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Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Fifth Step

This article from NBC News Service discusses President Bush's continued support for AG Alberto Gonzales in the wake of revelations that Gonzales attended a November 27, 2006, meeting to approve the firing of USAs. According to the article,

At the Nov. 27 meeting, the attorney general and at least five top department officials discussed a five-step plan for carrying out the firings, Gonzales’ aides said late Friday.

At that session, Gonzales signed off on the plan, drafted by his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. Sampson resigned last week....

The plan approved by Gonzales involved notifying Republican home-state senators of the impending dismissals, preparing for potential political upheaval, naming replacements and submitting them to the Senate for confirmation.

That last part seems difficult to buy.

First of all, we have ex-COS to the AG Kyle Sampson's email clearly advocating use of the 2006 amendment to 28 U.S.C. §546, concerning USA vacancies (see this NPR article, quoting a December 2006 email in which Sampson advocates using the provision regardless of the risk of political fallout because "If we don't ever exercise it, then what's the point of having it?"). This is relevant because the two key elements of the provision are that (a) it eliminates the district court's role in selecting an interim USA 120 days after a vacancy is created when no replacement has been confirmed, and (b) it allows the AG's interim choice to serve indefinitely, provided that the Senate does not confirm a replacement (which of course it can't unless the President makes a nomination).

Secondly, we have the January 13, 2007, email from Sampson to Democratic Senate Judiciary staffer Jennifer Duck, which I've already discussed here at PrawfsBlawg. If you read through the rest of that email (page 5 of the TPM document where I can find it), you see a reference to Tim Griffin, the Karl Rove protege who was named interim replacement for former USA Bud Cummins in the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The reference says that Griffin "has expressed interest in the position; no nomination is yet ready."

What makes this notable is this quote from a March 14 NYT article:

The dismissal of the seven prosecutors was preceded the previous summer by the removal of Mr. Cummins in Arkansas. He was succeeded by J. Timothy Griffin, a former prosecutor who had once worked with Mr. Rove. In a Dec. 19 e-mail message, Mr. Sampson wrote: ''Getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.,'' a reference to Ms. Miers and Mr. Rove.

Mr. Sampson's e-mail message, sent to the White House and Justice Department colleagues, suggested he was hoping to stall efforts by the state's two Democratic senators to pick their own candidates as permanent successors for Mr. Cummins.

''I think we should gum this to death,'' Mr. Sampson wrote. ''Ask the senators to give Tim a chance, meet with him, give him some time in office to see how he performs, etc. If they ultimately say 'no never' (and the longer we can forestall that the better), then we can tell them we'll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All this should be done in 'good faith' of course.''

(I particularly like the use of quotations around the words "good" and "faith". Can a series of acts be done in "good faith"? Is that even possible? Don't they have to be done in good faith, or not?)

In any case, the "gum this to death" and "otherwise run out the clock" stuff makes it pretty clear that Sampson, at least, didn't think that submitting nominations to the Senate was a key element of the plan. Perhaps Gonzales disagreed with Sampson about this, but the more the AG's story changes, and the more the facts raise questions about what his role actually was, the harder it is to figure out.

Posted by Jonah Gelbach on March 24, 2007 at 01:56 PM | Permalink

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