Cummins: "My professional reputation has already been slandered"

In an interview with Salon, former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins says Sara Taylor's testimony about him is "almost true" and responds to her apology to him.

By Alex Koppelman

Published July 12, 2007 12:05AM (EDT)

Though she declined to answer many of the questions posed to her during her testimony Wednesday, former White House political director Sara Taylor did extend an apology to one of the people caught up in the ongoing scandal about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Bud Cummins.

In an e-mail she wrote to Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, earlier this year, Taylor said, "Bud is lazy -- which is why we got rid of him in the first place." That e-mail was later made public as part of the investigation into the firings, and Cummins had previously demanded that she apologize. On Wednesday, she did.

"That was an unnecessary comment, and I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Mr. Cummins," Taylor told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It was unkind and it was unnecessary ... I had heard that. That may not be fair, and it is not my intention today to confound the embarrassment that e-mail may have caused him."

In an interview with Salon, Cummins -- who has previously written an opinion piece for Salon -- said he knew Taylor was testifying but had not followed the hearing. Salon provided Cummins with a transcript of Taylor's remarks.

"I appreciate her stated intention to not inflict further injury, but the fact is, my professional reputation has already been slandered," Cummins said in an e-mail after reading the transcript. "All that remains is to find out who it was that was slandering it. If she was repeating something she heard, she should say who it was that said it, unless perhaps it was President Bush, which I sincerely doubt. It would be quite helpful to me really if she would divulge the identity of that person. I would like to know, because it is my belief that none of the people in a position to know whether or not I was lazy felt that way. I doubt the information is privileged."

During her testimony, Taylor also offered her explanation for Cummins' firing.

"To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Cummins had been considering leaving. Mr. Cummins had announced in the press that he was leaving," Taylor said. "Mr. Cummins had said in the press that he'd been thinking of leaving for a year. Mr. Cummins further said that he was -- one of the reasons he was leaving is that he had four children, either college age or heading to college at some point.

"... But it's sad because, unfortunately, he had already said he was leaving, so here we are talking about a guy who wanted to leave getting fired. And had people communicated this, we might not find ourselves in this situation or sitting here today."

As Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., mentioned during the hearing, this contradicted previous testimony by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. McNulty has said that Cummins was removed specifically to make room for his eventual replacment, Tim Griffin, who is, like Taylor, a former aide to Karl Rove.

When read the above portion of Taylor's testimony over the phone, Cummins told Salon, "I think her characterization [of his intentions] is almost true, but not quite true."

According to Cummins, Griffin had been contacting him regularly beginning in 2003 or 2004 to see if Cummins was interested in leaving his post as U.S. attorney.

"I had been fairly candid with him," Cummins says, "and on one hand I loved the job ... and I would have liked to stay through 2008, but because of the reality of the job a lot of us at some point started looking down the road."

Cummins says that at some point in 2005 he began to give serious thought to his next move, and was candid with Griffin about that. Late that year, however, the first assistant U.S. attorney in the district -- essentially Cummins' deputy, as well as his chief of staff -- had to leave the office after being diagnosed with terminal cancer; at that point, Cummins says, "I felt like it was a real bad time to leave, so I put any plans to leave on hold."

Cummins says he thinks the "thing about me announcing to the press an intention to leave is way overblown," and that he "would like to know who was selling [Taylor] that line."

Sometime in 2005, Cummins did tell a reporter for the Arkansas Times, a local newsweekly, that he was not likely to stay through the entirety of Bush's second term. (Salon could not determine the exact date of that article, as it did not appear in searches on Google or Lexis-Nexis and no one answered the phone at the Arkansas Times.) But he thinks that article was not seriously considered by those who made the decision to replace him.

"If they're suggesting that, A) they monitor our free weekly tabloid in Arkansas to keep tabs on what their U.S. attorneys' plans are, and B) that they held on to that clipping for a year and a half and remembered it in June of 2006 without even picking up the phone and talking to me, it's kind of silly. But it's almost true -- the truth is that I had a general intention not to stay throughout the term," Cummins said.

As always, Cummins was careful to emphasize that he believes the circumstances in the cases of the other fired U.S. attorneys are "a lot more troubling" than his own.

"Had they called me and asked me if I would be willing to step down and allow Tim a chance," he said, "I would have cheerfully agreed."

But that doesn't mean he's comfortable with how this whole situation has been handled. By e-mail, Cummins told Salon,

"[Taylor's] statements seemed to reflect an overall recognition that this whole affair was essentially a bad plan executed poorly (or a series of bad plans executed poorly), which is absolutely the truth. They never should have asked DOJ to make these changes for these reasons anyway, and DOJ (Sampson's) belief that it was in any way appropriate to make the changes in such a disrespectful manner was about the worst execution imaginable. The decision to suggest that some or all of these were performance based decisions after the fact to somehow justify them was the biggest mistake of all."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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