Read documents released by the Department of Justice to the House Judiciary Committee.
Skip to comments.Bush Warns Dems to Take Offer in Firings ~ No Oaths and Gonzales stays....
Posted on 03/20/2007 5:03:53 PM PDT by Ernest_at_the_Beach
WASHINGTON (AP) -
0320dv-us-attorneys A defiant President Bush warned Democrats Tuesday to accept his offer to have top aides testify about the firings of federal prosecutors only privately and not under oath or risk a constitutional showdown from which he would not back down.
Democrats' response to his proposal was swift and firm: They said they would start authorizing subpoenas as soon as Wednesday for the White House aides.
"Testimony should be on the record and under oath. That's the formula for true accountability," said Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Bush, in a late-afternoon statement at the White House, said, "We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants. ... I have proposed a reasonable way to avoid an impasse."
He added that federal prosecutors work for him and it is natural to consider replacing them. "There is no indication that anybody did anything improper," the president said.
Bush gave his embattled attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, a boost during an early morning call and ended the day with a public statement repeating it. "He's got support with me," Bush said.
The Senate, meanwhile, voted to strip Gonzales of his authority to fill U.S. attorney vacancies without Senate confirmation. Democrats contend the Justice Department and White House purged eight federal prosecutors, some of whom were leading political corruption investigations, after a change in the Patriot Act gave Gonzales the new authority.
Several Democrats, including presidential hopefuls Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barrack Obama, Joe Biden and John Edwards, have called for Gonzales' ouster or resignation. So have a handful of Republican lawmakers.
"What happened in this case sends a signal really through intimidation by purge: 'Don't quarrel with us any longer,'" said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a former U.S. attorney who spent much of Monday evening paging through 3,000 documents released by the Justice Department.
Bush said his White House counsel, Fred Fielding, told lawmakers they could interview presidential counselor Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and their deputies - but only on the president's terms: in private, "without the need for an oath" and without a transcript.
The president cast the offer as virtually unprecedented and a reasonable way for Congress to get all the information it needs about the matter.
"If the Democrats truly do want to move forward and find the right information, they ought to accept what I proposed," Bush said. "If scoring political points is the desire, then the rejection of this reasonable proposal will really be evident for the American people to see."
Bush said he would aggressively fight in court any attempt to subpoena White House aides.
"If the staff of a president operated in constant fear of being hauled before various committees to discuss internal deliberations, the president would not receive candid advice and the American people would be ill-served," he said. "I'm sorry the situation has gotten to where it's got, but that's Washington, D.C., for you. You know there's a lot of politics in this town."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is leading the Senate probe into the firings, spoke dismissively of the deal offered by the White House:
"It's sort of giving us the opportunity to talk to them, but not giving us the opportunity to get to the bottom of what really happened here."
Even without oaths, Bush aides would be legally required to tell the truth to Congress. But without a transcript of their comments, "it would be almost meaningless to say that they would be under some kind of legal sanction," Schumer complained.
Fielding's meeting on Capitol Hill came a few hours after Bush spoke with Gonzales in an early morning phone call - their first conversation since the president had acknowledged mistakes by his longtime friend and lawmakers of both parties had called for Gonzales' ouster.
The White House offered to arrange interviews with Rove, Miers, deputy White House counsel William Kelley and J. Scott Jennings, a deputy to White House political director Sara Taylor, who works for Rove.
"Such interviews would be private and conducted without the need for an oath, transcript, subsequent testimony or the subsequent issuance of subpoenas," Fielding said in a letter to the Senate and House Judiciary committees and their ranking Republicans.
He said documents released by the Justice Department "do not reflect that any U.S. attorney was replaced to interfere with a pending or future criminal investigation or for any other improper reason."
Associated Press writer Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.
Among the excerpts from 3,000 pages of documents the Justice Department turned over to Congress late Monday night:
-Feb. 1, 2007 e-mail from Justice Department aide Michael Elston to department official Richard Hertling with a copy to Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson:
Subject: Bud Cummins
just called to let me know that Pryor's and Schumer's staff have called and asked him to testify on Tuesday. He declined, but wanted to know if we wanted him to testify - would tell the truth about his circumstances.
-Feb. 1, 2007 response from Sampson to others in the department including No. 2 official Paul McNulty, the deputy attorney general:
Subject: Re: Bud Cummins
I don't think he should. How would he answer: Did you resign voluntarily? Were you told why you were being asked to resign? Who told you? When did they tell you? What did they say? Did you ever talk to Tim Griffin about his becoming U.S. attorney? What did Griffin say? Did Griffin ever talk about being AG appointed and avoiding Senate confirmation? Were you asked to resign because you were underperforming? Were you asked to resign because you were underperforming? If not, then why?
-Feb. 1, 2007 e-mail from U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty:
Paul: ... Michael Elston informed me that I must vacate my position by March 1. Therefore, I plan to announce my resignation on the afternoon of Feb. 14 or the morning of Feb. 15. I need all the time, salary and benefits available so my resignation will be effective on Feb. 28.
FYI: Everyone who knows about my required resignation, primarily our USA colleagues and people who are providing references, is astonished that I am being asked to leave. Now that it has been widely reported that departing USAs have either failed to meet performance expectations or that they acted independently ... the situation is so much worse. You know that I am in neither category. This makes me so sad. Why have I been asked to resign? The real reason, especially if true, would be a lot easier to live with. Margaret.
-March 4, 2007 e-mail from Chiara to McNulty:
Paul: As you know, I have assiduously avoided public comment by pursuing an informal version of the "witness protection program" in order to elude reporters! However, the legal community in Grand Rapids and organizations throughout Michigan are outraged that I am being labeled "a poor performer." Politics may not be a pleasant reason but the truth is compelling. Know that I am considered a personification of ethics and productivity.
-Oct. 17, 2006 e-mail from Sampson to Elston:
Subject: FW: United States Attorneys
See below for my list of U.S. Attorneys we should consider replacing. Does it match up with yours.
By PETE YOST and LARA JAKES JORDAN
Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) -
0319dv-fired-attorneys President Bush sent a powerful message of support Tuesday for embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, calling his longtime friend to express unwavering support in the face of calls for his resignation.
The White House also denied reports that it was looking for possible successors for Gonzales. "Those rumors are untrue," White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.
Bush called Gonzales from the Oval Office at 7:15 a.m. EDT and they spoke for several minutes about the political uproar over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, an issue that has thrust the attorney general into controversy and raised questions about whether he can survive. The White House disclosed Bush's call to bolster Gonzales and attempt to rally Republicans to support him.
"The president reaffirmed his strong backing of the attorney general and his support for him," Perino said. "The president called him to reaffirm his support."
Former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay had said earlier Tuesday that the scandal "is just a taste of what's going to be like for the next two years."
"And the Bush administration sort of showed their weakness when they got rid of Don Rumsfeld," the Texan said on NBC's "Today" show. "... This is a made up scandal. There is no evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever. ... They ought to be fighting back."
Bush's call came as congressional investigators sifted through 3,000-pages of e-mails and other material concerning the dismissal of the prosecutors. Some of the documents spelled out fears in the Bush administration that the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys might not stand up to scrutiny.
The documents were not the end of the inquiry. House and Senate panels later in the week expected to approve subpoenas to White House aides Karl Rove, former counsel Harriet Miers and others. Miers' successor, Fred Fielding, was to tell the Judiciary Committees later Tuesday whether and under what conditions Bush would allow the officials to testify.
But the documents told more of the story of the run-up to the firings and the administration's attempt to choreograph them to reduce the bloodletting. It didn't work out that way - the prosecutors were shocked and angered by the dismissals, the lack of explanation from the Justice Department and news reports that the administration fired the eight for performance reasons.
The bubbling discontent worried Justice Department officials. Of particular concern, according to some references in the 3,000 pages of e-mails and other material released late Monday, was the prospect of former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins testifying before Congress.
"I don't think he should," Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, wrote in a Feb. 1 e-mail. "How would he answer: Did you resign voluntarily? Who told you? What did they say?"
Cummins was relieved as U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark., and replaced by Tim Griffin, a former assistant to top White House aide Karl Rove.
In his e-mail to colleagues, Sampson listed more questions that Cummins might have to answer if he were to testify to Congress: "Did you ever talk to Tim Griffin about his becoming U.S. attorney? What did Griffin say? Did Griffin ever talk about being AG appointed and avoiding Senate confirmation? Were you asked to resign because you were underperforming? If not, then why?"
The documents that Congress will focus on in the coming days show that Gonzales was unhappy with how Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty explained the firings to the Senate Judiciary Committee in early February.
"The Attorney General is extremely upset with the stories on the US Attys this morning," Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse, who was traveling with Gonzales in South America at the time, wrote in a Feb. 7 e-mail. "He also thought some of the DAG's statements were inaccurate."
In a statement Monday night, Roehrkasse said he was referring to Gonzales' concerns over the firing of Bud Cummins in Little Rock, who he believed was dismissed because of performance issues. At the hearing, McNulty indicated Cummins was being replaced by a political ally.
Neither of the two most senior Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are stepping forward to endorse Gonzales, but likewise are not calling for his ouster. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said he will reserve judgment until he gets all the facts. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has not given interviews on the subject, his spokesman said.
Speculation has abounded over who might succeed Gonzales if he doesn't survive the current political tumult. Possible candidates include White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein, federal appeals judge Laurence Silberman and PepsiCo attorney Larry Thompson, who was the government's highest ranking black law enforcement official when he was deputy attorney general during Bush's first term.
Among the e-mails released Monday was one McNulty received on Feb. 1 from Margaret Chiara, the U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids, Mich.
"Why have I been asked to resign?" she asked.
Early this month, she wrote McNulty again, saying that "I respectfully request that you reconsider the rationale of poor performance as the basis for my dismissal. It is in our mutual interest to retract this erroneous explanation."
She added: "Politics may not be a pleasant reason but the truth is compelling."
Chiara asked McNulty to "endorse or otherwise encourage my selection" as assistant director at the Justice Department's National Advocacy Center, which trains federal, state and local prosecutors.
In one uncomfortable exchange with Chiara, McNulty aide Mike Elston said, "our only choice is to continue to be truthful about this entire matter."
"The word performance obviously has not set well with you and your colleagues," Elston wrote. "By that word we only meant to convey that there were issues about policy, priorities and management/leadership that we felt were important to the Department's effectiveness."
On the Net:
House Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.house.gov
Like you got to the bottom of the fraudulent Plame outing or the Sandy Burglar mess. Yeah, big f'n deal. Schumer and the other crackpot Democrats have nothing further of substance to add to pretty much anything anymore.
I've heard this twice now, each time only a single sentence. Is this a threat or a done deal?
Is Robert Bork available if Gonzales is forced out?
There are other longer threads ....but things are moving fast!
Although I would be happy enough to see Gonzales leave for no reason at all, "W" should hold out for a trade ~ we give them Al and they give us Schumer, Leahy and Obamasama.
Slick"s first official was to fire ALL 93 US attorneys. What's going on?
All Things Considered, March 20, 2007 · The White House and Congress squared off today over the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys in 2006. The question is whether White House officials will testify voluntarily on their terms or under subpoena on Congress's terms.
The White House says it will make Karl Rove and former counsel Harriet Miers available to testify but not under oath about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
In a brief press appearance Tuesday afternoon, President Bush insisted that no one on his staff had done anything improper, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who has taken the blame for what he acknowledged as "mistakes" in the way the events were handled.
"We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants," Mr. Bush said.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said in response to the White House's offer that testimony from administration officials "should be on the record and under oath. That's the formula for true accountability."
Lawmakers say they still have many questions about the firings, despite the release of documents intended to explain what happened. Late Monday, the Justice Department released thousands of pages of documents about the firings.
March 20, 2007: The White House offers to make political strategist Karl Rove and former counsel Harriet Miers available for interviews, but not testimony under oath, before congressional committees investigating the U.S. attorney firings.
Read documents released by the Department of Justice to the House Judiciary Committee.
The struggle between the White House and Congress over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys intensified Tuesday. President Bush accused Democrats on Capitol Hill of playing partisan politics and said he would not allow his top aides to testify under oath about the firings.
The White House offered instead to allow presidential adviser Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and others to be interviewed in private by congressional committees.
Democrats quickly rejected the proposal. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said the "testimony should be on the record and under oath." The president said that would set a bad precedent and hurt his ability to get good advice. The president called his own proposal "reasonable" and said the White House would not go along with "partisan fishing expeditions."
But lawmakers say they still have many questions about the firings, despite the Justice Department's release Monday night of 3,000 pages of internal documents. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, complained about redactions, and said: "One of the many things I want to look at in Appropriations is how much they're spending on White-Out, because they're certainly not spending much on print. We're not getting a full answer."
Lawmakers continued to call for Gonzales to resign because of the way he handled the prosecutors' dismissals. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado became the latest Republican to demand that the attorney general step down, saying he was disturbed by Gonzales' "repeated failure to enforce the law." Tancredo, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, is among those who are expressing displeasure that the Justice Department has not pursued more illegal immigration cases.
President Bush said there's no indication that anybody did anything improper. He said Gonzales has his support, and the attorney general will be available to go to Capitol Hill to explain why the prosecutors were fired. The White House denied rumors that the president is looking for a replacement for Gonzales.
Meanwhile, congressional staffers sifted through the 3,000 pages of newly released documents. The e-mails and letters paint a picture of eight U.S. attorneys trying to make sense of their dismissals, as the Justice Department hunkered down to weather the fallout and sometimes mocked the people who were fired. Running throughout the papers are concerns that prosecutors have not been pursuing enough illegal immigration cases, or that they failed to manage their offices effectively.
The papers include charts listing each of the fired attorneys, with notations about their "leadership skills" and performance evaluations.
For example, the charts say that Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney in Arizona, exhibited "repeated instances of insubordination, actions taken contrary to instructions, and actions taken that were clearly unauthorized." The charts also said that he "worked outside of proper channels."
John McKay, the U.S. attorney in western Washington state, was noted for a "pattern of insubordination" and "poor judgment." Although another version of the same chart has someone crossing out the word "insubordination."
In separate assessments, marked "Sensitive/Personnel: Not for distribution PRIVACY ACT PROTECTED," the fired attorneys are also critiqued. For example, under Kevin Ryan, the U.S. attorney in Northern California, the document says: "The district has become one of the most fractured offices in the Nation" and "the problems here have been so significant that it has required multiple on-site visits."
The documents also show the administration's efforts to minimize the political fallout.
In a Jan. 30, 2007, e-mail, Kyle Sampson, who resigned last week as the attorney general's chief of staff, noted a Justice Department letter to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) about the interim appointment of Tim Griffin to replace "Bud" Cummins as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Sampson says, if Pryor tries to accuse the administration of "a conspiracy to keep Tim in office, etc., etc., then we'll want to have this letter to wave around."
In the letter, which Sampson says was "cleared" by the White House, the Justice Department says: "At no time has the Administration sought to avoid the Senate confirmation process by appointing an interim United States Attorney and then refusing to move forward, in consultation with home-state Senators, on the selection, nomination and confirmation of a new United States Attorney. Not once."
But in a Dec. 19, 2006, e-mail, released earlier, Sampson says of efforts by Arkansas' two Democratic senators to pick a permanent replacement for Cummins: "I think we should gum this to death . All this should be done in 'good faith' of course."
The documents also show that Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney in Southern California, was under intense pressure from members of Congress for not pursuing enough illegal immigration cases. In one e-mail, she discusses a meeting with two lawmakers in which she explained that, with limited resources, she has to make a choice whether to "prosecute the coyotes who are smuggling but not endangering anyone, or the rapists and murderers who are coming back to rape and murder again."
Lam says that the meeting "was fine (at least I think it was)." Rebecca Seidel, a deputy assistant attorney general, passed the Lam e-mail along, adding: "Sounds like she handled well."
The personal toll of the firings was also apparent in the documents. In a Feb. 1, 2007, e-mail, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, Margaret Chiara, wrote to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty:
Everyone who knows about my required resignation is astonished that I am being asked to leave. Now that it has been widely reported that departing U.S. Attorneys have either failed to meet performance expectations or that they acted independently rather than follow Justice Department directives, the situation is so much worse. You know that I am in neither category. This makes me so sad. Why have I been asked to resign? The real reason, especially if true, would be a lot easier to live with. Margaret.
At the end of February, Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos e-mailed a group of her colleagues to ask how to handle the announcement of Chiara's departure:
I believe this will generate another round of rough stories as expected. Her press release paints a pretty darn good record and emphasizes her many "firsts" as a woman, which the media will no doubt play up.
A month later, Chiara again wrote the deputy attorney general with a plea:
Paul: I respectfully request that you reconsider the rationale of poor performance as the basis for my dismissal ... politics may not be a pleasant reason, but the truth is compelling. Know that I am considered a personification of ethics and productivity ... the notoriety of being one of the eight fired U.S. attorneys coupled with my age being constantly cited in the press is proving to be a formidable obstacle in seeking employment.
In the case of Bud Cummins of Arkansas, a chain of e-mail showed miscommunication and anger among the Justice Departrment's leaders over the rationale for the man's dismissal.
After Deputy Attorney General McNulty told Congress that Cummins was asked to step down so a political ally could take his place, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse wrote:
The Attorney General is extremely upset with the stories on the U.S. attorneys this morning ... he also thought some of the deputy attorney general's statements were inaccurate ... from a straight news perspective, we just want the stories to die...
In a statement Monday night, Roehrkasse said Gonzales was upset because he believed Cummins was fired because of performance issues.
Cummins wrote a letter to the Justice Department saying, "I have no hard feelings."
In an e-mail, he discusses writing a letter in support of his replacement, Tim Griffin, but adds: "As predicted, my wife is strongly opposed to me writing on Tim's behalf, so I still have some work to do there."
He told the Justice Department that he had been asked to testify before Congress, saying "I'm completely neutral to testifying."
Sampson, the former chief of staff, wrote in an earlier e-mail that he thought it would be a bad idea for Cummins to testify, asking how he would answer the following questions:
Did you resign voluntarily? Were you told why you were being asked to resign? Did Griffin [Cummins' replacement] ever talk about being attorney general-appointed and avoiding Senate confirmation?
A month later, Sampson wrote to the Justice Department spokespeople with some good news for them. That e-mail says that according to the top lawyer to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the U.S. attorneys issue "has basically run its course."
"They need to get a little more information from us," Sampson predicted. "But that will be it."
Looks like it's a done deal at least for the Senate
"The U.S. Senate voted 94-2 Tuesday to strip U.S. President George Bush of the power to bypass the confirmation process for U.S. attorneys."
Interestingly the only two senators who opposed the measure were Chuck Hagel and Christopher Bond.
If that's the way you want it; prepare to be on the receiving end of it, Leahy.
He has them pegged....and has exposed them in public.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should save President Bush the trouble of asking for it a procedure that obviously pains the president when it come to loyal aides and submit his resignation immediately.
Gonzales may well be a decent person with a compelling personal history. And the position of attorney general has certainly been politicized in our recent history. But Gonzales seems to be out of his depth as attorney general and has a history of
supporting interpretations of the law that grant powers to the executive branch that undermine our constitutional system of checks and balances.
The peremptory firings of eight U.S. attorneys that precipitated the current crisis is troubling, but may be the least of Gonzales trespasses against limited
U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president rather than for fixed terms. But they have been insulated (albeit imperfectly) from political pressures by important customs and practices that give them
independence when they make life-and-death decisions about which cases to prosecute and whom to indict in their districts. The evidence, however, keeps growing that these eight were removed because of discontent in the White House with the political ramifications of such decisions.
The inept handling of these firings may reflect the naivete of an administration that during its first six years in power never faced a Congress controlled by the opposition party. But this case merely scratches the surface of Gonzales unsuitability for the position he holds.
Before becoming attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, who had been George W. Bushs personal lawyer and held a number of positions in Texas, was White House counsel. As such he played an integral role in formulating administration policy on coercive interrogations.
He was influential in advising that the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners of war did not apply to al-Qaida members and to those detained at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, and he was active in seeking legal authority for harsh interrogation tactics that the intelligence community found troubling and that went beyond the tactics enshrined in longstanding military directives.
In addition, he was an active promoter of the program of warrantless surveillance of U.S. residents (presumably in contact with foreigners suspected of having connections to terrorist organizations) that seems to violate the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And it was on his watch that the FBI mishandled a troubling number of National Security Letters that authorize surveillance without judicial oversight.
The extent to which these actions presume the presidents wartime powers are so expansive that they may override existing law and longstanding moral scruples is highlighted in the 2002 Bybee memorandum which Gonzales and White House counsel requested from the Office of Legal Counsel. That memorandum suggested existing U.S. laws outlawing torture might be unconstitutional if they encroached on the presidents power to conduct a military campaign. This kind of reasoning flew in the face of Supreme Court precedent that the presidents power is at its minimum when Congress has legislated on a subject and was repudiated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, where the court made clear that a state of war does not give the president a blank check.
The U.S. Justice Department has since repudiated the Bybee memorandum, but to our knowledge Gonzales never has.
Winking and nodding at torture or near-torture has confused those soldiers who must implement these policies in the field and contradicted the U.S. Army Field Manual, which categorically prohibited torture and coercion.
I am so sick of our politicians. They should all be gotten rid of. I am ashamed that they can not conduct the business they were elected to do. They are too busy fighting with each other. Why don't they leave office and grow up.
Bring it. A showdown is exactly what the GOP needs. I'm ready to see the White House start kicking some a**.
This has nothing to do with the firings. They want a new AG.
I'd personally like to horsewhip him on the Mall in D.C.
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