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Context of 'January 2001: White House Asks for Resignations of Almost All US Attorneys'

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Attorney General Janet Reno announces that all 93 US Attorneys must resign promptly, allowing the Clinton administration to appoint its own prosecutors for the positions. All 93 US Attorneys are Republicans appointed during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and US Attorneys are routinely replaced after a change in administrations, particularly when the incoming president is of a different party than the outgoing president. Jay B. Stephens, the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, suggests that the Clinton administration wants to derail his ongoing investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), a key Clinton ally thought to be involved in political corruption. While stopping short of directly accusing Reno or President Clinton of desiring to interfere in the case, he says, “This case has been conducted with integrity, and I trust the decisions in this case will not be made based on political considerations.” If Stephens or his successor indicts Rostenkowski, the congressman would have to relinquish his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, costing Clinton a key political ally in that powerful body. Reno denies any connection between the Rostenkowski investigation and the firings. Stephens is being treated like the rest of the US Attorneys, she says, and she would consider allowing some to stay on if they were critically involved in ongoing investigations. All 93 US Attorneys knew they would be asked to leave office if Clinton won the election, and 16 have already resigned. Reno says she wants the resignations “so that the US Attorneys presently in position will know where they stand and that we can begin to build a team.” Some Clinton administration officials call Stephens’s veiled allegations “absurd,” and say that it is surprising it has taken this long to ask for the US Attorney resignations. [New York Times, 3/24/1993; Providence Journal, 3/24/1993] The Rostenkowski investigation will be pursued by Stephens’s successor, Eric Holder, and Rostenkowski will be found guilty of mail fraud and sentenced to jail. [Washington Post, 4/10/1996]

Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Bush administration (41), Dan Rostenkowski, Reagan administration, Clinton administration, Jay B. Stephens, Janet Reno

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Buford Furrow.Buford Furrow. [Source: Eye on Hate (.com)]Buford O’Neal Furrow, a security guard and member of the white supremacist Aryan Nations organization (see Early 1970s), attacks a day care center at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. Apparently to avoid capture, Furrow leaves his van behind and hijacks a car to drive to the center. Upon entering, he opens fire with an Uzi submachine gun, wounding three children, a counselor, and a receptionist. Investigators will determine that Furrow fires 70 shots. Furrow flees the scene and shortly thereafter encounters letter carrier Joseph Ileto, a Filipini-American. Furrow approaches Ileto and asks him if he can post a letter for him. As Ileto reaches for the piece of mail, Furrow pulls a Glock 9mm pistol and shoots him twice. Ileto attempts to get away, but Furrow pumps seven more bullets into his back. Ileto dies at the scene. Furrow will surrender the next day in Las Vegas, where he has fled the manhunt by state and local officials. He later tells investigators that the shootings are a “wake-up call” to Jews and white supremacist groups, and that he considered Ileto a good target because he was non-white and worked for the government. Police find a book in Furrow’s van extolling the virtues of the “Christian Identity” movement (see 1960s and After). Some will speculate that Furrow was acting as a “Phineas Priest” (see [1990), Christian Identity members who believe God has called them to carry out violent attacks. The book details how to become a “Phineas Priest,” and gives examples of successful actions, including the murder of radio show host Alan Berg (see June 18, 1984 and After). To avoid the death penalty, Furrow will plead guilty and be sentenced to two life sentences without parole, plus 110 years in prison and $690,294 in restitution. The judge will tell him, “Your actions were a reminder that bigotry is alive.” Referring to the support the center victims receive after the shootings, the judge concludes, “If you’ve sent a message, it is that even the most violent crimes can strengthen a community.” [CNN, 1/24/2001; Eye on Hate, 2003; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2010] Investigators will later learn that Furrow may be mentally unstable, and that he was frequently in short-term state psychiatric facilities, where he often expressed his desire to maim and kill. To questions that Furrow should have been involuntarily committed before the community center shootings, psychiatry professor Renee Binder will say: “What does society do with these people? Most people would say that being a racist with violent fantasies is not against the law. Racism is not something that is designated as an illness that can be treated by mental health professionals.” And Seattle official Ron Sims says: “The problem I have is that people are trying to build a case that this killing was done because the man was insane. What he did was cowardly, repulsive, and a very irrational act. But mental illness was not the cause. Hatred was. This guy came out of a culture of hatred.” [New York Times, 8/14/1999]

Entity Tags: North Valley Jewish Community Center, Buford Furrow, Aryan Nations, Joseph Ileto, Renee Binder, Ron Sims

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The White House requests that almost all of the 93 US Attorneys resign their posts forthwith. Among the few not asked to immediately resign are Robert Mueller, the US Attorney for the Northern District of California, who is soon asked to take over as director of the FBI; Paul Warner of Utah, who will stay in his position until 2006; and Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who remains in her post until 2002. In 2002, Justice Department official Kyle Sampson will write in an internal email: “[President] Clinton fired all Bush USAs in one fell swoop. Has been described to me as ‘have your offices cleared out by the end of the week.’ We fired all Clinton USAs (except Mueller and Warner), but staggered it more and permitted some to stay on for several months (including Mary Jo White in SDNY who we permitted to stay on for many months).” [CNN, 2/16/2001; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file; US Department of Justice, United States Attorney's Office, District of Utah, 2009; Biography, 2013] It is unclear who Sampson may have spoken to about the firings.

Entity Tags: D. Kyle Sampson, Mary Jo White, Bush administration (43), Robert S. Mueller III, Paul Warner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Attorney Alejandro N. Mayorkas, who serves the Southern District of California, announces he is stepping down as of April 20. Mayorkas is one of the small number of US Attorneys allowed to keep his position for any length of time after President Bush took office in January (see January 2001). Mayorkas, a Democrat, was appointed during the Clinton administration. He says he is responsible for President Clinton issuing the controversial pardon of convicted cocaine dealer Carlos Vignali Jr.; Mayorkas says he asked the White House to consider the pardon because of his compassion for Vignali’s family. Mayorkas has been US Attorney for something over two years, and supervises the largest US Attorney’s office in the nation. He emphasized the prosecution of hate crimes, environmental crimes, and consumer fraud during his tenure, and won plaudits for his successful prosecution of spree killer Buford Furrow, a white supremacist who killed a Filipino-American and shot four people at a Jewish community center (see August 10, 1999). The Justice Department says there is an extra issue with naming Mayorkas’s replacement. Traditionally, the home-state senators make a list of potential nominees for the president to choose from, but both senators from California are Democrats, as is the governor. Congressional Republicans may be asked to come up with a list. Attorney General John Ashcroft will name an interim prosecutor, or prosecutors, to serve in Mayorkas’s stead for up to 120 days. If no one is confirmed in that time, the US District Court has the authority to name a replacement. [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2001] Former judge Carol Lam will be named as Mayorkas’s replacement (see November 8, 2002). Mayorkas will eventually become the head of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, 8/24/2012]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Buford Furrow, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Clinton administration, Carlos Vignali, Jr., Alejandro N. Mayorkas, John Ashcroft, Carol C. Lam

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Margaret E. Curran announces that she will remain as US Attorney for Rhode Island for the foreseeable future. She is one of a very small number of US Attorneys retained by the Bush administration after President Bush took office in January 2001 (see January 2001). Curran was recommended for retention by Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI). Curran says she is looking forward to “continuing in all of the pending investigations and prosecutions” under way by her office. Chafee called Curran a prosecutor of tremendous “integrity, intelligence, balanced judgment, and outstanding legal skills,” and noted that a large corruption case in Providence, “Operation Plunder Dome,” is still ongoing and needs Curran to continue steering it. Almost all of the 93 US Attorneys appointed by the Clinton administration have been informed that they should resign by June 30. [Providence Journal, 3/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Clinton administration, Lincoln Chafee, Margaret E. Curran

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

David Iglesias.David Iglesias. [Source: Troy Pages / Truthout]David Iglesias is sworn in as the US Attorney for New Mexico. He is the first Hispanic US Attorney for the state. He is a former JAG (judge advocate general) officer for the US Navy, and his defense of two Marines accused of assaulting a fellow officer later became the inspiration for the movie A Few Good Men. [CBS News, 2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Iglesias will later point out that the main character in the movie, a crusading JAG officer played by Tom Cruise, “was based on a composite of the three of us JAGs assigned to the case.” [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 31] Iglesias served in the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) from 1984 through 1988, and continues to serve as a Navy JAG officer in the Naval Reserves. He spent three years as an assistant in the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, then became Assistant City Attorney in Albuquerque from 1991 through 1994. He served in a variety of federal and state legal positions until 2001, when he entered private practice. He ran unsuccessfully as the Republican candidate for New Mexico’s attorney general in 1998, and received the active support of Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). Iglesias will tell the Justice Department that he considered Domenici his mentor and someone who might lend assistance if he continued to pursue a political career. Iglesias joined Heather Wilson (R-NM) at campaign events in 1998, when Wilson won a seat in the House of Representatives. In 2000, Iglesias headed a New Mexico group called “Lawyers for Bush.” After the election, Iglesias submitted his name for the US Attorney position for New Mexico, and again received Domenici’s support for the job. In 2004, Iglesias will be asked by the White House to become the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, and later an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security. Iglesias will turn down these offers. He will also be considered for US Attorney positions in New York and Washington, DC. There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Judge Advocate General Corps, David C. Iglesias, US Department of the Navy, US Department of Justice, Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, Heather A. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for Southern New York, announces that she will be leaving her position by the end of the year. According to a media report, this will impact how a number of ongoing investigations continue, including White’s probe into the last-minute pardons issued by President Clinton. Other investigations by White’s office involve allegations against Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), as well as an investigation into Osama bin Laden’s role in the September 11, 2001 attacks. It is uncertain how those probes will fare. But, says White’s former deputy, Matthew Fishbein, White “may want some resolution before her term ends.” Regardless, Fishbein adds, “[T]his is an office where US Attorneys come and go and the work continues.” White is almost the only US Attorney to retain her seat after President Bush took office in January 2001 (see January 2001). Attorney General John Ashcroft put an assistant in charge of the 9/11 investigation, and that investigation seems to be producing little new information. [Houston Chronicle, 11/23/2001]

Entity Tags: Matthew Fishbein, Hillary Clinton, Mary Jo White, Robert Torricelli, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Carol Lam.Carol Lam. [Source: Common Dreams (,org)]Carol Lam is sworn in as the US Attorney for the Southern District of California. [Talking Points Memo, 2011] Lam is a former Assistant US Attorney, a former California Superior Court judge, and an acknowledged expert on white-collar crime and health care fraud. During her interview process for the US Attorney position, she described herself as “non-partisan,” and said she does not belong to any political party. When asked if she could support the Justice Department’s policies considering that she is not a Republican, she answered that “it is a responsibility of a US Attorney to effect the attorney general’s guidelines in a way that makes sense in the district.” White House Counsel Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) offered Lam the job, at which time she told him that he had not “made things easy by virtue of the fact that I was a non-partisan.” Lam’s ascension to her post was delayed by political infighting between powerful Republicans and Democrats. It is the first time in five years her district has had a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed US Attorney. There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 124; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, US Department of Justice, D. Kyle Sampson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s White House liaison, Susan Richmond, sends an email to all of the department’s presidentially appointed officials, including US Attorneys, reassuring them that the newly re-elected President Bush “will not ask for letters of resignation.” Many had requested clarification as to whether they would be asked to remain or resign during Bush’s second term. Richmond reminds the recipients that “each of us serves at the pleasure of the president.” It is around this same time that Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) becomes involved in discussions with White House counsel Harriet Miers about firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004). Sampson tells Miers that firing all 93 US Attorneys may not be a good idea, and the US Attorneys have an expectation of serving their statutory four-year terms, which do not begin to expire until the fall of 2005. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Notwithstanding the reassurance, Mary Beth Buchanan, the head of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, begins circulating forms for resignation to the US Attorneys. She will later explain, “At the end of the first administration, I was asked to provide United States attorneys with guidance for those who wished to resign at the end of the first administration.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Susan Richmond, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, D. Kyle Sampson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

White House chief counsel Alberto Gonzales discusses firing some or all of the 93 US Attorneys with Kyle Sampson, a Justice Department counsel for Attorney General John Ashcroft (see 2001-2003). White House emails do not definitively show that White House political chief Karl Rove is behind the push to fire the Attorneys, though they do indicate Rove has some involvement. According to a January 2005 email from Sampson (see January 9, 2005), Sampson discusses the matter with Gonzales in late December, and, the email states, “As an operational matter we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—underperforming ones.” It is clear that Sampson is referring to himself and Gonzales as “we.” (Gonzales will later deny any recollection of any such discussion with Sampson.) The White House will later say that the idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys originated with White House counsel Harriet Miers and not Rove (see November 2004). White House spokesperson Dana Perino will say: “Karl Rove has a recollection of hearing it from Harriet and thinking it was a bad idea. There is nothing in this email that changes that.… [It] does not contradict nor is it inconsistent with what we have said.” Miers will not begin her stint as White House counsel until February 2005, calling Perino’s version of events into question, even though Perino will later say that Miers was involved in issues surrounding the job for several months before officially assuming the post. [US News and World Report, 3/16/2007; Talking Points Memo, 3/16/2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011] In March 2007, the Justice Department’s Director of Public Affairs Tasia Scolinos will issue a statement claiming that Gonzales “has no recollection of any plan or discussion” to replace the US Attorneys when he was still White House counsel. Scolinos will note that the December 2004 discussion took place while Gonzales was preparing to transition to the Justice Department as attorney general, and will add that such discussions would have been “appropriate and normal” because the White House was “considering different personnel changes administration-wide.” [US News and World Report, 3/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Dana Perino, D. Kyle Sampson, Tasia Scolinos, Karl C. Rove, Harriet E. Miers, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

White House deputy counsel David Leitch emails Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) regarding the proposed firings of some or all of the 93 US Attorneys (see Late December 2004). Leitch is forwarding an email from Colin Newman, a paralegal in the White House counsel’s office. Newman, via Leitch, is relaying questions from White House political chief Karl Rove. According to Newman, “Karl Rove stopped by to ask [Leitch]… how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we are going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.” In his forward, Leitch asks Sampson if they can discuss the matter. [US Department of Justice, 1/9/2005 pdf file; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; ABC News, 3/15/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 pdf file; Talking Points Memo, 2011] In 2009, Rove will testify about his memory of this email exchange. He will say that he went to Leitch’s office because “I assume I heard rumors that we might be going down the path of trying to get—replace all 93” US Attorneys. He will recall “being told at some point that the idea was dead, and they weren’t going to be pursuing it. I don’t know whether that happened immediately after this or somewhat later.… I don’t know whether it was Mr. Leitch or Ms. Miers [White House counsel Harriet Miers] that conveyed that they were not going to replace all 93.” Rove will say that he did not support Sampson’s plan to remove and replace “15 to 20 percent” of the sitting US Attorneys (see January 9, 2005). “What I was in favor of was Justice Department making an evaluation of the US Attorneys and recommending who they felt to the president ought to be replaced,” Rove will say. “I had no knowledge of the workings of the individual offices sufficient enough to give me a basis on which to make any judgment about whether anybody should be replaced or how many should be replaced.… [I]t was not my role. It was the role of the Justice Department. The White House didn’t have the tools, I certainly didn’t have the tools to make a proper evaluation.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: D. Kyle Sampson, Colin Newman, David Leitch, Karl C. Rove, Harriet E. Miers, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) responds to an email from White House deputy counsel David Leitch regarding the proposed firing of some or all of the nation’s 93 US Attorneys (see January 6, 2005). Sampson confirms that he has spoken with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales about the proposal “a couple of weeks ago” (see Late December 2004). Sampson delineates his “thoughts” to Leitch in four points. He notes that while US Attorneys serve at the “pleasure of the president,” they generally serve four-year terms. (Sampson is aware that all 93 US Attorneys have been informed that they will not be asked to resign as President Bush’s second term commences—see November 4, 2004—and is also aware that Gonzales and White House deputy counsel Harriet Miers are discussing replacing some or all of the US Attorneys—see November 2004 and Late December 2004.) It would be “weird” to ask them to leave before their terms are complete. Sampson goes on to note the “historical” practice of allowing US Attorneys to complete their terms, even if there is a party change in the administration; he does not mention that the incoming 1992 Clinton administration, and the incoming 2000 Bush administration, both asked all or almost all 93 US Attorneys to leave without regard to completing their terms (see March 24, 1993 and January 2001). Sampson then writes that “as an operational matter, we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—the underperforming ones. (This is a rough guess; we might want to consider doing performance evaluations after Judge [Gonzales] comes on board.) The vast majority of US Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc. Due to the history, it would certainly send ripples through the US Attorney community if we told folks that they got one term only (as a general matter, the Reagan US Attorneys appointed in 1981 stayed on through the entire Reagan administration; Bush 41 even had to establish that Reagan-appointed US Attorneys would not be permitted to continue on through the Bush 41 administration—indeed, even performance evaluations likely would create ripples, though this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing).” Sampson predicts that “as a political matter… I suspect that when push comes to shove, home-state senators likely would resist wholesale (or even piecemeal) replacement of US Attorneys they recommended.” However, he writes, “if Karl [Rove, the White House political chief] thinks there would be policitical [sic] will to do it, then so do I.” [US Department of Justice, 1/9/2005 pdf file; ABC News, 3/15/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file; Talking Points Memo, 2011] The original email seems to come from another aide in the White House Counsel’s Office, Colin Newman, who told Leitch that Rove “stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting) ‘how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.’ I told him that you would be on the hill all day for the judge’s hearing, and he said the matter was not urgent.” Leitch responded by forwarding the email to Sampson with the comment, “Let’s discuss.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file] Newman’s email is dated January 6, and the reference to “the judge’s hearing” seems to refer to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales’s contentious hearing on the Geneva Conventions before the Senate Judiciary Committee on that date (see January 6, 2005).
Downplaying White House Involvement - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Leitch will say that he has no recollection of discussing the matter with Sampson, Rove, or anyone else. He will leave the White House Counsel’s Office shortly after this email exchange. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] In 2009, Miers will testify that she does not recall specifics of these discussions. She will say: “I don’t have a recollection of that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that happened, that would be some general discussion of, well, we have the Justice Department saying we have a certain number that we feel should be looked at and that that is better because it doesn’t create the upheaval that removing all of the US Attorneys would have. I think the original discussion did not involve the kind of plan, as that term has been used, that eventually evolved.” At this point, Miers will say, the idea of firing a large number of US Attorneys on the same day had not been discussed. The Justice Department, she will say, would make the decisions as to whom, if anyone, should be terminated, not the White House. Asked specifically about Rove’s Office of Political Affairs (OPA), she will say that it would merely play a consulting role in the process: “I did ask that they assist, in the areas where there might be removals, the location of sources for recommendations. And so the political office was as it is called; they had the political piece.” The Counsel’s Office would not ask OPA for recommendations of replacements for the ousted US Attorneys, she says: “We would turn to them for identification of the sources that you could go to and ask for people to be considered. You wouldn’t turn to them and say tell us who we ought to recommend.” However, “if they had a preference for, someone, they would state it so that they certainly had input.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file] In 2009, Rove will deny ever seeing the email or discussing the matter with Sampson, and will say, “The implication that somehow this was addressed to me and I somehow received it is inaccurate.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file] Miers claims no memory of Rove ever attending a Judicial Selection Committee meeting to discuss the removal of a specific US Attorney. She will recall discussions of the removal of US Attorney David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001) by OPA members, including Rove. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Colin Newman, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), White House Counsel’s Office, White House Office of Political Affairs, Harriet E. Miers, D. Kyle Sampson, Karl C. Rove, Clinton administration, David Leitch, David C. Iglesias

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The White House Office of Political Affairs is notified about the initiative to fire some US Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, and March 2, 2005). Sara Taylor, the new White House political affairs director (replacing Karl Rove, who has moved up to become deputy chief of staff, but who is still Taylor’s immediate supervisor—see Late January 2005), will later tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008) that shortly after she takes the position, she becomes aware that the White House is considering replacing some US Attorneys. Taylor will tell investigators that White House counsel Harriet Miers and others in Miers’s office and in the Justice Department were discussing the idea that the beginning of President Bush’s second term provides a good opportunity to replace some of the Attorneys. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Harriet E. Miers, Sara Taylor, White House Office of Political Affairs, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department official Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003), now the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) as well as the Special Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, sends an email to Gonzales’s successor, senior White House counsel Harriet Miers. Sampson is responding to a late February request for recommendations for firing US Attorneys in case the White House decides to ask for resignations from a “subset” of those officials (see February 24, 2005 and After). In the email, Sampson ranks all 93 US Attorneys, using a set of three broad criteria. Strong performers exhibit “loyalty to the president and attorney general” (see January 9, 2005). Poor performers are, he writes, “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.” A third group is not rated at all. US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001, 2002 and November 14-18, 2005 ) and Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002) appear on the list as “recommended retaining.” Gonzales has approved the idea of firing some of the US Attorneys.
Denoted for Firing - US Attorneys listed for possible firing are: David York of the Southern District of Alabama; H.E. “Bud” Cummins of the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002); Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002); Greg Miller of the Northern District of Florida; David Huber of the Western District of Kentucky; Margaret Chiara of the Western District of Michigan (see November 2, 2001); Jim Greenlee of the Northern District of Mississippi; Dunn O. Lampton of the Southern District of Mississippi; Anna Mills S. Wagoner of the Middle District of North Carolina; John McKay of the Western District of Washington state (see October 24, 2001, Late October 2001 - March 2002, and January 4, 2005); Kasey Warner of the Southern District of West Virginia; and Paula Silsby of Maine. Sampson sends a revised listing later this evening with two more names indicated for possible firing: Thomas B. Heffelfinger of Minnesota and Steven Biskupic of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Sampson says he based his choices on his own personal judgments formed during his work at the White House and the Justice Department, and on input he received from other Justice Department officials. He will later testify that he cannot recall what any specific official told him about any specific US Attorney. He will call this list a “quick and dirty” compilation and a “preliminary list” that would be subject to “further vetting… down the road” from department leaders. [US Department of Justice, 2005 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; US Department of Justice, 3/13/2007 pdf file; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Days later, a Federalist Society lawyer will email Mary Beth Buchanan, the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, with a recommendation for Lam’s replacement (see March 7, 2005).
Later Recollections - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Gonzales will tell investigators that he supported the concept of evaluating the US Attorneys’ performance to see “where we could do better.” Gonzales will say that he instructed Sampson to consult with the senior leadership of the Justice Department, obtain a consensus recommendation as to which US Attorneys should be removed, and coordinate with the White House on the process. Gonzales will say that he never discussed with Sampson how to evaluate US Attorneys or what factors to consider when discussing with department leaders which US Attorneys should be removed. Sampson will say that he did not share the list with Gonzales or any other department officials, but will say he believes he briefed Gonzales on it. Gonzales will say he recalls no such briefing, nor does he recall ever seeing the list. Then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey and then-Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis will tell OIG investigators about their discussions with Sampson. Comey will recall telling Sampson on February 28, 2005 that he felt Ryan and Lampton belonged in the “weak” category, and will say he may have denoted Heffelfinger and another US Attorney, David O’Meilia, as “weak” performers. Comey will say that he was not aware of Sampson’s work with the White House in compiling a list of US Attorneys to be removed. He will say that he considered his conversation with Sampson “casual” and that Sampson “offhandedly” raised the subject with him. Margolis will recall speaking briefly with Sampson about “weak” performers among the US Attorneys in late 2004 or early 2005, but recall little about the conversation. He will remember that Sampson told him about Miers’s idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004), and agreed with Sampson that such a move would be unwise. Margolis will recall Sampson viewing Miers’s idea as a way to replace some US Attorneys for President Bush’s second term, an idea Margolis will say he endorsed. He was not aware that political considerations may be used to compile a list of potential firings. He will recall looking at a list Sampson had of all 93 Attorneys. He will remember citing Ryan and Lampton as poor performers, as well as Chiara. He will remember saying that eight other US Attorneys might warrant replacement. Sampson will tell OIG investigators that he received no immediate reaction from Miers to the list, and will say he did not remember discussing the basis for his recommendations with her. As for McKay, though Washington state Republicans are sending a steady stream of complaints to the White House concerning McKay’s alleged lack of interest in pursuing voter fraud allegations (see December 2004, Late 2004, Late 2004 or Early 2005, January 4, 2005, and January 4, 2005), Sampson will claim to be unaware of any of them and say he would not have used them as justification to advocate for McKay’s termination. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, Kevin Ryan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Margaret M. Chiara, Bush administration (43), Paula Silsby, Steven M. Biskupic, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, John L. McKay, Jim Greenlee, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, James B. Comey Jr., David C. Iglesias, D. Kyle Sampson, David Huber, David Margolis, Kasey Warner, David York, David O’Meilia, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Greg Miller, Dunn O. Lampton, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Timothy Griffin, after being elected as a US representative in 2010.Timothy Griffin, after being elected as a US representative in 2010. [Source: Politico]Timothy Griffin, a former Republican National Committee aide and a veteran Republican political operative (see October 26, 2004), learns that Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), has identified the US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas, Bud Cummins, as one of several US Attorneys who should be fired (see January 9, 2005 and March 2, 2005). Griffin, a lawyer who has twice attempted to secure that position for himself, learns of the news from Sara Taylor, the White House’s new director of political affairs (replacing Karl Rove, who still supervises all political issues from his new position as deputy chief of staff—see Late January 2005). Griffin is considering joining Taylor’s staff, but even before his hiring, he attends several “directors” meetings at the White House. After one of these meetings, Taylor shows him the list of US Attorneys slated for dismissal. The list includes Cummins. Taylor says she does not know why Cummins is on the list, but she believes it may be because he lost his sponsor, Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), when Hutchinson lost his bid for re-election in 2002. Griffin joins Taylor’s staff, and shortly thereafter meets with White House counsel Harriet Miers, who also tells him that the White House is planning to fire Cummins. She asks Griffin if he is interested in the position, and he says he would like the job after completing a stint in the White House. Miers warns him that it might be difficult to have him approved for the position after having worked for the White House Office of Political Affairs. Miers, Rove, and Taylor discuss Griffin’s employment options through the rest of March. Miers tells Rove that she has considered making Griffin a political appointee in one of the two US Attorneys’ offices in Arkansas, or perhaps having Griffin replace the deputy director of the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department. Rove responds, “What about him for the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas?” Miers replies that such a move is “definitely a possibility” because the current US Attorney, Cummins, is going to be replaced. Miers tells Rove that Griffin has spoken with her about his desire for the slot, but for now he wants to stay with the White House. Taylor responds to the exchange by saying in part, “My fear is they end up putting him [Griffin] at Justice (which he does not want to do); it’s a year before he’s made US Attorney, if ever.” In another email, Taylor writes to Rove that Griffin “would love to be US Attorney—he’d love to come here in the meantime.” Griffin accepts the position of deputy director of political affairs at the White House, promising Taylor that he will stay in the position at least after the November 2006 election unless the US Attorney position opens up before then. For his part, Cummins, who is toying with the idea of leaving the position, speaks with Griffin periodically throughout the year about Griffin taking the position after Cummins resigns. Cummins will later say that he always assumed the choice as to if and when to resign would be his, and that he always assumed Griffin would get the job because he is so well connected politically. Griffin later says he never pushed Cummins to leave, but will tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008), “I was laying low.” Griffin will say that to his mind, Cummins’s removal and his own ascension to the post were two separate things. “I didn’t know why he was being fired,” Griffin will say, “but I knew that if he was going to be fired, then I wanted to be considered for that job.” Griffin, a member of the Army Reserve, will leave his White House position in August 2005 to serve as a Judge Advocate General officer in Iraq, and will stay in close contact with officials in both the White House and the Justice Department throughout his yearlong tour of duty. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Bush administration (43), White House Office of Political Affairs, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III, US Department of Justice, Sara Taylor, J. Timothy Griffin, Karl C. Rove, Republican National Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Tim Hutchinson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Associate White House counsel Dabney Friedrich, acting at the behest of her superior, White House counsel Harriet Miers, sends Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), an email asking him to confirm Miers’s understanding that the “plan” to fire and replace selected US Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, and March 2, 2005) is “to wait until each has served a four-year term. She was operating under the assumption that we would act to remove/replace right away.” Sampson replies that he, Friedrich, Miers, and Gonzales should discuss the matter, but he has recommended that the attorneys should be replaced “selectively” after their four-year terms expire. Sampson writes that to do otherwise might cause consternation among home-state politicians and “internal management trouble” within the Justice Department. Sampson emphasizes that he is expressing his views and not those of Gonzales. Friedrich replies with her agreement, and says she would be surprised to hear differently from either Miers or Gonzales. Little is said among the principals in the attorney-firing process for several months. The first expirations will not begin until November 2005, and according to a later Justice Department investigation (see September 29, 2008), Sampson will decide to “back-burner” the issue until later in the year. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Alberto R. Gonzales, Dabney Friedrich, US Department of Justice, D. Kyle Sampson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bud Cummins, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002), does well in his second Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) evaluation by the Justice Department. As with his first EARS evaluation (see April or August 2002), he is described as highly regarded by the judiciary in his district as well as by law enforcement, civil client agencies, and his office personnel. The current EARS evaluation reports that Cummins and his senior management team “effectively managed the office’s operations and personnel.” Under Cummins, the report says, his office has “established strategic goals that were appropriate to meet the priorities of the department and the needs of the district.” Cummins is involved in the day-to-day management of his office, and is active in Justice Department matters, serving on various Attorney General Advisory Committee subcommittees. Cummins also receives high marks for his office’s anti-terrorism, anti-drug, and reduction of gun violence programs. The office focuses strongly on public corruption cases involving state legislators. Cummins is doing a good job of incorporating a number of new and inexperienced assistants into his staff of “very experienced” assistants, though the report recommends that he consider selecting either “a deputy criminal chief, or the creation of units with lead attorneys to assist the criminal chief in the management of the workload and personnel.” The report also finds some incorrect data entries in the Legal Information Office Network System (LIONS). [US House of Representatives, Committee of the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Cummins will be fired shortly after this evaluation is performed (see December 20, 2006). He has already been identified as a target for removal by Justice Department aide Kyle Sampson (see January 9, 2005). All of the US Attorneys on Sampson’s list of targets are described as “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.”

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, D. Kyle Sampson, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), asks Acting Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General William Mercer for his opinion on the performance of a number of US Attorneys. (Mercer is also a US Attorney.) Mercer will later state that Sampson does not say that there is a plan to fire some of the Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, March 2, 2005, and March 23, 2005), but Mercer understands that such is Sampson’s purpose in asking his opinion. Sampson says that changes might be made in certain districts with productivity problems or policy compliance issues. Mercer will later recall discussing issues with US Attorney Carol Lam’s immigration records (see February 2, 2004, July 30, 2004, and September 23, 2005), and will recall discussions about US Attorney Kevin Ryan as well. Mercer will say he and Sampson may discuss other Attorneys as well, but will state he cannot recall who those Attorneys might be. Mercer gets the sense that Sampson is speaking with other people about the issue, but does not know who those people might be. Mercer will say that he and Sampson do not discuss the issue again until December 2006, when the firing plan is activated (see December 7, 2006). [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, D. Kyle Sampson, Kevin J. Ryan, William W. Mercer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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