White House rebuked Justice for disclosing firing motive

McClatchy NewspapersJune 12, 2007 

WASHINGTON — The White House's former political director was furious at Justice Department officials for disclosing to Congress that the administration had forced out the U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark., to make way for a protege of Karl Rove, President Bush's political adviser, according to documents released late Tuesday.

Then-White House political affairs director Sara Taylor spelled out her frustrations in a Feb. 16 e-mail to Kyle Sampson, then the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

She sent the message after Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty told the Senate that unlike other federal prosecutors, U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins wasn't fired for performance reasons, but to make way for former Republican political operative Tim Griffin. Griffin, serving as the interim U.S. attorney, then announced that he wouldn't seek confirmation to the Arkansas post, but would remain until the Senate confirmed someone else. Griffin has since resigned.

"Tim was put in a horrible position; hung out to dry w/ no heads up," Taylor lashed out in the e-mail, which was sent from a Republican Party account rather than from her White House e-mail address. "This is not good for his long-term career."

The Taylor e-mail was among 46 pages of documents that the Justice Department turned over to Congress Tuesday as part of the investigation into the firings of at least nine U.S. attorneys.

The Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees said the documents showed greater White House involvement in the firings than previously known.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the documents "provide further evidence that White House officials like former political director Sara Taylor were deeply involved in the mass firings of well-performing prosecutors."

The White House disputed those characterizations, saying the e-mails deal only with the aftermath of the firings, not what led up to them, and that there was nothing inappropriate about wanting to promote Griffin, whom the administration considered "exceptionally" qualified.

"I know this is becoming terribly frustrating for Democrats, but once again documents show no wrongdoing in the decision to replace U.S. attorneys," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

Fratto said some documents also undercut Democrats' assertions that the White House wanted to abuse a change in federal law to keep interim U.S. attorneys in place without Senate confirmation.

In an e-mail exchange from early January, then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers asked Sampson how the department wanted to handle replacement candidates. Sampson replied that "in no case" did he want to use the new law unilaterally to "jam senators" because "that will only result in the Congress taking that authority away from us."

The newly released e-mails also showed that:

  • The White House counsel's office thought in January that the ousted prosecutors had "disloyally stirred up the senators" but argued against criticizing them publicly because they hadn't "fired any shots" at the administration.
  • Taylor called Cummins "lazy" and said that was "why we got rid of him in the first place." Cummins, reached Tuesday, said, "I don't know how Sara Taylor would have any information about my work ethic."
  • McClatchy Newspapers 2007

    McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

    Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service