"Karl Rove stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting), `How we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.,"'Has anyone else wondered exactly why replacing most or all U.S. attorneys (practical or not) would occur to Karl Rove and the Bush White House in January 2005?
-- e-mail from Colin Newman, a legal aide in the White House counsel's office, to deputy counsel David Leitch, Jan. 6, 2005
Critics have focused on the political motives behind the firings suggested by the prosecutors themselves, or on the missuse of the obscure Patriot Act Reauthorization provision invoked in replacing them. Administration spokesmen and supporters reply that it is not unusual for incoming administrations to replace federal prosecutors with their own people; the Clinton administration did so as well. True, as far as it goes.
But it is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process to recruit, interview, background check and shepherd a team of prosecutors through Senate approval. Once approved, federal prosecutors typically remain in place for four years, and if the president gets reelected, for eight. What's unusual is for an administration in its second term to consider replacing them wholesale and thus divert valuable resources from pursuing its agenda. Unless that is the agenda.
That obscure little Patriot Act Reauthorization provision enabled the Bush administration to replace any of the U.S. attorneys, no troublesome Senate confirmation required. Now they had the means and the opportunity to replace them, but what about motive?
Other e-mails being turned over to congressional investigators by the Justice Department reveal that in early 2005, White House officials considered replacing attorneys who were not, in the words of Kyle Sampson, “loyal Bushies.” Sampson just resigned his position as chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Yes, they value loyalty above all else except power, but in their machinations they also think bigger than that. They love getting a twofer or a threefer, if possible. Reward favored cronies? Absolutely. And punish employees who aren't aggressive enough about reinforcing the GOP “voter fraud” meme? Sure. And tamp down investigations of Republican operatives? You betcha. But unless they can preserve the White House as a Republican frat house in 2008, Bush team members may find themselves looking over their shoulders in January 2009.
What to do?
Timothy Griffin, a Karl Rove protégée, is a veteran of Team 2000, the GOP’s opposition research effort in 2000. The June 2004 Atlantic detailed some of their efforts at discrediting Vice President Al Gore. The GOP brought back Griffin in 2004 as Bush's director of opposition research and deputy communications director.
In the current prosecutor hullabaloo, Griffin replaced U.S. Attorney H.E. Cummins in Little Rock, Ark. Griffin is the same new U.S. Attorney examined in an October 2004 BBC Newsnight investigation (reported on Greg Palast’s site ). Griffin inadvertently sent plans for a GOP vote suppression program to a prankster site GeorgeWBush.org, instead of to GeorgeWBush.com, prompting the investigation. Palast reports:
And we dug in, decoding, and mapping the voters on what Griffin called, “Caging” lists, spreadsheets with 70,000 names of voters marked for challenge. Overwhelmingly, these were Black and Hispanic voters from Democratic precincts.Who better qualified (and strategically located in Little Rock) to reprise the right-wing’s muckraking “Arkansas Project” if a former first lady from Arkansas tops the Democratic ticket in 2008? There's a motive for you.
The Griffin scheme was sickly brilliant. We learned that the RNC sent first-class letters to new voters in minority precincts marked, “Do not forward.” Several sheets contained nothing but soldiers, other sheets, homeless shelters. Targets included the Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida and that city’s State Street Rescue Mission. Another target, Edward Waters College, a school for African-Americans.
If these voters were not currently at their home voting address, they were tagged as “suspect” and their registration wiped out or their ballot challenged and not counted. Of course, these ‘cages’ captured thousands of students, the homeless and those in the military though they are legitimate voters.
But why stop in Arkansas? By replacing all (or at least key) U.S. attorneys around the country with loyal operatives like Griffin, Bush and the GOP could be positioned to make mid-2008 the summer of the Democrats' discontent. Pre-election news of investigation after meritless investigation of Democratic officials and candidates could help eat away at Democratic efforts to retake the White House and help keep the Bushies out of the slammer.
As with the Arkansas Project and the Whitewater investigations during the Clinton years, there need not be any real fire to get the job done, only lots of smoke.
I'm speculating here. But the most pressing question for us isn't, is such a plan possible, but will Democrats in Congress make sure Bush and company never get the opportunity try it out?