Top Justice spokesperson's advice to White House: US Attorney firings won't be 'national story'
Nearly three weeks before seven US attorneys were asked to submit their resignations, the top spokesperson for the Department of Justice expressed little concern and told a senior White House official that the firings probably wouldn't even become a "national story."
The email conversations were revealed in an additional batch of 283 pages of documents turned over by the Bush Administration late Friday night to Congressional members investigating the rapidly developing scandal which some have dubbed "Attorneygate." One Justice official has already resigned, and many Democrats -- and even some Republicans -- have been calling for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to step down or be fired by President Bush, as well.
The communications between Tasia Scolinos, Director of Public Affairs at the Department of Justice, and Catherine J. Martin (pictured above), Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Communications Director for Policy and Planning, transpired on Friday, November 17, 2006, twenty days before the dismissals were carried out on December 7.
Catherine Martin had just been advised of the Justice plan, in an email sent to her at a half-hour past noon, along with Debbie Fiddelke, Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, and Jeffery Scott Jennings, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Political Affairs, by Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel William Kelley. Concerned about "political juice" some of the Attorneys marked for termination may possess, Kelley was hoping that the other White House officials could help craft possible changes to the plan, which might help the Bush Administration withstand any consequential "fallout."
"The email below, and the attached document reflect a plan by DOJ to replace several US Attorneys," Kelley wrote. "By statute, US Attorneys serve for four year terms, which are commonly (but not always) extended by inaction -- in practice, they serve until replaced. They serve at the pleasure of the President, but often have very strong home-state political juice, including with their Senators."
Kelley added, "Before executing this plan, we wanted to give your offices a heads up and seek input on changes that might reduce the profile or political fallout. Thanks."
Less than an hour later, Martin asked Scolinos, "Are you looped in on this? What is your comms plan?"
"Thanks for flagging – we are not looped in – first I have heard of it," Scolinos replied. "Let me call up there and figure out what is happening here and get back to you."
Later that day, at 5:40 PM, Scolinos wrote back, seemingly unconcerned with the plan since it was "only six" out of ninety-four US Attorneys being asked to leave.
"It's only six US attorneys (there are 94) and I think most of them will resign quietly – they don't get anything out of making it public they were asked to leave in terms of future job prospects," Scolinos wrote Martin.
Scolinos continued, "I don't see it as being a national story – especially if it phases in over a few months. Any concerns on your end?"
"Which ones are they?" asked Martin.
The Justice spokesperson told the senior White House official that the attorneys being asked to leave included Arizona's Paul Charlton, California's Carol Lam, Michigan's Margaret Chiara, Nevada's Dan Bogden, Washington's John McKay, and New Mexico's David Iglesias. San Francisco's Kevin Ryan was later added to the list and also dismissed on December 7, while the eighth US Attorney, H.E. "Bud" Cummins of Arkansas, had already been asked to leave his post in June of 2006 to make room for longtime GOP operative and former aide to White House adviser Karl Rove, Tim Griffin.
"The one common link here is that three of them are along the southern border so you could make the connection that DOJ is unhappy with the immigration prosecution numbers in those districts," Scolinos wrote.
In Saturday's New York Times, David Johnston and Eric Lipton note that the "latest batch of documents shows just how completely the department misjudged what the reaction would be to the dismissals."
"Speaking with reporters on Friday evening, Ms. Scolinos said that when she sent that message she had only a fragmentary understanding of the plan to dismiss the prosecutors," the Times reports.
According to another report, "The e-mails also show that administration officials struggled to find a way to justify the firings and considered citing immigration enforcement simply because three of the fired prosecutors were stationed near the border with Mexico. While the e-mails don't provide evidence of partisan motives for the firings, they seem to undercut the administration's explanation that the prosecutors were dismissed for poor performance."
In January, Martin's testimony during the trial for former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby received national attention. Martin had formerly served as the Deputy Assistant and then Assistant to the Vice President for Public Affairs, while Libby was Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff before resigning after his indictment on charges of lying and obstruction of justice, which occurred during the probe of the "outing" of former CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Martin had testified about how she helped Cheney craft the plan to defend against a damaging New York Times op-ed written by Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, which argued that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
"The media was not reporting what we were saying, and if they were they weren't believing us," Martin said under oath at Libby's trial, according to a rough transcript posted at the liberal Firedoglake blog.
Emails from Scolinos and Martin:
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