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Documents Show Justice Ranking U.S. Attorneys

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Documents Show Justice Ranking U.S. Attorneys

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Documents Show Justice Ranking U.S. Attorneys

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Today, the Justice Department released another pile of documents about the dismissal of eight fired U.S. attorneys.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports they give us a few more details of the firing process and its aftermath.

ARI SHAPIRO: Some of the documents in this pile are repeats, like the letter in which the attorney general's chief of staff Kyle Sampson responds to a suggestion from White House counsel Harriet Miers that all 93 U.S. attorneys be fired. But NPR now has another perspective on that plan. According to someone who's had conversations with White House officials, the plan to fire all 93 U.S. attorneys originated with political adviser Karl Rove.

It was apparently a way to get political cover for firing the small number of U.S. attorneys the White House actually wanted to get rid of. Documents show the plan was eventually dismissed as impractical.

The Justice Department documents released today include a spreadsheet ranking all 93 of the prosecutors. The chart judges them on whether they have Capitol Hill experience, campaign experience and, in the last column, whether they're members of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society.

One document contradicts testimony that former Justice Department Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson delivered before Congress last month. Sampson said when the U.S. attorneys were dismissed last December, the Justice Department did not have successors in mind. An e-mail released today showed that Sampson considered successors almost a year ago. Sampson's lawyer says most if not all of those names were not in play when the prosecutors were fired.

By eventually dismissing those prosecutors, the White House started down a path that's led to a clash with Congress over executive privilege. The question is whether and how White House officials will testify about their role in the dismissals. In a letter yesterday, White House counsel Fred Fielding told Congress he won't budge from his original offer to let Congress interview White House staffers privately with no oath or transcript.

Sources now tell NPR that Fielding actually wants to negotiate with Congress about how the interviews will take place. But Fielding has not been able to convince his boss, President Bush, to go along. Many of the Justice Department documents shows staffers scrambling to deal with the aftermath of the firings.

In an e-mail from mid-January, Justice attorney Rebecca Seidel discusses whether she should brief a Democratic Hill staffer by phone or in person. Seidel writes, phone call easier and may be easier to get out of, i.e., not trapped up there when she - the staffer - doesn't get the info she wants, i.e., why they were fired.

Obfuscation was also on the mind of the department's communications director, Tasia Scolinos. Scolinos e-mailed Dan Bartlett and Cathy Martin of the White House Communications Office last month to say, we are trying to muddy the coverage up a bit by trying to put the focus on the process in which they were told. The e-mail goes on, we are having morale problems with our other U.S. attorneys who understand the decision but think that these folks were not treated well in the process.

Congress still wants to know more about the months leading up to the firings and who was involved in the decision making. A House committee has subpoenaed some of that information, and other details are likely to come out when the attorney general testifies before Congress about the firings next Tuesday.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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