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Sampson: Let's 'talk some sense' into Schumer
Michael Roston
Published: Friday April 13, 2007
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The Department of Justice released another set of documents to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees this morning, this set a result of subpoenas issued earlier in the week. A variety of highlights emerged in some of the documents released earliest, including one showing top Justice Department staff appearing to believe that they can ward off a major investigation into the firing of eight US Attorneys by "talking some sense" into the staff of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

"Hertling and I are briefing Sen. Schumer's counsel tomorrow; he's a reasonable former [Southern District of New York Assistant US Attorney] who we hope to talk some sense into," D. Kyle Sampson, the now former Chief of Staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wrote in a Jan. 25 e-mail referencing a Feb. 7 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee that Schumer chaired.

Political considerations are visible throughout the documents.

In one e-mail, William Moschella, Deputy Attorney General, talks about briefing Republican senators and congressman on preserving the provision that allowed the Bush administration to indefinitely appoint interim US Attorneys.

"We should make sure R's are educated," he writes in the Jan. 10 e-mail. "I would hate to lose this provision."

Coordination between Justice Department officials and members of Congress also emerges in a March 6 e-mail concerning Moschella's testimony before the Senate.

"I am concerned that the format of this dribbling out in questions may muddy things up a bit," Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos writes to Catherine Martin, a White House counterpart. (Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino is also Cc'd). "The DAG said they are actively working with members to tee the right questions up but I am concerned."

In an earlier e-mail, Scolinos writes to White House Counselor Dan Bartlett and Martin, along with fellow DOJ spokesperson Brian Roehrkasse, and talks about muddying up the press coverage.

"Right now the coverage will be dominated by how qualified these folks were and their theories for their dismissals," she writes. "We are trying to muddy the coverage up a bit by trying to put the focus on the process in which they were told" that they were being asked to resign.

In a Feb. 1, 2007 e-mail, Sampson worries about the political difficulties that could be created if former US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Bud Cummins were to volunteer to testify about his replacement by former White House staffer Tim Griffin. Sampson asks how a number of questions would be answererd if they were asked.

"Did Griffin ever talk about being AG appointed and avoiding Senate confirmation?" Sampson poses as one theoretical question.

But when it came to shaping the message for the resignation of Cummins, Justice Department staff focused on elitism, elevating Griffin's schooling over that of Cummins and Clinton-era US Attorneys.

One recommended talking point notes that "unlike Mr. Griffin, [Cummins] did not attend top-rated universities."

Cummins received his BA and JD from the University of Arkansas, and was then involved extensively in the state's justice system in his subsequent legal career. Griffin had a BA from Hendrix College in Arkansas, and completed graduate schooling at Oxford before receiving a JD at Tulane Law School.

Carol Lam's 'independence' assailed

Today's document release included a rare appearance of a memo completed during the period of Attorney General John Ashcroft's control of the Justice Department.

A Sep. 30, 2003 memo delivered to Guy Lewis, Director of the Executive Office of United States Attorneys by Justice Department staffer Judy Beem notes that Carol Lam, the US Attorney from the Southern District who successfully prosecuted Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), is "very independent.

It is not clear if Lewis's handwriting is on the memo. It also notes there are "issues w/4th floor," perhaps referring to the top administrative offices in the Justice Department under Ashcroft.

Multiple memos included in the documents complain about Lam spending "a significant amount of her time trying cases -- this is discouraged in extra-large districts, because these are offices that require full-time managers."

Although not dealing with Lam, another note at one stage makes note of "public corruption." From an undated conversation, apparently with interim US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Tim Griffin, the fourth priority in a set of talking points is "public corruption" and a note is added that there is "a real problem w/that."

Ideological orientation at issue in evaluations

Tables contained in a number of locations in the documents, but appearing first in the set in an e-mail sent to resigned Justice Department White House liaison Monica Goodling by the US Attorneys Executive Office's John Nowacki, show that ideological orientation was important in the evaluation of US Attorneys.

The section of the chart shows that membership in the Federalist Society, a conservative law school fraternal organization, was noted in the evaluations.

Unfortunately, because the spreadsheet is not correctly formatted, and the column in question spills onto a second page, it is difficult to assess which US Attorneys were noted for their Federalist Society membership.

Continued redactions in documents

More documents within the Justice Department release contained redactions that confounded interpretation of the materials presented. This came in spite of the order of the Judiciary Committee's subpoena that the documents be "complete and unredacted versions"

On a Jan. 1, 2006 list of USAs to be replaced, written by Sampson, handwritten notes from an unknown author point to an area that is concealed.

"I would like" says one scribbled note, the remainder of which appears to be redacted. Another says "Would not put her on this list," pointing to an item that has been removed.

A Jan. 9, 2006 e-mail to Harriet Miers and Bill Kelley in the White House also lists a group of Attorneys to be removed, but leaves the first two and the fourth names out, with subsequent redactions later in the e-mail.