"This is the high road"

New documents provide more evidence of White House role in fallout from U.S. attorneys purge.

By Tim Grieve
June 13, 2007 5:35PM (UTC)
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Documents released by the Justice Department Tuesday offer more evidence of White House involvement in the fallout from last year's U.S. attorneys purge -- especially, but not only, when it concerned the dumping of Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins in favor of Karl Rove's pal Tim Griffin.

In an e-mail message sent to former Alberto Gonzales Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson on Dec. 15, 2006, as the Justice Department was announcing Cummins' resignation, associate White House counsel Chris Oprison describes the situation in Arkansas as "one issue that is front/center on my radar screen."


In an e-mail exchange in January 2007, Sampson tells deputy White House counsel William Kelley that senators are beginning to suggest that U.S. attorneys were fired for political reasons. Sampson suggests that the administration respond with "language about some USAs sometimes being 'removed, or asked or encouraged to resign' because of 'substandard performance' and/or 'failure to implement effectively the Department's priorities.'" Sampson says: "This is the high road" because it doesn't involve the smearing of any particular prosecutor.

Kelley forwards Sampson's suggestion to White House counsel Harriet Miers, who expresses surprise that the Justice Department would suggest that the administration "go out and say negative things" about the U.S. attorneys who resigned. When she notes that senators -- and not the fired U.S. attorneys themselves -- are out making public comments about the termination, Kelley suggests that the administration talk trash about the former prosecutors with the senators directly "without going negative in public."

In an e-mail exchange in early February of this year, White House political director Sara Taylor, who resigned in March, tells Sampson that she thinks it's time to go after Cummins on the grounds that he has started talking publicly about his forced resignation. "I normally don't like attacking our friends," she writes. "But since Bud Cummins is talking to everyone -- why don't we tell the deal on him?"


Soon thereafter, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty testifies publicly that Cummins was forced out not for performance reasons but rather to make room for Griffin. Someone -- it's hard to tell who -- sends a New York Times story on the issue to Sampson with the subject line "McNulty strikes again." Sampson forwards it to Taylor, who asks: "Why would McNulty say this?" She adds: "This has been so poorly handled on the part of the DOJ."

Sampson replies that he's traveling and will talk with Taylor when he returns. She can't wait. In a reply, she says: "Tim [Griffin] was put in a horrible position; hung to dry w/no heads up. You forced him to do what he did; this is not good for his long-term career. Bud runs a campaign and McNulty refuses to say Bud is lazy -- which is why we got rid of him in the first place."

Tim Grieve

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

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