuss “bypassing the two Democratic senators in Arkansas, who normally would have had input into the appointment.” The way to bypass them, of course, would be to use the Patriot Act provision.
In September, Sampson put together another list of candidates, totaling nine. Cummins, he said, was “in the process of being pushed out.” Six of those nine, including Cummins, were among the eight ultimately fired in December.
Also that month, Sampson wrote to Miers saying that “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.” He urged using the Patriot Act provision in order to get their “preferred person” appointed.
In October, New Mexico’s David Iglesias was added to the list, “based in part on complaints from Sen. Pete V. Domenici and other New Mexico Republicans that he was not prosecuting enough voter-fraud cases.”
Also in October, President Bush mentions complaints about voter-fraud investigations to Gonzales in a conversation in October 2006. “Gonzales does not recall the conversation, Justice Department officials said.”
On December 4th, Sampson emails “the White House with a copy to Ms. Miers outlining plans to carry out the firings”:
“We would like to execute this on Thursday, Dec. 7,” Mr. Sampson wrote. Because some United States attorneys were still in Washington attending a conference, he planned to postpone telling them they were being fired. He wrote, “We want to wait until they are back home and dispersed to reduce chatter.”
On December 7th, the calls to the seven remaining U.S. attorneys went out.
In mid-December, Sampson
So that’s the story, or at least the story the administration is telling. Now, Sampson resigned yesterday, the Post reports, “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.”
In other words, Sampson, Gonzales’ chief of staff, unbeknownst to other Justice Department officials, kept all this to himself. A rogue operator within the Justice Department, right under Gonzales’ chin!
It’s unclear whether Sampson will be made available to congressional investigators n
ow that he’s resigned.