Did the prosecutor purge wait for Bush's OK?

The Justice Department asked for a "green light" in November, but the president was overseas.

Published March 20, 2007 6:39AM (EDT)

Did George W. Bush personally approve the plan for firing seven U.S. attorneys in December? Documents released by the Justice Department Monday night provide circumstantial evidence that he may have.

On Nov. 15, 2006, Kyle Sampson, chief of staff for Alberto Gonzales, forwarded to White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley a plan for firing U.S. attorneys over the next two days. "We'll stand by for a green light from you," he wrote.

Miers responded about half an hour later. "Not sure whether this will be determined to require the boss's attention," she wrote. "If it does, he just left last night so would not be able to accomplish that for some time. We will see. Thanks."

In response, Sampson asked: "Who will determine whether this requires the President's attention?"

That's where the e-mail chain seems to end. As Miers noted in her e-mail, the president had left on a weeklong trip to Asia on Nov. 14. He was back in Washington for a day or so during the week of Nov. 22 then traveled to Camp David for Thanksgiving before leaving on another foreign trip. He returned to Washington around Nov. 30.

On Dec. 4, 2006, Kelley sent Sampson an e-mail -- with a "cc" to Miers -- saying: "We're a go for the US Atty plan. WH leg, political and communications have signed off and acknowledged that we have to be committed to following through once the pressure comes." The U.S. attorneys were told of their departures three days later.

By Tim Grieve

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

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