By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 19, 2007
The U.S. attorney in San Diego notified the Justice Department of search warrants in a Republican bribery scandal last May 10, one day before the attorney general's chief of staff warned the White House of a "real problem" with her, a Democratic senator said yesterday.
The prosecutor, Carol S. Lam, was dismissed seven months later as part of an effort by the Justice Department and the White House to fire eight U.S. attorneys.
A Justice spokesman said there was no connection between Lam's firing and her public corruption investigations, and pointed to criticisms of Lam for her record on prosecuting immigration cases.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a television appearance yesterday that Lam "sent a notice to the Justice Department saying that there would be two search warrants" in a criminal investigation of defense contractor Brent R. Wilkes and Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who had just quit as the CIA's top administrator amid questions about his ties to disgraced former GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
The next day, May 11, D. Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, sent an e-mail message to William Kelley in the White House counsel's office saying that Lam should be removed as quickly as possible, according to documents turned over to Congress last week.
"Please call me at your convenience to discuss the following," Sampson wrote, referring to "[t]he real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."
The FBI raided Foggo's home and former CIA office on May 12. He was indicted along with Wilkes on fraud and money-laundering charges on Feb. 13 -- two days before Lam left as U.S. attorney.
The revelation that Lam took a major step in the Foggo probe one day before Sampson's e-mail message was sent to the White House raises further questions about the decision to fire her, Feinstein suggested.
"There were clearly U.S. attorneys that were thorns in the side for one reason or another of the Justice Department," Feinstein said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "And they decided, by strategy, in one fell swoop, to get rid of seven of them on that day, December the 7th."
A Justice spokesman yesterday referred questions about the meaning of the "real problem" e-mail to Sampson's attorney, Bradford Berenson, who declined to comment.
"We have stated numerous times that no U.S. attorney was removed to retaliate against or inappropriately interfere with any public corruption investigation or prosecution," Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in a statement. "This remains the case, and there is no evidence that indicates otherwise."
In recent weeks, Justice officials have repeatedly criticized Lam's record on immigration enforcement, although they had defended her record in a letter to Feinstein last year. Sampson had targeted Lam for firing since the process began in early 2005, documents show.
Lam and six other U.S. attorneys were fired Dec. 7, and another was let go months earlier, with little explanation from Justice Department officials. The dismissals, along with allegations of political interference and shifting explanations from the Bush administration, have led a handful of lawmakers to call for Gonzales's resignation. Sampson quit last week.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is leading the call for Gonzales's resignation, said yesterday that he thinks "it's highly unlikely he survives.
"I wouldn't be surprised if, a week from now, he's no longer attorney general," Schumer said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Gonzales acknowledged last week that "mistakes were made" in the firings but rebuffed calls for him to quit. President Bush said that he has "confidence" in Gonzales but that he was "not happy" with the way the firings were handled.