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US attorney firings weighed in 2005

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/03/16 22:20

In early 2005 the Justice Department advocated the removal of up to 20 percent of the nation's US attorneys whom it considered to be "underperforming" but retaining prosecutors who were "loyal Bushies," according to e-mails released by Justice late yesterday.

The three e-mails also show that presidential adviser Karl Rove asked the White House counsel's office in January 2005 whether it planned to proceed with a proposal to fire all 93 federal prosecutors. Officials said yesterday that Rove was opposed to that idea but wanted to know whether the Justice Department planned to carry it out.

The e-mails provide new details about the early decision-making that led to the firings of eight US attorneys last year, indicating that Justice Department officials endorsed a larger number of firings than has been disclosed and that Rove expressed an early interest in the debate.

The messages also show that an internal administration push to remove a large number of federal prosecutors was well underway even as Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, was preparing for Senate hearings on his nomination to be attorney general.

Gonzales talked "briefly" in December 2004, the messages show, with D. Kyle Sampson, who would become his chief of staff at the Justice Department, about the plan to remove US attorneys. Justice spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said Gonzales has "no recollection" of discussing the prosecutors' firings at the time, when he was preparing for his January 2005 confirmation hearings.

The dismissals, and the Bush administration's shifting explanations for them, led a growing number of lawmakers to demand Gonzales's resignation this week. Justice Department documents released Tuesday contradicted the contention that the White House was not closely involved.

A second Republican, Senator Gordon Smith, Republican of Oregon, called for Gonzales's ouster yesterday. Senator John E. Sununu, Republican of New Hampshire, said Wednesday that Gonzales should resign.

"The senator believes, as a matter of credibility, it would be most helpful to have an attorney general we can have full confidence in," said Smith's spokeswoman.

Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, one of six Democrats to support Gonzales's confirmation, also demanded his resignation after learning of e-mails that showed Justice Department officials planning to circumvent Pryor on the replacement for a fired Little Rock US attorney in 2006. Pryor said Gonzales had told him there was no attempt to avoid his input.

None of the three new e-mails is from Rove himself. They are part of a string of e-mail correspondence among other officials.


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