Congressional Investigations of U.S. Attorneys Controversy

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Following the late 2006 firing of eight U.S. attorneys and subsequent public discussion of the possibility that the firings were political rather than performance-related, Congress began investigating the controversy surrounding the firings. The Congressional investigations included requests for communication between White House and Department of Justice officials, the testimony of some of the fired U.S attorneys, as well as the testimony of other current and former Department of Justice and White House officials.

Main article: Bush administration U.S. attorney firings controversy


Contents

Summary of Congressional involvement with the U.S. attorney firings

Hearings commence in House and Senate; U.S. Attorneys testify

On March 1, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas to four of the fired prosecutors (California’s Southern District’s Carol Lam, New Mexico’s David Iglesias, Arkansas’ Eastern District’s H.E. “Bud” Cummins, and Washington’s Western District’s John McKay). On March 5, additional subpoenas were issued to Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Paul Charlton of Arizona to testify before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law. That week, the original four voluntarily chose to also testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. [1]

On March 6, 2007, the hearings were held, and focused on executive and legislative branch interference into corruption inquiries for which the attorneys were working at the time of their respective firings. [2]


Attorney General Gonzales testifies

On April 19, 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. According to the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, "Gonzales uttered the phrase 'I don't recall' and its variants ('I have no recollection,' 'I have no memory') 64 times. Along the way, his answer became so routine that a Marine in the crowd put down his poster protesting the Iraq war and replaced it with a running 'I don't recall' tally.

"Take Gonzales's tally along with that of his former chief of staff, who uttered the phrase 'I don't remember' 122 times before the same committee three weeks ago, and the Justice Department might want to consider handing out Ginkgo biloba in the employee cafeteria." [3]

Blogger Gitai wrote that Gonzales "basically said, 'Well, someone said something about maybe reviewing some of the US Attorneys, and then I delegated that to a lot of people, and then they did some stuff, I don't recall what, I mean, I don't know what they did, because I didn't ask, and even if e-mails show I did ask and did know, I don't recall, and then they gave me a list and then I fired those guys. There was nothing inappropriate about that.'"


Shifting explanations by White House and Gonzales

On March 14, the White House responded to increasing criticism by offering an additional reason for the forced resignations, namely, "Lax Voter-Fraud Investigations". Counselor to the President Dan Bartlett, cited complaints about U.S. Attorneys in New Mexico, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. [4]


Showdown between Congress and President Bush on subpoenaing executive branch staff

On March 15, 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee authorized committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to subpoena five Justice Department officials, including Kyle Sampson, Michael Elston, William Mercer, Monica Goodling, and Michael Battle. It also authorized Leahy to compel six of the U.S. Attorneys — Bud Cummins, David Iglesias, Carol Lam, John McKay, Paul Charlton, and Daniel Bogden — to testify should the committee want to talk to them again. [5]

That day the committee debated but postponed a vote on subpoenaing current and former top White House officials former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and Deputy White House Counsel William Kelly. [6] In the days following the meeting Republican and Democratic members of the committee traded barbs. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) equated the efforts to "a political witch hunt" in an interview on March 18. Leahy countered later that day by stating that the decision to subpoena was ultimately his and that he was "sick and tired of getting half-truths" from the White House on this issue. [7]


Bush rebuffs demands for White House staff to testify, releases Justice Department documents related to firings (with an 18-day lull)

On March 19, 2007, the White House released 3,000 documents of correspondence to the House Judiciary Committee organized haphazardly. Staffers scanned and posted all of the documents online in an effort to distribute research to the public. [8]

Talking Points Memo began a distributive research project on March 20, 2007, to sort through the documents and discovered that there was a period, between November 15 and December 4, where only a few correspondences were released. The 18-day lull includes the Thanksgiving holiday and begins after an e-mail conversation between Harriet Miers and Kyle Sampson. [9]

From: Harriet_Miers@who.eop.gov [mailto: Harriet_Miers@who.eop.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2006 11:39 AM
To: Sampson, Kyle; William_K._Kelley@who.eop.gov
Cc: McNulty, Paul J
Subject: RE: USA replacement plan

Not sure whether this will be determined to require the boss's attention. If it does, he just left last night so would not be able to accomplish that for some time. We will see. Thanks.

From: Sampson, Kyle
Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2006 12:08 PM
To: 'Harriet_Miers@who.eop.gov'; William_K._Kelley@who.eop.gov
Cc: McNulty, Paul J
Subject: RE: USA replacement plan

Who will determine whether whether this requires the President's attention?

The next flurry of e-mails in the thread of documents comes on December 4, 2006 when Kyle Sampson informs Paul McNulty, Michael Elston, Michael Battle, William Moschella, and Monica Goodling that "we are a go for Thursday". The firings occurred on Thursday, December 7, 2006. [10]

On March 23, 2007, the Department of Justice released copies of emails regarding a November 27, 2006 meeting between Gonzales and senior aides to discuss the then planned firings of the U.S. attorneys. [11]

On March 28, 2007, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) urged the White House to turn over all relevant e-mails to the House and Senate Judiciary committees for their investigations. The offer came up amidst allegations that White House staffers had been using private email accounts to conduct government business in order to keep the information private. [12]

On April 6, 2007, Sen. Leahy again requested that the White House turnover documents. Leahy's request was the third of its kind in under two weeks. Still, the White House has yet to release any related documents despite its continued assertion that "there was no wrongdoing." [13]

On May 15, 2007. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sent a letter to Alberto Gonzales berating him for not complying with the Congressional subpoena for the release of Karl Rove's emails regarding the firing of 8 U.S. attorney.[14]

On May 16, 2007, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sent a letter to the Whitehouse, threatening subpoenas over the Bush Administration's involvement in the decisions to fire 8 U.S. attorneys.[15]


Bush offers unofficial talks with staffers, Democrats reject offer

On March 20, 2007, the White House offered to grant members of Congress private interviews with administration officials, such as Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and two of their deputies, conducted with neither oaths nor transcripts. Democrats rejected the offer and President George W. Bush vowed later that day to oppose any efforts to subpoena White House staff members. Meanwhile, Democrats continued to move forward in the subpoena process.[16]

On March 21, 2007, the House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee voted to authorize Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-Mich.) to issue subpoenas for Rove, Miers, Deputy Counsel William Kelley, Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings and former Deputy Attorney General Kyle Sampson, as well as documents that the committee had not yet received. Conyers said in a press release, "The White House's offer provides nothing more than conversations. It does not allow this Committee to get the information we need without transcripts or oaths."[17] While Conyers has the authority to issue the subpoenas now, he will hold back on serving them for the time being.

On March 22, 2007, following suit with the House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee decision to allow for the subpoena of White House staff, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to authorize Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to issue subpoenas for Rove, Miers, and Kelley. [18]

Neither Leahy nor Conyers immediately issued subpoenas to White House officials, despite having been given the authority to do so. It was believed that this was to allow time for a possible compromise between the administration and Congress. [19]

Historical background

If President Bush and Congress were unable to reach an agreement, the standoff would ultimately be settled by the courts. In such a case, Bush's likely defense would be "executive privilege," which refers to his right to withhold certain information from Congress, the courts and most anyone else, even in the face of a subpoena. The courts had been historically deferential to the privilege unless an overwhelming interest in obtaining the information could be proven. In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled against the president in Nixon v. U.S. (1974), when it determined 8-0 that President Richard Nixon could not claim “executive privilege” in refusing to turn over tapes pertaining to the cover-up of the Watergate break-in. Most constitutional standoffs between the president and Congress never make it to courts, as compromises are generally reached. [20]


House Judiciary Committee interviews DOJ employees

On March 30, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee worked out a deal with the administration. The Committee could interview eight current and former Department of Justice employees behind closed doors with transcripts. The interviews would be conducted without oaths, but false statements are prosecutable. In return Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich) and the other leaders agreed that "investigators would keep the content of the interviews confidential pending consultation with Department officials." [21] Monica Goodling was on the list of those to interviewed, but reiterated in a near-identical letter to the one she sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she would plead the Fifth. [22]


Subpoena issued to Gonzales

On April 10, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee served a subpoena to Gonzales. The subpoena calls for the turnover of full text of all documents that had been partially or completely redacted in the Justice Department's document dump (see above). House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) stated in a letter accompanying the subpoena that "further delay in receiving these materials will not serve any constructive purpose." [23]


White House subpoenas

On April 12, 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to authorize subpoenas for relevant White House documents, J. Scott Jennings, special assistant to the president and deputy director of political affairs, and William Moschella, principal associate deputy attorney general. Senate Democrats threatened to issue the subpoenas if Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was not forthcoming in his April 17 testimony before the committee. [24]

It was also alleged that White House staffers used their Republic National Committee email accounts in order to avoid scrutiny. On April 12, 2007, Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) of the House Judiciary Committee wrote a letter requesting the release of the related emails. [25] Despite the calls from democrats to release the emails, the White House urged the Republican National Committee to not turn them over. [26]



Former Deputy Attorney General subpoenaed

On May 1, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to former Deputy Attorney General James Comey. Comey served under Gonzales when discussions between the Department of Justice and White House concerning the removal of the eight U.S. attorneys occurred. Comey agreed to testify before Congress on May 3, 2007. [27]

In Comey's May 3 testimony he claimed to be unaware of the plans to fire the eight U.S. attorneys. In his further testimony he offered praise for seven of the fired eight U.S. attorneys' job performance. [28]

Bradley Schlozman

On May 7, 2007, Sens. Leahy and Specter wrote Bradley Schlozman, the former deputy head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, requesting cooperation in the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation. It is alleged that Schlozman was at least partly responsible for the politicization of the Department's hiring process, tried minimize dissent within the Department by dismissing attorneys, as well as bringing a group of voter fraud indictments just before the 2006 election when he was the U.S. Attorney for Kansas City. [29]

Justice Department officials resign and go on leave in wake of disclosures

On March 5, 2007, Michael Battle, the executive director of the Executive Office for United States attorneys, resigned. Battle had personally made the calls firing several of the attorneys on December 7, 2006. [30]

D. Kyle Sampson, who had reportedly led effort to fire the attorneys, resigned March 12, 2007, after he acknowledged that he mishandled the representation of the actions taken by the Department of Justice.[31] Among the information withheld was that the White House had been considering firing all 93 U.S. Attorneys as early as February 2005. [1] Two weeks later he offered testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee that directly contradicted Gonzales' claims of not being involved in the firings.

Monica Goodling, who is the senior counselor to Gonzales and the Department of Justice's liaison to the White House, took an "indefinite leave of absence" the week of March 19, 2006. She later pleaded her fifth amendment right to not incriminate herself when subpoenaed by Congress.[32] On April 6, 2007, Goodling resigned from her position at the Department of Justice. [33]


Justice's Goodling pleads the Fifth

Monica Goodling stated in an affidavit to the Senate Judiciary Committee dated March 26, 2007, that she would "decline to answer any and all questions" regarding the issue. Goodling's reasoning was that she did not want to put herself in a legally precarious position due to the fact that the Committee had already drawn conclusions about the issue. Goodling's willingness to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights, protecting her from self-incrimination, further raised suspicion as to how high up the involvement went. [34]

On March 30, 2007, Goodling sent a near-identical letter claiming that she will plead the Fifth to the House Judiciary Committee. [35]



Chairman Conyers issues letter asking for Goodling's cooperation

House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Conyers, sent a letter to Department of Justice official Monica Goodling for an interview, requesting her cooperation in connection with the ongoing U.S. attorney scandal. The letter was delivered through Goodling's attorney, John M. Dowd. Last week, Dowd informed House and Senate leaders that Goodling would invoke her Fifth Amendment privilege in response to such invitations.

Sampson testifies before Congress

On March 29, 2007, Sampson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Throughout the course of the hearing, Sampson stated that Gonzales knew of the plan, refuting Gonzales' earlier denial of previous knowledge, and that Iglesias, one of the fired attorneys, was not added to the list of attorneys to be fired until shortly before the 2006 November elections. [36]

Before the testimony, the Bush administration had entered a plea that the topic of other U.S. attorneys who were considered for replacement not be discussed in the highly public testimony of Kyle Sampson. The identities were disclosed to Congress, but redacted in public documents. Despite this plea, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) inquired about their identities, prompting Sampson to make the identities public. [37]


Goodling's attorneys fire back at House and Senate Democrats

Attorneys for Monica Goodling fired back at House and Senate Democrats, reiterating her intent not to cooperate with a probe into the firing of eight federal prosecutors. Furthermore, she compared lawmakers pursuing her to the Cold War ideologue, former Sen. Joseph McCarthy.


Possible immunity for Goodling

The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on April 18, 2007, on whether or not to grant immunity to Goodling in exchange for her testimony. [38] The House Judiciary Committee decided on April 18, 2007, "agreed to in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation," to push the vote back one week. [39]

On April 25, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee voted to authorize a subpoena for Goodling with an offer of immunity.[40]

On March 26, 2007, Monica Goodling, the senior counselor to Gonzales and Department of Justice liaison to the White House who was on an "indefinite leave of absence," refused to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Goodling threatened to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights to not incriminate herself, stating it necessary because of the political environment surrounding the investigations. Pleading the Fifth also implies a legal violation has occurred by that individual, necessitating the need to not self-incriminate.[41]


Possible legal violations by Justice Department officials

During the March 6 testimony, former Arkansas attorney Bud Cummins testified to Congress (both the House and Senate) that he received threats from a senior Justice Department official that “warned him on Feb. 20 that the fired prosecutors should remain quiet about their dismissals.” [42] Cummins described the threats in an email to the other US Attorneys involved [43]. According to several of the fired U.S. Attorneys, this action amounts to “obstruction of justice.” [44]

Former White House aids subpoenaed

On June 12, 2007, the Justice Department released additional emails further linking Karl Rove's former aids--former White House political director Sara Taylor and her deputy J. Scott Jennings--to the U.S. Attorney scandal, and specifically to the case of Tim Griffin.[45] Following the release of the emails, the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas for testimony for Taylor and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.[46] The subpoenas request all relevant documents relating to the firings in addition to the officials' testimony, while the White House has offered to make former officials available only in private interviews, without transcripts.[47] Sen. Arlen Specter (R-P.A.), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, endorsed the subpoenas, explaining that as the committee "really had no response from the White House" to its inquiries, "it is appropriate to issue the subpoenas."[48]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch/Congresspedia Resources

References

  1. Paul Kiel, "BREAKING: House Committee to Subpoena Ousted Prosecutors," TPM Muckraker, March 1, 2007.
  2. Susan Crabtree, "Subpoenas may spell trouble for Domenici and Wilson," The Hill, March 5, 2007.
  3. Dana Milbank, "Maybe Gonzales Won't Recall His Painful Day on the Hill," Washington Post, April 20, 2007.
  4. Amy Goldstein, "White House Cites Lax Voter-Fraud Investigations in U.S. Attorneys' Firings," Washington Post, March 14, 2007.
  5. " Senate Judiciary Committee Authorizes Chairman Leahy To Issue Subpoenas As Part Of Panel’s Ongoing Investigation Into Mass Firings Of Prosecutors," Senate Judiciary Committee Press Release, March 15, 2007.
  6. " Senate Judiciary Committee Authorizes Chairman Leahy To Issue Subpoenas As Part Of Panel’s Ongoing Investigation Into Mass Firings Of Prosecutors," Senate Judiciary Committee Press Release, March 15, 2007.
  7. Jeremy Jacobs, "Leahy, Cornyn clash over possible White House subpoenas," The Hill, March 18, 2007.
  8. Elizabeth Williamson, "Just 3,000 Pages Until Bedtime," The Washington Post, March 21, 2007.
  9. "DOJ-Released Documents 2-1," March 19, 2007.
  10. Joshua Micah Marshall, "Shades of Rose Mary Woods? An 18 day gap?" Talking Points Memo, March 21, 2007.
  11. Susan Crabtree, "Gonzales met with aides about firings," The Hill, March 24, 2007.
  12. Jeremy Jacobs, "Judiciary Chairmen urge White House cooperation," The Hill, March 28, 2007.
  13. Susan Crabtree, "Leahy again demands documents, testimony," The Hill, April 6, 2007.
  14. Jeremy Jacobs, "Leahy, Specter slam Gonzales for bucking subpoena," The Hill, May 16, 2007.
  15. Klaus Marre, "Leahy threatens White House with subpoenas," The Hill, May 16, 2007.
  16. Elana Schor, "Dems reject Bush offer on Karl Rove," The Hill, March 21, 2007.
  17. Press Release. "Judiciary Subcommittee Authorizes Chairman Conyers to Issue Subpoenas in US Attorney Investigation," House Judiciary Committee Press Release, March 21, 2007.
  18. Paul Kane, "Senate Panel Approves Subpoenas for 3 Top Bush Aides," The Hill, March 23, 2007.
  19. "Senate Panel Authorizes Subpoenas For Rove, Aides," CBS News, March 22, 2007.
  20. Reynolds Holding, "The Executive Privilege Showdown," Time, March 21, 2007.
  21. Paul Kiel, "House Dems to Question DoJ Officials in Private," TPMmuckraker, March 30, 2007.
  22. Paul Kiel, "Goodling to House Dems: I'm Not Talking to You, Either," TPMmuckraker, March 30, 2007.
  23. Laurie Kellman, "House panel subpoenas Gonzales documents," Associated Press, April 10, 2007.
  24. Susan Crabtree, "Senate Dems warn Gonzales: We want real answers," The Hill, April 12, 2007.
  25. Paul Kiel, "House Dems Press for RNC Emails," TPMmuckraker, April 12, 2007.
  26. Paul Kiel, "White House to RNC: Don't You Give Those Emails to Dems," TPMmuckraker, April 17, 2007.
  27. Jeremy Jacobs, "House panel subpoenas former Gonzales deputy," The Hill, May 1, 2007.
  28. " Ex-Justice official praises most fired U.S. attorneys," CNN, May 3, 2007.
  29. Paul Kiel, "Senate Committee Wants to Hear from Schlozman," TPMmuckraker, May 7, 2007.
  30. Josh Marshall, "No title," Talking Points Memo, March 5, 2007.
  31. "Transcript from Sampson's Senate Judiciary Committee Testimony," Washington Post, March 29, 2007.
  32. Laurie Kellman, Gonzales aide to invoke Fifth Amendment, MyWay News (Associated Press), March 26, 2007.
  33. Susan Crabtree, "Despite resignation, Conyers still wants Goodling to testify," The Hill, April 6, 2007.
  34. Dan Eggen, "Aide to Gonzales Won't Testify," Washington Post, March 27, 2007.
  35. Paul Kiel, "Goodling to House Dems: I'm Not Talking to You, Either," TPMmuckraker, March 30, 2007.
  36. Dan Eggen and Paul Kane, "Ex-Aide Contradicts Gonzales on Firings," Washington Post, March 30, 2007.
  37. Alexander Bolton, "Schumer defies Justice," The Hill, April 4, 2007.
  38. Klaus Marre, "House Judiciary to vote on giving immunity to DoJ aide," The Hill, April 17, 2007.
  39. Klaus Marre, "Goodling immunity vote pushed back," The Hill, April 18, 2007.
  40. Paul Kiel, "House Committee Authorizes Subpoena for Goodling," TPMmuckraker, April 25, 2007.
  41. Dan Eggen, "Aide to Gonzales Won't Testify," Washington Post, March 27, 2007.
  42. Email From Cummins to Attorneys
  43. Email From Cummins to Attorneys
  44. Susan Crabtree, "Senior aide implicated," The Hill, March 7, 2007.
  45. "New Justice Dept. Emails Reveal Top Rove Aides’ Involvement In Attorney Scandal," Think Progress, June 12, 2007.
  46. Dana Bash and Ted Barrett, "Judiciary committees to issue two subpoenas in U.S. attorneys firings probe," CNN Political Ticker, June 13, 2007.
  47. "Miers Will Be Subpoenaed, Officials Say," Associated Press accessed via New York Times, June 13, 2007.
  48. Kalus Marre, "Specter endorses subpoena of White House official," The Hill, June 13, 2007.

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