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 â€” 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.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.