Administration Officials Eyed in Attorney Probe

As Attorney General Alberto Gonzales goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, lawmakers want to know what role other members of the Bush administration played. Here, a look at some of the officials involved:

Michael Battle. Photo: John Normile/Getty Images
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Michael Battle: Battle ran the office in Washington, D.C., that oversaw all U.S. attorneys. He was directed to call the seven dismissed prosecutors to inform them that they were to be removed on Dec. 7, 2006.

Battle has testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee behind closed doors. According to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Battle told the committee that he was not aware of any performance problems with several of the fired prosecutors until just before he was asked to call them. The Justice Department has said that the prosecutors were fired for performance-related reasons.

Battle also told the committee that Gonzales was at a Nov. 27, 2006, meeting where a memo listing the U.S. attorneys to be fired was distributed, Schumer said. Gonzales has denied seeing that memo. Battle resigned as the scandal emerged, though the Justice Department maintains his departure was long-planned.


Michael Elston: Chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Elston was part of a senior group at the Department of Justice that was consulted about the U.S. attorney firings. He exchanged e-mails with Kyle Sampson prior to the firings, receiving updates on White House approvals. After the eight attorneys were fired, Elston coordinated when they would leave their jobs.

On Feb. 1, 2007, Elston sent an e-mail that was copied to Sampson, Monica Goodling, William Moschella and Paul McNulty, among others. In that e-mail, Elston says that H. E. "Bud" Cummins, who had been dismissed from his post as a U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark., in June 2006, had been asked to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Elston wrote, "He declined, but wanted to know if we wanted him to testify — would tell the truth about his circumstances." Sampson replied to all, saying, "I don't think he should. How would he answer: Did you resign voluntarily? Who told you? When did they tell you? What did they say?"


Monica Goodling. Photo: Regent University
Regent University

Monica Goodling: Until April 7, Goodling served as senior counsel to Gonzales and as liaison to the White House. She was in a key position to know what role the White House played in developing the plan to dismiss the U.S. attorneys, and her name is all over the Justice Department e-mails that have been released about the firings.

Goodling declined to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, pleading her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In an affidavit sent to the committee, she cited the fact that "a senior Justice Department official" had blamed her for his false testimony. Shortly thereafter, she quit her job at the Justice Department.

But Congress still wants to hear from Goodling: The House Judiciary Committee is considering granting her immunity and forcing her to testify.


William Kelley: Kelley was deputy to Harriet Miers while she was White House counsel. E-mails suggest Kelley was involved in discussions surrounding the firing of Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney for San Diego, who successfully prosecuted former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) for corruption.

Kelley was with Miers when John McKay, the U.S. attorney for Seattle, was interviewed for a federal judgeship in the summer of 2006. During that interview, McKay later testified, he was asked to explain "criticism that I mishandled" the closely contested 2004 governor's race in Washington state, which was eventually won by a Democrat.

Republicans alleged voter misconduct in that race. Democrats contend that McKay was dismissed because he refused to investigate the charges — a claim administration officials deny.


Paul McNulty. Photo: MANNY CENETA/AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Paul McNulty: The deputy attorney general, McNulty was copied on e-mails from Sampson to Miers about the possible political fallout from dismissing the prosecutors.

Two months after the firings, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would never endorse changing U.S. attorneys for political reasons, or making any changes that would jeopardize ongoing investigations.

McNulty has since acknowledged that some of his testimony before Congress was inaccurate and has blamed Goodling for failing to brief him properly on the firings.


Harriet Miers. Photo: Getty Images
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Harriet Miers: While she was White House Counsel, Miers discussed replacing all 93 U.S. attorneys. She worked with Kyle Sampson to whittle down the list of prosecutors to be dismissed. Their e-mail correspondence contradicts earlier Bush administration assertions that the White House played a minor role in the firings.

In September 2006, Miers e-mailed Sampson, asking about "any current thinking on holdover U.S. attorneys." Sampson replied with a list of vacancies, and of U.S. attorneys who might be leaving or "nominated for other things," those who were "in the process of being pushed out" and those "we now should be considering pushing out." Six of the eight fired attorneys were on this list.

Sampson has described Miers as one of the "principals" who made the final decisions about the dismissals. The other principal was the attorney general.


William Moschella. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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William Moschella: Principal associate deputy attorney general. Moschella appears to have played a key role in inserting a provision into the reauthorized Patriot Act that let the attorney general appoint interim U.S. attorneys without Senate approval.

In an e-mail dated Nov. 11, 2005, sent to other administration officials, Moschella wrote: "We support eliminating the court's role" in appointing interim U.S. attorneys, "and believe the AG should have that authority alone."

In March, Moschella told Congress that most of the U.S. attorney firings had been performance-related. He said none of the fired prosecutors had been improperly pressured or removed to make room for Republican political allies. But several of the fired prosecutors testified before Congress about specific instances in which they felt political pressure from Republicans on corruption probes.


Karl Rove. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
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Karl Rove: The chief political adviser to the White House, Rove has been tied to the firings most strongly by Kyle Sampson's testimony. Sampson said that political complaints about attorneys from Republican members of Congress were registered with Rove and with officials in the Justice Department. Sampson also said that he repeatedly discussed the firing plan with White House personnel who report to Rove.

White House e-mails show that, contrary to initial White House claims, Rove knew about the firing plan as early as January 2005, and had asked "how we planned to proceed." An e-mail from Sampson suggests Rove backed the dismissals. It read, in part: "If Karl thinks there will be political will to do it, then so do I."

Democrats now want Rove to turn over any e-mails on the firings that he sent from accounts with the Republican National Committee. They say Rove may have used these accounts to circumvent record-keeping requirements and deleted many of the relevant e-mails himself.


Kyle Sampson. Photo: Mannie Garcia/AFP/Getty Images
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Kyle Sampson: As chief of staff to Attorney General Gonzales, Sampson headed the plan to fire U.S. attorneys. He discussed various possible dismissal scenarios with then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers, as well as with other White House officials. Sampson resigned as chief of staff to the attorney general after Justice Department officials said he did not fully inform them of his communications with the White House regarding the firing of U.S. attorneys.

But on March 29, 2007, Sampson told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did, in fact, keep Gonzales and other officials apprised of the plan "at every step of the way."

Sampson also told the panel that the "decision-makers in this case" were Gonzales and Harriet Miers. "I and others made staff recommendations, but they were approved and signed off on by principals," he said.

— With reporting by Anna Vigran, Maria Godoy and Ari Shapiro

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