Thursday, March 15, 2007


Principals of Target Selection

Shortly after President Bush began his second term, his close associate, fellow Texan, and White House counsel Harriet Miers conveyed an idea, source unknown, to D. Kyle Sampson, former Deputy White House counsel and then Chief of Staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, the president’s close associate, fellow Texan, and former White House counsel. The idea was to fire and replace all 93 of the U.S. Attorneys. While everyone was just wild about Harry (she was to have her 3 ½ weeks of fame as a Supreme Court nominee that fall), some were not wild about Harry’s idea, or conveyance thereof.

You see, under the political spoils system every new president fires all the U.S. Attorneys and appoints his own supporters, generally choosing among recommendations from big contributors. The term is four years, and, customarily, if your guy gets reelected, the ride is for eight. The “idea” would therefore involve firing 93 supporters in midstream and replacing them with 93 other supporters. You know about horses and streams.

D. Kyle replied in March 2005, suggesting that they instead just “target” a limited number of U.S. Attorneys to “mitigate the shock to the system that would result from an across-the-board firing” and provided a proposed “strikeout” list. In a continuous stream of email messages between the White House and the Justice Department over the next two years, the list evolved, with targets added and deleted. A list of seven was finally approved, along with a five step blueprint for carrying out the executive action. The targets were advised in December 2006, while Alberto Gonzales and the White House communications office called the senators in the affected states. While Al thereby gained knowledge of who the targets were, he made it clear in his press conference Tuesday that he had no direct knowledge of how the targets were selected. Al also acknowledged “that mistakes were made here”, but no one knows what he meant, exactly. Dan Bartlett, President Bush’s counselor, also made it clear that “the White House did not play a role in the seven U.S. attorneys.”

The next day President Bush took time out of his busy schedule in Mexico to say he was “frankly not happy about” the way it was handled, but defended the removals as “customary practice”, adding “I’ve heard those allegations about political decision making. It’s just not true.”

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