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DOJ Politicization Program

           Today I attended a DC Bar program entitled “Politics Inside the Department of Justice: Did the Bush Administration Cross the Line?”  The panel consisted of Bud Cummins, (former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, one of eight US attorneys who were fired), Joseph Rich (formerly of the DOJ Civil Rights Div) and Lee Casey (Baker Hostetler partner who formerly served in the Office of Legal Counsel and Office of Legal Policy in the Reagan Administration).  Charlie Savage, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Boston Globe and author of the new book “Takeover,” served as moderator. 

            The most interesting insights came from Cummins, who gave a candid and balanced assessment of the US attorney firings.  Cummins said that he does not view the US attorney firings as part of some master plan to politicize the Justice Department (what he described as the “Karl Rove/Dr. Strangelove” theory).  Instead, he believes that the plan was really motivated by the desire of mid-level DOJ officials (like Kyle Sampson) to open up some US Attorney slots that they or their friends could fill.  He is mostly critical of senior DOJ officials for (a) failing to exercise “adult supervision” over their subordinates and (b) for falsely telling Congress that the terminations were based on performance.   

            During the discussion, Savage referred to the May 11, 2006 email sent by Kyle Sampson, telling another DOJ official that “[t]he real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.”  Although  the email says nothing about what the “real problem” was, Savage argued that the timing suggests that Lam’s firing was related to the search warrant executed on CIA official Dusty Foggo a couple of days later.

             After the panel discussion, I talked with Savage, who seems like a nice young man, and tried to persuade him that this inference is patently ridiculous.  As I explained to him, there is absolutely no evidence that (a) Sampson knew anything about the Foggo search warrant, or (b) anyone at DOJ or the WH cared about, or ever tried to stop, either the Foggo search warrant or the Cunningham investigation more broadly.  Add to this the fact that Lam was on the list of US attorneys to be fired long before there was a Cunningham investigation, and the fact that there are other DOJ emails in the same time frame indicating that the “real problem” with Lam related to her handling of immigration cases and had nothing to do with Cunningham or Foggo.  (I have written a more extensive analysis of this issue, which I will put up on this site once we get the capability).    

             Savage didn’t dispute these facts and said that he wasn’t asserting that Lam had in fact been dismissed for reasons relating to the Foggo/Cunningham investigation, only that there was evidence (“smoke” as he put it) to suggest the possibility.  I suggested that if he really believes this, he should investigate and determine whether there is any substantiation for this theory.  He is an investigative reporter after all.

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