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Profile: White House Counsel’s Office
White House Counsel’s Office was a participant or observer in the following events:
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 ; 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 ; 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 ] 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 ] 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 ] 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 ]
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
Jack Bartling, the legal counsel for Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), calls the White House Counsel’s Office (WHCO) several times to demand that the US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, Todd Graves (see October 11, 2001), be fired. Graves’s single performance review by the Justice Department was excellent (see March 2002), and Bartling’s complaints are not performance-related. Bartling speaks to associate White House counsel Grant Dixton on numerous occasions demanding that Graves be fired. Bartling will speak to Justice Department investigators looking into the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008), and will say that Bond had nothing to do with his efforts to get Graves fired; instead, Bartling will characterize the problem as a “staff issue” being handled by himself and Bond’s chief of staff. Bartling will claim to have never discussed the matter with Bond, as it would have been beneath Bond’s position as “undisputed leader of the Republican congressional delegation in Missouri” to become involved in such a matter. Bartling will say that the demands for Graves’s removal are actually sparked by discord between the staffs of Bond and US Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), Todd Graves’s brother. Representative Graves’s office does “not run business” in a manner the Bond’s staff finds acceptable. Bartling will say that they asked Todd Graves to try to control his brother, but the US Attorney chose not to become involved in the dispute. Bartling will say he raises the issue of Todd Graves’s wife accepting a no-bid contract from Governor Roy Blunt (R-MO) that he says poses a potential conflict of interest for Graves (see February - April 2005). Dixton is the only person in the WHCO who will cooperate with the Justice Department investigation, and he will confirm speaking to Bartling about Graves. According to Dixton, Bartling wants to see Graves removed when Graves’s term of office expires in October 2005. Dixton will say that he cannot recall clearly, but he likely brought the matter to the attention of Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), and to deputy White House counsel William Kelley. Dixton, however, will say that he only spoke to Bartling once, and does not remember speaking to Bartling about Graves’s wife. The Justice Department investigators will determine that Bartling likely spoke to associate White House counsel Richard Klingler as well as Dixton, but Klingler will refuse to cooperate with the investigation. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] The matter will be referred to the Justice Department (see Summer - Fall 2005).
Entity Tags: Jack Bartling, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Grant Dixton, White House Counsel’s Office, William Kelley, D. Kyle Sampson, Richard Klingler, Roy Blunt, US Department of Justice, Todd P. Graves, Sam Graves
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The complaints against US Attorney Todd Graves of Missouri from Jack Bartling, the legal counsel for Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO—see Spring 2005), make their way to the Justice Department. Bartling, who later cooperates with the Justice Department investigators looking into the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008), says he understood from his conversations with officials in the White House Counsel’s Office that the matter is now in the hands of the Justice Department. Moreover, Bartling goes to Washington to interview for a position in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General in the fall of 2005, and during the interview process speaks to Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Elston asks Bartling if Bond is still interested in removing Graves from his position. Elston will also speak to the investigators, and will tell them that he learned that Graves had lost Bond’s support from Bond’s staff, and not from someone in the Justice Department. Elston will also say that he did not discuss with Bartling the reasons why Graves should be fired, but he knows enough about the discord between the Bond staff and the staff of US Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), Todd Graves’s brother, to make some assumptions about the reason for the request. Elston will say he does not bring the matter to the attention of McNulty or anyone else in the department. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
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