U.S. attorney timeline
From OpenCongress Wiki
In late 2006, the Justice Department fired (or asked for the resignation of) at least eight U.S. attorneys all previously appointed by President Bush. Earlier in 2006, a provision included in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act allowed these positions to be filled by the administration without Senate approval. In 2007, hearings were held on the matter in both the House and Senate Judiciary Committee on the firings. The hearings, as well as subpoenaed records, suggest that the firings were politically-motivated. Congress has requested certain documents, emails, and testimonies to which the White House refused to grant access, prompting a prolonged battle between the two bodies, as well as additional subpoenas, Executive Privilege claims, and contempt citations.
Summary of events from 2001-May 31, 2006
From late 2001-late 2002, all of the U.S. Attorneys who would ultimately be controversially fired were appointed.
Criticisms and complaints about specific U.S. attorneys begin
Around the 2004 elections, a number of U.S. Attorneys came under Republican criticism for their work, some of whom were contacted by public officials voicing complaints about particular investigations. Following these complaints, the White House and Department of Justice began discussing the possibility of firing some U.S. Attorneys.
U.S. Attorney John McKay contacted by Rep. Hastings' staff
In November, 2004, the Chief of Staff for Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), contacted U.S. Attorney for Washington John McKay to inquire about whether McKay would conduct particular voter fraud investigations advantageous to Republicans. Elected officials and their staffs are prohibited from making such inquiries, however. Following the election, in which Republicans failed to win the Governor’s seat, the Republican Party Chair of Washington, Chris Vance, contacted McKay to voice concerns. Vance also spoke with Karl Rove about the election. The White House and Hastings were also repeatedly contacted by a prominent Washington businessman about firing McKay.
U.S. Attorney David Iglesias targeted by Senator Pete Domenici; Domenici contacts DOJ, White House
During this time period complaints arose regarding other Attorneys as well. In mid-2005, New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allan Weh complained to a liaison for Karl Rove about U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. Later that year Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) contacted Alberto Gonzales to voice concerns about Iglesias’ performance, with Gonzales deputy Kyle Sampson and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William Moschella in attendance at the meeting. Domenici again contacted Gonzales’ office in January, 2006, and in April of that year Domenici placed a third call to Gonzales to complain about Iglesias, with Monica Goodling joining Sampson and Moschella on that call.
U.S. Attorney Lam investigates Duke Cunningham; Lam targeted by Gonzales deputy Sampson
In mid 2005, another Attorney later fired, Carol Lam of California, began investigating allegations of corruption regarding a Republican Member of Congress—Rep. Duke Cunningham, who would later serve a prison sentence for his actions. Lam’s investigation focused on Defense contracts, bribery, and corruption surrounding Cunningham, Brent Wilkes, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, and then-Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.). A few months after Lam began her investigation 18 Republicans signed a letter criticizing her work, citing her “lax” handling of immigration cases. As Lam expanded her investigation, Gonzales’ Chief of Staff, Sampson, worked on pressuring and firing her.
U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins investigates Governor Matt Blunt; Cummins replacement selected
In early 2006, another Attorney fired in late 2006, Bud Cummins, began investigating Missouri’s Governor, Republican Matt Blunt, for bribery and corruption. Blunt is also the son of powerful Republican Congressman and House Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO). During this time, a former Rove deputy and eventual Cummins assistant and replacement, Tim Griffin, was in touch with Sampson. Sampson mentioned to White House Counsel Harriet Miers that Griffin might be appointed a U.S. Attorney in the near future.
PATRIOT ACT revised to reduce Congressional involvement in U.S. attorney appointments
As these complaints arose and the prospect of firings entered the horizon, the PATRIOT ACT was revised to take power away from Congress and give power to the White House regarding U.S. Attorney appointments. In late December, 2005, Gonzales’ deputy drafted provisions for the revised PATRIOT ACT which would eliminate restrictions on the length of service for interim U.S. attorneys, and allow future interim attorneys to serve indefinitely without Senate confirmation following White House appointment. The language was signed into law in March, 2006.
White House and DOJ discuss possible firings
Throughout this period, the White House and Department of Justice initiated and proceeded with discussions about of the possibility of firing some or all U.S. attorneys. In late December, 2004, Sampson and Gonzales discussed the possibility of replacing all 93 U.S. Attorneys, with Karl Rove inquiring about the prospective firings in January, 2005. Later, Sampson and Miers discussed the possibility of firing all 93 U.S Attorneys, but eventually this idea was discarded. Instead, Sampson worked on ranking the Attorneys based on their “loyalty to the President and Attorney General,” and advised Miers that only particular attorneys should be replaced.
Summary of events from June-December, 2006
DOJ and White House push Cummins to resign, designate replacement
In June, 2006, Michael Battle, director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, called Bud Cummins, U.S. Attorney from Arkansas, and asked Cummins to resign. Cummins was the first Attorney asked to resign, a decision Battle attributed to “the administration's desire to give somebody else the opportunity.” Cummins had, months earlier, begun an investigation of Republican Governor Matt Blunt. Soon after Battle placed this first call to Cummins, the White House drafted plans to appoint former Rove-aid Tim Griffin as a U.S. Attorney upon his return from service in Iraq, at which point Cummins was told to resign. Cummins did not resign immediately, however, leading Justice Department officials Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling to discuss with Scott Jennings how they might sidestep Arkansas' two Democratic senators while firing Cummins. When Griffin returned from Iraq he was named Cummins’ assistant, and, eventually, was named as Cummins’ replacement.
Other attorneys informed of imminent firings following their investigations of Republicans
Around the same time Cummins was asked to resign there was significant movement regarding a number of the other attorneys who would later be fired. In June, 2006, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty suggested firing Carol Lam, whose investigations into Representatives Duke Cunningham, Jerry Lewis, and others, were expanding, in June. Additionally, in mid-2006, U.S. Attorney McKay met with Harriet Miers and deputy White House counsel William Kelley to interview for a federal judgeship, where he was asked about mishandling prosecutions around the 2004 governor’s election. In late 2006, another Attorney who would be later fired, Paul Charlton, began investigating a land deal made by Republican Representative Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.). Immediately prior to the November, 2006 mid-term election, U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara is informed that the White House would request her resignation following the election. She was offered no explanation for her imminent firing, and received no response from McNulty when she asked him to explain the grounds for her dismissal.
U.S. Attorney Iglesias illegally contacted by Sen. Domenici, Rep. Wilson, while others pressure White House to fire Iglesias
The most pronounced action during this time period revolved around U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. In June, 2006, prominent New Mexico Republicans met with Monica Goodling, Director of Public Affairs for the United States Department of Justice under Gonzales, to voice concerns about Iglesias’ handling of voter-fraud investigations. In early October, 2006, Senator Domenici again called McNulty about Iglesias, and later that month New Mexico Representative Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) contacted Iglesias as well—her first contact with him. Soon after Wilson’s call Domenici called Iglesias at his home, and asked whether particular corruption investigations would be pursued before the November, 2006, midterm elections. Iglesias said he felt “leaned on” and “sickened” by the Domenici and Wilson contacts, both of whose contacts Senate and House rules respectively prohibit. Iglesias was ultimately added to a list of U.S. attorneys to be replaced, although he was not initially on the list. Wilson won re-election in 2006, and in the days before the firings, Allen Weh, New Mexico's Republican party chairman, visited the White House regarding Iglesias. Weh expresses his frustration with Iglesias directly to Karl Rove during a holiday party. Weh asked Rove, "Is anything ever going to happen to that guy?" According to Weh, Rove responded, "He's gone."
DOJ and White house formulate plans for firings
While the particular cases proceeded, the White House and Department of Justice discussed overarching plans for replacing some or all of the U.S. Attorneys. In September, 2006, Sampson emailed Miers a second list recommending nine U.S. Attorneys to be replaced, and Iglesias was not included on this list. Sampson described Cummins as “in the process of being pushed out,” and regarding the larger project of replacing U.S. Attorneys, Sampson wrote, “I am in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out... I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments.” Sampson wrote further that by avoiding Senate confirmation, “we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House.” Around this time President Bush passed along complaints about voter fraud investigations to Gonzales, and in October, 2006, Iglesias was added to the list of Attorneys to be replaced. In November, 2006, Sampson drafted a detailed “Plan for Replacing Certain United States Attorneys,” with Rove learning of the plan around that time. In late November, 2006, Gonzales attended a meeting about the firings, and following additional coordination between the White House and Department of Justice, eight U.S. Attorneys were fired on December 7, 2006. Following the firings some of the fired Attorneys were asked to keep quiet about the events surrounding their firings.
Summary of events from January-March 11, 2007
Firings story breaks publicly, White House and DOJ officials resign
In January, 2007, news of the firings spread from local sources like the San Diego Union-Tribune to blogs like TalkingPointsMemo, and finally to the national media. On January 4, 2007, White House Counsel Harriet Miers resigned. About a month later, in February, 2007, Michael Battle, who made the calls firing the Attorneys, announced his resignation as well.
Congress begins addressing firings
Legislation offered to increase Congressional role in Attorney appointments
Congress began acting on the issue in January, 2007, with Senator Dianne Feinstein introducing legislation to repeal the revisions to the PATRIOT ACT that took away Congressional power regarding U.S. Attorney appointments by reinstating limited interim terms and Senate approval.
Domenici questioned about contacting Iglesias
Following the firings public officials who allegedly and illegally contacted U.S Attorneys came under pressure. Senator Domenici initially denied contacting Iglesias, but soon recanted his denial, and said that he did in fact contact Iglesias and regrets doing so. Domenici also hired an attorney. Representative Heather Wilson admitted to calling Iglesias, but denied placing any pressure on him.
Griffin steps down
The Senate also zeroed in on the case of Tim Griffin, the former Rove aid appointed to succeed Bud Cummins. Following Senate pressure, Griffin said he would not seek Senate confirmation and instead allow his temporary appointment to expire.
Gonzales and McNulty testify, downplay firings
In early 2007 Congress heard testimony from a number of White House and DOJ officials involved in the firings. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales acknowledged the firings but said that all were performance-related, not political. McNulty testified as well, similarly describing the firings as “performance-related.” In a March, 2007, editorial in USA Today, Gonzales called the entire issue an “overblown personnel matter” and said that the attorneys had “simply lost my confidence.”
Fired Attorneys testify about firings, threats to keep quiet
In addition to hearing from Administration officials, Congress also heard testimony from the fired prosecutors themselves, after they were subpoenaed. During the hearings, Cummins said that DOJ officials had “warned him on Feb. 20 that the fired prosecutors should remain quiet about their dismissals.” Several of the Attorneys described the threats they received as “obstruction of justice.” McKay detailed pressure he had received to conduct investigations directly related to upcoming elections, and that he was “concerned and dismayed” by such contact. The fired prosecutors also explained that when they were fired, they were never informed of any evidence of poor performance related to their firing. Cummins also testified that DOJ official Michael Elston called him on February 20th to say that if the fired prosecutors continued speaking out, the DOJ would have to release negative information about them. Finally, Charlton and Bogden both testified that they were told by DOJ official Bill Mercer that they were being fired to make room for other Republicans to build their resumes.
White House role seen
Following this testimony, in early March, 2007, McNulty met with the Committees and told them that he had “limited knowledge” of the firing process. On March 11, 2007, the White House acknowledged that Karl Rove had passed complaints about some U.S. Attorneys from the White House to the Department of Justice.
In February, 2007, evidence that many of the fired Attorneys had actually received positive reviews prior to their firings came to light. Sampson himself had positively reviewed Iglesias in 2004, and recommended retaining Iglesias. McKay’s office had received positive reviews as well, as had four other fired Attorneys’ offices. Daniel Bogden pushed back as well, explaining that no “performance-related” issued had ever been identified regarding his office. Around the time of Bogden’s pushback it was revealed that prior to his firing he had initiated an investigation into Nevada’s newly-elected Republican Governor, Jim Gibbons, for accepting bribes. Similar to Bogden, Carol Lam expanded her investigation immediately prior to her resignation, issuing three subpoenas the day before she resigned.
Summary of events from March 12-April 6, 2007
Gonzales aides step down; White House and DOJ revise story, but do not concede errors
On March 12, 2007, following significant public discussion and pressure, Gonzales’ deputy, Kyle Sampson, who had reportedly led the effort to fire the attorneys, resigned. Sampson’s attorneys said that the reason for his resignation was the failure to “organize a more effective political response” to the firings, which contradicted Gonzales’ explanation that Sampson had misled officials and withheld information about the firings. In a press conference the following day, Gonzales revised his assessment of the situation, attributing the firings to “lax voter-fraud” investigations, and acknowledging that “mistakes were made here.” On March 14 President Bush acknowledged the firings for the first time, saying that he was “not happy about” the situation, and that he had at one point discussed complaints about the Attorneys with Gonzales. The day of Bush’s press conference, Republican Senators, with John Sununu (R-N.H.) leading the way, began calling for Gonzales’ resignation. White House spokesman Tony Snow also said that he found noting improper about the firings and about Carol Lam’s case in particular. Gonzales-aid Monica Goodling also took an indefinite Leave of Absence in mid-March, 2007.
Kyle fails to block legislation strengthening Congress; Congress requests more information in light of lost White House emails
As other Republicans called for Gonzales’ resignation, Senator John Kyl (R-Ariz.) threatened to block the passage of Senator Feinstein’s legislation that would strip the passages added to the PATRIOT ACT that took power away from Congress. Kyl later relented, however, the Feinstein act passed the Senate. Beyond passing legislation, the Senate also issued additional subpoenas to White House and Department of Justice staffers. Congress requested documents and emails related to the firings as well. As batches of emails were released, they began demonstrating that White House staffers had used separate non-White House emails accounts to conduct political business—including discussing the firings. The fact that these external Republican National Committee email addresses were used meant that White House records of communications relating to the firings were incomplete, and, perhaps, inaccessible.
Senate rebuffs White House offer of staff testimony in private, without transcripts, and not under oath
In response to Congressional demands for information, withheld emails, testimony, and documents related to the firings, the White House offered to grant private interviews with its staff members as long as they were not conducted under oath, and no transcripts were kept. The President also vowed to oppose any effort to subpoena White House staff members. Following the White House’s offer, the Senate rejected its restrictions as “not helpful.” After rejecting the White House offer, the Senate subpoenaed high-level White House officials.
Goodling pleads the fifth
One of the officials subpoenaed, 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. Goodling reiterated her resistance to testifying following significant pressure from Congress, and resigned on April 6, 2007.
Contradictions in administration accounts of firings come to the fore
As officials began testifying and more information came to light, contradictions in different versions of the firings became more apparent. For example, an Acting Assistant Attorney General was forced to recant earlier testimony suggesting that Rove and Miers were not involved in the firings after Sampson’s email claiming that the appointment of Tim Griffin was “important to Harriet, Karl, etc.” came to light. Similarly, Sampson testified that Gonzales was in fact aware of the firing plans, even though Gonzales had said previously that he was not. Michael Elston, McNulty’s chief of staff, attributed responsibility not to Sampson but to McNulty in his own testimony.
Congress requests more information
Given the lack of clarity, corrections, and contradictions, Congressional investigators in the House and Senate pressed on with requests for interviews, emails, and documents relating to the firings.
Summary of events from April 10-June 11, 2007
Gonzales subpoenaed, testifies, does not recall events surrounding firings
On April 10, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee served a subpoena to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. On April 19, 2007, Gonzales testified, saying he was unaware of the specific circumstances surrounding the firings, and repeating the phrase “I don’t recall” sixty-four times. During Gonzales’ testimony a number of Republican Senators called on him to resign, but following his testimony President Bush said he was even more confident in his Attorney General.
White house declares emails, documents, aides, off-limits to Congress
The White House acknowledged in April that its use of Republican National Committee email accounts rather than White House email accounts resulted in a loss of emails relating to the firings. The White House nonetheless urged the RNC not to supply its emails to the committees, in spite of Congressional subpoenas. The Senate did subpoena and receive other documents, however. Congress subpoenaed Rove emails, as well as White House and DOJ staff Sara Taylor, Monica Goodling with an offer of immunity, and James Comey, who testified and offered detailed accounts of two firings. The Senate Judiciary Committee also wrote to Bradley Schlozman, former head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division who conducted voter fraud investigations while there and later took over for a ninth fired U.S. Attorney, Todd Graves. Congress also increased pressure on Senator Domenici, about whom they initiated an ethics investigation regarding his contacts to and about Iglesias prior to Iglesias’ resignation.
McNulty resigns; Goodling recounts "uncomfortable" conversation with Gonzales during testimony
McNulty resigned on May 14, 2007, and the following day Gonzales said that McNulty was responsible for the firings. A week later Goodling testified. During her testimony, Goodling told the House Judiciary Committee that in an earlier meeting between her and Gonzales, Gonzales chronicled his own account of the late 2006 U.S. attorney dismissals, and asked if Goodling “had any reaction to his iteration.” Goodling told the committee that she did not respond to Gonzales, and that the conversation made her “a little uncomfortable.” In late May, Cummins’ replacement, Griffin, resigned.
Department of Justice investigates Gonzales; "No-confidence" votes on Gonzales fail
Following Goodling’s testimony, the Department of Justice initiated its own investigation of Gonzales to discern whether he tried to influence Goodling’s testimony. Two House members offered a resolution calling for the firing of Gonzales, and Senators announced that they would hold a vote of “no-confidence” in the Attorney General. On June 11, 2007, the vote of “no-confidence” in the attorney general failed, with a number of Senators who had criticized Gonzales in the past voting against the “no-confidence” measure.
Summary of events from June 12, 2007-present
Congress seeks testimony from White House aides, additional emails and documents
In June, 2007, the Justice Department released additional emails further tying Rove’s former aides—specifically Sara Taylor and J. Scott Jennings—to the attorney firings, particularly the case of Tim Griffin. When the emails were released, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees subpoenaed Taylor and Miers. Congress also subpoenaed documents and emails from the Republican National Committee relating to the firings, as RNC accounts had been used by White House staffers to conduct their communications.
White house rebuffs Congress, asserts executive privilege; Congress threatens contempt motion
In late June, House Judiciary Committee Democrats threatened that they would issue a contempt of Congress motion if the White House continued to ignore subpoenas. White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding responded by invoking executive privilege: “I write at the direction of the President to advise and inform you that the President has decided to assert executive privilege and therefore the White House will not be making any production in response to these subpoenas for documents.”
Taylor testifies, Miers refuses to appear
In early July, White House aid Sara Taylor testified to Congress, but invoked executive privilege, per the White House’s directive, when questioned about specifics surrounding the firings. Harriet Miers refused to even appear before Congress, provoking harsh reaction and renewed threats of contempt proceedings.
Contempt citations issued, and Rove subpoenaed
On July 23, 2007, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers announced that the panel would vote on contempt citations against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former Counsel Harriet Miers, as each refused to comply with Congressional subpoenas. Days later, the Committee voted to hold Bolten and Miers in contempt, setting up the prospect of a prolonged legal battle that could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. The motion would scheduled to be voted on by the full House in the fall, after Congress’s summer recess in August.
Gonzales testifies, special prosecutor sought by Congress
On June 24, 2007, Gonzales again testified before Congress. While the majority of the questioning dealt with intelligence-related issues, Congressional Democrats were harshly critical of Gonzales’ relationship to and explanation of the attorney firings. Following his testimony, the Senate Judiciary Committee threatened to hold an inherent contempt trial if Gonzales does not appoint a special prosecutor to challenge the White House's claim of executive privilege in the U.S. attorney firings investigation.