Bush administration U.S. attorney firings controversy

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In late 2006, the Bush Justice Department fired (or asked for the resignation of) eight U.S. attorneys all previously appointed by President George W. Bush. Earlier in 2006, a provision included in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act allowed these positions to be filled by the administration without U.S. Senate approval. In early 2007, hearings were held on the matter in both the House and Senate Judiciary committees on the firings. Several of the fired attorneys testified that they had been contacted by members of Congress or executive officials about pending cases shortly before their termination. Such contact by members of Congress is a violation of both House and Senate rules.

Note: H.E. "Bud" Cummins was asked to resign as early as June 2006 and other AUSAs were marked for replacement. See Tim Griffin article.

The firings of the U.S. attorneys was emblematic of a broader scandal involving the Bush administration's politicization of the Department of Justice.


Contents

Chain of events

Timeline:
Bush administration U.S. attorney firings controversy
  • Mar. 30, 2006: PATRIOT Act reauthorization passes with provision allowing appointment of US attorneys without Senate confirmation.
  • Dec. 7, 2006: U.S. attorneys were fired.
  • Jan. 9, 2007: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, which would repeal related provisions granted in the 2006 PATRIOT Act.
  • Jan. 18, 2007: Alberto Gonzales acknowledged the firings.
  • Feb. 20, 2007: Department of Justice officials allegedly contacted the fired attorneys warning them to "remain quiet about their dismissals."
  • Mar. 1, 2007: The House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas to four of the fired prosecutors.
  • Mar. 5, 2007: Michael Battle, who had personally made the calls firing the attorneys, resigned. The House Judiciary Committee issued additional subpoenas to two other fired attorneys.
  • Mar. 6, 2007: Hearings were held in which the fired attorneys testified.
  • Mar. 12, 2007: Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff, resigned after he acknowledged that he withheld information from Congress. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) states that he would block the passage of the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007.
  • Mar. 14, 2007: The White House responded with additional reasons why the attorneys were fired besides being "performance related." Reasons included "lax voter-fraud investigations".
  • Mar. 15, 2007: The Senate Judiciary Committee widened the number of approved subpoenas to include several Department of Justice and White House officials. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) relented his threat to block the passage of the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007.
  • Mar. 18, 2007: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated that he was "sick and tired of getting half-truths" from the White House on this issue.
  • Mar. 19, 2007: The White House released 3,000 documents of correspondence with an eighteen-day lull between November 15 and December 4, 2006.
  • Mar. 20, 2007: The White House offered to grant members of Congress private interviews with administration officials without oaths or transcripts. Democrats rejected the offer. President Bush vowed to oppose any efforts to subpoena White House staff members. The Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007 passed the Senate.
  • Mar. 21, 2007: The House Judiciary Committee approved subpoenas for top-level White House staff members.
  • Mar. 22, 2007: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved subpoenas for top-level White House staff members.
  • Mar. 23, 2007: The Department of Justice released copies of emails regarding a November 27, 2006 meeting between Gonzales and senior aides to discuss the then planned firings of the U.S. attorneys.
  • Mar. 26, 2007: Monica Goodling, the senior counselor to Gonzales and the Department of Justice's liaison to the White House, threatened to plead the Fifth if subpoenaed to testify before Congress.
  • Mar. 28, 2007: The chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees urged the White House to turn over all relevant e-mails to the committees for their investigations.
  • Mar. 29, 2007: Kyle Sampson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, refuting claims that Gonzales was unaware of the planned firings before they took place.
  • Mar. 30, 2007: The House Judiciary Committee and the Department of Justice reached an agreement to conduct private transcribed interviews with former and current DOJ employees. Monica Goodling reiterates her plans to plead the Fifth to the House Judiciary Committee.
  • April 6, 2007: Monica Goodling resigned from her position at the Department of Justice.
  • April 10, 2007: The House Judiciary Committee served Gonzales with a subpoena to release previously redacted documents.
  • April 12, 2007: The Senate Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas for White House documents and threatened to use them pending Gonzales' testimony on April 17 (postponed).
  • April 19, 2007: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
  • April 25, 2007: The House Judiciary Committee authorized a subpoena for Monica Goodling with immunity.
  • May 1, 2007: The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to former Deputy Attorney General James Comey.
  • May 14, 2007: Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty submits his letter of resignation.

(Edit this timeline)

2006 reauthorization of the Patriot Act

On March 9, 2006, President Bush signed into law a reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, a bill originally intended to provide the federal government with additional tools to deter, prevent, and combat terrorism. Included in the bill was a provision allowing the attorney general to appoint U.S. attorneys without a presidential nomination or Senate confirmation. Previously, the Attorney General could appoint interim U.S. Attorneys, but if they were not nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate within 120 days of being appointed, the federal district court would appoint a replacement. [1] Specifically, the new provision (SEC. 502 of the Act, Section 546 of title 28, United States Code) stated:

"A person appointed as United States attorney under this section may serve until the qualification of a United States Attorney for such district appointed by the President under section 541 of this title."

The provision was inserted into the bill by Michael O’Neill, chief counsel to then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) at the request of the Justice Department. Specter says he learned of the provision after the bill had passed and did not support it. [2]


Bush administration fires eight U.S. attorneys

Just months after receiving new authority to replace U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation, the Bush administration fired eight U.S. attorneys, mostly on December 7, 2006. The attorneys, all appointees of President George W. Bush, were: Bud Cummins, Kevin Ryan, Daniel Bogden, Carol Lam, David Iglesias, Paul Charlton, John McKay and Margaret Chiara. It later emerged that the attorneys were engaged in a number of public corruption investigations of Republican public officials or had refused to pursue investigations of Democrats that would have been beneficial to Republicans in elections.

Main article: Bush administration U.S. attorney firings controversy/Firings and activities of fired U.S. attorneys

Hearings commence in House and Senate; U.S. Attorneys testify

On March 1, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas to four of the fired prosecutors (California’s Southern District’s Carol Lam, New Mexico’s David Iglesias, Arkansas’ Eastern District’s H.E. “Bud” Cummins, and Washington’s Western District’s John McKay). On March 5, additional subpoenas were issued to Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Paul Charlton of Arizona to testify before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law. That week, the original four voluntarily chose to also testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. [3]

On March 6, 2007, the hearings were held, and focused on executive and legislative branch interference into corruption inquiries for which the attorneys were working at the time of their respective firings. [4]


Attorney General Gonzales testifies

On April 19, 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. According to the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, "Gonzales uttered the phrase 'I don't recall' and its variants ('I have no recollection,' 'I have no memory') 64 times. Along the way, his answer became so routine that a Marine in the crowd put down his poster protesting the Iraq war and replaced it with a running 'I don't recall' tally.

"Take Gonzales's tally along with that of his former chief of staff, who uttered the phrase 'I don't remember' 122 times before the same committee three weeks ago, and the Justice Department might want to consider handing out Ginkgo biloba in the employee cafeteria." [5]

Blogger Gitai wrote that Gonzales "basically said, 'Well, someone said something about maybe reviewing some of the US Attorneys, and then I delegated that to a lot of people, and then they did some stuff, I don't recall what, I mean, I don't know what they did, because I didn't ask, and even if e-mails show I did ask and did know, I don't recall, and then they gave me a list and then I fired those guys. There was nothing inappropriate about that.'"

In late July 2007, Gonzales was scheduled to testify again before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Following his previous performance, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sent a letter to Gonzalez on July 17 in anticipation of his upcoming appearance before the panel. In order to "assist" the Attorney General in his preparation and avoid so many instances of "I don't recall" answers, Leahy included a list of questions he planned to ask Gonzales at the hearing.[6]


Shifting explanations by White House and Gonzales

On March 14, the White House responded to increasing criticism by offering an additional reason for the forced resignations, namely, "Lax Voter-Fraud Investigations". Counselor to the President Dan Bartlett, cited complaints about U.S. Attorneys in New Mexico, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. [7]


Showdown between Congress and President Bush on subpoenaing executive branch staff

On March 15, 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee authorized committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to subpoena five Justice Department officials, including Kyle Sampson, Michael Elston, William Mercer, Monica Goodling, and Michael Battle. It also authorized Leahy to compel six of the U.S. Attorneys — Bud Cummins, David Iglesias, Carol Lam, John McKay, Paul Charlton, and Daniel Bogden — to testify should the committee want to talk to them again. [8]

That day the committee debated but postponed a vote on subpoenaing current and former top White House officials former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and Deputy White House Counsel William Kelly. [9] In the days following the meeting Republican and Democratic members of the committee traded barbs. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) equated the efforts to "a political witch hunt" in an interview on March 18. Leahy countered later that day by stating that the decision to subpoena was ultimately his and that he was "sick and tired of getting half-truths" from the White House on this issue. [10]


Bush rebuffs demands for White House staff to testify, releases Justice Department documents related to firings (with an 18-day lull)

On March 19, 2007, the White House released 3,000 documents of correspondence to the House Judiciary Committee organized haphazardly. Staffers scanned and posted all of the documents online in an effort to distribute research to the public. [11]

Talking Points Memo began a distributive research project on March 20, 2007, to sort through the documents and discovered that there was a period, between November 15 and December 4, where only a few correspondences were released. The 18-day lull includes the Thanksgiving holiday and begins after an e-mail conversation between Harriet Miers and Kyle Sampson. [12]

From: Harriet_Miers@who.eop.gov [mailto: Harriet_Miers@who.eop.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2006 11:39 AM
To: Sampson, Kyle; William_K._Kelley@who.eop.gov
Cc: McNulty, Paul J
Subject: RE: USA replacement plan

Not sure whether this will be determined to require the boss's attention. If it does, he just left last night so would not be able to accomplish that for some time. We will see. Thanks.

From: Sampson, Kyle
Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2006 12:08 PM
To: 'Harriet_Miers@who.eop.gov'; William_K._Kelley@who.eop.gov
Cc: McNulty, Paul J
Subject: RE: USA replacement plan

Who will determine whether whether this requires the President's attention?

The next flurry of e-mails in the thread of documents comes on December 4, 2006 when Kyle Sampson informs Paul McNulty, Michael Elston, Michael Battle, William Moschella, and Monica Goodling that "we are a go for Thursday". The firings occurred on Thursday, December 7, 2006. [13]

On March 23, 2007, the Department of Justice released copies of emails regarding a November 27, 2006 meeting between Gonzales and senior aides to discuss the then planned firings of the U.S. attorneys. [14]

On March 28, 2007, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) urged the White House to turn over all relevant e-mails to the House and Senate Judiciary committees for their investigations. The offer came up amidst allegations that White House staffers had been using private email accounts to conduct government business in order to keep the information private. [15]

On April 6, 2007, Sen. Leahy again requested that the White House turnover documents. Leahy's request was the third of its kind in under two weeks. Still, the White House has yet to release any related documents despite its continued assertion that "there was no wrongdoing." [16]

On May 15, 2007. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sent a letter to Alberto Gonzales berating him for not complying with the Congressional subpoena for the release of Karl Rove's emails regarding the firing of 8 U.S. attorney.[17]

On May 16, 2007, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sent a letter to the Whitehouse, threatening subpoenas over the Bush Administration's involvement in the decisions to fire 8 U.S. attorneys.[18]


Bush offers unofficial talks with staffers, Democrats reject offer

On March 20, 2007, the White House offered to grant members of Congress private interviews with administration officials, such as Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and two of their deputies, conducted with neither oaths nor transcripts. Democrats rejected the offer and President George W. Bush vowed later that day to oppose any efforts to subpoena White House staff members. Meanwhile, Democrats continued to move forward in the subpoena process.[19]

On March 21, 2007, the House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee voted to authorize Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-Mich.) to issue subpoenas for Rove, Miers, Deputy Counsel William Kelley, Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings and former Deputy Attorney General Kyle Sampson, as well as documents that the committee had not yet received. Conyers said in a press release, "The White House's offer provides nothing more than conversations. It does not allow this Committee to get the information we need without transcripts or oaths."[20] While Conyers has the authority to issue the subpoenas now, he will hold back on serving them for the time being.

On March 22, 2007, following suit with the House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee decision to allow for the subpoena of White House staff, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to authorize Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to issue subpoenas for Rove, Miers, and Kelley. [21]

Neither Leahy nor Conyers immediately issued subpoenas to White House officials, despite having been given the authority to do so. It was believed that this was to allow time for a possible compromise between the administration and Congress. [22]

Historical background

If President Bush and Congress were unable to reach an agreement, the standoff would ultimately be settled by the courts. In such a case, Bush's likely defense would be "executive privilege," which refers to his right to withhold certain information from Congress, the courts and most anyone else, even in the face of a subpoena. The courts had been historically deferential to the privilege unless an overwhelming interest in obtaining the information could be proven. In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled against the president in Nixon v. U.S. (1974), when it determined 8-0 that President Richard Nixon could not claim “executive privilege” in refusing to turn over tapes pertaining to the cover-up of the Watergate break-in. Most constitutional standoffs between the president and Congress never make it to courts, as compromises are generally reached. [23]


House Judiciary Committee interviews DOJ employees

On March 30, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee worked out a deal with the administration. The Committee could interview eight current and former Department of Justice employees behind closed doors with transcripts. The interviews would be conducted without oaths, but false statements are prosecutable. In return Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich) and the other leaders agreed that "investigators would keep the content of the interviews confidential pending consultation with Department officials." [24] Monica Goodling was on the list of those to interviewed, but reiterated in a near-identical letter to the one she sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she would plead the Fifth. [25]


Subpoena issued to Gonzales

On April 10, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee served a subpoena to Gonzales. The subpoena calls for the turnover of full text of all documents that had been partially or completely redacted in the Justice Department's document dump (see above). House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) stated in a letter accompanying the subpoena that "further delay in receiving these materials will not serve any constructive purpose." [26]


White House subpoenas

On April 12, 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to authorize subpoenas for relevant White House documents, J. Scott Jennings, special assistant to the president and deputy director of political affairs, and William Moschella, principal associate deputy attorney general. Senate Democrats threatened to issue the subpoenas if Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was not forthcoming in his April 17 testimony before the committee. [27]

It was also alleged that White House staffers used their Republic National Committee email accounts in order to avoid scrutiny. On April 12, 2007, Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) of the House Judiciary Committee wrote a letter requesting the release of the related emails. [28] Despite the calls from democrats to release the emails, the White House urged the Republican National Committee to not turn them over. [29]


More DoJ documents released

On April 13, 2007, the Department of Justice turned over more documents relating to the planning and handling of the firings. Included in these documents were the names of possible replacements for the dismissed attorneys, bringing statements made by Sampson in his testimony before Congress under question. [30]

Also included, but not made immediately public, were the names of other U.S. attorneys considered for replacement. According to a report by McClatchy Newspapers, the U.S. attorney for eastern Wisconsin, Steven M. Biskupic, was included on a list. Biskupic, as U.S. attorney, brought at least a dozen cases against Republican contributors or individuals with party ties as well as declining to prosecute several allegations of Democratic voter fraud pushed by Republicans. [31]


Former Deputy Attorney General subpoenaed

On May 1, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to former Deputy Attorney General James Comey. Comey served under Gonzales when discussions between the Department of Justice and White House concerning the removal of the eight U.S. attorneys occurred. Comey agreed to testify before Congress on May 3, 2007. [32]

In Comey's May 3 testimony he claimed to be unaware of the plans to fire the eight U.S. attorneys. In his further testimony he offered praise for seven of the fired eight U.S. attorneys' job performance. [33]

Bradley Schlozman

On May 7, 2007, Sens. Leahy and Specter wrote Bradley Schlozman, the former deputy head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, requesting cooperation in the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation. It is alleged that Schlozman was at least partly responsible for the politicization of the Department's hiring process, tried minimize dissent within the Department by dismissing attorneys, as well as bringing a group of voter fraud indictments just before the 2006 election when he was the U.S. Attorney for Kansas City. [34]

Subpoena deadline passes, White House does not comply

On June 28, 2007, the White House stated that it would not comply with congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony relating to the firings of federal prosecutors. Fred F. Fielding, President Bush's counsel, wrote in a letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, "I write at the direction of the President to advise and inform you that the President has decided to assert executive privilege and therefore the White House will not be making any production in response to these subpoenas for documents." This action set up a potential constitutional confrontation over the claim of executive privilege.[35]

Senate votes to repeal provision in PATRIOT Act permitting interim US attorneys to serve without term limit

March 20, 2007
Passed, 94-2, view details
Dem: 46-0 in favor, GOP: 46-2 in favor, Ind: 2 in favor

On January 9, 2007, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007 (S.214) [36]. The Act would repeal the provisions granted to the executive branch in March 2006 allowing the appointment of U.S. Attorneys without term limit. All interim U.S. attorneys are appointed by the Attorney General, without the need for Senate confirmation. The bill would re-instate a 120-day term limit for interim U.S. attorneys, and subsequent appointment authority of the district court to appoint a U.S. Attorney after the 120-day term expired, if no presidential appointee had been confirmed by then.[37]

In the midst of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, speaking for the administration, agreed on March 8, 2007 to not oppose legislation limiting the term of interim prosecutors.[38]

As late as March 12, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) indicated that he would block the bill if it came to the floor of the Senate, [39] but had relented his threat by March 15. [40] On March 20, 2007, Feinstein's bill passed the Senate by a vote of 94-2.[41]


Justice Department officials resign and go on leave in wake of disclosures

On March 5, 2007, Michael Battle, the executive director of the Executive Office for United States attorneys, resigned. Battle had personally made the calls firing several of the attorneys on December 7, 2006. [42]

D. Kyle Sampson, who had reportedly led effort to fire the attorneys, resigned March 12, 2007, after he acknowledged that he mishandled the representation of the actions taken by the Department of Justice.[43] Among the information withheld was that the White House had been considering firing all 93 U.S. Attorneys as early as February 2005. [1] Two weeks later he offered testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee that directly contradicted Gonzales' claims of not being involved in the firings.

Monica Goodling, who is the senior counselor to Gonzales and the Department of Justice's liaison to the White House, took an "indefinite leave of absence" the week of March 19, 2006. She later pleaded her fifth amendment right to not incriminate herself when subpoenaed by Congress.[44] On April 6, 2007, Goodling resigned from her position at the Department of Justice. [45]


Justice's Goodling pleads the Fifth

Monica Goodling stated in an affidavit to the Senate Judiciary Committee dated March 26, 2007, that she would "decline to answer any and all questions" regarding the issue. Goodling's reasoning was that she did not want to put herself in a legally precarious position due to the fact that the Committee had already drawn conclusions about the issue. Goodling's willingness to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights, protecting her from self-incrimination, further raised suspicion as to how high up the involvement went. [46]

On March 30, 2007, Goodling sent a near-identical letter claiming that she will plead the Fifth to the House Judiciary Committee. [47]



Chairman Conyers issues letter asking for Goodling's cooperation

House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Conyers, sent a letter to Department of Justice official Monica Goodling for an interview, requesting her cooperation in connection with the ongoing U.S. attorney scandal. The letter was delivered through Goodling's attorney, John M. Dowd. Last week, Dowd informed House and Senate leaders that Goodling would invoke her Fifth Amendment privilege in response to such invitations.

Sampson testifies before Congress

On March 29, 2007, Sampson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Throughout the course of the hearing, Sampson stated that Gonzales knew of the plan, refuting Gonzales' earlier denial of previous knowledge, and that Iglesias, one of the fired attorneys, was not added to the list of attorneys to be fired until shortly before the 2006 November elections. [48]

Before the testimony, the Bush administration had entered a plea that the topic of other U.S. attorneys who were considered for replacement not be discussed in the highly public testimony of Kyle Sampson. The identities were disclosed to Congress, but redacted in public documents. Despite this plea, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) inquired about their identities, prompting Sampson to make the identities public. [49]


Goodling's attorneys fire back at House and Senate Democrats

Attorneys for Monica Goodling fired back at House and Senate Democrats, reiterating her intent not to cooperate with a probe into the firing of eight federal prosecutors. Furthermore, she compared lawmakers pursuing her to the Cold War ideologue, former Sen. Joseph McCarthy.


Possible immunity for Goodling

The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on April 18, 2007, on whether or not to grant immunity to Goodling in exchange for her testimony. [50] The House Judiciary Committee decided on April 18, 2007, "agreed to in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation," to push the vote back one week. [51]

On April 25, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee voted to authorize a subpoena for Goodling with an offer of immunity.[52]

On March 26, 2007, Monica Goodling, the senior counselor to Gonzales and Department of Justice liaison to the White House who was on an "indefinite leave of absence," refused to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Goodling threatened to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights to not incriminate herself, stating it necessary because of the political environment surrounding the investigations. Pleading the Fifth also implies a legal violation has occurred by that individual, necessitating the need to not self-incriminate.[53]


Resolutions calling for the firing of Alberto Gonzales

On May 21, 2007, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Artur Davis (D-Ala.) have introduced a resolution calling for President Bush to fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzales because he failed to "assure the public that the laws of the nation are being enforced in an independent, nonpartisan and judicious manner."[54]

Senate "no confidence" vote on Gonzales

In late May, Senate leaders announced that a “no confidence” vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would be held in June. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) justified the move, stating “Make no mistake about it: We are moving forward…When a situation becomes so serious that there’s a crisis in leadership of this magnitude, a Congress not only has the right to weigh in, we have a responsibility to take action. And we will.”[55] On June 8, Schumer announced that the vote would be held on Monday, June 11.[56]

On June 11, 2007, the vote of no confidence failed to get the 60 votes needed for cloture despite widespread disapproval of Alberto Gonzales from both Republican and Democratic senators. Senate Democrats attributed the resolution's failure to Republican support for the President rather than their actual opinions on Gonzales' performance.[57] Republicans argued that the vote itself was just political theater, and that their time would be better spent on the immigration bill rather than criticizing Gonzales. President Bush commented, “This process has been drug out [sic] a long time, which says to me it’s political... And I’ll make the determination if I think [Gonzales] is effective or not.”[58]

<USvoteinfo year="2007" chamber="senate" rollcall="207" />


Cummins replacement, Tim Griffin, resigns

In late May, 2007, U.S. attorney Tim Griffin resigned from his post. Griffin was appointed to replace Bud Cummins after Cummins was fired in late 2006. At the time, it was expected that Griffin may join the presidential campaign of former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.).[59]


Possible legal violations by Justice Department officials

During the March 6 testimony, former Arkansas attorney Bud Cummins testified to Congress (both the House and Senate) that he received threats from a senior Justice Department official that “warned him on Feb. 20 that the fired prosecutors should remain quiet about their dismissals.” [60] Cummins described the threats in an email to the other US Attorneys involved [61]. According to several of the fired U.S. Attorneys, this action amounts to “obstruction of justice.” [62]

Senate Delays Gonzales Testimony on Firings

The Senate decided to delay the Gonzales testimony until Thursday, April 19, 2007, because of the shootings at Virginia Tech. [63]


Congressional statements on Alberto Gonzales

Administration Officials Involved

Name Position
Alberto Gonzales Attorney General and former White House Counsel
Paul McNulty Deputy Attorney General
Karl Rove Deputy White House Chief of Staff
Harriet Miers White House Counsel
Kyle Sampson Chief of Staff to the Attorney General
Fred Fielding White House Counsel
William Kelley Deputy White House Counsel
Michael Elston Chief of Staff to the Deputy Attorney General
William Moschella Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General
Michael Battle Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys
Bradley Schlozman Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
Sara Taylor Director of Political Affairs
J. Scott Jennings Associate Director of Political Affairs
Monica Goodling Justice Department's liaison to the White House

RNC emails

Ninth attorney possibly dismissed

Amidst the investigation into Schlozman, the House Judiciary Committee decided to have the attorney who Schlozman replaced, Todd Graves, testify on May 15, 2007. In a statement issued on May 8, Graves suggests that he was asked to resign and, although he "loved every minute" of his work, complied in order to "take a graceful exit [rather] than to do something that you should be ashamed of." [64]

Voter-fraud complaints

According to a May 14, 2007, report by the Washington Post based off of newly released Department of Justice documents and interviews, nearly half of the attorneys who were slated for removal were targets of Republican complaints that they were lax on voter fraud, including efforts by presidential adviser Karl Rove to encourage more prosecutions of election. [65]

Deputy Attorney General resigns

Citing personal reasons, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty submitted his letter of resignation on May 14, 2007. His resignation would take effect later in the summer. [66]

On May 15, the day after McNulty resigned, Gonzales said that "at the end of the day, the decisions reflected the views of the deputy attorney general. He signed off on the names" adding that McNulty still stood by the decisions after Sampson's testimony. Gonzales further stated that McNulty should have been more directly involved in the handling of the situation. [67]

Former White House aides subpoenaed

On June 12, 2007, the Justice Department released additional emails further linking Karl Rove's former aides--former White House political director Sara Taylor and her deputy J. Scott Jennings--to the U.S. Attorney scandal, and specifically to the case of Tim Griffin.[68] Following the release of the emails, the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas for testimony for Taylor and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.[69] The subpoenas request all relevant documents relating to the firings in addition to the officials' testimony, while the White House has offered to make former officials available only in private interviews, without transcripts.[70] Sen. Arlen Specter (R-P.A.), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, endorsed the subpoenas, explaining that as the committee "really had no response from the White House" to its inquiries, "it is appropriate to issue the subpoenas."[71]

House Judiciary Committee threatens a contempt of Congress motion

On June 22, 2007, House Judiciary Committee Democrats warned that they would pursue a contempt of Congress motion if the White House does not respond to subpoenas for testimony and documents related to the U.S. attorney firings controversy.

The first deadline for White House compliance with the subpoenas is June 28, 2007. House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) commented, "We’re still hopeful they may cooperate. But it’s still possible that enforcement action may be taken."[72]

If the House passed a contempt of Congress motion, it would be referred to Jeffrey A. Taylor, the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia. The Department of Justice would then be called on to enforce it.[73]

On June 29, both the House and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairmen, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), issued a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, "asking President Bush to relinquish or expand upon his broad claim of executive privilege to withhold documents and testimony relating to the mass firings of U.S. attorneys." The chairmen set a July 9 deadline for a reply before they would move to issuing a contempt of Congress motion.[74]

Former White House aides Taylor and Miers expected to appear in Congress

On July 11, 2007, former White House aid Sara Taylor was scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions as a "willing and cooperative private citizen." Taylor also stressed, however, that she would adhere to the President's invocation of executive privilege, and not answer questions about "White House consideration, deliberations, or communications, whether internal or external, relating to the possible dismissal or appointment of United States attorneys."[75] Another aid, Harriet Miers, was scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee.[76]

Miers refuses to appear

On July 11, 2007, Former White House counsel Harriet Miers’s attorney George Mannin announced that she would not appear before the House Judiciary Committee, stating that White Counsel Fred Fielding instructed him that Miers’s testimony would be protected under executive privilege and that she therefore would not need to appear at the hearing.[77]

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and House Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) harshly criticized the decision, arguing “We are aware of absolutely no court decision that supports the notion that a former White House official has the option of refusing to even appear in response to a Congressional subpoena... To the contrary, the courts have made clear that no present or former government official — even the president — is above the law and may completely disregard a legal directive such as the Committee’s subpoena... A refusal to appear before the Subcommittee tomorrow could subject Ms. Miers to contempt proceedings.”[78]

Mannin's announcement followed White House aide Sara Taylor's revealing testimony on the U.S. attorney firings scandal.

Following Miers' refusal to appear, the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law voted that White House claims to immunity and executive privilege were invalid. Such a vote is a necessary precursor to pursuing contempt proceedings against Miers.[79]

Special prosecutor sought to investigate White House claims of executive privilege

Following Gonzales' testimony on July 24, 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee threatened to hold an inherent contempt trial if Gonzales does not appoint a special prosecutor to challenge the White House's claim of executive privilege in the U.S. attorney firings investigation.[80]

House Judiciary Committee holds Miers and Bolton in contempt

On July 25, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. The vote was divided along party lines.[81]

"This is not a partisan concern or a partisan exercise," said panel chairmen Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). Republicans opposed the motion, arguing that the probe into the U.S. attorneys’ firings was a partisan waste of time and that they would not hold up in court.[82]

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the former chairman of the panel, commented "I think the White House is going to win in court... If we do bring the case to court and lose, then that is going to be viewed as a blank check by the current president and the future presidents to snub the Congress."[83]

The next step is for the contempt of Congress motion to be voted on in the House.[84]

House contempt vote pushed to the fall

On July 26, 2007, House Democrats stated that the contempt of Congress vote on Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten would not have a high priority in their voting schedule. With many important appropriations bills waiting to be voted on, a House leadership aide commented, "We’re not going to bump it up to the front of the queue in a busy week."[85] Though the vote was pushed to the fall, House Democrats emphasized that the bill would not be sidelined permanently, with the possibility of being considered as early as September. [86]

White House aides Karl Rove, Scott Jennings, to be issued subpoenas

On July 26, 2007, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-V.T.) said he would subpoena White House political adviser Karl Rove and Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings about their roles in the attorney firings. Leahy explained the decision:

For over four months, I've exhausted every avenue, seeking the voluntary cooperation of Karl Rove and J. Scott Jennings but to no avail. They have stonewalled every request.
Indeed the White House is choosing to withhold documents and is instructing witnesses who are former officials -- not current officials but former officials -- to refuse to answer questions and provide information and documents. We've now reached a point where the accumulated evidence shows that political considerations factored into the unprecedented firing of at least nine United States attorneys last year.[87]

Gonzales under investigation by Justice Department

Following congressional inquiry into the issue, the Justice Department began its own inquiry into the U.S. attorney firings. Following the May, 2007 testimony of former senior Gonzales aid Monica Goodling, in June, 2007 the Department began investigating whether Gonzales attempted to influence her testimony.

During her testimony, Goodling told the House Judiciary Committee that in a May 23, 2007 meeting between her and Gonzales, Gonzales chronicled his own account of the late 2006 U.S. attorney dismissals, and asked if Goodling "had any reaction to his iteration."[88] Goodling told the committee that she did not respond to Gonzales, and that the conversation made her "a little uncomfortable." The Department of Justice division investigating Gonzales has the authority to refer matters for criminal prosecution if it finds sufficient evidence to do so.[89]

DOJ letter informing congress of investigation

The text of the letter from the Department of Justice to the Senate Judiciary Committee informing the committee of the department's investigation of Gonzales can be found here: "DOJ letter regarding investigation of Gonzales-Goodling meeting" [90]

House Judiciary Committee launches whistleblower web site

On June 21, 2007, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), in his capacity as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee launched a web site inviting U.S. Department of Justice employees to inform Congress of political appointees and partisanship at the DOJ.[91] The site, called "Write Congress to Right Justice," was designed to give whistleblowers a confidential and anonymous means of contacting the committee.[92]

House Democrats move for impeachment of Gonzales

On July 30, 2007, a group of House Democrats led by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) introduced a resolution that would launch an investigation to precede a possible impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for his role in the attorney firings scandal. The resolution had fourteen co-sponsors.

Specifically, the investigation would focus on the firing of U.S. Attorneys, the abuse of FISA courts and the perjury allegations from Gonzales's Congressional testimonies.

Inslee commented, "we are pursuing an investigation prior to filing for the actual articles of impeachment… frankly, it affords the Attorney General due process, something he did not afford his [U.S. attorneys] when they were fired."[93]

Miers/Bolten contempt vote delayed again

In mid-September, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed back the contempt vote for Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten. Citing executive privilege, the two refused to comply with House Judiciary Committee subpoenas in July of 2007, and as a result, the committee approved contempt citations for them. With the August recess quickly approaching and many important appropriations bills yet to be passed, the Democratic leadership pushed off the vote at the time.[94]

After the recess, however, the Democratic leadership still seemed reluctant to push for the contempt vote- which would most likely become the first step in a legal battle with the White House over executive privilege. Even if the contempt vote passed, the White House had instructed Jeffrey Taylor, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, not to enforce the contempt citations. As a result, Democrats would either have to go to court or hold Miers and Bolten in "inherent contempt," which would threaten imprisonment against noncompliant witnesses.[95]

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) expressed worries than an unwillingness to move along the contempt vote would portray Congress as toothless. He stated that it was critical that Congress enforce its subponeas “Otherwise, we just become a [social] club.”[96]

Pelosi decided to delay the vote until late September, or even October.[97]

Conyers filed contempt resolution

On November 5, 2007 Conyers filed a contempt resolution with the clerk of the House against the White House for not complying with subpoenas for documents and testimony of Bolten and Miers. In a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, Conyers said he was seeking to resolve the conflict a last time even as he filed the contempt citation.[98]

The filing of a contempt resolution does not necessarily mean the House will vote on it, but such a move gives Democratic leaders the ability to bring up the resolution should they decide to pursue it. Democrats may not have the votes to pass the resolution as most Republicans would likely vote against it on the floor. If the Democrats pass the measure and the White House continues to assert executive privilege to deny access to discussions between presidential and vice presidential aides, a constitutional conflict could reach the Supreme Court.[99]

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino noted that House Democrats had repeatedly turned down a White House offer of interviews with senior staff, although not under oath or transcribed. “We have turned over thousands of pages of documents, many people have testified, hundreds of hours of testimony on the issue regarding U.S. attorneys,” Perino said. “And so while they failed to pass legislation that’s important to the American people, they move forward with this contempt citation.”[100]

Leahy formally rejected White House claims of executive privilege

On November 29, 2007 Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy said he was formally rejecting White House claims that the subpoenaed officials were protected by executive privilege from being compelled to cooperate with the investigation into whether United States attorneys were fired for political reasons. The rejection was the next procedural step toward seeking to enforce the subpoenas in court. Doing so would require the attorney general, Michael Mukasey to intervene.[101]

Committee aides said the panel would soon vote on contempt citations for the officials. However, even if the citations were approved by the committee and then the full Senate, it was not clear what would happen next. The administration had suggested that it would not allow the Justice Department to go to court to enforce the subpoenas, which is customarily done on behalf of the House or Senate.[102]

Leahy wrote to White House counsel Fred Fielding that "I have given the White House claims of executive privilege and immunity careful consideration. I hereby rule that those claims are not legally valid to excuse current and former White House employees from appearing, testifying and producing documents related to this investigation." If the full committee approved the citation, the crowded Senate calendar was likely to prevent it from reaching the floor for a vote before the December recess.[103]

Judiciary committee found Rove, Bolten in contempt

On December 13, 2007 the Senate Judiciary Committee approved contempt citations against former presidential adviser Karl Rove and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten for refusing to testify and turn over documents in the investigation of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006. The committee approved the citation by a 12 to 7 vote with Republican Sens. Specter and Charles Grassley (Iowa) joining the Democrats. This rejected the White House position that the work of President Bush's closest advisers was covered by executive privilege.[104]

"White House stonewalling is unilateralism at its worst, and it thwarts accountability. Executive privilege should not be invoked to prevent investigations into wrongdoing," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy said. The White House repeated its offer on December 13 to allow Rove and other senior aides to testify about the firings behind closed doors, not under oath, and with no transcript. Dana Perino, White House press secretary, said the Justice Department would refuse to convene a grand jury if either the full House or full Senate approved contempt citations. That would leave Democrats unable to force the question of the limits of executive privilege into the federal courts.[105]

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would "look very favorably" on forcing a roll call vote on the issue in January despite the likely need for 60 votes to overcome a Republican fillibuster in the Senate.[106]

Investigations deepened

It was reported that the scandal could re-emerge before the 2008 congressional elections because of the two inquiries by the House Ethics Committee and Senate Select Committee on Ethics. However, the congressional investigations appeared to be much narrower then the wide-ranging investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility. The Justice Department investigators had questioned whether senior officials lied to Congress, violated criminal provisions in the Hatch Act, tampered with witnesses preparing to testify to Congress, obstructing justice, took improper political considerations into account during hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys, and created widespread problems in the department's Civil Rights Division.[107]

A source close to the investigation reportedly expected the offices to issue a strongly worded report within three months after January 2008. Although they could not bring charges themselves, the Justice Department offices could refer the matter to a U.S. attorney for the district of Columbia or a special prosecutor. The department investigators had interviewed all nine attorneys, numerous staffers, other attorneys targeted for firings, and attorneys who left their positions before being replaced by Bush loyalists.[107]

The Senate ethics committee spent almost $5,000 to send three staff members to Albuquerque in March and July of 2007 according to public records. Investigators returned again in December 2007. Natalie Ravitz, spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the committee said the investigation remained "open." Congressional aides reportedly expected the status of the investigations to rise on January 30, 2008 when Attorney General Michael Mukasey was to testify for the first time as attorney general before the Senate Judiciary Committee.[107]

Resources and articles

Related SourceWatch articles

References

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