The role of the president and his advisers in the prosecutor shakeup is likely to intensify calls by Congress for an investigation. It is the worst crisis of Mr. Gonzalesâ€™s tenure and provoked charges that the dismissals were a political purge threatening the historical independence of the Justice Department.
The idea of dismissing federal prosecutors originated in the White House more than a year earlier, White House and Justice officials said Monday.
In early 2005, Harriet E. Miers, then the White House legal counsel, asked a Justice Department official whether it would be feasible to replace all United States attorneys when their four-year terms expired, according to the Justice Department. The proposal came as the administration was considering which political appointees to replace in the second term, Ms. Perino said.
Ms. Miers sent her query to D. Kyle Sampson, a top aide to Mr. Gonzales, the Justice officials said. Mr. Sampson, who resigned Monday, replied that filling so many jobs at once would overtax the department. He suggested replacing a smaller group, according to e-mail messages and other memorandums compiled by the Justice Department.
Also via Josh is this quote, from the Washington Post:
On the day of the Dec. 7 firings, Miers’s deputy, William Kelley, wrote that Domenici’s chief of staff “is happy as a clam” about Iglesias.
A week later, Sampson wrote: “Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias’s body to cool).”
Josh has some excellent analysis on the situation:
Perhaps the most important of which is this: the Patriot Act provision allowing the Attorney General to appoint US Attorneys by fiat was at the heart of this. The Post quotes an email from the now resigned Sampson in which he tells Miers: “I am only in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed. It will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and then don’t have replacements ready to roll immediately. I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments. [By sidestepping the confirmation process] we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House.”
I blogged about this back in early February, when details of the Patriot Act provision were just coming to light.