Former U.S. Attorney Cummins Discusses Dismissal

Evidence has now emerged that White House counsel suggested firing all 93 U.S. attorneys two years ago. One of the eight attorneys who was eventually dismissed is Bud Cummins.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

We're joined now by one of those fired federal prosecutors. He's Bud Cummins. He was the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Arkansas until last December. He was replaced then by Timothy Griffin, a former aide to presidential advisor Karl Rove.

Mr. Cummins, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Mr. BUD CUMMINS (Former U.S. Attorney, Eastern District, Arkansas): Thank you.

CHADWICK: You were informed last summer you were being dismissed. What was the reason?

Mr. CUMMINS: Well, the reason I was told was that it was entirely about a desire by the White House to allow another person to serve in this district.

CHADWICK: Well, that's not the reason that we've heard from the Department of Justice. They say these dismissals were performance-related.

Mr. CUMMINS: They've said performance-related up to now in regard to seven of my colleagues. And I have kind of gone through an evolutionary process of trying to give them the benefit of the doubt - them being the department - more closely examining the allegations that they've made against each of my colleagues and really finally coming to the conclusion that the suggestion that any of these dismissals were for performance reasons is really ludicrous. If you look behind each allegation that's been made, they're all silly.

CHADWICK: Mister Bush appointed you, didn't he?

Mr. CUMMINS: Yes, sir. Mr. Bush appointed me in 2001.

CHADWICK: And is it not his prerogative to unappoint you whenever he feels like it?

Mr. CUMMINS: Well, the short answer is absolutely yes. We served at the pleasure of the president, and every U.S. attorney knows that at any time the president asks you to step down, that you do step down. And, in fact, each of the U.S. attorneys that were asked to step down in this instance did so and did so without making any public complaint.

It was only when the department started being called on the carpet by Congress about the decisions, and they chose to offer excuses that the firings were for performance reasons - that we spoke out because I knew from the statements that were made when they called me that that wasn't the case. And each of the other U.S. attorneys involved knew from their own experiences that there was no history on the issues that were being raised to support that allegation.

CHADWICK: According to today's Washington Post, a Justice Department ranking included you in a group of, quote, "U.S. attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors," comma, "chafed against administration initiatives and more." Were there administration initiatives that you didn't like?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CUMMINS: No. But when you talk about a United States attorney, you're really talking about his entire staff of assistants and career people - the legal assistants, the paralegals. And we have the evaluation reports every three years. We just had one in our district, and I think it was about as clean as it could possibly be. We were pretty much on top of every single priority that had been set by the administration and got very complimentary comments in the evaluation.

I've never had any problem with the administration as far as getting along, and I certainly - my loyalty was never questioned by anybody here that was serving with me. I think clearly there was a motivation here to create vacancies by people who wanted to be U.S. attorneys, and I don't think there was really much more substance behind these lists than that.

CHADWICK: Among the U.S. attorneys - I mean, you all must talk to each other from time to time.

Mr. CUMMINS: Yes.

CHADWICK: Did you ever get any word about the White House Counsel, Ms. Miers, thinking it was a good idea for all of you to retire soon after Mr. Bush's second term began?

Mr. CUMMINS: No.

CHADWICK: No?

Mr. CUMMINS: That - last night was the first time anybody - that I'd ever seen that suggestion. People get confused because they say, well, if he can fire you any time they want and Clinton fired all of them, what's the big deal? Well, they clean them out as they probably should at the beginning of a new presidential administration - absolutely if it's a change of party. And that happened in the Bush administration. That's how I got the job.

That happened in the Clinton administration, and I think same thing had happened in the Reagan administration. But this is the first time anybody that I know of has ever heard of a president trying to just change out U.S. attorneys during his own term, and I think now we're going to see the reasons why they don't do that. It's kind of - some people say it's a quasi-judicial job. It's political in that you get the appointment politically, but you have to completely divest yourself of politics to do the job. And at that point, you're more like a judge and it's not proper for the people that put you there to call you about specific cases and try to affect outcomes.

And it's certainly not proper for you to stay conscious of what their agenda is and try to satisfy it. You know, you make the president look good by going and doing your job in a totally neutral and non-partisan way and making sure the public understands and feels like that's what's happening.

CHADWICK: Did you get those kinds of calls when you were in your job?

Mr. CUMMINS: I didn't. No, I didn't. But I - it's clear that some of my colleagues have, and it's clear to me that that's part of the reason they're on the list.

CHADWICK: What are you doing now, Mr. Cummins?

Mr. CUMMINS: I am consulting right now with a biofuel company, so I'm doing something that's a little bit outside of the legal profession. I'm working with a bio-fuel company that's trying to build biodiesel plants in this region.

CHADWICK: Bud Cummins, former U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Arkansas, fired in December. Thank you, Mr. Cummins.

Mr. CUMMINS: Thank you.

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