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E-mail excerpts show interest in preserving new powers

WASHINGTON—In a remarkably candid series of emails, Justice Department officials said its new powers to appoint interim U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation offered the administration the chance to efficiently "get our preferred persons appointed" to the top prosecutors jobs.

Using the authority it quietly inserted into the USA Patriot Act that passed in March 2006, the officials discussed the prospects for a former operative for political adviser Karl Rove, who was appointed to the U.S. attorney's job in Arkansas replacing one of eight suddenly fired by the administration.

"Our guy is in there so the status quo is good for us . . . note that he is qualified whenever asked, pledge to desire a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney and otherwise hunker down," Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wrote in an e-mail in Dec. 19, 2006.

At the same time, Sampson wondered whether Rove aide Tim Griffin was "the guy on which to test drive this authority, but I know that getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.," Sampson wrote, referring to Harriet Miers, former White House Counsel and Karl Rove.

These revelations are contained in the first wave of documents the Justice Department turned over Tuesday to lawmakers in an expanding probe into its firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

The discussions regarding Griffin, who replaced Arkansas U.S. Attorney H. E. "Bud" Cummins, could take center stage Wednesday.

That's because the Senate is expected to take up legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to undo the change inserted in the Patriot Act.

The change allows the Attorney General to appoint an interim U.S. attorney without subsequent Senate confirmation—effectively giving the administration the power to name anyone it wanted in an interim capacity for the duration of the president's second term.

Another email from last September, between White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Sampson, suggests that with the new law "we can give far less deference to home state senators," and would put the White House's favored nominees on a faster timetable.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., a strong Bush administration supporter, has been objecting to the language in Feinstein's bill. But since the firings of the U.S. attorneys has erupted into a scandal, the White House dropped its objections to Feinstein's bill and Kyl has worked out an agreement with the Democrats that would allow a vote to go forward.

Kyl said Tuesday he has never wanted to block Feinstein's bill, only to have an opportunity to offer his own slightly different alternative.

In one e-mail, Sampson conceded, "I'm not 100 percent sure that Tim was the guy on which to test drive this authority."

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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