Bud Cummins Sheds Further Light on The L.A. Times’s Mischaracterization of His Views Regarding His Firing
In response to an e-mail from me, Bud Cummins, one of the fired U.S. Attorneys, has written me to shed further light on the L.A. Times‘s mischaracterization of a statement he made concerning his firing.
On March 17, I noted that Cummins had directly contradicted the major premise of an L.A. Times article published about him, in an e-mail to TPMmuckraker. L.A. Times reporter Richard Serrano had written an entire article around a single premise:
Still uncertain exactly why he was fired, former U.S. Atty. H.E. “Bud” Cummins III wonders whether it had something to do with the probe he opened into alleged corruption by Republican officials in Missouri amid a Senate race there that was promising to be a nail-biter.
The story was based on a single quote from Cummins: “Now I keep asking myself: ‘What about the Blunt deal?’” (Matt Blunt was the Missouri Governor, and the L.A. Times asserted that the investigation was connected to him — something Cummins later denied.)
In his e-mail to TPMmuckraker, Cummins disputed that he had asked himself any such thing:
I do not know of any connection whatsoever to the Missouri investigation and my firing. I am not asking myself (or anyone else) about that.
He also said this should have been clear from context:
Unfortunately, that isn’t what I said, or at least what I intended to say, and it is not the case.
The context of my conversation with LA Times reporter Richard Serrano was clearly that I do not know of ANY connection between the Missouri investigation (which actually had nothing to do with Governor Blunt) and my termination.
I wrote the paper’s Readers’ Representative seeking a correction or clarification. She responded:
As The Times story said, Cummins “wonders whether it had something to do with the probe he opened into alleged corruption by Republican officials in Missouri.” . . . According to what you sent, Cummins said that he didn’t “intend” to say something in a certain way; he didn’t, as seems to be your interpretation, “deny the central premise” of the Times story.
I strongly disagree. That is exactly what Mr. Cummins did. The paper said he had wondered aloud about a possible connection, and he said in his TPMmuckraker e-mail that he not wondered any such thing.
But in comments to my post about the paper’s refusal to correct the record, some commenters wondered whether Mr. Cummins had written the paper about this. I was curious about that, but had no way to contact him — until yesterday, when I saw an e-mail exchange between him and James Comey, in which Mr. Cummins’s e-mail address had been poorly redacted. I thought I could guess his e-mail addresss, and wrote him. In the extended entry is his response, which he authorized me to quote. I have bolded the parts that I think are relevant to the accuracy of the L.A. Times story:
Miraculously, I have read your blog! I say “miraculously” only because I didn’t even know what a “blog” was before the USA controversy heated up. I remember hearing about their role in the fake National Guard Letters/CBS debacle, but didn’t really drill down to see what blogs were all about at that time. Since January I have found that several blogs including yours and TPM actually seem to get to the new developments faster than the other, older, forms of media. Pretty darn cool.
To answer your question, there is no doubt in my mind that I made it clear to Mr. Serrano that I knew of no connection between the Missouri investigation and my dismissal. I am certain that I told him that more than once. I did then engage in a discussion of the consequences of losing credibility and how people start questioning things they weren’t questioning before. I MAY have said something along the lines of “so now, you are asking me: ‘what about the Missouri deal?’” to illustrate how people are asking about things that weren’t being questioned before.
But I can promise you that I have never had a reason to wonder if there was a connection. I wrote TPM because I had been regularly visiting their site, knew the focus they had put on the story, and felt they would not want to get that part of the story wrong. I also gave what seemed like two dozen interviews the day after the LA Times story ran, mostly to Missouri media outlets, consistently telling them what I had told Mr. Serrano and what I had told a dozen or so reporters before I ever spoke to Mr. Serrano. Since I did not know of a connection, my account has appeared in few newspapers, but I can assure you there are dozens of reporters around the country who have heard me tell my version of this the exact same way. Mr. Serrano is the only one who heard it differently.
I did not write Mr. Serrano or the paper and I never bothered to ask for a retraction. He did call me soon after the story ran and talked to me about it. He seemed apologetic, but insisted that was how he heard it. I was annoyed by the whole thing, but never really worried about it mainly because of the great number of times I have repeated the story to others and always consistently. I don’t get mad easily and seldom harbor a grudge, so I have kind of let it go. In fact, I actually gave Mr. Serrano another interview later, but I was pretty careful about what I said and how I said it! Being a ‘left coaster’, he might not be understanding my Oklahoma/Arkansas accent!
I can’t say what was going on in the minds of the “deciders” in Washington who created this mess. They very well may have been considering something about our Missouri investigation when they made their decisions. But I can only tell you that I have seen no evidence of that, and there was nothing about that investigation that made me believe anyone in Washington was interested in it. We did not get pressured in any way from any quarter.
I just think the LA Times just got it wrong that day, and/or I was not speaking as clearly as I thought I was. But I promise you the story was wrong. I guess it happens. One newspaper referred to me as “Ed” Cummins and a television host introduced me once as Henry “Bud” Cummins (my name is “Harry”).
Thanks for your interest in the story. The real import of all this is that there are thousands of career federal prosecutors out there, and a bunch of committed political appointees also, who literally risk their lives to protect their local communities. This whole affair has cost them their most precious asset: credibility. People are questioning a lot of good people, their actions and their motives. It is a predictable consequence of something like this. They will get that credibility back through a lot of hard work. But this simply shouldn’t have happened. It is a great disappointment to folks like me who ARE Republicans, worked hard to do it right and represent the President well by doing so, and have now seen the whole record clouded by this episode.
Ps you can quote anything you want to quote.
I agree with Mr. Cummins: this episode shouldn’t have happened. Like Mr. Cummins, I’m still not willing to assume without evidence that the episode was the result of the Bush Administration trying to influence political prosecutions. It may well have been simple incompetence on the Administration’s part — the result of over-delegation to the callow Kyle Sampson. But the affair was mishandled terribly, to the detriment of some who appear to have been fine public servants. I would place Mr. Cummins in that category. I thank him for responding to my inquiry.
I continue to be astounded that the L.A. Times editors feel comfortable leaving the record uncorrected on this. Their entire story was premised on the idea that Cummins had wondered about a political connection to these firings. He says he wondered no such thing. And the paper thinks their readers aren’t entitled to know that??