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Profile: D. Kyle Sampson
D. Kyle Sampson was a participant or observer in the following events:
Kyle Sampson. [Source: Legal Times]D. Kyle Sampson, a young lawyer from Utah and a former Republican staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, takes a position at the White House as special assistant to the president and associate director for presidential personnel. He handles presidential appointments for the Justice Department, among other duties. During this time period, he is also named associate counsel to the president, where he works on legislative, policy, and environmental matters. In August 2003, Sampson moves to the Justice Department, where he serves as a counsel for Attorney General John Ashcroft. After joining the White House counsel’s office in September 2001, Sampson increases his involvement in the selection of US Attorneys. He serves on the interviewing panel for many US Attorney interviewees, and becomes the White House representative for US Attorney appointments. He is responsible for reviewing the resumes and questionnaires of all US Attorney candidates and their background files. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
The White House requests that almost all of the 93 US Attorneys resign their posts forthwith. Among the few not asked to immediately resign are Robert Mueller, the US Attorney for the Northern District of California, who is soon asked to take over as director of the FBI; Paul Warner of Utah, who will stay in his position until 2006; and Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who remains in her post until 2002. In 2002, Justice Department official Kyle Sampson will write in an internal email: “[President] Clinton fired all Bush USAs in one fell swoop. Has been described to me as ‘have your offices cleared out by the end of the week.’ We fired all Clinton USAs (except Mueller and Warner), but staggered it more and permitted some to stay on for several months (including Mary Jo White in SDNY who we permitted to stay on for many months).” [CNN, 2/16/2001; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, United States Attorney's Office, District of Utah, 2009; Biography, 2013] It is unclear who Sampson may have spoken to about the firings.
Thomas Wales. [Source: FBI]Newly appointed US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) begins investigating the murder of Thomas C. Wales, an Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) in the office. Wales, a popular AUSA and a strong advocate of gun control, was murdered three weeks before McKay took office, when someone shot and killed him through his basement window. Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis had recused the office from investigating the crime, because, McKay will later state, the Justice Department (DOJ) had no confidence in the prosecutor initially assigned to the case. Moreover, as the case was a likely candidate for a death penalty prosecution, he will tell a reporter that the office is recused because “[y]ou couldn’t have Tom’s friends in the office making those kinds of decisions.”
Begins Pressuring Justice Department - Shortly after taking office, McKay begins pressuring Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Larry Thompson to replace the prosecutor on the Wales case. McKay will recall having several “tense conversations” with Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Christopher Wray concerning this issue. In March 2002, the DOJ assigns a more experienced prosecutor to the case. The DOJ sends no additional manpower to Seattle to help with the case, and initially offers a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer, an amount FBI Special Agent Charles Mandigo will later call “insultingly small.” (After McKay’s intervention, the DOJ later raises the reward to $1 million.) McKay later says that while he is not directly involved in the investigation, he pushed hard for the DOJ to commit more resources to the investigation, and felt it was his responsibility to act as a conduit between the Seattle FBI office and the DOJ regarding resources for the case. He will say that while he was assertive, he remained professional and appropriate in his conduct; no one in the DOJ ever complained to him about his actions, he will say. “My mistake was that I assumed ‘recusal’ was ‘recusal’,” he will say. “I had erred in assuming that I was completely recused from even asking questions about the allocation of resources. I assumed it would have the highest priority within the Department of Justice. I once worked at the FBI for a year, and during that time an agent was killed in Las Vegas. They deploy like crazy when an agent is killed. Agents got off the airplane that night from DC to investigate. The director of the FBI flew out. That was not the reaction we were getting from the Department of Justice after Tom Wales was killed. Over 2002, I decided that really it should be my job to advocate for appropriate resources to be devoted to the Wales case.”
Speculation as to Politicization of Investigation - Many involved in the investigation believe that the Wales murder is a low priority for the DOJ because his liberal politics clash with the rightward tilt of the senior officials appointed by the Bush administration.
Aggressive but Appropriate - A 2008 Justice Department investigation of the 2006 US Attorney firings (see September 29, 2008) will find no reason to dispute McKay’s recollection of events. Both Thompson and Wray will describe McKay as being aggressive about making sure the investigation has adequate resources. Thompson will recall no tension between himself and McKay, though he will recall some of his then-staff members complaining about McKay’s pressure and demands for resources. Thompson will admit to becoming irritated with McKay on occasion, but will emphasize that McKay conducted himself in an appropriate manner at all times. It was “not new in the annals of the Department of Justice [that] a DAG got aggravated with a US Attorney,” he will say. He will not recall discussing the matter with Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the architect of the plan to fire the US Attorneys (see November 15, 2006). Wray will recall that some in the DOJ considered McKay to be “high maintenance,” in regard to the Wales investigation and with other issues. While some in the DAG’s office informally discussed McKay’s behavior among themselves, Wray will recall, no formal review of his conduct was ever undertaken. Wray will also not recall any discussions with Sampson, though he will say he kept Gonzales’s office apprised of the events surrounding the Wales investigation. Margolis will recall McKay being somewhat emotional about the Wales case and extremely pushy, he found his conduct entirely justifiable considering the situation. Margolis will say that he doubts Sampson would have listed McKay for removal because of his interactions with Thompson. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Remains Unsolved - The Wales murder will remain unsolved. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007]
Entity Tags: D. Kyle Sampson, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Christopher Wray, Charles Mandigo, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John L. McKay, Thomas C. Wales, David Margolis, Larry D. Thompson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Carol Lam. [Source: Common Dreams (,org)]Carol Lam is sworn in as the US Attorney for the Southern District of California. [Talking Points Memo, 2011] Lam is a former Assistant US Attorney, a former California Superior Court judge, and an acknowledged expert on white-collar crime and health care fraud. During her interview process for the US Attorney position, she described herself as “non-partisan,” and said she does not belong to any political party. When asked if she could support the Justice Department’s policies considering that she is not a Republican, she answered that “it is a responsibility of a US Attorney to effect the attorney general’s guidelines in a way that makes sense in the district.” White House Counsel Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) offered Lam the job, at which time she told him that he had not “made things easy by virtue of the fact that I was a non-partisan.” Lam’s ascension to her post was delayed by political infighting between powerful Republicans and Democrats. It is the first time in five years her district has had a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed US Attorney. There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 124; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
President Bush terminates an investigation into controversial Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff by firing the US Attorney supervising the investigation. A US grand jury in Guam has been investigating a secret arrangement between Abramoff and Superior Court officials to lobby against a court reform bill pending in Congress since February 2001 that would give the newly formed Guam Supreme Court authority over the Superior Court. The bill passed. Abramoff—a $750-an-hour lobbyist and former member of the Bush-Cheney transition team—was paid by a series of $9,000 checks, totaling $324,000, funneled through Laguna Beach, California, lawyer Howard Hills. The arrangement was designed to hide Abramoff’s role in working for the Guam court. On November 18, Acting US Attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands Frederick A. Black issued a subpoena demanding that a Superior Court official turn over all records involving the lobbying contract, including bills and payments. (Black had already launched an investigation into the former governor of Guam, Carl Gutierrez, for diverting government funds for personal gain; Black apparently intended to tie the two investigations together.) However, today Black is abruptly demoted, with the White House issuing a statement announcing that it will name a replacement for him. Although Black is considered an “acting” US Attorney, he has held the post for over 10 years. Now he is demoted to an Assistant US Attorney and barred from continuing his investigations. Those investigations are now in limbo. In May 2003, Black will be replaced by Leonardo Rapadas without any Senate debate. Rapadas will be chosen for the job by Guam Republicans; lobbyist Fred Radewagen, who worked for the Gutierrez administration, will carry the recommendation to White House political chief Karl Rove in early 2003. (Radewagen has access to the top levels of the White House, including Rove.) Rapadas will quickly recuse himself from the Gutierrez investigation and the Abramoff grand jury will be dismissed. [Los Angeles Times, 8/8/2005; Nation, 2/2/2006] Later investigation will show that Gutierrez hired Abramoff in the spring of 2002 to help him force Black out of office. “I don’t care if they appoint [B]ozo the [C]lown, we need to get rid of Fred Black,” Abramoff wrote to colleagues in March 2002. Black began investigating Abramoff for the $324,000 contract Abramoff had received, and in return Abramoff asked for help from the Justice Department (DOJ). In turn, the DOJ forwarded the information to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. And, White House political director Ken Mehlman told White House official Leonard Rodriguez, a protege of Rove, to “reach out to make Jack [Abramoff] aware” of all Guam-related information, including people being considered to replace Black. “Abramoff claimed he had a top political guy at DOJ he could go to, to get rid of Black,” a source will tell reporter Ari Berman. In May 2002, Abramoff had a risk-assessment report of Guam and the neighboring Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) killed; the report, requested by Black, called for the federalizing of immigration laws on the islands, a rule change that would have slowed the influx of cheap labor to CNMI, as well as jeopardizing Abramoff’s $1.6 million contract with the local government. (In CNMI, workers are paid $3.05 an hour to make clothing branded “Made in the USA.”) Abramoff learned of the report from David Ayres, then the chief of staff for Attorney General John Ashcroft, whom Abramoff hosted at a Washington Redskins football game. Not only was the report quashed, its author, regional security specialist Robert Meissner, was demoted. Meissner later told people that he thought his boss at the time, Paul McNulty, the US Attorney for Eastern Virginia, “had everything to do with” suppressing the report. McNulty later became deputy attorney general. A colleague of Meissner’s will later say: “McNulty was kind of the fireman at Justice. He was the guy trying to run around and put a lid on things that could become political, especially with Abramoff.” Another element of the effort to rid Guam of Black was to paint him as a supporter of President Clinton, although he was appointed by the first President Bush, and Gutierrez himself was a Democrat. In November 2002, Black asked the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section (PIN) for help in investigating Abramoff’s lobbying activities. McNulty was forwarded the request, as was Gonzales. The DOJ offers no help to Black. Days later, after Black convenes a grand jury to look into Abramoff’s activities, Black is removed as US Attorney. “Fred was removed because he asked to indict Abramoff,” one of Black’s colleagues at Justice will later tell Berman. “I don’t believe it was a coincidence.” In June 2006, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will determine that nothing untoward occurred in the Black firing. However, the report will be based largely on information provided by the administration, including apparently misleading testimony from Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Gonzales, who had by that time become attorney general. Rapadas was only chosen to replace Black after Black had launched his probe into Abramoff’s doings. David Sablan, who headed the Guam Republican Party at the time, will say in 2007, “I just wonder whether they wanted to prevent Fred Black from staying on.” The OIG report will indicate that Sampson discussed the US Attorney candidate for Guam and other posts with President Bush, a statement Bush will later disavow. [Nation, 2/2/2006; Nation, 4/16/2007]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Ken Mehlman, Karl C. Rove, Leonardo Rapadas, Public Integrity Section, Paul J. McNulty, Robert Meissner, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Howard Hills, Jack Abramoff, George W. Bush, Clinton administration, Carl Gutierrez, Guam Supreme Court, D. Kyle Sampson, David Ayres, David Sablan, Alberto R. Gonzales, Frederick A. Black, Fred Radewagen, Ari Berman
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Michael Battle, the director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, sends a memo to Kyle Sampson, counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft, informing him that 16 US Attorneys’ offices are below standards—“underperforming”—in implementing Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a Justice Department initiative to reduce gun violence and prosecute offenders who use guns in the commission of crimes. One of the US Attorneys cited is Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002). The memo notes that Lam’s office returned “only 17 firearms indictments” in 2003, and that her office’s PSN indictments and defendants “per criminal work years for FY 2003 is the lowest in the nation.” Subsequent Justice Department analyses of PSN performance continue to identify Lam’s district as needing improvement in firearms prosecutions. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Deputy Attorney General James Comey calls US Attorney Carol Lam over her office’s “underperformance” with regards to firearms prosecutions under the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) initiative (see March 10, 2004). Comey tells Lam that PSN is a high priority for the Justice Department, and “something incredibly important to the attorney general and me, and to the president.” He tells her that he wants her “to really focus on this and make sure you are not missing something.” He acknowledges that different districts handle gun prosecutions differently, depending on the individual state’s gun laws, and notes that he is not calling “just for the sake of getting your [PSN] numbers up.” When asked (see September 29, 2008) if he thought she understood that she needed to get her PSN numbers higher, Comey will say, “I was keen not to convey that directly.” He understands that California has quite restrictive state gun laws, and state prosecutors handle many cases that federal law enforcement officials such as US Attorneys would handle in other states. However, Comey does expect her numbers to increase because he called her about the issue. He does not tell her that a failure to improve her PSN numbers would warrant her termination. Spencer Pryor, a counsel in Comey’s office and a participant in the telephone conversation between Comey and Lam, sends a memo to Kyle Sampson, a lawyer on the staff of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, summarizing the results of the calls to Lam and other “underperforming” US Attorneys. Pryor notes that Lam acknowledged Comey’s concerns, but stated that her office had received no PSN resources. Pryor notes that Lam is incorrect, that she has received another prosecutor for PSN cases. Lam also says during the call that her district’s PSN case screening process is “broken” and a new system would help boost prosecution numbers. Pryor also notes that state prosecutors handle many firearms cases because of California’s strict gun laws. Pryor concludes that Lam needs more resources to adequately prosecute PSN cases. Lam sends an email to her staff detailing the conversation with Comey, tells them that their district ranks 93rd out of 94 US Attorneys in gun prosecutions (only 20 in the previous year), and that she told Comey that while their numbers will increase in the coming months, he should not expect a “meteoric rise.” She cites California’s gun laws and the “immense” caseload of her office as reasons why their numbers are so low. She tells her staff that she knows Comey wants the PSN numbers to rise. She later says she works with local law enforcement agencies to have them refer any firearms cases to her office where the federal sentence would exceed the state sentence by 24 months. Moreover, she will say, in 2005 and 2006 her office will make concerted efforts to prosecute more firearms cases. However, she will say, those measures are “a solution in search of a problem,” and her office will get few referrals. [US House of Representatives, Committee of the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
The Justice Department’s White House liaison, Susan Richmond, sends an email to all of the department’s presidentially appointed officials, including US Attorneys, reassuring them that the newly re-elected President Bush “will not ask for letters of resignation.” Many had requested clarification as to whether they would be asked to remain or resign during Bush’s second term. Richmond reminds the recipients that “each of us serves at the pleasure of the president.” It is around this same time that Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) becomes involved in discussions with White House counsel Harriet Miers about firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004). Sampson tells Miers that firing all 93 US Attorneys may not be a good idea, and the US Attorneys have an expectation of serving their statutory four-year terms, which do not begin to expire until the fall of 2005. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Notwithstanding the reassurance, Mary Beth Buchanan, the head of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, begins circulating forms for resignation to the US Attorneys. She will later explain, “At the end of the first administration, I was asked to provide United States attorneys with guidance for those who wished to resign at the end of the first administration.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2007 ]
White House chief counsel Alberto Gonzales discusses firing some or all of the 93 US Attorneys with Kyle Sampson, a Justice Department counsel for Attorney General John Ashcroft (see 2001-2003). White House emails do not definitively show that White House political chief Karl Rove is behind the push to fire the Attorneys, though they do indicate Rove has some involvement. According to a January 2005 email from Sampson (see January 9, 2005), Sampson discusses the matter with Gonzales in late December, and, the email states, “As an operational matter we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—underperforming ones.” It is clear that Sampson is referring to himself and Gonzales as “we.” (Gonzales will later deny any recollection of any such discussion with Sampson.) The White House will later say that the idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys originated with White House counsel Harriet Miers and not Rove (see November 2004). White House spokesperson Dana Perino will say: “Karl Rove has a recollection of hearing it from Harriet and thinking it was a bad idea. There is nothing in this email that changes that.… [It] does not contradict nor is it inconsistent with what we have said.” Miers will not begin her stint as White House counsel until February 2005, calling Perino’s version of events into question, even though Perino will later say that Miers was involved in issues surrounding the job for several months before officially assuming the post. [US News and World Report, 3/16/2007; Talking Points Memo, 3/16/2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011] In March 2007, the Justice Department’s Director of Public Affairs Tasia Scolinos will issue a statement claiming that Gonzales “has no recollection of any plan or discussion” to replace the US Attorneys when he was still White House counsel. Scolinos will note that the December 2004 discussion took place while Gonzales was preparing to transition to the Justice Department as attorney general, and will add that such discussions would have been “appropriate and normal” because the White House was “considering different personnel changes administration-wide.” [US News and World Report, 3/16/2007]
White House deputy counsel David Leitch emails Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) regarding the proposed firings of some or all of the 93 US Attorneys (see Late December 2004). Leitch is forwarding an email from Colin Newman, a paralegal in the White House counsel’s office. Newman, via Leitch, is relaying questions from White House political chief Karl Rove. According to Newman, “Karl Rove stopped by to ask [Leitch]… how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we are going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.” In his forward, Leitch asks Sampson if they can discuss the matter. [US Department of Justice, 1/9/2005 ; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; ABC News, 3/15/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 ; Talking Points Memo, 2011] In 2009, Rove will testify about his memory of this email exchange. He will say that he went to Leitch’s office because “I assume I heard rumors that we might be going down the path of trying to get—replace all 93” US Attorneys. He will recall “being told at some point that the idea was dead, and they weren’t going to be pursuing it. I don’t know whether that happened immediately after this or somewhat later.… I don’t know whether it was Mr. Leitch or Ms. Miers [White House counsel Harriet Miers] that conveyed that they were not going to replace all 93.” Rove will say that he did not support Sampson’s plan to remove and replace “15 to 20 percent” of the sitting US Attorneys (see January 9, 2005). “What I was in favor of was Justice Department making an evaluation of the US Attorneys and recommending who they felt to the president ought to be replaced,” Rove will say. “I had no knowledge of the workings of the individual offices sufficient enough to give me a basis on which to make any judgment about whether anybody should be replaced or how many should be replaced.… [I]t was not my role. It was the role of the Justice Department. The White House didn’t have the tools, I certainly didn’t have the tools to make a proper evaluation.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ]
Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) responds to an email from White House deputy counsel David Leitch regarding the proposed firing of some or all of the nation’s 93 US Attorneys (see January 6, 2005). Sampson confirms that he has spoken with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales about the proposal “a couple of weeks ago” (see Late December 2004). Sampson delineates his “thoughts” to Leitch in four points. He notes that while US Attorneys serve at the “pleasure of the president,” they generally serve four-year terms. (Sampson is aware that all 93 US Attorneys have been informed that they will not be asked to resign as President Bush’s second term commences—see November 4, 2004—and is also aware that Gonzales and White House deputy counsel Harriet Miers are discussing replacing some or all of the US Attorneys—see November 2004 and Late December 2004.) It would be “weird” to ask them to leave before their terms are complete. Sampson goes on to note the “historical” practice of allowing US Attorneys to complete their terms, even if there is a party change in the administration; he does not mention that the incoming 1992 Clinton administration, and the incoming 2000 Bush administration, both asked all or almost all 93 US Attorneys to leave without regard to completing their terms (see March 24, 1993 and January 2001). Sampson then writes that “as an operational matter, we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—the underperforming ones. (This is a rough guess; we might want to consider doing performance evaluations after Judge [Gonzales] comes on board.) The vast majority of US Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc. Due to the history, it would certainly send ripples through the US Attorney community if we told folks that they got one term only (as a general matter, the Reagan US Attorneys appointed in 1981 stayed on through the entire Reagan administration; Bush 41 even had to establish that Reagan-appointed US Attorneys would not be permitted to continue on through the Bush 41 administration—indeed, even performance evaluations likely would create ripples, though this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing).” Sampson predicts that “as a political matter… I suspect that when push comes to shove, home-state senators likely would resist wholesale (or even piecemeal) replacement of US Attorneys they recommended.” However, he writes, “if Karl [Rove, the White House political chief] thinks there would be policitical [sic] will to do it, then so do I.” [US Department of Justice, 1/9/2005 ; ABC News, 3/15/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ; Talking Points Memo, 2011] The original email seems to come from another aide in the White House Counsel’s Office, Colin Newman, who told Leitch that Rove “stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting) ‘how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.’ I told him that you would be on the hill all day for the judge’s hearing, and he said the matter was not urgent.” Leitch responded by forwarding the email to Sampson with the comment, “Let’s discuss.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ] Newman’s email is dated January 6, and the reference to “the judge’s hearing” seems to refer to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales’s contentious hearing on the Geneva Conventions before the Senate Judiciary Committee on that date (see January 6, 2005).
Downplaying White House Involvement - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Leitch will say that he has no recollection of discussing the matter with Sampson, Rove, or anyone else. He will leave the White House Counsel’s Office shortly after this email exchange. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] In 2009, Miers will testify that she does not recall specifics of these discussions. She will say: “I don’t have a recollection of that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that happened, that would be some general discussion of, well, we have the Justice Department saying we have a certain number that we feel should be looked at and that that is better because it doesn’t create the upheaval that removing all of the US Attorneys would have. I think the original discussion did not involve the kind of plan, as that term has been used, that eventually evolved.” At this point, Miers will say, the idea of firing a large number of US Attorneys on the same day had not been discussed. The Justice Department, she will say, would make the decisions as to whom, if anyone, should be terminated, not the White House. Asked specifically about Rove’s Office of Political Affairs (OPA), she will say that it would merely play a consulting role in the process: “I did ask that they assist, in the areas where there might be removals, the location of sources for recommendations. And so the political office was as it is called; they had the political piece.” The Counsel’s Office would not ask OPA for recommendations of replacements for the ousted US Attorneys, she says: “We would turn to them for identification of the sources that you could go to and ask for people to be considered. You wouldn’t turn to them and say tell us who we ought to recommend.” However, “if they had a preference for, someone, they would state it so that they certainly had input.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ] In 2009, Rove will deny ever seeing the email or discussing the matter with Sampson, and will say, “The implication that somehow this was addressed to me and I somehow received it is inaccurate.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ] Miers claims no memory of Rove ever attending a Judicial Selection Committee meeting to discuss the removal of a specific US Attorney. She will recall discussions of the removal of US Attorney David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001) by OPA members, including Rove. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ]
Entity Tags: Colin Newman, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), White House Counsel’s Office, White House Office of Political Affairs, Harriet E. Miers, D. Kyle Sampson, Karl C. Rove, Clinton administration, David Leitch, David C. Iglesias
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appoints three Justice Department officials to senior positions, including lawyer D. Kyle Sampson as his deputy chief of staff. Sampson serves under Theodore Ullyot, who is now Gonzales’s chief of staff. Ullyot comes to the department from the White House, where he was a deputy assistant to the president and deputy staff secretary. Sampson has been a counselor to the attorney general since 2003 (see 2001-2003), and also serves as a Special Assistant US Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia. Like Ullyot, Sampson also served a stint in the White House, as associate counsel to the president and as special assistant to the president and associate director for presidential personnel. [US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005] In October 2005, Ullyot will leave the Justice Department to work in the corporate realm, resulting in the promotion of Sampson to chief of staff. [Forbes, 2013]
Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), sends a list of the 93 current US Attorneys to White House counsel Harriet Miers. Each US Attorney is listed in either plain type, boldface, or “strikeout,” meaning a line is drawn through their name. In a follow-up email on March 2, Sampson explains that, “putting aside expiring terms, the analysis on the chart I gave you is as follows:
Bold - “Recommend retaining; strong US Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general.
Strikeout - “Recommend removing; weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors; chafed against administration initiatives, etc.
Nothing - “No recommendation; not distinguished themselves either positively or negatively.”
On the copy of the chart released to the House Judiciary Committee in 2009, most of the US Attorneys’ names are redacted. The ones who are not redacted are listed as follows:
Paul K. Charlton, Arizona (see November 14, 2001 and December 2003): nothing;
Bud Cummins, Eastern Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002): strikeout.
Debra W. Yang, Central California: boldface.
Kevin Ryan, Northern California (see August 2, 2002 and February 2003): nothing. (Ryan’s name is in a different font than the others, suggesting that it has been re-entered; it is difficult to tell from the copy of Sampson’s chart if his name is in boldface or not.)
Carol C. Lam, Southern California (see November 8, 2002 and February 7-11, 2005): strikeout.
Patrick Fitzgerald, Northern Illinois (see October 24, 2001): nothing.
Margaret M. Chiara, Western Michigan (see November 2, 2001 and July 12-16, 2004): strikeout.
Thomas B. Heffelfinger, Minnesota: strikeout.
Dunn O. Lampton, Southern Mississippi: strikeout.
Todd P. Graves, Missouri (see October 11, 2001 and March 2002): nothing.
Daniel G. Bogden, Nevada (see November 2, 2001 and February 2003): nothing.
Christopher J. Christie, New Jersey (see December 20, 2001): boldface.
David C. Iglesias, New Mexico (see October 18, 2001 and 2002): boldface.
Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Central North Carolina: strikeout.
Mary Beth Buchanan, Western Pennsylvania: boldface.
John McKay Jr., Western Washington (see October 24, 2001 and May 2002): strikeout.
Steven M. Biskupic, Wisconsin: strikeout.
Thomas A. Zonay, Vermont: boldface.
On March 2, Sampson sends an email to Miers indicating some revisions to the chart. Heffelfinger and Biskupic have their statuses changed to “strikeout” (referenced above), and Matt Orwig, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, is listed in boldface. Miers, a Texas native, responds, “Good to hear about Matt actually.” Sampson replies, somewhat cryptically and with careless punctuation and capitalization: “yes he’s good. oversight by me.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ]
Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Carol C. Lam, Matt Orwig, Steven M. Biskupic, Thomas A. Zonay, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, Todd P. Graves, Mary Beth Buchanan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Alberto R. Gonzales, Margaret M. Chiara, Paul K. Charlton, John L. McKay, D. Kyle Sampson, Kevin J. Ryan, Christopher J. (“Chris”) Christie, Daniel G. Bogden, Debra Wong Yang, David C. Iglesias, Harriet E. Miers, Dunn O. Lampton, House Judiciary Committee, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Deputy Attorney General James Comey expresses his concerns with US Attorney Kevin Ryan (see Fall 2004 and January 31 - March 21, 2005) to Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) and the person in charge of the Justice Department’s planned purge of US Attorneys. On his initial list of US Attorneys, Sampson labeled Ryan as “strong” and did not list him as ripe for ousting (see January 9, 2005 and March 2, 2005). Comey tells Sampson that he considers Ryan a weak performer based on the documented morale problems in the office. Other Justice Department officials such as Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis and Executive Office for US Attorneys chief Mary Beth Buchanan share similar concerns with Sampson around this time. Comey tells Sampson that he knows Buchanan’s office is concerned about Ryan and is working with Margolis to address the problems. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
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).
Entity Tags: Cory Dillon, Todd P. Graves, Tracy Graves, US Department of Justice, William W. Mercer, Alberto R. Gonzales, Chuck Rosenberg, Paul J. McNulty, Sam Graves, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), David Margolis, D. Kyle Sampson, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Missouri Democratic Party, Kansas City Star, Matt Blunt, Jack Bartling, Mary Beth Buchanan
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Jack Bartling, the legal counsel for Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), calls the White House Counsel’s Office (WHCO) several times to demand that the US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, Todd Graves (see October 11, 2001), be fired. Graves’s single performance review by the Justice Department was excellent (see March 2002), and Bartling’s complaints are not performance-related. Bartling speaks to associate White House counsel Grant Dixton on numerous occasions demanding that Graves be fired. Bartling will speak to Justice Department investigators looking into the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008), and will say that Bond had nothing to do with his efforts to get Graves fired; instead, Bartling will characterize the problem as a “staff issue” being handled by himself and Bond’s chief of staff. Bartling will claim to have never discussed the matter with Bond, as it would have been beneath Bond’s position as “undisputed leader of the Republican congressional delegation in Missouri” to become involved in such a matter. Bartling will say that the demands for Graves’s removal are actually sparked by discord between the staffs of Bond and US Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), Todd Graves’s brother. Representative Graves’s office does “not run business” in a manner the Bond’s staff finds acceptable. Bartling will say that they asked Todd Graves to try to control his brother, but the US Attorney chose not to become involved in the dispute. Bartling will say he raises the issue of Todd Graves’s wife accepting a no-bid contract from Governor Roy Blunt (R-MO) that he says poses a potential conflict of interest for Graves (see February - April 2005). Dixton is the only person in the WHCO who will cooperate with the Justice Department investigation, and he will confirm speaking to Bartling about Graves. According to Dixton, Bartling wants to see Graves removed when Graves’s term of office expires in October 2005. Dixton will say that he cannot recall clearly, but he likely brought the matter to the attention of Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), and to deputy White House counsel William Kelley. Dixton, however, will say that he only spoke to Bartling once, and does not remember speaking to Bartling about Graves’s wife. The Justice Department investigators will determine that Bartling likely spoke to associate White House counsel Richard Klingler as well as Dixton, but Klingler will refuse to cooperate with the investigation. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] The matter will be referred to the Justice Department (see Summer - Fall 2005).
Entity Tags: Jack Bartling, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Grant Dixton, White House Counsel’s Office, William Kelley, D. Kyle Sampson, Richard Klingler, Roy Blunt, US Department of Justice, Todd P. Graves, Sam Graves
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Justice Department official Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003), now the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) as well as the Special Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, sends an email to Gonzales’s successor, senior White House counsel Harriet Miers. Sampson is responding to a late February request for recommendations for firing US Attorneys in case the White House decides to ask for resignations from a “subset” of those officials (see February 24, 2005 and After). In the email, Sampson ranks all 93 US Attorneys, using a set of three broad criteria. Strong performers exhibit “loyalty to the president and attorney general” (see January 9, 2005). Poor performers are, he writes, “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.” A third group is not rated at all. US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001, 2002 and November 14-18, 2005 ) and Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002) appear on the list as “recommended retaining.” Gonzales has approved the idea of firing some of the US Attorneys.
Denoted for Firing - US Attorneys listed for possible firing are: David York of the Southern District of Alabama; H.E. “Bud” Cummins of the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002); Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002); Greg Miller of the Northern District of Florida; David Huber of the Western District of Kentucky; Margaret Chiara of the Western District of Michigan (see November 2, 2001); Jim Greenlee of the Northern District of Mississippi; Dunn O. Lampton of the Southern District of Mississippi; Anna Mills S. Wagoner of the Middle District of North Carolina; John McKay of the Western District of Washington state (see October 24, 2001, Late October 2001 - March 2002, and January 4, 2005); Kasey Warner of the Southern District of West Virginia; and Paula Silsby of Maine. Sampson sends a revised listing later this evening with two more names indicated for possible firing: Thomas B. Heffelfinger of Minnesota and Steven Biskupic of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Sampson says he based his choices on his own personal judgments formed during his work at the White House and the Justice Department, and on input he received from other Justice Department officials. He will later testify that he cannot recall what any specific official told him about any specific US Attorney. He will call this list a “quick and dirty” compilation and a “preliminary list” that would be subject to “further vetting… down the road” from department leaders. [US Department of Justice, 2005 ; US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; US Department of Justice, 3/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Days later, a Federalist Society lawyer will email Mary Beth Buchanan, the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, with a recommendation for Lam’s replacement (see March 7, 2005).
Later Recollections - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Gonzales will tell investigators that he supported the concept of evaluating the US Attorneys’ performance to see “where we could do better.” Gonzales will say that he instructed Sampson to consult with the senior leadership of the Justice Department, obtain a consensus recommendation as to which US Attorneys should be removed, and coordinate with the White House on the process. Gonzales will say that he never discussed with Sampson how to evaluate US Attorneys or what factors to consider when discussing with department leaders which US Attorneys should be removed. Sampson will say that he did not share the list with Gonzales or any other department officials, but will say he believes he briefed Gonzales on it. Gonzales will say he recalls no such briefing, nor does he recall ever seeing the list. Then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey and then-Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis will tell OIG investigators about their discussions with Sampson. Comey will recall telling Sampson on February 28, 2005 that he felt Ryan and Lampton belonged in the “weak” category, and will say he may have denoted Heffelfinger and another US Attorney, David O’Meilia, as “weak” performers. Comey will say that he was not aware of Sampson’s work with the White House in compiling a list of US Attorneys to be removed. He will say that he considered his conversation with Sampson “casual” and that Sampson “offhandedly” raised the subject with him. Margolis will recall speaking briefly with Sampson about “weak” performers among the US Attorneys in late 2004 or early 2005, but recall little about the conversation. He will remember that Sampson told him about Miers’s idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004), and agreed with Sampson that such a move would be unwise. Margolis will recall Sampson viewing Miers’s idea as a way to replace some US Attorneys for President Bush’s second term, an idea Margolis will say he endorsed. He was not aware that political considerations may be used to compile a list of potential firings. He will recall looking at a list Sampson had of all 93 Attorneys. He will remember citing Ryan and Lampton as poor performers, as well as Chiara. He will remember saying that eight other US Attorneys might warrant replacement. Sampson will tell OIG investigators that he received no immediate reaction from Miers to the list, and will say he did not remember discussing the basis for his recommendations with her. As for McKay, though Washington state Republicans are sending a steady stream of complaints to the White House concerning McKay’s alleged lack of interest in pursuing voter fraud allegations (see December 2004, Late 2004, Late 2004 or Early 2005, January 4, 2005, and January 4, 2005), Sampson will claim to be unaware of any of them and say he would not have used them as justification to advocate for McKay’s termination. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, Kevin Ryan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Margaret M. Chiara, Bush administration (43), Paula Silsby, Steven M. Biskupic, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, John L. McKay, Jim Greenlee, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, James B. Comey Jr., David C. Iglesias, D. Kyle Sampson, David Huber, David Margolis, Kasey Warner, David York, David O’Meilia, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Greg Miller, Dunn O. Lampton, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Timothy Griffin, after being elected as a US representative in 2010. [Source: Politico]Timothy Griffin, a former Republican National Committee aide and a veteran Republican political operative (see October 26, 2004), learns that Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), has identified the US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas, Bud Cummins, as one of several US Attorneys who should be fired (see January 9, 2005 and March 2, 2005). Griffin, a lawyer who has twice attempted to secure that position for himself, learns of the news from Sara Taylor, the White House’s new director of political affairs (replacing Karl Rove, who still supervises all political issues from his new position as deputy chief of staff—see Late January 2005). Griffin is considering joining Taylor’s staff, but even before his hiring, he attends several “directors” meetings at the White House. After one of these meetings, Taylor shows him the list of US Attorneys slated for dismissal. The list includes Cummins. Taylor says she does not know why Cummins is on the list, but she believes it may be because he lost his sponsor, Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), when Hutchinson lost his bid for re-election in 2002. Griffin joins Taylor’s staff, and shortly thereafter meets with White House counsel Harriet Miers, who also tells him that the White House is planning to fire Cummins. She asks Griffin if he is interested in the position, and he says he would like the job after completing a stint in the White House. Miers warns him that it might be difficult to have him approved for the position after having worked for the White House Office of Political Affairs. Miers, Rove, and Taylor discuss Griffin’s employment options through the rest of March. Miers tells Rove that she has considered making Griffin a political appointee in one of the two US Attorneys’ offices in Arkansas, or perhaps having Griffin replace the deputy director of the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department. Rove responds, “What about him for the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas?” Miers replies that such a move is “definitely a possibility” because the current US Attorney, Cummins, is going to be replaced. Miers tells Rove that Griffin has spoken with her about his desire for the slot, but for now he wants to stay with the White House. Taylor responds to the exchange by saying in part, “My fear is they end up putting him [Griffin] at Justice (which he does not want to do); it’s a year before he’s made US Attorney, if ever.” In another email, Taylor writes to Rove that Griffin “would love to be US Attorney—he’d love to come here in the meantime.” Griffin accepts the position of deputy director of political affairs at the White House, promising Taylor that he will stay in the position at least after the November 2006 election unless the US Attorney position opens up before then. For his part, Cummins, who is toying with the idea of leaving the position, speaks with Griffin periodically throughout the year about Griffin taking the position after Cummins resigns. Cummins will later say that he always assumed the choice as to if and when to resign would be his, and that he always assumed Griffin would get the job because he is so well connected politically. Griffin later says he never pushed Cummins to leave, but will tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008), “I was laying low.” Griffin will say that to his mind, Cummins’s removal and his own ascension to the post were two separate things. “I didn’t know why he was being fired,” Griffin will say, “but I knew that if he was going to be fired, then I wanted to be considered for that job.” Griffin, a member of the Army Reserve, will leave his White House position in August 2005 to serve as a Judge Advocate General officer in Iraq, and will stay in close contact with officials in both the White House and the Justice Department throughout his yearlong tour of duty. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Bush administration (43), White House Office of Political Affairs, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III, US Department of Justice, Sara Taylor, J. Timothy Griffin, Karl C. Rove, Republican National Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Tim Hutchinson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Associate White House counsel Dabney Friedrich, acting at the behest of her superior, White House counsel Harriet Miers, sends Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), an email asking him to confirm Miers’s understanding that the “plan” to fire and replace selected US Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, and March 2, 2005) is “to wait until each has served a four-year term. She was operating under the assumption that we would act to remove/replace right away.” Sampson replies that he, Friedrich, Miers, and Gonzales should discuss the matter, but he has recommended that the attorneys should be replaced “selectively” after their four-year terms expire. Sampson writes that to do otherwise might cause consternation among home-state politicians and “internal management trouble” within the Justice Department. Sampson emphasizes that he is expressing his views and not those of Gonzales. Friedrich replies with her agreement, and says she would be surprised to hear differently from either Miers or Gonzales. Little is said among the principals in the attorney-firing process for several months. The first expirations will not begin until November 2005, and according to a later Justice Department investigation (see September 29, 2008), Sampson will decide to “back-burner” the issue until later in the year. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ]
Bud Cummins, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002), does well in his second Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) evaluation by the Justice Department. As with his first EARS evaluation (see April or August 2002), he is described as highly regarded by the judiciary in his district as well as by law enforcement, civil client agencies, and his office personnel. The current EARS evaluation reports that Cummins and his senior management team “effectively managed the office’s operations and personnel.” Under Cummins, the report says, his office has “established strategic goals that were appropriate to meet the priorities of the department and the needs of the district.” Cummins is involved in the day-to-day management of his office, and is active in Justice Department matters, serving on various Attorney General Advisory Committee subcommittees. Cummins also receives high marks for his office’s anti-terrorism, anti-drug, and reduction of gun violence programs. The office focuses strongly on public corruption cases involving state legislators. Cummins is doing a good job of incorporating a number of new and inexperienced assistants into his staff of “very experienced” assistants, though the report recommends that he consider selecting either “a deputy criminal chief, or the creation of units with lead attorneys to assist the criminal chief in the management of the workload and personnel.” The report also finds some incorrect data entries in the Legal Information Office Network System (LIONS). [US House of Representatives, Committee of the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Cummins will be fired shortly after this evaluation is performed (see December 20, 2006). He has already been identified as a target for removal by Justice Department aide Kyle Sampson (see January 9, 2005). All of the US Attorneys on Sampson’s list of targets are described as “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.”
Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), asks Acting Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General William Mercer for his opinion on the performance of a number of US Attorneys. (Mercer is also a US Attorney.) Mercer will later state that Sampson does not say that there is a plan to fire some of the Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, March 2, 2005, and March 23, 2005), but Mercer understands that such is Sampson’s purpose in asking his opinion. Sampson says that changes might be made in certain districts with productivity problems or policy compliance issues. Mercer will later recall discussing issues with US Attorney Carol Lam’s immigration records (see February 2, 2004, July 30, 2004, and September 23, 2005), and will recall discussions about US Attorney Kevin Ryan as well. Mercer will say he and Sampson may discuss other Attorneys as well, but will state he cannot recall who those Attorneys might be. Mercer gets the sense that Sampson is speaking with other people about the issue, but does not know who those people might be. Mercer will say that he and Sampson do not discuss the issue again until December 2006, when the firing plan is activated (see December 7, 2006). [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) contacts Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 14, 2005), by conference call, to complain about the “job performance” of New Mexico’s US Attorney, David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001). Meeting participants include Domenici, Gonzales’s deputy chief of staff Kyle Sampson, and Assistant Attorney General William Moschella. According to Moschella’s day planner, Gonzales will call Domenici, apparently after the telephone call. Domenici cites “public corruption cases” as part of his concerns with Iglesias’s performance. [US Department of Justice, 3/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] It is not known if previous complaints regarding Iglesias from New Mexico’s Republican Party chairman Allen Weh (see May 6, 2005 and After) are part of the reason why Domenici is complaining about Iglesias. Domenici has received at least one complaint Weh sent to the White House (see August 9, 2005).
Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey delivers dramatic testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the March 2004 attempts by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure a seriously ill John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to certify the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004, Early 2002). Comey testifies that even though he, who at the time has the full authority of the attorney general during Ashcroft’s illness, and Ashcroft both refused to authorize the program due to their belief that the program is illegal, President Bush will certify the program anyway. Only a threatened mass resignation by Ashcroft, Comey, FBI director Robert Mueller, and other senior officials will persuade Bush, weeks later, to make changes in the program that bring it somewhat closer to operating within the law. [Think Progress, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007]
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Ashcroft's Hospital Room, Comey Believes - Comey says that while he cannot be certain, he believes Gonzales and Card went to Ashcroft’s hospital room on orders from President Bush: “I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don’t know that for sure,” he tells the committee. His major concern in heading off Gonzales and Card at the hospital, Comey testifies, is that, “given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that.” Comey says he was “stunned” by how forceful Ashcroft was in refusing to comply with Gonzales and Card’s directive to sign the reauthorization.
Gonzales a 'Loyal Bushie' - Committee members are openly contemptuous of Gonzales’s actions, and question his fitness to serve as attorney general. “He’s presided over a Justice Department where being a, quote, loyal Bushie seems to be more important than being a seasoned professional, where what the White House wants is more important than what the law requires or what prudence dictates,” says Charles Schumer (D-NY). Arlen Specter (R-PA) is hardly less critical. “It is the decision of Mr. Gonzales as to whether he stays or goes, but it is hard to see how the Department of Justice can function and perform its important duties with Mr. Gonzales remaining where he is,” Specter says. “And beyond Mr. Gonzales’s decision, it’s a matter for the president as to whether the president will retain the attorney general or not.” [New York Times, 5/15/2007]
Not a 'Team Player' - Interestingly, President Bush views Comey with disdain because Comey isn’t what Bush calls a “team player;” Bush earlier tagged Comey, who resigned his position in 2005 and who previously tangled with the White House over its embrace of torture for terrorist suspects, with the derisive nickname “Cuomo,” after the former Democratic governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, famous for vacillating over whether to run for the presidency in the 1980s. The White House denies the nickname. [Newsweek, 1/9/2006] Comey is not popular in the White House in part because of his 2003 appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury connected to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). And after the 9/11 attacks, Comey challenged Cheney’s assertions that the use of torture and other “war on terror” policies were legal (see January 9, 2002). Comey says he has been prepared to testify about the Ashcroft hospital visit for three years, but never did until now, because “Nobody ever asked.…I’ve never been in a forum where I was obligated to answer the question. Short of that, it was not something I was going to volunteer.” Card says that his actions at the hospital earned him bureaucratic punishment from Card. After Gonzales became attorney general, Ashcroft’s then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, told Comey that Gonzales’s “vision” was to merge the deputy’s office with Gonzales’s own office, stripping Comey of much of his autonomy and reducing him, in essence, to a staff member. Comey refused to cooperate. “You may want to try that with the next deputy attorney general,” Comey told Sampson. “But it’s not going to work with me.” [US News and World Report, 5/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Judiciary Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, James B. Comey Jr., George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells an NPR reporter that he never allowed the Justice Department (DOJ) to become politicized, and that he believes the historical judgment of his tenure in the department will be favorable. He acknowledges making some errors, including failing to properly oversee the DOJ’s push to fire nine US attorneys in 2008, a process many believe was orchestrated by the White House with the involvement of Gonzales and then-White House political guru Karl Rove.
Failure to Engage - “No question, I should have been more engaged in that process,” he says, but adds that he is being held accountable for decisions made by his subordinates. “I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,” he says, referring to his former deputy Paul McNulty, who resigned over the controversy after telling a Senate committee that the attorney firings were performance-related and not politically motivated. Gonzales says his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was primarily responsible for the US attorney review process and for working with McNulty. “If Paul McNulty makes a recommendation to me—if a recommendation includes his views—I would feel quite comfortable that those would be good recommendations coming to me” about the qualifications of the US attorneys under question, Gonzales says. He adds that he has “seen no evidence” that Rove or anyone at the White House tried to use the US attorneys to politicize the work at the DOJ. A review by the DOJ’s Inspector General found that the firing policy was fundamentally flawed, and that Gonzales was disengaged and had failed to properly supervise the review process.
Claims He Was Unfairly Targeted by 'Mean-Spirited' Washington Insiders - Gonzales says he has been unfairly held responsible for many controversial Bush administration policies, including its refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, January 18-25, 2002, January 25, 2002, August 1, 2002, November 11, 2004, and January 17, 2007) and its illegal eavesdropping on US citizens (see Early 2004, March 9, 2004, December 19, 2005, Early 2006, and February 15, 2006), because of his close personal relationship with former President Bush. Washington, he says, is a “difficult town, a mean-spirited town.” He continues: “Sometimes people identify someone to target. That’s what happened to me. I’m not whining. It comes with the job.”
Visiting Ashcroft at the Hospital - In 2004, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card raced to the bedside of hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to persuade, or perhaps coerce, Ashcroft to sign off on a secret government surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). The intervention was blocked by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see March 12-Mid-2004). Gonzales says he has no regrets about the incident: “Neither Andy nor I would have gone there to take advantage of somebody who was sick. We were sent there on behalf of the president of the United States.” As for threats by Justice Department officials to resign en masse over the hospital visit (see Late March, 2004), Gonzales merely says, “Lawyers often disagree about important legal issues.”
Warning about Plain Speaking - Gonzales says Obama’s attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, should refrain from making such statements as Holder made last week when he testified that waterboarding is torture. “One needs to be careful in making a blanket pronouncement like that,” Gonzales says, adding that such a statement might affect the “morale and dedication” of intelligence officials and lawyers who are attempting to make cases against terrorism suspects. [National Public Radio, 1/26/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, James B. Comey Jr., Karl C. Rove, Paul J. McNulty, D. Kyle Sampson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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