Tuesday, March 13

Time line of the U.S. attorneys firing scandal

The Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys isn't easy to understand. The elevator-pitch version goes like this: Using the Global War on Terror™ as an excuse, the administration pushed through a change in the law that allows the president to appoint U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation. The White House recited an endless litany of baseless complaints of Democratic vote fraud during the 2004 and 2006 election cycles. Under cover of these complaints, Bush's closest lieutenants pushed out eight U.S. attorneys -- most of them for not indicting Democrats on trumped-up vote fraud charges, or for at least not leaking information about investigations of Democrats in time to tamper with elections. One of Bush's lieutenants was Harriet Miers, who he briefly nominated to be a justice on the Supreme Court.

Shorter elevator pitch: George Bush politicized the Justice Department to persecute Democrats.

This time line will be a continuing project. It is incomplete and needs items such as the date of Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

February 2005: Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, suggests to D. Kyle Sampson, Alberto Gonzales's chief of staff, that all 93 U.S. attorneys be dismissed and replaced.

February 2005: Alberto Gonzales approves the idea of firing "a smaller group of U.S. attorneys."

March 2005: D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff for Alberto Gonzales, emails Harriet Miers, the White House chief counsel, that ranks all 93 U.S. attorneys. According to the Washington Post: "Strong performers 'exhibited loyalty' to the administration; low performers were 'weak U.S. attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.' A third group merited no opinion. At least a dozen prosecutors were on a 'target list' to be fired at one time or another, the e-mails show."

Oct. 3, 2005: Bush nominates Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court vacated by Sandra Day O'Connor.

Oct. 27, 2005: Bush withdraws the Miers nomination, based mostly on opposition from conservatives and Senate requests for documents relating to Miers's work for the White House. Bush later nominates Samuel Alito to replace O'Connor.

January 2006: D. Kyle Sampson writes to Harriet Miers: "I recommend that the Department of Justice and the Office of the Counsel to the President work together to seek the replacement of a limited number of U.S. Attorneys. … [a] limited number of U.S. attorneys could be targeted for removal and replacement, mitigating the shock to the system that would result from an across the board firing."

January 2006: D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff for Alberto Gonzales, sends the White House a list of seven candidates for dismissal. Four of them are gone by year's end: Margaret Chiara of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Bud Cummins of Little Rock; Carol Lam of San Diego, and Kevin Ryan in San Francisco.

March 2006: The USA Patriot Act is renewed. It allows the attorney general to name interim replacements for U.S. attorneys, without Senate confirmation.

Sept. 17, 2006: D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, sends the White House a list of nine U.S. attorneys to be fired. He says one, Bud Cummins in Little Rock, is "in the process of being pushed out." Cummins and four others on the list are fired by year's end. He adds that the administration should eschew Senate confirmation of the replacements because "we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House."

October 2006: D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, adds David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, to the list of U.S. attorneys to be fired, based on complaints from Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) that Iglesias wasn't prosecuting enough vote fraud cases.

October 2006: In a conversation with Alberto Gonzales, Bush mentions complaints about vote fraud investigations.

Dec. 7, 2006: Seven U.S. attorneys are fired. William Kelley, deputy to White House counsel Harriet Miers, writes that Domenici's chief of staff "is happy as a clam" about the firing of Iglesias.

Dec. 14, 2006: Sampson writes in an email that "Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias's body to cool)."

January 2007: Harriet Miers resigns as White House counsel.

March 12, 2007: Alberto Gonzales's chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, resigns "after acknowledging that he did not tell key Justice officials about the extent of his communications with the White House, leading them to provide incomplete information to Congress."