Saturday, March 24, 2007

Who Fired The USA Eight?

We've been gradually transcribing and summarizing the Justice Department's document dump over at the Gonzopedia. One document I transcribed today, Document 3-23-07 (10), has been interesting in that sort of way that all train wrecks are interesting. If it didn't happen to you, in other words, it's interesting. If it's happening to you it's devastating and maddening.

The first item in this document, chronologically speaking, is on page two. It's an e-mail from Kyle Sampson, the erstwhile chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto "Abu" Gonzalez, to Harriet Miers, who was the White House Counsel at the time:

From: Kyle Sampson
Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2006 11:02 AM
To: Miers, Harriet; Kelley, William K.
CC: Paul J. McNulty
Subject: USA replacement plan
Importance: High

Harriet/Bill, please see the attached. Please note (1) the plan, by its terms, would commence this week; (2) I have consulted with the DAG, but not yet informed others who would need to be brought into the loop, including Acting Associate AG Bill Mercer, EOUSA Director Mike Battle, and AGAC Chair Johnny Sutton (nor have I informed anyone in Karl's shop, another pre-execution necessity I would recommend); and (3) I am concerned that to execute this plan properly we must all be on the same page and be steeled to withstand any political upheaval that might result (see Step 3); if we start caving to complaining U.S. Attorneys or Senators then we shouldn't do it -- it'll be more trouble than it is worth.

We'll stand by for a green light from you. Upon the green light, we'll (1) circulate the below plan to the list of folks in Step 3 (and ask that you circulate it to Karl's shop), (2) confirm that Kelley is making the Senator/Bush political lead calls, and (3) get Battle making the calls to the USAs. Let us know.

<<USA replacement plan.doc>>

Kyle Sampson
Chief of Staff
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 2

The content of this e-mail has been discussed already in the Internet, but I think one thing should be clear from it that you just don't get from most accounts in the mainstream news. Sampson is addressing this to the White House Counsel's office, not to the WH chief of staff, or some other person who has authority over White House operations. Yet, the document says "We'll stand by for a green light from you." Are we supposed to think that the White House Counsel has the authority to fire U.S. Attorneys? I don't think so. This isn't proof that Bush is behind the firings, but someone in the Administration besides Harriet Miers pulled the trigger. Who is it? We'll need the White House's communications records to know that.

So far, I haven't found that USA replacement plan document. Must be something to do with an upcoming investigation, right?

And you wondered why executive privilege was suddenly so important among the folks who wouldn't hear of it during President Clinton's term in office.

The next e-mail in this set of documents, chronologically, is this one from William Kelley to Catherine Martin, Jeff Jennings, and Debbie Fiddelke. Catherine Martin is identified by Sourcewatch as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Communications Director for Policy and Planning. You might remember her from this chart as someone to whom the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson was leaked and who passed some of that information on to VP Dick Cheney, but I digress. The e-mail says:

From: Kelley, William K.
To:Fiddelke, Debbie S.; Jennings, Jeffery S.; Martin, Catherine
Sent: Fri Nov 17 12:32:06 2006
Subject: FW: USA replacement plan

<<USA replacement plan.doc>>

The email below, and the attached document, reflect a plan by DOJ to replace several US Attorneys. By statute, US Attorneys serve for four year terms, which are commonly (but not always) extended by inaction -- in practice, they serve until replaced. They serve at the pleasure of the President, but often have very strong home-state political juice, including with their Senators.

Before executing this plan, we wanted to give your offices a heads up and seek input on changes that might reduce the profile or political fallout. Thanks.

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 1

I'll leave the bit about how long U.S. Attorneys serve and why to others to discuss, but there does seem to be a bit of defensiveness about that language, don't you think? The only real concern expressed here is political fallout, although as we know, there was actually no real cause for firing at least seven of the USA Eight.

My inference about that attitude is bolstered by the remaining documents.

Next, we have this e-mail from Catherine Martin to Tasia Scolinos:

From: Catherine Martin
Sent: Friday, November 17, 2006 1:29 PM
To: Scolinos, Tasia
Subject: Fw: USA replacement plan
Importance: High

Are you looped in on this? What is your comms plan?

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 1

Apparently, Tasia Scolinos hasn't accomplished enough skullduggery yet to rate her own Sourcewatch page, but according to DoJ, she was named the Director of Public Affairs in early January, 2005. Her position makes it somewhat imperative that she come up with a comms plan, apparently. The plan she came up with was apparently in two parts. Here's what she came up with:

From: Scolinos, Tasia
Sent: Friday, November 17,2006 2:00 PM
To: Catherine Martin
Subject: RE: USA replacement plan

Thanks for flagging - we are not looped in - first I have heard of it. Let me call up there and figure out what is happening here and get back to you.

Also, neither Brian nor I can be on the 3:30 call by the way - conflicting meetings - let me know if that is a problem.

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 1

and here's the second phase, which was hatched about three hours later:

From: Scolinos, Tasia
Sent: Friday, November 17,2006 5:40 PM
To: Catherine Martin
Subject: RE: USA replacement plan

Its only six US attorneys (there are 94) and I think most of them will resign quietly - they don't get anything out of making it public they were asked to leave in terms of future job prospects. I don't see it as being a national story - especially if it phases in over a few months. Any concerns on your end?

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 3

From this, we can infer two things. One is that on November 17 of last year, less than a month before the Pearl Harbor Day firings of the USA Eight, only six were on the block. We'll name them in a moment. The second thing we can infer is that poor Tasia is in way over her head here. It's pretty clear she's never worked with attorneys, particularly the successful, type A sorts who tend to be U.S. Attorneys. Expecting them to keep quiet after being summarily fired for no good reason is about as sensible as expecting Iraqis to throw flowers in our paths after we invaded their country. Oh, wait. Nevermind.

Anyway, even Barry Bonds fails two-thirds of the times he comes to the plate. It's easy to criticize when you're not the one who has to see the ball and hit it.

So, who were the six attorneys at the time? That mystery is cleared up in Ms. Scolinos' last e-mail of this group:

From: Scolinos, Tasia
Sent: Tuesday, November 21,2006 1:20 PM
To: Catherine Martin
Subject: RE: USA replacement plan

* Paul Charlton (D. Ariz.)
* Carol Lam (S.D. Cal.)
* Margaret Chiara (W.D. Mich.)
* Dan Bogden (D. Nev.)
* John McKay (W.D. Wash.)
* David Iglesias (D.N.M.)

The one common link here is that three of them are along the southern border so you could make the connection that DOJ is unhappy with the immigration prosecution numbers in those districts.

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 5

There were, of course, three USAs in that list whose districts were not on the Mexican border, and two USAs whose districts actually border Canada. So not only was Ms. Solinos' geographical knowledge at typical Bush Administration levels, but I think that story would have been a hard sell in any case. Unfortunately, to continue our baseball metaphor, making up a story that's going to cover this one was a bit like hitting a major league fastball when you're blind.

There's an old joke about how there are jobs that are tough to fill because you have to find someone smart enough to do the job but dumb enough to take it. I think being the Bush Administration Justice Department's chief apologist must be one of those jobs.

Anyhow, the two USAs who weren't on that list yet are Kevin Ryan and Bud Cummins. Ryan, according to reports such as this, is the only one that may have deserved to be fired. Paul Kiel of TPM Muckraker put it this way:

Just let that sink in. In the only case where there was a strong case for firing, the DoJ had to be extorted to do it.

Today's Must Read

From the documents, it's clear they weren't considering it in mid-November. I'm not sure why Cummins wasn't on this list, but documents from earlier in the year had already mentioned him by name as being on the block. Perhaps by November his firing was a fait accompli.

So, the question remains, who really authorized the firings? Clearly, it wasn't Catherine Martin or Harriet Miers. They might have had the authority to fire someone in their own departments, but that's about it. The "juice", to coin a term, needed to fire someone in another department lies elsewhere in the White House.

UPDATE (March 25): Christy Hardin Smith riffs on the subject of Cathie Martin at FDL.

UPDATE2 (March 25): Speaking of who fired the USA Eight, shoephone has an interesting question or two at Evergreen Politics this morning. While this is centered on the fate of John McKay, the US Attorney for Western Washington, you can bet this question can be asked of all seven of the US Attorneys not named Kevin Ryan. Here's why:

In a Decemeber 4, 2006 email, Sampson tells then-White House counsel Harriet Miers of the protocol DOJ came up with for notifying home-state Republicans of the impending firings of their USAs. This was the protocol:

-AG calls Kyl
In a Decemeber 4, 2006 email, [DoJ Chief of Staff Kyle] Sampson tells then-White House counsel Harriet Miers of the protocol DOJ came up with for notifying home-state Republicans of the impending firings of their USAs. This was the protocol:

-AG calls Kyl

-Harriet/Bill call Ensign and Domenici

-White House OPA calls California, Michigan, Washington "leads"
-Harriet/Bill call Ensign and Domenici

-White House OPA [Karl Rove's Office of Political Affairs] calls California, Michigan, Washington "leads"

There's a pattern to these stories, no?

UPDATE3 (March 25): Finally corrected the links to the Gonzopedia, the Sourcewatch page on Catherine Martin, and the Evergreen Politics article on John McKay.


Anonymous said...

What a great job you've done in compiling the pdfs and highlighting the salient points and burning questions. I stayed up until almost 3 am looking through the new batch of docs and the one thing that jumped out at me was how early on in the game the DOJ and its advisors were strategizing how to put that power-grabbing amendment to appoint USAs into Patriot Act II. The emails btw Dan Collins and Moschella started back in 2003. (doc3, pp. 7) and in the ones from 6/16/04, (doc3, pp.9-10):

(Moschella): "You indicated to me (a pet peeve of yours I think) that federal judges have the ability to appoint acting USAs. What is the code section? There is a potential vehicle for an amendment to fix that constitutional anomaly."

Collins, in response, discusses "options to fixing the problem" w/ provision title 28 USC 546(d).

Here they are devising their plan to get around the 120-day rule where the AG makes the interim appointment and then the federal court makes the permanent appointment (which is likely confirmed by Senate.)

Collins writes : "You could just give the AG both appointments" and then suggests how to write the amendment to repeal the current rule.

*Remember, it's still only 2004, two years before Patriot Act II passage.*

There is a series of emails (doc 3, pp. 17-18) on 11/11/05 between Brett Tolman (the Patriot Act II perp), Moschella, Goodling, Battle and Voris all referencing Collins' idea.

Moschella writes: "An amendment was floated by one of our friends during Patriot negotiations that would eliminate court's ability to appoint acting USAs. We... believe that the AG should have that authority alone."

Finally, on the same day, doc 3, pp. 20, Moschella emails Tolman:

"Judges should not be appointing USAs period for separation of powers issue."

Getting their talking points together.

Clearly the emails we see are keeping Abu out of the discussions, but I wonder about all the blackberry communications, going through a different server. And Rove is known to use a blackberry for almost all his communications...

Abu is expendable. The WH knows he won't ever betray the godfather, and anyway, his fingerprints are all over the torture and wiretapping operations. All roads lead to Rove. Just the fact that Rove's assistant, Glynda Becker, was the one fielding complaints from the WA State GOP about McKay and then Rove relayed those complaints directly to Abu and Miers. (And then -- not documented yet -- who did Miers talk to about it? POTUS.) And then POTUS talked about it with Abu. The phony voter fraud games are in Rove's blood. It goes way back.

Sorry for the long comment, Cujo. There is so much in those docs it's a wonder the clowns at the DOJ thought they could hide anything by muddying them up with countless repeats, docs out of chronological order, redactions, missing emails, and dumping it all on a Friday night.

I just hope that Leahy can rein in Schumer's grandstanding and Reid's Mr. Magoo act.

Cujo359 said...

Hi shoephone,

Abu and W go back a long way. Someone mentioned that he was instrumental in getting W out of some legal trouble a while back. (Unfortunately, I don't remember where). Anyhow, he's not going to blab, and he shouldn't really have to. There must be emails or other communications at the White House about this one. White House Counsels and Deputy Assistant Whatevers don't normally get to fire anyone in a different government department. That takes someone like the AG, the President, or perhaps one of his top aides like Rove. In any event, it's the President's decision in the end, so if he didn't ask the right questions then he's responsible, also.

We'll be digging into more documents. If you already have notes on some documents, please feel free to leave them in the appropriate pages in the Gonzopedia.

Anonymous said...

Cujo - Yesterday, I read that Abu got Bush out of a mess in 1996 when he (Bush) was called for jury duty in Texas. As governor (or gubernatorial candidate, not sure when in '96 this was) he couldn't possibly have dodged jury duty and escaped vilification in the press. The problem was that the jury form asks if you've ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. Bush had DUIs on his record (something that hardly anyone knew because, up until that point, Daddy had made sure those things had been kept from the prying eyes of the media.) But lying on the form would have been a felony. So, stuck between a rock and a hard place, Abu, Bush's pal and consigliere, went to have a private chat with the judge and they worked out a deal where the DUIs would still be kept secret and Bush could serve on the jury.

So, he started committing conspiracies and perjuries early on, and Abu should be disbarred, and possibly jailed, for his complicity in the matter. And I'd love to know who the judge was. I wish I could remeber where I read it so I could give you a link. I'll search around for that...