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Posted by on Mar 15, 2007 in Politics | 11 comments

New Emails Detail Rove Played Role In Instigating Prosecutor Firings

Yet another batch of emails spells more trouble for White House political maven Karl Rove, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and — to be sure — President George Bush even though the White House is saying, in effect, that it’s no big deal:

New unreleased e-mails from top administration officials show that the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys was raised by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove in early January 2005, indicating Rove was more involved in the plan than the White House previously acknowledged. The e-mails also show how Alberto Gonzales discussed the idea of firing the attorneys en masse while he was still White House counsel — weeks before he was confirmed as attorney general.

The e-mails put Rove at the epicenter of the imbroglio and raise questions about Gonzales’ explanations of the matter.

What’s interesting is that although the “but under Clinton….” mantra has already been sounded (and shown by various reporters and even some conservative bloggers to be apples and oranges), now a new one is being sounded:

“But it was Harriet Miers’ fault…” — when these emails indicate the idea came from Rove. The White House denies there is any change:

The White House said Thursday night that the e-mails did not contradict the previous statements about former White House counsel Harriet Miers’ role. The e-mail exchange, dated January 6, 2005, is between then-deputy White House counsel David Leitch and Kyle Sampson at the Justice Department. According to a senior White House official who has seen the e-mail exchange, “It’s not inconsistent with what we have said.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said Gonazales “has no recollection of any plan or discussion to replace U.S. attorneys while he was still White House counsel.” She said he was preparing for his attorney general confirmation hearing and was focused on that.

“Of course, discussions of changes in presidential appointees would have been appropriate and normal White House exchanges in the days and months after the election as the White House was considering different personnel changes administration-wide,” Scolinos said.

The e-mail exchange is dated more than a month before the White House acknowledged it was considering firing all the U.S. attorneys. On its face, the plan is not improper, inappropriate or even unusual: The president has the right to fire U.S. attorneys at any time, and presidents have done so when they took office.

What has made the issue a political firestorm is the White House’s insistence that the idea came from Miers and was swiftly rejected.

White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters Tuesday that Miers had suggested firing all 93 attorneys, and that it was “her idea only.” Snow said Miers’ idea was quickly rejected by the Department of Justice.

What’s fascinating is all the talk about Bush “loyalty.”

It sounds as if Harriet Miers is being shoved over the side to save the apparently legally and politically untouchable men who control the power levers at the White House.

The problem: if GOPers in Congress decide they’ve had enough defending this crew, the holders of power soon may find that they are not so untouchable. And Bush’s credibility problem, which was on the verge of being LBJ-ish on the war, is now clearly entering into Nixonian territory — another seeming instance where “it’s the COVERUP, stupid…”

For an excellent cross-section of opinion on this story see Memeorandum.

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  • I read Ed Morrisey on a regular basis even though I usually disagree with him. I realized why when he put the entire “but Clinton did it” meme to rest.

  • Ed has always been one of the more independent thinking weblog writers. Note that I don’t say “conservative weblog writers.” Anyone of any ideology can read his site and he gives his best take on things but he keeps readers guessing becauses he clearly works through issues. Some people work through issues; some talk or write about issues talking or writing in a way that they think they need to talk or write because their “team” needs them to. This “sports team” mentality permeates political life in both parties. Both parties do have independent thinkers and perhaps (Mr. Polyanna here) more than many people realize.

  • caroline

    Where’s Karl? What rock is he hiding under?

    From Salon, LOL. Makes great use of the “thumbing nose” photo you have;

    Kaaaaarrrrl…Come ouuuuut…we’ve got subpoenas…

  • Morrisey lost me with the Victory Caucus crap and his continuous RNC talking points chorus about the war in Iraq. Independent? I haven’t seen a sign of it there. The name calling he engages in on a constant basis in his references to the Democrats seem to indicate just another Republican blogger to me.

  • kritter

    Jim S- gotta agree on about the Victory Caucus- crap like that is what keeps Republicans behind Bush on the war, whether we realistically have a chance of success or not, and no matter what the cost. There still has not been an honest debate in Congress about Iraq because of political pressure inside and outside the beltway. Of course the left is pressuring the Democrats to defund the war as well.

    I think Iraq is the biggest boondoggle we have ever taken on as a nation, but I still would value my representatives honest vote over a vote in the name of party unity.

  • Marlowecan

    I thought this story on ABC was fascinating…because Bush’s critics have changed the reason why this was a scandal. I am sorry, Ron, but I do not see how the “Clinton did it meme has been put to rest”.

    Recall the discussion over this here at TMV the past few days. The view of critics of Bush: Of course, it is perfectly acceptable to fire all the US attorneys at the start of a term…as did Clinton…the outrageous thing here is the Bush fired late in his term.

    Yet now, in the story above, the outrage is that Rove wanted to fire all the attorneys at the start of the second term.
    And this is the kicker…the NEW reason why this is an outrage:
    “What has made the issue a political firestorm is the White House’s insistence that the idea came from Miers and was swiftly rejected.”

    Folks here have disagreed about this issue, but this was NOT the reason raised in any discussion here.

    As Joe notes, Ed Morrissey at Captain’s Quarters is one of the most respected bloggers on the Net…mainly, I think, because of his strong core
    principles. He clearly has a point when he says we should not be using Clinton as anyone’s core of ethical practice.

    This is very true. But as Charlie Gibson puzzled about this on ABC World News Tonight…where is the illegality here? What laws were broken (other than possibly Gonzales’ testimony to Congress)?

    Personally, I feel strongly that US attorneys should be hired on a non-partisan, competence basis. The administration of justice should not be partisan.

    My prediction: The Democrats will try to get a scalp…Bush defended Gonzales, now it is Rove or Miers…but there will be NO change in the partisan nature of the hiring process.

    The Democrats do NOT want to make these positions non-partisan…they have lots of their own hacks to be hired.

    I only hope people will be consistently outraged, and call for investigations into the role and emails of WH aides, when President Hillary or Obama fire ALL the Bush-era US attorneys in 09.

  • AustinRoth

    I am unhappy with this whole affair, but one question I haven’t seen answered is what, if anything, was done that was illegal, even with Rove’s involvement?

    I am not making excuses for their conduct or defending it, I am just asking if anyone thinks the law was broken, and if so, by whom and how?

  • Illegal? Nothing that I can see. Ethically questionable? Yep. Let’s see, while being called before a U.S. Attorney serving as a special prosecutor Karl Rove is discussing getting the guy fired. A Republican Senator and House member are calling to see if a prosecutor can hurry up his case for election season. In other words Bush didn’t get people as partisan as he’d hoped in some positions so it was time to replace them with hacks whose primary quality was loyalty to Bush instead of the law and the Constitution.

  • kritter

    Even if this mess results in no prosecutions, I would think that it would result in some high-level resignations. Congress should ask that Rove and Gonzales resign for their role in this debacle. I hope the next president won’t use the US Atty’s as his private pawns, so that our faith in the basic fairness of the justice system can be restored.

  • AustinRoth

    Ethically questionable? No doubt. I would go even farther, and say it is an absolute violation of trust. That resignations or firings are in order is, to me, without doubt.

    I think that Gonzales will resign and everyone else involved, including Rove, will then hide behind his, well, I can’t use the word sacrifice in this case obviously, so let’s say surrender to the inevitable.

  • Tom Maguire

    …when these emails indicate the idea came from Rove. The White House denies there is any change:

    I don’t know how to ask this without seeming snide, but did you actually read the email ABC wrote about? (I don’t know if the link to the email was there when they first posted the story).

    Rove basically asks, do you guys at DoJ have a plan to fire everyone, some, or none? Oh, and an answer is not urgent.

    To turn that into “Rove as behind the plan to fire everyone”, as ABC did, is one extreme interpretation.

    Another view, equally plausible in my opinion, is that someone else (oh, let’s say Miers) raised the question of what might be done with the US Attorneys and suggested firing them all; Rove figured he might want to arm himself with a few facts before opining on this, so he sent off an email.

    And to be clear – Ms. Miers may have spoken at a meeting, or at the water cooler; Rove may have talked to her directly or heard from another (e.g., Andy Card) that Miers had an idea for the Attorneys – not every WH chat is documented by email. But since Rove is the domestic political guru, and since the appointment of US Attorneys is quite political (e.g., Senators opine on replacements), I can see why he would be dragged into the discussion.

    And that seems to be the White House story as well. Oh, well, I thought of that even before I read their response, for what that is worth.

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