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Context of 'November 4, 2004: White House Reassures US Attorneys, Other Presidential Appointees They Will Not Be Asked to Resign'

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Kyle Sampson.Kyle Sampson. [Source: Legal Times]D. Kyle Sampson, a young lawyer from Utah and a former Republican staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, takes a position at the White House as special assistant to the president and associate director for presidential personnel. He handles presidential appointments for the Justice Department, among other duties. During this time period, he is also named associate counsel to the president, where he works on legislative, policy, and environmental matters. In August 2003, Sampson moves to the Justice Department, where he serves as a counsel for Attorney General John Ashcroft. After joining the White House counsel’s office in September 2001, Sampson increases his involvement in the selection of US Attorneys. He serves on the interviewing panel for many US Attorney interviewees, and becomes the White House representative for US Attorney appointments. He is responsible for reviewing the resumes and questionnaires of all US Attorney candidates and their background files. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, D. Kyle Sampson, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice

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

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

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

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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