The 358-page report on the U.S. attorney firings provides the fullest picture yet of the debacle that spawned an 18-month investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility. Below are noteworthy items from the report's first section, which covers the background of the purge and the department’s response. To wit:
Pg. 33 (footnote): White House Counsel Harriet Miers raised the possibility of sacking Debra Yang, then U.S. attorney in the middle district of California, for “rejecting an overture to serve on the Ninth Circuit.” But Attorney D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Gonzales and the architect of the firing plan, declined to add her to the “USAs We Should Now Consider Pushing Out” list, calling Yang a “strong attorney.” Yang quit in 2006 -- of her own volition -- for a partnership in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Los Angeles office.
Pg. 50: Michael Battle, then Director of the Executive Office for U.S Attorneys, fired the nine U.S. attorneys over the telephone. But at one point, Justice Department officials floated the idea of having then Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty sack them in person. McNulty, who is criticized in the report for being “remarkably unengaged” in firing process, told investigators that, in the report's words, “it would have been unpleasant to tell the U.S. attorneys they were being removed.” Sampson similarly told investigators that McNulty was cool to idea “because it would have made him uncomfortable.” Besides, McNulty told investigators, Battle’s phone calls were consistent with the plan to keep the firings in a “lower key.”
Pg. 52 (footnote): These were the talking points for Battle to use when firing the U.S. attorneys:
• What are your plans with regard to continued service as U.S. attorney?If the U.S. attorneys questioned their dismissal and asked who authorized it, Battle was to retreat to this script: “The Administration made the determination to seek the resignations (not a specific person at the White house or the Department of Justice.)” If they asked “why me,” the response was: “The Administration is grateful for your service, but wants to give someone else a chance to serve in your district.” And if they asked for more time: “The decision is to have a new Acting or Interim U.S. attorney in place by January 31, 2007 (granting ‘extensions’ would hinder the process of getting a new U.S. attorney in place and giving that person the opportunity to serve for a full two years.”
•The Administration is grateful for your service as U.S. attorney but has determined to give someone else the opportunity to serve as U.S. attorney in your district for the final two years of the Administration.
•We will work with you to make sure there is a smooth transition, but intend to have a new acting or interim U.S. attorney in place January 31, 2007.
Pgs. 87-88: As the firings churned in the news and in Congress, the Justice Department tried to rehab its image in a March 2007 op/ed in USA Today that ran under then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' name. The effort backfired. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse wrote the first draft before sending it off to one of Gonzales’ speechwriters, who tinkered with the tone of the piece to stress that the removals were a personnel matter. Sampson made a few last-minute edits as USA Today’s 6:30 p.m. deadline approached. The Justice Department’s computers were down, so Sampson dictated the editorial over the phone, inserting the line, “While I’m grateful for the public service of these seven U.S. attorneys, they simply lost my confidence.”
Gonzales was furious. The point of the editorial was to placate the fired U.S. attorneys, to apologize, if indirectly, for dragging their records through the mud. Gonzales considered seeking a retraction, but his aides advised against it. The phrase struck him as “a terrible thing to say about somebody,” Gonzales told investigators. His anger was apparently short-lived. Gonzales had stopped reading newspapers by the time the editorial was published, and he never spoke of it with Sampson.