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White House Helped Orchestrate Justice Department Purge

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“Let me give you some core principles, some things that I believe in. One, I believe in the independence of our U.S. Attorneys.”Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General.

Gonzales made these remarks on Tuesday, as Congress continues to investigate whether or not eight U.S. attorneys were forced out of the Justice Department late last year for purely political reasons. Meanwhile, the White House has revealed that it worked closely in tandem with the DOJ to determine which attorneys were to be replaced but only after the DOJ pushed back on the White House’s plan to remove all 93 U.S. attorneys following the 2004 elections.

The House Judiciary Committee released a startling collection of emails related to the firings, which documented the elaborate plan to remove the attorneys and confirmed the direct participation of the White House. The “replacement plan” included instructions for White House and DOJ officials on how to “prepare to withstand political upheaval” in the aftermath of the firings.

The controversy also claimed another casualty when Gonzales’ chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, announced his resignation. It was Sampson who shot down the Administration’s original plan to fire all 93 attorneys and managed the revised plan targeting a smaller number. In an email sent to Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, in January of last year, Sampson wrote: “Harriet, you have asked whether President Bush should remove and replace U.S. Attorneys whose four-year terms have expired. I recommend that the Department of Justice and the Office of the Counsel to the President work together to seek the replacement of a limited number of U.S. Attorneys.”

Sampson then compiled a list of “targeted” U.S. attorneys with the assistance of White House officials, who ultimately reviewed and approved the list of outgoing attorneys. According to several sources, Sampson’s criteria for targeting attorneys included loyalty to the Attorney General’s office and aggressiveness in following Administration policies. In an October email to Miers, he asked her whether his list of targeted attorneys “matched up” with hers. His list was broken down into categories including attorneys who were “in the process of being pushed out” and others who “we now should consider pushing out.”

Three days before the firings, William Kelley, deputy White House counsel, sent mail to Sampson, saying, “We’re a go for the U.S. atty plan. WH leg, political, and communications have signed off and acknowledged that we have to be committed to following through once the pressure comes.”

While this plan was being hatched and perpetrated by the White House and the DOJ, Republican senators were busy pushing through an amendment to the Patriot Act in March of last year. That amendment gave the president the right to appoint U.S. attorneys indefinitely without requiring confirmation by the Senate. That provision was added with very little fanfare. However, in light of the new evidence showing the White House’s direct involvement in the DOJ firings, there is concern that the Patriot Act amendment was actually part of a larger plan to remake the Justice Department in President Bush’s political image.

One of the fired attorneys, Bud Cummins of Arkansas, told KTHV in Little Rock, “It’s a serious mistake to allow the political people from the White House and other parts of government to get inside the doors of the Department of Justice (DOJ). There are huge issues at stake there and I’m afraid it’s happened now and the damage is done.” Cummins, incidentally, was pushed out last year to make room for Tim Griffin a former aide to Karl Rove.

Gonzales concluded his media briefing by saying, “Again, all political appointees can be removed by the President of the United States for any reason. I stand by the decision and I think it was the right decision.” Apparently, there are dozens of lawmakers and thousands of voters who don’t agree.

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