WASHINGTON - Congressional sources who have seen unedited internal documents say the Bush administration considered firing at least a dozen U.S. attorneys before paring down its list to eight late last year. The four who escaped dismissal came from states considered political battlegrounds in the last presidential election: Missouri, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Two of the four said they resigned voluntarily before the mass firings of U.S. attorneys on Dec. 7. Two continue to serve as federal prosecutors.
The latest revelation could provide new evidence to critics who contend that politics, not performance, played the determining role in the firings. The White House and the Justice Department have repeatedly denied that politics played any role.
Congressional sources, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the information publicly, Friday confirmed two additional names to McClatchy Newspapers: U.S. Attorney Todd Graves of Kansas City, Mo., and U.S. Attorney Thomas Marino of Scranton, Pa.
Graves resigned in March to return to private legal practice. Marino kept his job as the chief federal prosecutor in central and eastern Pennsylvania.
McClatchy had previously identified two other prosecutors who dropped off the final "hit" list - former U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger of Minneapolis and U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic of Milwaukee.
Heffelfinger resigned in February to go into private legal practice. Biskupic remains at his federal post in Wisconsin.
The administration has declined to disclose the full list of U.S. attorneys who had been considered possible targets for dismissal, but redacted documents released by the administration to Congress left no doubt that other prosecutors had been targeted. The names of three possible targets were edited out of a Jan. 9, 2006, internal Justice Department e-mail. But some congressional investigators were allowed to review unedited department documents.
It's not clear why any of the four prosecutors who dropped off the firings list were initially targeted or what led to their reprieve. Biskupic and Heffelfinger have said that they were unaware that they were at risk of losing their jobs. Graves and Marino did not respond to requests for comment Friday. The Justice Department had no immediate reaction.
The eight fired prosecutors were: Daniel Bogden of Nevada, Paul Charlton of Arizona, Margaret Chiara of western Michigan, Bud Cummins of eastern Arkansas, David Iglesias of New Mexico, Carol Lam of southern California, Kevin Ryan of northern California and John McKay of Washington state.
Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff and a central figure in the firings plan, has acknowledged that he raised the possibility of ousting U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago. Sampson said he mentioned the idea during a meeting but realized almost immediately that it would set off a firestorm of criticism.
At the time, Fitzgerald was heading an investigation into the Bush administration's disclosure of CIA employee Valerie Plame's identity. The leak led Plame to quit her job with the spy agency, and to the conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.