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Vice President Dick Cheney challenges objections to the White House’s secret, warrantless surveillance program (see Early 2002) by Justice Department officials. Cheney makes his objections during a meeting attended by high-level White House and Justice Department officials, but this does not come to light until a 2007 testimony by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see May 15, 2007). (Eggen 6/7/2007) (Comey will step down from his post in mid-2005.) (Chorney 4/21/2005) The White House meetings take place one day before White House officials journey to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to try to force Ashcroft to give his approval for the NSA-managed surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft will refuse to give his approval. Cheney’s key role in leading what the Washington Post calls “a fierce internal battle over the legality of the warrantless surveillance program” is not known until Comey’s 2007 testimony. The White House meeting, held to discuss Justice Department objections to the NSA program, is attended by Cheney, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington, and others. Comey will testify that at the time, eight Justice Department officials are prepared to resign if the White House doesn’t back down on forcing the department to sign off on the program. Those officials include FBI director Robert Mueller, US attorney Chuck Rosenberg of the northern Virginia district, and Office of Legal Counsel head Jack Goldsmith. (Eggen 6/7/2007)
Missouri Governor Matt Blunt (R-MO) awards a no-bid contract to Tracy Graves, the wife of US Attorney Todd Graves (see October 11, 2001), to manage a motor vehicle license office near Kansas City. In Missouri, license agents are independent contractors who receive a portion of the fees their offices collect. On March 1, Cory Dillon, the executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, urges Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to fire Graves based on his wife’s acceptance of the contract. Dillon points out that in addition to Tracy Graves, her brother and two staff members from the office of Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), Todd Graves’s brother, have also been awarded similar contracts. The Kansas City Star reports on Dillon’s letter to Gonzales on March 2, and the day after runs an editorial accusing Todd Graves of a “clear conflict of interest” if he is ever led to investigate the Blunt administration. Gonzales’s chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, refers the matter to Chuck Rosenberg, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Sampson’s March 16 email to Rosenberg indicates that the White House is interested in the matter, and has asked, ”(1) whether we have looked into the allegations made against Graves… and (2) what our conclusion is, i.e., whether we are comfortable that he doesn’t have any legal or ethical issues.” The matter is referred by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis to the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA), which in turn refers the matter to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). That office, after reviewing the matter and consulting with Margolis, decides not to open an investigation. On April 8, Margolis informs Graves that he has “determined that there is no existing conflict of interest that requires further action at this time.” Graves will tell Justice Department investigators probing the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008) that he himself had brought the Dillon complaint to the attention of EOUSA Director Mary Beth Buchanan after reading about it on the Internet. He considers the allegations groundless. He will say that at no time did anyone in the Justice Department ever raise any questions concerning the propriety of his wife’s contract, or allege that her contract put his position as US Attorney in jeopardy. And, he will state, no Justice Department official ever raised concerns with him about his performance (see March 2002). However, Principal Assistant Deputy Attorney General William Mercer will later recall Sampson voicing “real concerns” about the contract because, Mercer will say, Sampson feels it does not reflect well on the US Attorney’s office. Margolis will speculate that this issue is what prompts Sampson to put Graves on the list of US Attorneys he feels should be fired (see January 1-9, 2006), though he will say he cannot be sure because he never spoke to Sampson about it. Sampson does not express any such concerns in his email to Rosenberg. When investigators ask Sampson about the matter, he will claim memory loss, saying he has no recollection of being involved in any way with Graves’s firing. As the investigators will write, “Sampson also did not express any consternation about the license fee contract matter to us during his interview, and he essentially disclaimed any responsibility for requesting Graves’s resignation.” (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008) During this time, the legal counsel for Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), Jack Bartling, will issue repeated demands to the White House that Graves be fired, in part because of Tracy Graves’s contract but largely because of conflicts between the offices of Bond and Sam Graves (see Spring 2005).
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