Justice Weighed Firing 1 in 4
Thursday, May 17, 2007
The Justice Department considered dismissing many more U.S. attorneys than officials have previously acknowledged, with at least 26 prosecutors suggested for termination between February 2005 and December 2006, according to sources familiar with documents withheld from the public.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales testified last week that the effort was limited to eight U.S. attorneys fired since last June, and other administration officials have said that only a few others were suggested for removal.
In fact, D. Kyle Sampson, then Gonzales's chief of staff, considered more than two dozen U.S. attorneys for termination, according to lists compiled by him and his colleagues, the sources said.
They amounted to more than a quarter of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys. Thirteen of those known to have been targeted are still in their posts.
It is unclear how many knew they had been considered for removal. When asked yesterday about her inclusion on the lists, U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby of Maine said: "Really? I wasn't aware of that." Silsby's name crops up frequently, first in February 2005 and subsequently three more times, most recently a month before most of the dismissals were carried out last December.
The number of names on the lists demonstrates the breadth of the search for prosecutors to dismiss. The names also hint at a casual process in which the people who were most consistently considered for replacement were not always those ultimately told to leave.
When shown the lists of firing candidates late yesterday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), perhaps the most outspoken critic of the way Gonzales handled the prosecutor dismissals, said they "show how amok this process was."
"When you start firing people for invalid reasons, just about anyone can end up on a list," he said. "It looks like the process was out of control, and if it hadn't been discovered, more would have been fired."
Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the department would not confirm which U.S. attorneys were included on the lists. He said they "reflect Kyle Sampson's thoughts for discussion during the consultation process" and were often compiled long before the bulk of the firings were carried out.
"Whether they are on any list or not, U.S. attorneys currently serving enjoy the full confidence and support of the attorney general and Department of Justice," Roehrkasse said.
One memo sent to Sampson last November from Michael J. Elston, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, suggested firing Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, who supervised the nation's prosecutors for a year and now heads the Office on Violence Against Women, sources said.
The same e-mail also listed prosecutor Christopher J. Christie in New Jersey, a major GOP donor who has undertaken several high-profile public-corruption probes -- including one into the real estate deals of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) -- and who announced indictments in a terrorism case last week.