A question of trust

A spokesman says the Justice Department has produced all responsive documents about the purge. But that's not what the acting assistant attorney general told Congress

Published March 22, 2007 3:42PM (EDT)

One small reason not to trust the Bush administration to tell the truth about the prosecutor purge: It's not telling the truth about the prosecutor purge.

The New York Times today takes note of the fact that the documents the Justice Department has produced to the House Judiciary Committee contain virtually no communications made between Nov. 15, the date the Justice Department forwarded its action plan to the White House, and Dec. 4, when the White House told the Justice Department that it had signed off on the plan.

Tony Snow was effusive Wednesday about the "unprecedented" and "responsive" nature of the document production. But when he was asked why there was a gap in the email traffic, he said: "I don't know, why don't you ask them," referring to the Justice Department. The Times did just that, and Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse answered this way: "The department has provided or made available to Congress all the documents responsive to Congress's requests over the time period in question. To the extent there was a lull in communications concerning the U.S. attorney issues, it reflects the fact that we have found no responsive documents from that time period, which included the Thanksgiving holiday."

But the department has not, in fact, "provided or made available to Congress all the documents" responsive to its requests. How do we know this? Because the Justice Department has said so. In a letter accompanying Monday's document dump, Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling said that, while the administration was providing documents regarding Justice Department deliberations about the firings, it was "not providing other documents generated within the Executive Branch for the purpose of responding to congressional (and media) inquiries about the resignations."

It doesn't take too much of a leap to conclude that there were White House communications during the "gap" -- the gap, again, being the time between the day the Justice Department asked for approval for the firing plan and the day the White House gave it. And if there are such documents, the Justice Department has already said that it's not turning them over.

By Tim Grieve

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

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