U.S. attorney timeline/March 12-April 6, 2007

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Contents

Summary of events from March 12-April 6, 2007

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 Sunnu (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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Timeline

March 12, 2007: Sampson resigns

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.[1] Among the information withheld was that the White House had been considering firing all 93 U.S. Attorneys as early as February 2005. Two weeks later he offered testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee that directly contradicted Gonzales' claims of not being involved in the firings.

March 12, 2007: Kyl threatens to block the passage of the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007

As late as March 12, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) indicated that he would block the bill if it came to the floor of the Senate, [2]

March 13, 2007: Gonzales defends DOJ

In a press conference, Gonzales defended the DOJ and his own actions: "I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility and my pledge to the American people is to find out what went wrong here." Regarding specific actions prior to the firings, Gonzales explained, "[I]n an organization of 110,000 people, I am not aware of every bit of information that passes through the halls of the Department of Justice, nor am I aware of all decisions....I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on."[3]

March 14, 2007: Firings attributed to "lax voter-fraud" investigations

The Administration offered "lax voter-fraud" investigations as additional explanation for the firings. According to a May 14, 2007, report by the Washington Post based off of newly released Department of Justice documents and interviews, nearly half of the attorneys who were slated for removal were targets of Republican complaints that they were lax on voter fraud, including efforts by presidential adviser Karl Rove to encourage more prosecutions of election. [4] Counselor to the President Dan Bartlett, cited complaints about U.S. Attorneys in New Mexico, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. [5]

March 14, 2007: Released emails show communication on RNC email servers about firings

E-mails released on March 14, 2007, showed that Jennings had "communicated with Justice officials about the appointment of Tim Griffin, a former Rove aide, to be the U.S. attorney in Little Rock. Jennings used an e-mail account registered to the Republican National Committee, where Griffin had worked as an opposition researcher."[6]

According to RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt, "As a matter of course, the RNC provides server space and equipment to certain White House personnel in order to assist them with their political efforts," Eggen and Kane wrote.

"The revelation of the gwb43 e-mails illuminates the widespread exploitation of nongovernmental e-mail by Bush White House officials, which initially surfaced in the investigations and trial of convicted Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff," Blumenthal wrote. "Under the RNC's gwb43.com domain a myriad of e-mail accounts flourish, including the ones used by Rove's office to conduct his business with Abramoff. Among these accounts are ones for Republican Senate campaigns, for RepublicanVictoryTeam.com and the like, and, curiously, for ScooterLibby.com. The latter e-mail account serves the Web site of the defense fund of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. ScooterLibby.com amounts to an in-kind contribution from the RNC."

Lots more on CP USA emails page

March 14, 2007: President Bush issues first public comments on firings

In President Bush's first public comments on the firings, he said that he maintained confidence in Gonzales, but that "I'm, frankly, not happy about it... Al was right, mistakes were made, and he's going to go up to Capitol Hill to correct them."

Bush vaguely explains that he had spoken with Gonzales about the U.S. Attorneys at some point: "And I did receive complaints about U.S. attorneys. I specifically remember one time I went up to the Senate and senators were talking about the U.S. attorneys. I don't remember specific names being mentioned, but I did say to Al last year -- you're right, last fall -- I said, have you heard complaints about AGs, I have -- I mean, U.S. attorneys, excuse me -- and he said, I have. But I never brought up a specific case nor gave him specific instructions."[7]

March 14, 2007: First Republican Senator calls for Gonzales' resignation

Senator John Sununu (R-N.H.) calls for Gonzales to resign, becoming the first Republican Senator to do so.[8]

Additional whole page of comments from Senators about AG resign or not

March 15, 2007: Additional subpoenas issued

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. [9]

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. [10] 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. [11]

March 15, 2007: Kyl relents threat to block legislation

As late as March 12, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) indicated that he would block the bill if it came to the floor of the Senate, [12] but had relented his threat by March 15. [13]

March 15, 2007: Second Republican Congressman calls for Gonzales' resignation

Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) calls for Gonzales' resignation, becoming the second Republican Senator to do so.[14]

March 16, 2007: Sampson's attorney explains Sampson's actions, contracts Gonzales

Bradford Berenson, Sampson's lawyer, released a public statement contradicting statements Gonzales had made regarding Sampson's resignation: "Kyle did not resign because he had misled anyone at the Justice Department or withheld information concerning the replacement of U.S. Attorneys," but instead because he did not "organize a more effective political response." Regarding DOJ officials' unawareness about communication with the White House, Berenson added: "If this background was not called to Mr. McNulty or Mr. Moschella's attention, it was not because any of these individuals deliberately withheld it from them but rather because no one focused on it or deemed it important at the time."[15]

March 18, 2007: Leahy decries White House "half-truths"

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated that he was "sick and tired of getting half-truths" from the White House on this issue.

March 19, 2007: Goodling takes indefinite Leave of Absence

Monica Goodling takes an indefinite Leave of Absence.[16]

March 19, 2007: Emails released with eighteen-day gap, more firing details

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. [17]

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. [18]

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. [19]

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. [20]

March 19, 2007:Snow says nothing wrong with discussion of Lam's status

In a press conference, Tony Snow said there was nothing extraordinary about Sampson discussing the need to remove Carol Lam the day after she told DOJ she intended to execute search warrants against Foggo and Wilkes. Snow said emails demonstrate concern with Lam's immigration work beginning in January, 2005.[21]

March 20, 2007: White House offers private interviews without oaths or transcripts

The White House offered to grant members of Congress private interviews with administration officials without oaths or transcripts. Democrats rejected the offer.[22]

March 20, 2007: Bush to oppose any effort to subpoena staffers

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.[23]

March 20, 2007: Feinstein act passes Senate

On March 20, 2007, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007 passed the Senate by a vote of 94-2.[24]

March 20, 2007: White House offers compromise on staff testimony

White House Counsel Fred Fielding offers the Senate Judiciary Committee a compromise: White House staff members Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, William Kelley and Scott Jennings will testify as long as:

  • The testimonies are executed in a closed-door session,
  • No transcript is kept of the meeting, and
  • The staff members are not under oath.

Senator Patrick Leahy, representing the committee, rejects, the offer:

I don't accept his offer. It is not constructive and it is not helpful to be telling the Senate how to do our investigation, or to prejudge its outcome.... Instead of freely and fully providing relevant documents to the investigating committees, they have only selectively sent documents, after erasing large portions that they do not want to see the light of day. Testimony should be on the record, and under oath.[25]

March 20, 2007: President Bush holds a press conference to address the scandal

During a press conference on the scandal, President Bush:

  • Reaffirmed his support for Gonzales, while agreeing that Gonzales will return to the Congress committees to clarify recent information,
  • Confirmed the compromise presented by Fielding, and
  • Announced his intention to challenge Congress' right to subpoena non-Cabinet members of his staff.[26]

March 21, 2007: Subpoenas approved for top-level administration officials

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."[27] 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. [28]

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. [29]

March 21, 2007: Iglesias authors "Why I Was Fired" editorial

David Iglesias writes an editorial for The New York Times entitled, "Why I Was Fired."[30]

March 26, 2007: Goodling pleads the fifth, refuses to testify

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.[31]

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. [32]

March 28, 2007: Committees urge release of all relevant White House emails

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. [33]

March 28, 2007: Acting Assistant Attorney General explains contradictory testimony

"Acting Assistant Attorney General Hertling sends a letter to Congress admitting that assertions in his February 23rd letter to Senators, 'are contradicted by Department documents included in our production in connectino with the Committees' review of the resignations of US Attorneys.'

An email from Kyle Sampson shows him suggesting that the passage, "I am not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the Attorney General's decision to appoint Griffin" be added to Hertling's letter. This is in contrast to Sampson's email claiming that the appointment of Tim Griffin was, 'important to Harriet, Karl, etc.'"[34]

March 29, 2007: Sampson testifies, refuting Gonzales' claims

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. [35]

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. [36]

March 30, 2007: Deal over private, transcribed interviews reached

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." [37] 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. [38]

March 30, 2007: Goodling reiterates plan to plead the fifth

Monica Goodling reiterates her plans to plead the Fifth to the House Judiciary Committee.

March 30, 2007: Responsibility for firings attributed to McNulty, says former Chief of Staff

Michael Elston, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's Chief of Staff, met with congressional staff from both the House and Senate, and claimed that he called three fired US Attorneys at the direction of McNulty.[39]

April 3, 2007: Conyers asks for cooperation from Goodling

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers issued a letter asking for Goodling's cooperation.

April 4, 2007: Goodling's attorneys call investigation McCarthyist

Following pressure from Congress to openly testify about the scandal, Goodling's attorneys called the investigation McCarthyist.

April 6, 2007: Goodling resigns

On April 6, 2007, Goodling resigned from her position at the Department of Justice. [40]

April 6, 2007: Leahy again requests documents

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." [41]

Articles and resources

See also

References

  1. "Transcript from Sampson's Senate Judiciary Committee Testimony," Washington Post, March 29, 2007.
  2. Van Dongen, Rachel. "U.S. Attorneys Bill Still Faces GOP Opposition," Roll Call, March 12, 2007.
  3. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  4. Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein, "Voter-Fraud Complaints by GOP Drove Dismissals," Washington Post, May 14, 2007.
  5. Amy Goldstein, "White House Cites Lax Voter-Fraud Investigations in U.S. Attorneys' Firings," Washington Post, March 14, 2007.
  6. Dan Eggen and Paul Kane, reported Washington Post March 14, 2007.
  7. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  8. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  9. " 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.
  10. " 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.
  11. Jeremy Jacobs, "Leahy, Cornyn clash over possible White House subpoenas," The Hill, March 18, 2007.
  12. Van Dongen, Rachel. "U.S. Attorneys Bill Still Faces GOP Opposition," Roll Call, March 12, 2007.
  13. Kiel, Paul. "U.S. Attorney Bill Coming up Tuesday," TPM Muckraker, March 15, 2007.
  14. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  15. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  16. Laurie Kellman, Gonzales aide to invoke Fifth Amendment, MyWay News (Associated Press), March 26, 2007.
  17. Elizabeth Williamson, "Just 3,000 Pages Until Bedtime," The Washington Post, March 21, 2007.
  18. "DOJ-Released Documents 2-1," March 19, 2007.
  19. Joshua Micah Marshall, "Shades of Rose Mary Woods? An 18 day gap?" Talking Points Memo, March 21, 2007.
  20. Susan Crabtree, "Gonzales met with aides about firings," The Hill, March 24, 2007.
  21. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  22. Elana Schor, "Dems reject Bush offer on Karl Rove," The Hill, March 21, 2007.
  23. Elana Schor, "Dems reject Bush offer on Karl Rove," The Hill, March 21, 2007.
  24. Yost, Pete and Lara Jakes Jordan. "Senate OKs Limits on Gonzales' Authority," Associated Press, March 20, 2007.
  25. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  26. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  27. Press Release. "Judiciary Subcommittee Authorizes Chairman Conyers to Issue Subpoenas in US Attorney Investigation," House Judiciary Committee Press Release, March 21, 2007.
  28. Paul Kane, "Senate Panel Approves Subpoenas for 3 Top Bush Aides," The Hill, March 23, 2007.
  29. "Senate Panel Authorizes Subpoenas For Rove, Aides," CBS News, March 22, 2007.
  30. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  31. Dan Eggen, "Aide to Gonzales Won't Testify," Washington Post, March 27, 2007.
  32. Dan Eggen, "Aide to Gonzales Won't Testify," Washington Post, March 27, 2007.
  33. Jeremy Jacobs, "Judiciary Chairmen urge White House cooperation," The Hill, March 28, 2007.
  34. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  35. Dan Eggen and Paul Kane, "Ex-Aide Contradicts Gonzales on Firings," Washington Post, March 30, 2007.
  36. Alexander Bolton, "Schumer defies Justice," The Hill, April 4, 2007.
  37. Paul Kiel, "House Dems to Question DoJ Officials in Private," TPMmuckraker, March 30, 2007.
  38. Paul Kiel, "Goodling to House Dems: I'm Not Talking to You, Either," TPMmuckraker, March 30, 2007.
  39. Will Thomas, "U.S. Attorney Purge Timeline," Talking Points Memo, May 14, 2007.
  40. Susan Crabtree, "Despite resignation, Conyers still wants Goodling to testify," The Hill, April 6, 2007.
  41. Susan Crabtree, "Leahy again demands documents, testimony," The Hill, April 6, 2007.

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