The Actual Text of the E-mails Provides Further Support That the U.S. Attorney Firings Were Not Motivated by a Desire to Affect Political Investigations
U.S. Attorney Carol Lam was on a list to be fired months before the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal even broke.
One of the fired U.S. Attorneys wouldn’t prosecute illegal re-entry cases until the illegal alien had been apprehended 13 times after his original deportation.
These are things I learned reading the entire set of released e-mails regarding the firing of the U.S. Attorneys. These e-mails confirm my conclusion from yesterday: the media is manufacturing a phony scandal out of these firings, and piggybacking it onto the genuine scandal of the Justice Department’s misleading testimony to Congress about the responsibility for the firings. If these e-mails are given a fair reading, they support the idea that U.S. Attorneys were pushed out largely for legitimate reasons relating to the performance of the USAs in question.
For example, the e-mails make it crystal clear that Lam was fired over lax border enforcement and not political investigations. An Appointment Summary from February 24, 2005 (see Set 1) includes Lam’s name on the list of potential people to be cut — months before June 2005, when the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal first broke.
Did the Administration look into a crystal ball and foretell the Cunningham scandal? Do the lefties now think Bush has paranormal powers?
(The lefties are sticking to their story, though, advancing an argument that can be summarized as follows: “Ahem. We are not letting the facts get in the way of our very fervent beliefs. Thank you.”)
Some of the U.S. Attorneys’ failings are actually quite stark. As I mentioned yesterday, what jumped out at me was the apparent concern that the Administration showed for border enforcement, and the egregious way in which some USAs were failing in this area. I was particularly struck by one e-mail from Set 3, which is worth quoting at some length, because it shows what the Bushies were up against in trying to get something done in border districts. The e-mail is from Robert Jacobs to Rachel Brand, with cc’s to several other people, and it begins:
Congressman Lamar Smith is concerned that the Administration’s policy is to only prosecute aliens once they have been caught entering the country multiple times. Specifically, Smith cites Laredo, where he claims illegal aliens are apprehended and removed eight times before finally being prosecuted.
When I was in Phoenix with Jon, we met with USA Paul Charlton. Charlton told us that his office didn’t prosecute illegal aliens until they were apprehended 13 times (after the initial removal order). His exceptions to that “policy” were: aliens with aggravated felonies; alien smugglers with 12 or more people; and aliens who cross the border illegally with children not their own.
No, that’s not a typo. It says “13 times.” Illegal re-entry prosecutions required 13 apprehensions after the initial removal order.
Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, Batman!
If that doesn’t amaze you, you’re beyond being amazed.
Picture an illegal alien who smuggled 10 people into the country, and who had already been apprehended and deported 12 times, since his original deportation. Under USA Charlton’s policy, that person would not qualify for prosecution under the illegal re-entry law.
Are you really going to criticize the Administration for doing something about that?? Because concerns like these appear to have supported the firings of more than one nominee, including Lam and Charlton. That seems like a good reason to me.
It’s easy for people to be cynical about this issue, given the Administration’s seeming laxity towards illegal immigration. But if you’re tempted to be cynical, I encourage you to read the e-mails. If you bother to sit down and pore through them, as I have, you will clearly see that they are not intended as a whitewash for public consumption. There is a level of frankness in the tone of the e-mails that shows that the authors never expected them to be public. In fact the disclosure of these e-mails is probably going to have a chilling effect on the candor of future e-mails sent within the Executive Branch — a candor that is sometimes necessary to get things done. I’m surprised Bush didn’t invoke executive privilege.
By the way, I am less impressed by the rationale that USAs Charlton and Bogden were too soft on obscenity. I actually praise these USAs for de-emphasizing obscenity prosecutions. This is about the lowest priority imaginable, when we have serious issues of terrorism to deal with. If anyone wants to line up to whack Bush across the skull for pushing out USAs who don’t care about obscenity prosecutions, show me where the line is, and I’ll get in it right now.
But this still constitutes nothing more than the Administration setting priorities — albeit (in this instance) priorities with which I disagree. That’s a far cry from the accusations of political hackery that the Democrats are making. I’m just not seeing the evidence for that in these e-mails.
A reading of the e-mails provides context for some of the revelations in recent newspaper articles. For example, many newspapers — including the Los Angeles Times — took special care to quote the e-mail that proclaimed that Sen. Domenici was “happy as a clam” upon being told of the ouster of USA Iglesias, whom Domenici had inappropriately phoned about a pending case. Out of context, there is an implicit suggestion that Iglesias was ousted at the behest of Domenici, due to displeasure over the handling of one politically charged case.
But in context, matters look different.
It turns out that the architects of the firings had drafted a specific plan for breaking the news of the firings to the USAs and the Senators of their home states. The idea was to make simultaneous phone calls to everyone. A script was provided to deal with objections. Afterwards, officials contacted people within the offices of the home Senators to see how the news was going over.
It turned out there were different reactions. For example, Sen. Ensign of Nevada was upset about Bogden. He wondered why the office was being left in the hands of an “interim” USA when previous nominations had been quickly confirmed. Why not just leave the office in the hands of the capable Bogden? was the question from Sen. Ensign’s office.
By contrast, reports came back, Sen. Kyl was fine with the firing of a U.S. Attorney in his state. And Domenici was “happy as a clam” and eager to submit names for replacements.
Viewed in context, the comment about Domenici was just another report of several on the issue of how the home Senators were reacting to the news. This doesn’t mean that Domenici was responsible for the firing of Iglesias. As I said yesterday morning: “These e-mails show an (amused) awareness that Domenici had been unhappy with Iglesias — but the e-mails are not evidence that Domenici’s unhappiness had any effect.” I think it’s more likely that Iglesias’s failures in the area of voter fraud, which I discussed yesterday morning, were behind his ouster.
This is not to say that everything in the e-mails is innocent. If I were a Democrat, I’d follow up on two things:
First, there is one e-mail (in Set 2) in which Sampson tells Harriet Miers:
Let me know when you have read this; I have one follow up item I would want to do over the phone.
The natural interpretation of this language is: I have one item that is too hot to commit to paper. If I were a Democrat, I’d subpoena Sampson and Miers and ask them what that was.
The second item concerns Sampson’s plan to keep Tim Griffin on as an “interim” USA for the rest of the Bush Administration, by lying to Congress about his status as an interim, and pretending to be interested in getting Senate confirmation for a permanent replacement. Sampson says the Administration should “run out the clock” — and adds:
All of this should be done in “good faith,” of course.
When someone puts the phrase “good faith” in quotes, you should watch your back.
This is undoubtedly the sort of thing that led to Sampson’s sudden desire to spend more time with his family. Don’t be surprised if the Democrats decide to further investigate who was in on this plan to lie to Congress.
The deception to Congress is the single most disturbing aspect of this whole affair. And, to be sure, that dishonesty may well be an attempt to disguise truly nefarious actions in the firings of these U.S. Attorneys. But if that’s the case, there’s almost zero evidence of it in the e-mails — and there’s plenty of evidence to contradict that theory.
P.S. I encourage readers concerned about this topic to read them. Here are the links, one more time:
UPDATE: The L.A. Times has outrageously misstated the facts on the timing of the Lam targeting. Details here.
UPDATE x2: A commenter makes the point that, due to limited resources, U.S. Attorneys’ offices must enact guidelines that limit prosecution of certain large-volume felonies, like the illegal re-entry cases. Therefore, they say, it was the Administration who failed — by not providing sufficient resources. I think this is a potentially very valid point. However, if it gets to the point where an office won’t prosecute illegal re-entry cases unless there have been 13 subsquent apprehensions, then a U.S. Attorney has two duties: 1) reprioritize so that illegal immigration cases get a higher priority, and 2) make a lot of noise about the lack of resources. If the border USAs did this and were fired anyway, that would be one thing. In the case of Carol Lam, she made a conscious decision to deprioritize immigration cases — in San Diego. I’m sorry, but that’s inexcusable.