Who fired the US attorneys?
WASHINGTON — On Dec. 7, 2006, Daniel Bogden started working the phones. He'd just been fired as US Attorney in Las Vegas, and he wanted to know why. Throughout the day he talked to a series of top Justice Department officials, who all said the decision had been made by higher-ups, and that they knew little.
Eventually he called Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who was pressed for time, as he had to attend an event that evening with one of his children.
"It seemed to me from his comments that the ultimate decision did not come from him," wrote Mr. Bogden in a response to questions from the House Judiciary Committee. "He stated words to the effect that . . . he only had 'limited input' in the final decision process."
The furor over the firing of US attorneys now has swirled for months, and as yet there seems no clear answer to a simple question: Who drew up the list?
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at a May 15 appearance at the National Press Club said that his understanding was the firings reflected the particular view of Deputy Attorney General McNulty, as well as other senior Justice officials. Yet there's evidence that McNulty played no such role. Nor have any other officials yet admitted picking many attorneys for dismissal.
Given this vacuum, say many Congressional Democrats and some Republicans, the logical deduction is that the firings were directed from the White House for political reasons.
"As I view the situation, we really don't know yet what has happened, whether it is politicization, whether it is an ideological [purge], or what," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania, ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, at a May 15 hearing.
The president has the authority to replace all 93 US attorneys, Senator Specter noted. The question now is why last year's sudden dismissals occurred.
Those dismissals, in the ledgers of critics, now number at least nine. They include both the eight fired in late 2006, and Todd Graves, former US attorney for the Western District of Missouri, who was forced to resign in March 2006.
The House Judiciary Committee has requested that the Justice Department now hand over documents related to Mr. Graves's dismissal.
"There are disturbing indications that the decision to fire Mr. Graves was related to his disagreement with a voter fraud lawsuit pushed by [Justice Department headquarters official Bradley] Schlozman, the very person eventually named by you to succeed Mr. Graves as an interim U.S. Attorney," wrote Committee chairman Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan in a May 15 letter to Attorney General Gonzales.
As to where the firing list came from, Mr. Gonzales has pointed to others. In particular, he's long said that his understanding was it reflected the "consensus" of senior leaders.
His May 15 remark about McNulty was one of the first times he had singled out one of these senior leaders by name. It followed by a day McNulty's announcement that he would resign his position in order to earn more money for his children's college tuitions.
Yet McNulty, in private discussions with investigators from the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, has said he had only limited involvement in the affair. This assertion is backed up by other evidence such as Daniel Bogden's memory of his phone call with McNulty on December 7.
In a Dec. 7 e-mail, McNulty admitted to feeling "skittish" about Bogden's firing, and admitted that he "had not looked at his district's performance."
As to other senior Justice Department officials, almost all have testified in public that they put no names on the firing list. This includes Michael Battle, former director of the executive office of US Attorneys, and William E. Moschella, principal associate deputy attorney general.
Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Gonzales, has testified that the list was produced by "an internal process that aggregated the considered, collective judgment of a number of senior Justice Department officials."
Mr. Sampson has said he himself didn't put names on the list. (He did at one point float the name of Patrick Fitzgerald, the highly regarded US attorney from Chicago who investigated the leak of CIA employee Valerie Plame's name to the media. This suggestion was rejected.)
Sampson did send then-White House counsel Harriet Miers the list of firees on Nov. 15, 2006, prior to their actual dismissals. The e-mail asks that Ms. Meirs circulate the list to "Karl's shop," presumably the office of political adviser Karl Rove.
"We'll stand by for a green light from you," wrote Sampson in the e-mail to the White House.