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Profile: White House Office of Political Affairs (WHOPA)

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White House Office of Political Affairs (WHOPA) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff sends an email to White House aide Susan Ralston, a former Abramoff associate who now works in the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA) under Karl Rove. Abramoff wants Ralston to tell Rove to covertly use his position in the White House to prevent a Louisiana Indian tribe from acquiring land for a casino. (The land acquisition would threaten the interests of an Abramoff client, a different Indian tribe that already has gaming establishments in the area.) Abramoff asks if Rove can give “some quiet message from the WH [White House] that this is absurd.” Ralston agrees, and Abramoff sends her a thank-you reply. But instead of sending the reply to Ralston’s private email account administered by the Republican National Committee (RNC) at sralston@georgewbush.com, he sends it to her official White House email account. The next day, Abramoff’s colleague Kevin Ring alerts Abramoff to the error. Ring writes, “She said it is better to not put this stuff in writing in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.” Abramoff responds: “Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc [Republican National Committee] pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system.” The email will be publicly revealed as part of a Congressional investigation into Abramoff’s criminal enterprises. In 2007, documents will connect this email exchange to thousands of other private emails sent to and from White House officials using the georgewbush.com, gwb43.com, rnchq.com, and other private email domains. Ralston is one of many White House officials to use these outside accounts to communicate with Abramoff and others. Federal law requires that all emails and other communications be preserved as part of the National Archives data storage, for future review. Using private email accounts such as those provided by the RNC, especially for official (and quasi-official) government business, is also a violation of the Presidential Records Law. In March 2007, the House Oversight Committee’s chairman, Henry Waxman (D-CA), will demand that the RNC preserve all White House emails “because of their potential relevance to Congressional investigations.… The email exchanges reviewed by the committee provide evidence that in some instances, White House officials were using the nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.” Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists will say that the use of the RNC email accounts also “shows how closely intertwined the White House is with its partisan allies. The fact that the White House and the RNC are working hand in hand and White House officials are using RNC emails is itself remarkable.” Aftergood recalls the Iran-Contra investigation, where incriminating White House emails were recovered even after officials believed they had been deleted. “People may have learned that lesson,” Aftergood will muse. Since the Iran-Contra investigation, both the first Bush administration and Clinton administration have had issues with suppressing and hiding emails. Steven Hensen, a past president of the Society of American Archivists, will say that the current Bush email practice “clearly looks like an attempt to conceal official business.” Mother Jones reporter Daniel Schulman will agree, writing that “it’s clear that others are taking pains to use alternate email accounts simply to keep their communications from becoming public record.” [Mother Jones, 3/30/2007; Los Angeles Times, 4/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Jack Abramoff, White House Office of Political Affairs, Bush administration (43), Henry A. Waxman, Steven Hensen, Susan Ralston, Daniel Schulman, Karl C. Rove, Kevin Ring, Steven Aftergood, Republican National Committee, National Archives and Records Administration

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

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

Scott Jennings.Scott Jennings. [Source: Brendan Smialowski / New York Times]Scott Jennings, an aide in Karl Rove’s White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA), sends two emails to Rove’s deputy, veteran Republican political operative Timothy Griffin (see October 26, 2004), about the White House’s desire to fire US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001). The emails are part of a larger “chain” sent back and forth between Jennings, Griffin, and other officials. Jennings writes in the first email, sent on May 2: “[W]hat else I can do to move this process forward? Is it too early to formulate a list of extremely capable replacements? There are several I know personally and can recommend.” The email contains a synopsis of claims by Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White and several New Mexico Republicans that Iglesias did not aggressively pursue “hundreds” of voter fraud charges using evidence White and the Republican activists provided (see September 7 - October 6, 2004). The email also states that Iglesias went against the wishes of New Mexico Republicans in creating his “bogus” voter fraud task force (see August 17, 2004, September 7 - October 6, 2004, and September 23 - October 2004), and placed a New Mexico Democrat on the task force who reportedly stated that voter fraud violations were entirely imaginary. The second email, from June 28, reads in part: “I would really like to move forward with getting rid of NM USATTY. I was with CODEL [the New Mexico congressional delegation] this morning, and they are really angry over his lack of action on voter fraud stuff. Iglesias has done nothing. We are getting killed out there.” Griffin responds to the second email, saying: “I hear you. It may not be that easy, though. The president has to want to get rid of him. I will ask counsel’s office to see if it is even in contemplation.” Griffin is referring to the White House Counsel’s Office, headed by Harriet Miers. Leslie Fahrenkopf, a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office, tells Griffin: “He is on my radar screen. I raised it with Harriet a few weeks ago (see May 12 - June 9, 2005) and she would like to wait until his term is up in October 2005. If you think it merits another conversation with her, let me know.” Rove will later testify that he knows nothing of Jennings’s communications with Griffin, and will say: “Obviously, Scott had strong feelings about this, having been involved out there. And, from the review of the documents, he was freelancing a little bit here, apparently.… But it’s clear Scott, from reading this, ‘please let me know what else I can do to move this process forward,’ he’s clearly trying to get Iglesias out.” As for Griffin’s response, Rove will say: “I see this as a brushback. I see Tim Griffin telling a subordinate, I understand, not that easy, this is the president, not you, who is in charge, and I will check on this. I see this as a brushback pass.” Griffin is Jennings’s immediate supervisor in OPA. In 2004, Jennings served as the executive director of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in New Mexico. Rove will say that Jennings has been in touch with New Mexico Republicans who are unhappy with Iglesias’s purported failure to pursue voter fraud charges (see August 17, 2004, September 7 - October 6, 2004, September 15-19, 2004, September 23 - October 2004, and May 6, 2005 and After). [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 8/11/2009] Miers will deny ever seeing the email until years later, when Congress begins investigating the US Attorney firings (see December 7, 2006). She will refuse to speculate on what Jennings might mean by saying, “We are getting killed out there.” Her questioners will ask if he might be referring to a large number of Democratic voter registrations, and Miers will say he could be talking about massive voter fraud issues, though she will add, “I should say, I’m not suggesting I know whether there was voter fraud or not.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, J. Scott Jennings, Leslie Fahrenkauf Doland, David C. Iglesias, J. Timothy Griffin, Darren White, White House Office of Political Affairs, Harriet E. Miers

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Leslie Fahrenkopf, a lawyer in the White House counsel’s office, sends an email to White House counsel Harriet Miers about US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 26, 2004). Fahrenkopf has seen emails from Scott Jennings, an official in the White House Office of Political Affairs, to his boss Timothy Griffin asking that Iglesias be ousted (see May 2 - June 28, 2005). Fahrenkopf writes: “Harriet, per our conversation last week regarding the US Attorney for New Mexico, David Iglesias, I double-checked the dates of Iglesias’s confirmation and appointment. He was confirmed October 11, 2001, and appointed by the president October 16, 2001. You also asked me to remind you to check the chart grading US Attorneys on their performance. Thanks.” Fahrenkopf sends a follow-up email to Miers on June 9, 2005, saying: “Harriet, I just wanted to follow up on this item to see if you wanted to take any action. You will recall that this is the individual who is ruffling some feathers in New Mexico.” Less than an hour after Fahrenkopf sends this email, Miers replies, “I believe the decision is to let his four years run and then appoint someone else, if this is the right case.” Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and the senior political official in the Bush administration (see Late January 2005), will later testify that he “probably” spoke to Miers about Iglesias before the email exchange involving Miers, Fahrenkopf, Jennings, and Griffin. Miers will testify to having no recollection of the email exchange. She will be asked why, if Iglesias had been ranked so highly just months before (see November 14-18, 2005 and March 2, 2005), he was now being considered for firing. Miers will have no answer. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 8/11/2009]

Entity Tags: White House Office of Political Affairs, J. Scott Jennings, Harriet E. Miers, David C. Iglesias, Karl C. Rove, Leslie Fahrenkauf Doland, J. Timothy Griffin

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

New Mexico Republican Party chairman Allen Weh, convinced that US Attorney David Iglesias is an incompetent who is deliberately refusing to prosecute voter fraud cases (see May 6, 2005 and After and May 12 - June 9, 2005), sends an email to Scott Jennings, an official in the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA). He copies the email to Jennings’s supervisors Karl Rove and Sara Taylor (see Late January 2005), Republican National Committee official Timothy Griffin, and Steve Bell, the chief of staff to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). Weh writes in part: “We discussed the need to replace the US Atty in NM several months ago. The brief on voter fraud at the RNC [Republican National Committee] meeting last week reminded me of how important this post is to this issue, and prompted this follow up. As you are aware the incumbent, David Iglesias, has failed miserably in his duty to prosecute voter fraud. To be perfectly candid, he was ‘missing in action’ during the last election, just as he was in the 2002 election cycle. I am advised his term expires, or is renewed, in October. It is respectfully requested that strong consideration be given to replacing him at this point.… If we can get a new US Atty that takes voter fraud seriously, combined with these other initiatives we’ll make some real progress in cleaning up a state notorious for crooked elections.” Griffin responds in an email to Rove and Taylor: “I have discussed this issue with counsel’s office [the White House counsel’s office, headed by Harriet Miers]. I will raise with them again. Last time I spoke with them they were aware of the issue, and they seemed to be considering a change on their own. I will mention again unless I am instructed otherwise.” Twenty minutes later, Rove responds by telling Griffin, “Talk to the counsel’s office.” Griffin replies, “Done,” and adds a bit about setting up a meeting with someone unrelated to the Iglesias-Weh discussion. Rove responds, “Great.” He will later testify that he may have been responding to Griffin about the unrelated meeting. [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; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 pdf file] One of Weh’s Republican colleagues, lawyer Patrick Rogers, recommended that state and national Republicans use voter fraud as a “wedge issue” before the November 2004 elections, and has himself complained about Iglesias’s record on voter fraud investigations (see September 23 - October 2004).

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, David C. Iglesias, Allen Weh, Harriet E. Miers, J. Timothy Griffin, Sara Taylor, Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, White House Office of Political Affairs, J. Scott Jennings, Republican National Committee, New Mexico Republican Party, Steve Bell

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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