Wednesday :: Mar 14, 2007

Some Fun Facts from US Attorney PurgeGate


by Mary

Question: Who slipped the provision in the Patriot Act?

Answer: An aide to Sen. Arlen Specter at the behest of the Justice Department according to Joe Conason:

At the behest of the Justice Department, an aide to Sen. Arlen Specter slipped a provision into the bill that permitted the White House to place its own appointees in vacant U.S. attorney positions permanently and without Senate confirmation. So silently was this sleight of hand performed that Specter himself now claims, many months later, to have been completely unaware of the amendment's passage. (Of course, it would be nice if the senators actually read the legislation before they voted, particularly when they claim to be the authors.)

The staffer who reportedly performed this bit of dirty work is Michael O'Neill, a law professor at George Mason University and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As the Washington Times explained when O'Neill was appointed as the Senate Judiciary Committee's chief counsel, many observers believed that Specter had hired him to reassure conservatives of his loyalty to the Bush White House. Right-wing distrust had almost ousted the Pennsylvania moderate from the Judiciary chairmanship, and appointing O'Neill was apparently the price for keeping that post.

Spector says he didn't know about it. What's clear now is he's increasingly upset about how it was used.

Question: Did the DoJ use the power to bypass the Senate before they "pushed out" any attorneys?

Answer: Judging from this story from August last year about how angry Senator Ted Stevens was at the DOJ, it appears that they started to use it soon after its passage to fulfill the following goal:

Another email from last September, between White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Sampson, suggests that with the new law "we can give far less deference to home state senators," and would put the White House's favored nominees on a faster timetable.

Comment: Stevens was steamed because he wanted to have someone from Alaska appointed to the vacancy, but the DoJ appointed someone who they didn't need to have confirmed who had no connection with Alaska.

Question: Which ousted U.S. attorney got to write his own transition plan and help train his successor?

Answer: Bud Cummins from Arkansas, the first attorney "pushed out", was able to work with the DoJ to come up with a way to save face and to help his successor learn the job as his assistant.

"Tim said he got a call from Bud offering this idea," Jennings wrote to Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson in late August, "that Tim come on board as a special [assistant U.S. attorney] while Bud finalizes his private sector plans. That would alleviate pressure/implication that Tim forced Bud out. Any thoughts on that?" ... "I think it's a great idea," Sampson responded.

Question: How did the DoJ handle these firing in order to minimize the fuss?

Answer: Sampson, the Chief of Staff for Abu Gonzales said that they would encourage the targeted U.S. Attorneys to voluntarily seek new opportunities in the private sector so that they could "save face".

None of the above obstacles are insuperable. First, a limited number of U.S. Attorneys could be targeted for removal and replacement, mitigating the shock to the system that would result from an across-the-board firing. Second, the Department of Justice's Executive Office of the U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) could work quietly with targeted U.S. Attorneys to encourage them to leave government service voluntarily; this would allow targeted U.S. Attorneys to make arrangements for work in the private sector and "save face" regarding the reason for leaving office, both in the Department of Justice community and in their legal communities. Third, after targeted U.S. Attorneys have left office or indicated publicly their intention to leave office, then the Office of the Counsel to the President can work with the home-state Senators and/or other political leaders in the state to secure recommendations for a replacement U.S. Attorney. Finally, after background investigations are complete and the replacement candidate is nominated, the Attorney General can appoint the nominee to serve as interim U.S. Attorney pending confirmation, thereby reducing the time during which the leadership of the office is uncertain.

Question: So that's why there was so little fuss, right?

Answer: The statements announcing the "resignations" of the orginal four out of five targeted attorneys (excepting Bud Cummins) were praised with very laudatory press releases (see Chiara here, Charlton here, Cummins here, Ryan here, and Lam here), but the news articles that accompanied at least one attorney were designed to embarrass from the start. Carol Lam got a nice press release from the department, but got some nasty insinuations in the local press that she was being fired for performance problems as soon as her departure was announced. It was one of the things that made her ouster so strange.

Question: So when did Carol Lam show up on the list?

Answer: No one knows for sure, but she was on the list to be removed by February 2005, so well before the DoJ had the authority to nominate someone else without a Senate confirmation. Interestingly, as of March 2, 2005, both Kevin Ryan (San Francisco) and David Iglesias (New Mexico) were in bold, indicating they were in good standing, whereas Ms. Lam was already seen as someone they should remove as fast as possible.

Mary :: 1:07 AM :: Comments (22) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!