At Justice, a "strong" prosecutor was a "loyal" one

Gonzales' chief of staff ranked all 93 U.S. attorneys on factors that included their loyalty to the Bush administration.

Published March 14, 2007 1:19PM (EDT)

As John Edwards and Hillary Clinton add their voices to the chorus calling for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, journalists and bloggers are uncovering additional incriminating nuggets in documents related to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. Among them: Evidence that the prosecutor's "loyalty" to the White House was a factor in the firings -- so much for Gonzales' claim that politics weren't involved -- and a suggestion that one prosecutor's dismissal may have been linked to her investigation into Republican corruption.

At his press conference Tuesday, Gonzales told reporters that he was aware that his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, had been "involved in the process" of determining which U.S. attorneys were "strong performers and weak performers" and in which districts "we could do better for the people in that district." In reality, it seems, Sampson's rankings had much more to do with finding districts in which the Bush administration could do better for itself. As the New York Times reports, Sampson sent White House counsel Harriet Miers an e-mail in 2005 in which he ranked every one of the sitting 93 U.S. attorneys on whether they were "strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general" or "weak U.S. Attorneys who had been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc."

McClatchy Newspapers and Josh Marshall find a message that suggests that "loyalty to the administration" might have taken on a very specific meaning in the case of U.S. attorney Carol Lam, who was forced out in December. In an e-mail to the White House Counsel's Office in May 2006, Sampson tried to set up a telephone call to discuss "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam."

As McClatchy notes, that message came on the same day that the Los Angeles Times reported that Lam's investigation into the dealings of Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham had expanded to include another Republican, Rep Jerry Lewis. Marshall remembers that there was more than that going on just then: Could the "real problem" the Justice Department had with Lam have been the fact that she was looking hard at Dusty Foggo's involvement with the defense contractors involved in the Cunningham case -- or the implications such an investigation might have for Porter Goss, who had resigned abruptly just a few days before?

Marshall isn't the only one asking. As McClatchy reports, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday that it's time to find out whether Lam was fired for her work on the Cunningham case or because "she was about to investigate other people who were politically powerful."

By Tim Grieve

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

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