Bush Aides Helped Respond to Firings, E-Mails Show

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Several high-ranking White House officials were closely involved in crafting a public response to the uproar over the firing of a group of U.S. attorneys, according to documents released late yesterday.

Then-White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and aides to presidential adviser Karl Rove were deeply enmeshed in debates over how to respond to the controversy as early as mid-January, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questioned the spate of prosecutor departures in a Senate floor speech, according to e-mails that the Justice Department turned over to the House and Senate judiciary committees.

The e-mails are the latest documents to surface among the thousands of pages provided to Congress in last year's firing of nine U.S. attorneys. Their ouster has prompted a series of investigations and led to a failed effort Monday by Senate Democrats to stage a vote of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

The new records provide a peek at the actions of the White House, which has repeatedly refused Democratic demands for records and sworn testimony related to the issue.

"These documents show that the White House played an integral role in the firings and their aftermath," said House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.). "This only underscores the need for White House cooperation with this investigation."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) added: "We need an end to the White House's stonewalling of our investigations so we can learn the truth."

The 46 pages of e-mails show that Miers and others -- including her deputy, William Kelley, and the White House political affairs director at the time, Sara M. Taylor -- were involved in spirited and sometimes angry e-mail exchanges as the secretive firings operation began to unravel in public. Many of the exchanges also included D. Kyle Sampson, who coordinated the firings as Gonzales's chief of staff.

White House officials appeared to be particularly concerned about the political fallout over the firing of prosecutor Bud Cummins of Little Rock, who was replaced by Tim Griffin, a former Rove aide. On Feb. 16, for example, Taylor sharply criticized the testimony of Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, who had told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Cummins was removed to make way for Griffin. The subject line of the e-mails read: "McNulty Strikes Again."

"Why would McNulty say this?" Taylor wrote to Sampson. "This has been so poorly handled on the part [of] DOJ."

Taylor added in a follow-up: "Tim was put in a horrible position; hung to dry w/ no heads up. You forced him to do what he did; this is not good for his long-term career. Bud runs a campaign and McNulty refuses to say Bud is lazy -- which is why we got rid of him in the first place."

Griffin has since left the Little Rock job. McNulty, who is to resign later this summer, is scheduled to testify next week before the House Judiciary Committee. Cummins could not be reached to comment last night.

Other e-mails show that Justice officials expressly told lawmakers in January that a total of eight U.S. attorneys had been fired in the previous year. Testimony and documents have since shown that the number of those removed was actually nine, and that a total of 30 were considered for dismissal at one time or another.

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