Email shows GOP Attorney ReplacementsNY Times
By DAVID JOHNSTON and ERIC LIPTON
April 13, 2007
WASHINGTON, April 13 — A Justice Department e-mail message released on Friday shows that the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales proposed replacement candidates for United States attorneys nearly a year before they were dismissed in December 2006. The department has repeatedly stated that no successors were selected before the dismissals.
The Jan. 9, 2006, e-mail message, written by D. Kyle Sampson, who resigned last month as the top aide to Mr. Gonzales, identified five Bush administration officials, most of them Justice Department employees, whose names were sent to the White House for consideration as possible replacements for prosecutors slated for dismissal.
The e-mail message and several related documents provide the first evidence that Mr. Sampson, the Justice Department official in charge of the dismissals, had focused on who would succeed the ousted prosecutors. Justice officials have repeatedly said that seven of the eight prosecutors were removed without regard to who might succeed them.
Some of the new documents show the department's acute awareness of individual United States attorneys' political and ideological views. An undated spreadsheet attached to a Feb. 12, 2007, e-mail message listed the federal prosecutors who had served under President Bush along with their past work experience.
The chart included a category for Republican Party and campaign work, showing who had been a delegate to a Republican convention or had managed a Republican political campaign. The chart had a separate category indicating who among the prosecutors was a member of the Federalist Society, a Washington-based association that serves as a talent pool for young conservatives seeking appointments in Republican administrations.
Taken together, Democrats asserted, the e-mail supported their contention that the ousted prosecutors were dismissed to make room for favored candidates who were chosen on the basis of their political qualifications as much as prosecutorial experience.
The latest collection of documents, the sixth batch produced by the Justice Department in recent weeks, also cast further light on the frantic scramble by the Bush administration since January to contain the public relations damage caused by the ouster of the eight.
The electronic messages, some written as recently as last month, offer a rare and almost contemporaneous account of the tactics used by a sitting administration trying to manage a political firestorm.
One e-mail message shows the White House urging the Justice Department to call Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, to give him information about the placement of J. Timothy Griffin, a former aide to Karl Rove, as the interim United States attorney in Arkansas.
"WH political reached out to Sen. Sessions and requested that he ask helpful questions to make clear that Tim Griffin is qualified to serve," said a January 2007 e-mail message from Monica Goodling, a former senior aide to Mr. Gonzales, to other department officials. "Here are the talkers on Griffin, as well as a narrative that can be used by staff, and his résumé. I think it would actually be helpful for all of the Rs to have it."
It was not clear whether the "talkers," shorthand for talking points, were sent to Mr. Sessions and other "Rs," or Republicans. But Mr. Sessions, in a later hearing on the matter, ran through all of the highlights, praising Mr. Griffin's résumé, just as the White House and Justice had apparently requested.
Other documents show that Ms. Goodling, the Justice Department's liaison to the White House, prepared a list of reasons in February to explain publicly why the prosecutors had been ousted.
Notes in handwriting identified by a Justice official as Ms. Goodling's run quickly through a list of alleged transgressions by the fired prosecutors, like "incredibly fractured office, morale low, lost confidence of her subordinates and superiors," in describing Margaret Chiara, the former United States attorney from Western Michigan who disputes the claims.
In the case of David Iglesias, who was dismissed as the top federal prosecutor in New Mexico, Ms. Goodling writes of a complaint from Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, a Republican: "Domenici says he doesn't move cases."
The e-mail was among more than 2,000 pages of documents released by the Justice Department as part of a continuing outpouring of more than 6,000 pages of e-mail and other internal records produced in the last month in response to requests by House and Senate committees as the furor over the dismissals has grown. Mr. Gonzales is scheduled to appear on Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Justice Department said that Mr. Sampson's e-mail message did not contradict either his sworn testimony or the department's past statements. Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the department, said: "We have consistently stated that, with the exception of Griffin, individuals were not pre-selected for any of the eight U.S. attorney positions prior to asking the U. S. attorneys to resign. The list made public today had previously been shared privately with Congress, and it in no way contradicts the department's prior statement. The list, drafted 10 months before the December resignations, reflects Kyle Sampson's initial thoughts, not pre-selected candidates by the administration."
Mr. Sampson's lawyer, Bradford Berenson, also denied that the message contradicted Mr. Sampson's testimony. "Kyle's testimony regarding the consideration of replacements was entirely accurate," Mr. Berenson said. "In December 2006, when the seven U.S. attorneys were asked to step down, no specific candidate had been selected to replace any of them, and Kyle had none in mind. Some names had been tentatively suggested for discussion much earlier in the process, but by the time the decision to ask for the resignations was made none had been chosen to serve as a replacement."
The possible replacements selected by Mr. Sampson — with the exception of Mr. Griffin — never materialized, at least in part because the controversy regarding the ousters has pushed aside consideration of who will fill the vacancies. But it is clear from actions taken over the last two years that Justice officials had placed lawyers from department headquarters, who were known to be loyal to Mr. Gonzales and President Bush, into open posts.
The Jan. 9, 2006, e-mail message was sent by Mr. Sampson to Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, and William Kelley, another White House lawyer. In the e-mail, Mr. Sampson proposed the dismissal of a total of seven United States attorneys and named at least one replacement candidate for each prospective vacancy.
Because of deletions in the e-mail copies turned over to Congress, the document discloses only the names of four United States attorneys slated for removal and five of their possible successors. The names of the replacement candidates, in most cases, are followed by a question mark, suggesting that Mr. Sampson might have been uncertain about them.
The United States attorneys identified for removal are four who were ultimately dismissed: Ms. Chiara in Michigan, Kevin Ryan in San Francisco, Carol C. Lam in San Diego and Mr. Cummins in Arkansas. Justice Department officials have acknowledged that Mr. Cummins was an able prosecutor who was removed solely to make room for Mr. Griffin, a former aide to Mr. Rove, the White House senior political adviser who was appointed to the job on a temporary basis.
"Please treat this as confidential," Mr. Sampson wrote in the message. He concluded, "If a decision is made to remove and replace a limited number of U.S. attorneys, then the following might be considered for removal and possible replacement."
Mr. Sampson testified under oath on March 29 at a hearing of Senate Judiciary Committee that he had no candidates in mind to replace any of the fired prosecutors. In his prepared statement, he said that "none of the U.S. attorneys was asked to resign in favor of a particular individual who had already been identified to take the vacant spot."
At one point in the hearing, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, asked Mr. Sampson, "Did you or did you not have in mind specific replacements for the dismissed U.S. attorneys before they were asked to resign on Dec. 7, 2006."
Mr. Sampson, testifying under oath, replied: "I personally did not."
Neil A. Lewis and Scott Shane contributed reporting.