A March 20 article incorrectly said that then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft appointed Patrick J. Fitzgerald as special prosecutor in the CIA leak case. Fitzgerald was appointed by then-Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey after Ashcroft recused himself.
Fitzgerald Ranked During Leak Case
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald was ranked among prosecutors who had "not distinguished themselves" on a Justice Department chart sent to the White House in March 2005, when he was in the midst of leading the CIA leak investigation that resulted in the perjury conviction of a vice presidential aide, administration officials said yesterday.
The ranking placed Fitzgerald below "strong U.S. Attorneys . . . who exhibited loyalty" to the administration but above "weak U.S. Attorneys who . . . chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.," according to Justice documents.
The chart was the first step in an effort to identify U.S. attorneys who should be removed. Two prosecutors who received the same ranking as Fitzgerald were later fired, documents show.
Fitzgerald's ranking adds another dimension to the prosecutor firings, which began as a White House proposal to remove all 93 U.S. attorneys after the 2004 elections and evolved into the coordinated dismissal of eight last year, a move that has infuriated lawmakers and led to calls for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to resign.
The Justice Department last night gave the House and Senate Judiciary committees 3,000 pages of new documents related to the firings, including one e-mail that says Gonzales was "extremely upset" by Senate testimony Feb. 6 from his deputy, Paul J. McNulty. Gonzales felt that "some of the . . . statements were inaccurate," the e-mail says.
Justice officials said Gonzales specifically disagreed with McNulty's statement that a Little Rock prosecutor was fired to make way for a GOP operative. They also said the new documents show that political motivations were not a factor in the firings.
The latest revelations came amid reports that the White House has already launched a search for Gonzales's replacement and that support for the attorney general among Republicans in Congress is fading fast. One GOP strategist with close ties to the White House said last night that it is likely Gonzales will leave and that White House counsel Fred F. Fielding already has potential replacements in mind.
White House press secretary Tony Snow offered tepid support for Gonzales, saying President Bush still has full confidence in his longtime friend and ally. "We hope he stays," Snow said.
The March 2005 chart ranking Fitzgerald and other prosecutors was drawn up by Gonzales aide D. Kyle Sampson and sent to then-White House counsel Harriet Miers. The reference to Fitzgerald is in a portion of the memo that Justice has refused to turn over to Congress, officials told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Fitzgerald's ranking has not been made public.
At the time, Fitzgerald was leading the independent probe into the leak of the identity of a CIA operative, which led this month to the perjury conviction of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, had also recently brought a corruption indictment in Illinois against former Republican governor George H. Ryan.
A Justice Department official yesterday sought to play down the importance of Fitzgerald's ranking, saying the chart was "put together by Sampson and is not an official department position on these U.S. attorneys."
Sampson resigned as Gonzales's chief of staff last week, and his attorney declined to comment yesterday.