Prosecutor purge started at the White House

Miers asked about firing all U.S. attorneys. Bush complained to Gonzales about Iglesias.

Published March 13, 2007 1:03PM (EDT)

When Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, he insisted that politics weren't involved in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. "I think I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney position for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation," he said. "I just would not do it."

But what if his boss told him to?

The White House is now admitting that George W. Bush himself had a hand in events that led to the firing of at least one of the eight U.S. attorneys. As an unidentified administration official tells the New York Times, the president told Gonzales last fall that Republicans -- including Sen. Pete Domenici -- were complaining that New Mexico U.S. attorney David Iglesias wasn't moving aggressively enough on claims that Democrats had engaged in voter fraud.

Within the next few weeks, Iglesias and six other prosecutors were fired.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says the president didn't order Gonzales to fire Iglesias and didn't know at the time that the Justice Department was already moving toward doing so. But she also said that the White House had consulted with the Justice Department about which U.S. attorneys would be fired -- an admission that contradicts prior claims that the White House merely approved a list prepared at Justice.

Indeed, as the Times reports, it now appears that the idea of firing a number -- and perhaps all -- of the current U.S. attorneys originated at the White House nearly two years before the purge, when then White House counsel Harriet Miers asked the Justice Department whether it would be possible to simply request the resignations of all sitting U.S. attorneys as their four-year terms expired. Gonzales aide D. Kyle Sampson responded in an e-mail message that it would be more feasible to fire a select group, and Miers proceeded to work with Justice to come up with that smaller list. As has been reported previously, Karl Rove also had a hand in that work, passing along to Gonzales -- as Bush did -- Republican complaints about Iglesias' work on voter fraud allegations against Democrats.

Sampson resigned Monday. As the Washington Post reports, unidentified administraiton "officials" are saying that he quit after "acknowledging that he did not tell key Justice officials about the extent of his communications with the White House, leading them to provide incomplete information to Congress."

That sounds about as plausible as Gonzales' claim that politics weren't involved in the decision to fire the U.S. attorneys. George W. Bush talks with Alberto Gonzales about Iglesias. Karl Rove talks with Gonzales about Iglesias. Harriet Miers has two years' worth of discussions with Sampson about firing U.S. attorneys. And when Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul "When I hear you talk about the politicizing of the Department of Justice, it's like a knife in my heart" McNulty go up to Capitol Hill to take some questions about the issue, they don't know and Sampson doesn't tell them that the White House has been involved all along?


Some heads should be rolling now for "performance-related issues," and we're not talking anymore about those belonging to Sampson or any former U.S. attorneys.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Department Of Justice Karl Rove War Room