Emails reveal plan
to remove attorneys
felt did not show
proper 'loyalty to the
The American Spark
Justice Department Email Shows ‘Loyalty’ to Bush Ideology Factor
in Prosecutors’ Firings
By Cliff Montgomery - Mar. 16th, 2007
A deputy to Harriet Miers, then the White House counsel and one of President Bush’s most trusted
lieutenants, sent a two-line email message to a top Justice Department aide on Dec. 4th, 2006. “We’re a go,” it
That message, from William Kelley of the White House counsel’s office to Kyle Sampson--the chief of staff to
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales--put in motion a scheme to fire United States attorneys which had been
hatched 22 months earlier by Miers. Three days later, the seven prosecutors were summarily dismissed. An
eighth had been forced out over the summer of 2006.
It was the final act of a long-brewing plan to remove federal prosecutors the administration felt did not show
proper "loyalty to the president and attorney general," according to a Justice Department email.
The White House claimed Monday that Bush and Karl Rove, the president's top political advisor who some
have nicknamed "Bush's brain", had raised concerns about "lax voter fraud prosecutions" with the Justice
Department. But several of the fired attorneys told Congress in hearings last week that some lawmakers had
questioned them about corruption investigations, inquiries the prosecutors felt were inappropriate.
The recently released documents do not specifically discuss either topic.
But the documents do reveal that as the target list of prosecutors was being formed, officials at the White
House and the Justice Department, members of Congress and even an important Republican lawyer and
lobbyist in New Mexico were submitting their views on the subject.
Administration officials were clearly aware that the firings were likely to be controversial; the documents
included a warning to “prepare to withstand political upheaval.”
Sampson, a young Republican lawyer who served as the Justice Department’s point man for the plan,
resigned Monday. Attorney General Gonzales, who approved the idea of the group firing, has been under
fierce criticism from lawmakers of both parties over the dismissals. On Sunday, Senator Charles Schumer (D-
NY), even demanded that Gonzales step down, saying he had politicized his office at the expense of the
The fiasco began shortly after the beginning of Bush’s second term in January 2005. Miers at first proposed
dismissing all 93 serving federal prosecutors--but cooler heads at the Justice Department and White House
rejected that plan as impractical. Still, the proposal set in motion a series of events that led to December’s
smaller-scale re-working of the American justice system along ideological lines.
The intensive consultations between the Justice Department and White House over which United States
attorneys should be replaced started as early as March 2005, the email messages reveal.
This is when Gonzales' aide, Kyle Sampson, sent a document to Miers ranking the nation’s federal prosecutors.
“Bold=Recommend retaining; strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty
to the president and attorney general,” proclaimed the email message from Sampson.
“Strikeout=Recommend removing; weak U.S. Attorneys who had been ineffectual managers and prosecutors,
chafed against administration initiatives, etc.”
From the start, the “strikeout” list included Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney in San Diego who successfully
prosecuted former Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now in federal prison, Margaret Chiara of
Michigan and H. E. "Bud" Cummins of Arkansas, all of whom ultimately lost their jobs.
But the “bold” list of stellar performers included David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney for New Mexico, and Kevin
Ryan, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco who was overseeing investigations into steroid use by major league
baseball players and the backdating of stock options by Apple Inc., and other firms. These attorneys were also
The plan for firing seven U.S. attorneys was refined in November and December during consultations between
Sampson and Miers' office. The result was a five-step blueprint for the removals, which was finally approved by
the White House counsel’s office on Dec. 4th.
The plan included detailed instructions on how to carry out the firings, as well as advice for officials to tell any of
the fired prosecutors who asked, “Why me?” to reply: “The administration is grateful for your service, but wants
to give someone else the chance to serve in your district.”
Sampson wrote that in executing the plan, it was “very important” that the calls to prosecutors and courtesy
calls to lawmakers in the affected states occur “simultaneously.”
The dismissal of the seven prosecutors was preceded the previous summer by the removal of Cummins in
Arkansas, who was replaced by Timothy Griffin, a former prosecutor who had once worked with Karl Rove.
In a Dec. 19 email message, Sampson wrote: “Getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.,” a
reference to Miers and Rove.