Just 3,000 Pages Until Bedtime

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A tad passive-aggressive, that Justice Department document dump Monday night, House staffers say.

The House and Senate judiciary committees have been looking into the White House's role in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales initially said the firings were performance-related, but they're now looking less so.

Late Monday, Justice told both committees to expect more documents related to the case. On the House side, Judiciary Committee staffers were told that about 2,000 pages of correspondence would arrive at about 6:30 p.m. At 8:30, a courier dropped off a copy-paper box stuffed with 3,000 documents -- 1,000 more than expected, hard copies only, one set only, clipped and banded together in categories that weren't self-explanatory.

Staffers scanned the pages and posted them on the committee's Web site. The effort took until about 1 a.m. About 7 a.m. yesterday, staff attorneys and aides divvied up the pages. Each got 300 to 500 pages, reviewed them for highlights and began delving into the details.

The after-hours release pushed the media past their bedtimes, too, waiting outside committee offices, and online, for the documents to trickle out.

Couldn't everyone have gone home at a normal time and started fresh in the morning?

"It was important to start the review process as early as possible," a House staffer said. Aides, the staffer explained, felt that the late, paper-only release was done more to thwart the media than the committee. Staff members wanted to make sure that didn't happen, but not for purely altruistic reasons. With this much paper to wade through, the staffer said, the committee needs the media, because "sometimes they find things we don't."

-- Elizabeth Williamson

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