Discrepancies on Attorneys' Firings Blamed on Former Chief of Staff
Wednesday, March 28, 2007; 6:00 PM
The Justice Department admitted today that officials "may have provided inaccurate and incomplete information" to Congress about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, and turned over new documents laying the blame for the inaccuracies on the attorney general's former chief of staff.
In a letter to leaders of the Senate and House judiciary committees, acting assistant attorney general Richard A. Hertling acknowledged that there is an "apparent contradiction" in a letter that he signed on Feb. 23 and thousands of pages of documents turned over to Congress in recent weeks.
The earlier letter included a claim that presidential adviser Karl Rove played no role in securing the appointment of his former aide, Tim Griffin, for a U.S. attorney's job in Little Rock, Ark. But internal Justice documents showed that Griffin's appointment was important to Rove and Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel.
The release of 202 pages of new documents by Justice comes before scheduled testimony in the Senate tomorrow morning by D. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
Sampson resigned March 12 after the discovery of records showing that the attorney firings, described for months as an internal Justice review, was started in the White House two years ago. Gonzales said Sampson quit because he failed to turn over relevant information to his colleagues, a point that Sampson disputes.
The testimony could prove crucial for Gonzales, who is struggling to hold onto his job and has portrayed Sampson as the main mover behind the coordinated firings of seven U.S. attorneys on Dec. 7 and an eighth who was ordered removed earlier in the year. The dismissals have prompted allegations from Democrats that the White House was pushing out prosecutors for partisan reasons.
The new documents indicate that one of the department's most detailed communications with Congress on the issue was largely drafted by Sampson. A Feb. 8 e-mail by Sampson lays out the main points that would later appear in the Feb. 23 letter, including the claim about Rove and an assertion that Griffin was not chosen for appointment to Little Rock until Dec. 15.
Instead, numerous e-mails from Sampson and others show that Griffin was effectively chosen for the spot by the summer of 2006 and was moved into a place-holder job in September to ready him for the appointment.
Today's documents also show that Griffin, a former Rove aide and research director at the Republican National Committee, was initially considered for a U.S. attorney's job in Arkansas in 2004, two years earlier than previously known. Sampson wrote that Griffin pulled himself out of the running for that job, however, which was to be U.S. attorney in Arkansas's Western District.
Sampson is expected to testify tomorrow that numerous other officials were aware he was coordinating the firings with the White House and that he decided to resign because he failed to see the political threat posed by the firings.
One of Sampson's former Justice colleagues, senior counselor and White House liaison Monica M. Goodling, has invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify before Congress.