Yesterday the Bush Assministration trotted out the none-too-convincing Dan Bartlettin an effort to stop the bleeding over the US Attorneys scandal.
Dan Says The US Attorneys Were Fired “For Cause”
Q Dan, can you talk a little bit about, by the White House’s own account, Senator Domenici at some point went to the President and urged him to fire the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, specifically? What did the President do with that information, after Senator Domenici asked him? And what did the President say to Attorney General Gonzales, when they did speak about this?
MR. BARTLETT: It’s important to back up a bit. The issue of U.S. attorneys, as many of you know, these U.S. attorneys serve at the discretion of the President. Many of these U.S. attorneys have served four-year terms. There was a management review process and there was a determination made to remove seven U.S. attorneys for cause.
[O]ver the course of several years we have received complaints about U.S. attorneys, particularly when it comes to election fraud cases — not just New Mexico, but also Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
That information, it’s incumbent upon us to share with the relevant Cabinet officers, incumbent upon the President to do that, as well. The President did that briefly, in a conversation he had with the Attorney General in October of 2006, in which, in a wide-ranging conversation on a lot of different issues, this briefly came up and the President said, I’ve been hearing about this election fraud matters from members of Congress, want to make sure you’re on top of that, as well. There was no directive given, as far as telling him to fire anybody or anything like that. That would be under the prerogative of the Justice Department to take a look at those issues, as they obviously were doing.
“Cause” Means Competency In Bushworld
Q But one quick follow. When you say that this was based on managerial decisions, performance — the Justice Department’s own evaluation of Iglesias, the New Mexico U.S. attorney, in 2005 gave him a strong recommendation. So how does that square with then firing him for poor performance?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, he was fired two years later than 2005, and there was a series of issues that they looked at. They looked at his managerial responsibilities and what they had found in a review process that was undertaken at the Department of Justice, that they felt that he was not managing the office as well as it should be; there was issues about his lack of leadership on key committees that prosecutors, U.S. attorneys serve in capacity for the Attorney General. He served on a key immigration subcommittee, and they felt like he didn’t possess leadership skills there and fulfill that job in a way that he should have.
Q But this is somebody picked by the President, and he gets a high recommendation, and in two years he loses all these skills and becomes an awful prosecutor?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, again, people like myself, other members of the administration serve at the pleasure of the President. There are a lot of factors that are taken into consideration. He had served many years. You look at the totality of evidence. They believed it was important that they could bring in fresh blood, new leadership in this position — and the other key positions, six U.S. attorney positions.
But when you look at it in its totality, they believe that the U.S. Prosecutor’s Office in the state of New Mexico would be better served, the people of New Mexico be better served with a new U.S. attorney.
Q Well, let’s look at it in its totality.
MR. BARTLETT: I’ll talk to Tom, and I’ll come to you. And we will talk about it in totality.
What Did The President Know, When Did He Know It, And What Did He Do About It
Q Dan, you mentioned the White House fields a lot of complaints. Was the President specifically aware of these election fraud cases that were not, according to the White House, being vigorously prosecuted? And did he mention that specifically to Attorney General Gonzales late 2006, about the specific cases — Philadelphia, Milwaukee, New Mexico?
MR. BARTLETT: He, in a very brief conversation, said that he is receiving complaints about U.S. attorneys in those particular states. He did not mention any prosecutor by name. That was something that the Attorney General was fully aware of already — he says, I know, and we’re looking at those issues. But he gave him no directive. And, again, it’s important to understand that this will be routine not only for the President to do, but also for members of our staff to share those complaints with the Attorney General.
Q When the President had this conversation with the Attorney General about specific concerns, doesn’t that send the message that he has concerns about these attorneys?
MR. BARTLETT: It means exactly what it says, is that he’s sharing those concerns. And, in fact, the Attorney General was fully aware of those complaints, as well, because I think they were received independent of the President. So I don’t think that it’s a big surprise that there would be an offhand conversation about that, but there was, again, no directive given.
Q Dan, first of all, in the October conversation what was the President told about the removal process? Was he informed about what was going on by the Attorney General? And, also, secondly, who else can you say in Congress expressed concerns to the President, aside from (inaudible) New Mexico? And also did Rove hear concerns and pass them on to the President? Did Bolten pass concerns on to the President? Did Candi Wolff pass concerns on?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, many — many offices within the White House were receiving these complaints: leg affairs office, those who deal with state and local leaders that report to Karl Rove. So it wouldn’t be surprising that Karl or other people were receiving these complaints. And I can’t rule out that those complaints weren’t also shared with the President, as well. And as he said, the President was directly hearing from members of Congress to that effect. But at the time, the President was not informed of any specific course of action being taken on the removal of those U.S. attorneys, and I think the Justice Department has greater detail and I would refer you to them.
Q But just to clarify, so in October the President was not informed about anything going on in terms of a removal process?
MR. BARTLETT: That’s correct.
Q Dan, exactly what did the President say in that October meeting? And who else was there besides the Attorney General?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, Ann, I’m not going to go into details about internal White House conversations, who was there, who was saying what, what kind of coffee they were drinking. I will just say that this was passed on; we’re sharing that information. We felt it was important context so the members of Congress and others know. But the President routinely meets on an individual basis with members of his Cabinet, and in the course of having one of these routine meetings in which a lot of different issues are addressed, this issue briefly came up, and I’ll leave it at that.
Q I didn’t ask about the coffee. Was it just members of the —
MR. BARTLETT: And I answered first that I was not going to talk about other participants in the meeting.
Q But, I mean, was it members of Congress in this, was it —
MR. BARTLETT: No, no, this was an internal White House meeting with the Cabinet officers.
Q And the President did not take any specifics or even express an opinion whether these complaints had any validity? He was just kind of being an honest reporter of them?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, he would not be in a position to weigh into the facts of complex cases of fraud or corruption cases. Those would be something that he would leave to his Attorney General and their staff to handle for him.
After Chimpy’s Presidential Term Expires He Plans To Man The Complaint Window At Sears
Q Dan, you said that members of Congress were bringing these complaints to many parts of the White House and directly to the President. Was the President aware that some of these members of Congress were calling these U.S. attorneys directly? And does he think that those phone calls were appropriate?
MR. BARTLETT: He was not aware of those conversations, and he’s not in a position, nor am I, to say whether they’re appropriate or not. I think that is something that the Congress, themselves, are looking at. So I don’t have the facts in that case, in those various conversations that apparently took place.
Q These U.S. attorneys would answer to the Justice Department. Is it appropriate for members of Congress, in general, to make phone calls to attorneys?
MR. BARTLETT: My understanding is it’s more distinct. It is — they can have conversations with U.S. attorneys, but should they talk to them about an active investigation — I’m not in a position to weigh one way or the other what the regulations say. I’m not an expert on that. But I do believe this is something that the Congress is looking at it.
Q Thank you. A couple of questions. How many members of Congress took these complaints directly to the President, himself?
MR. BARTLETT: I’m not going to be able to give a number on that. Like I said, this has been a topic of conversation in which, when the President is meeting with groups of senators or congressmen, in which something like this or other types of complaints come up, typically what happens is that the President recalls one of those complaints, sees a Cabinet officer, he’ll pass them on. But I’m not going to be able to go into specific detail about numbers — the numbers of congressmen or the particular nature of those conversations.
Q Is this typical for the President of the United States to be the complaint department for —
MR. BARTLETT: Unfortunately, it is. At the top, at the highest levels of government, when people feel like they’ve got the audience of the President of the United States, it is very common — very, very common — that people feel compelled to unearth every complaint they have. It happens at his level, it happens at my level, it happens at every level in the legislative affairs office.
Different Degrees Of Involvement
Q Dan, I just want to clarify. When you told Kelly there was a distinction, that the White House involvement was to approve the list of seven U.S. attorneys, okay, but that the White House did not shape that list in any way. When you look at the case of Iglesias in New Mexico, you’ve got New Mexico Senator Domenici goes personally to the President of the United States and says, I have a problem here, I want this guy out. Okay, the President then talks to the Attorney General in October. And then the Attorney General’s staff forms this list. And on that list is Iglesias, he’s one of the seven. So doesn’t that sound like there was — that the White House did help shape at least one of those names?
MR. BARLETT: But as I said, Ed, the reaction from the Attorney General when the President raised it is, I know about those issues. The Justice Department, themselves, were receiving very similar phone conversations, as well, and they have information. They were fully aware of those complaints. And as I stated earlier, there is multiple reasons why Mr. Iglesias was removed as a U.S. attorney.
They Did Not Know They Were Involved
Q The Congress is upset that they were not properly informed of how the White House did play a role. But the Attorney General knew that the White House was involved, people at the White House — Harriet Miers, Karl Rove, the President, himself — knew the White House had played a role. Isn’t the White House, then, responsible for not informing Congress properly?
MR. BARTLETT: I think it’s very important, Kelly, to make a distinction between what we knew and what role we played. And right there, I think is where this can be very complicated, because there’s a clear distinction between having approved of a list, and playing a role in the compilation of the seven U.S. attorneys. The White House did not play a specific role in the list of the seven U.S. attorneys.
The decision in which it was not given all the information in its totality and context by the Justice Department to members of Congress was because the information that Kyle Sampson had wasn’t adequately shared with other members of main Justice who were going up to testify before Congress.
Q But wasn’t their knowledge beyond Kyle Sampson? People in the White House Counsel’s Office understood that they had participated in this process, and Congress was not properly informed of that.
MR. BARTLETT: Again, “participated in the process” is inaccurate because —
Q I understand what you’re saying about they didn’t do the names, but they were aware of — and that’s the whole reason we’re here. You were aware of this beforehand —
MR. BARTLETT: Well, I think it’s important to understand what this is, Kelly, because they did — the Deputy Attorney General and other members of the Department of Justice went up there and talked about why these people were not — were let go. The context they wanted to give is from 22 months prior, when there was a conversation between Harriet Miers and Kyle Sampson had talked about after the start of the second term, in 2004, would it make sense to maybe have a clean slate and start with a full range of new U.S. attorneys across-the-board. That was quickly rejected not only by Kyle Sampson at the Department of Justice, but also not viewed as a good idea within the White House.
Twenty-two months later, there is a very specific managerial decision made about seven U.S. attorneys. That’s in context that the Congress should have known, but it doesn’t change the underlying facts of this case.
Scooter Libby Haunts The White House: Emails “Jogged” Their Memories
Q Are you suggesting Sampson is the only person who had this information? Why did it take media exposure for it to come out?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, that’s not true. What it took was as they were preparing for DOJ — members of the Department of Justice to go up to Congress to meet with them more thoroughly about how this decision was made, many emails and things were compiled. And based on the recollection, based off reading emails or previous memos, did jog memories of people both at the Justice Department and the White House.
So this is not a situation we were sitting on information and just not sharing it. In fact, the fact that I’m standing up here and we’ve made — I think now documents are posted on the websites up on Capitol Hill — demonstrates that we have nothing to hide. And we want to make sure that all this information is understood and in complete context. But it doesn’t change the underlying fact, and that is that this was a proper decision.
Q Last one. Harriet Miers’ revelation that there’s this idea that she wanted to clear house of all the U.S. attorneys, why is this coming out now and what’s the timeline of this?
MR. BARTLETT: It’s coming out again because of the Kyle Sampson emails and papers that were being collected in order to respond to the request being made by the Department of Justice, that there’s email traffic that jogged the memory of people at the White House and with Kyle Sampson, particularly — because what Harriet Miers was doing was taking a look and floating an idea to say, hey, should we treat the second term very similar to the way we treat a first term? Because, remember, when Bill Clinton came into office he removed all 93 U.S. attorneys. The President chose not to remove all 93 U.S. attorneys — removed significant numbers of them, but we left people in key positions because of the role they played.
Gonzo Was Not Responsible For The Things He Asked His Chief of Staff To Do
Q Dan, obviously Kyle Sampson is taking the fall for this. But Attorney General Gonzales just said, I can’t be aware of all the decisions that are made in my department. So which is worse: if he knew, or he didn’t know?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, what he is saying is he’s accountable. He made it very clear that he’s accountable for the decisions he’s made. He’s just talking about the fact that he runs a very large organization.
Q Just one more. How could the Chief of Staff of the Attorney General deal with something of this magnitude without the boss knowing about it?
MR. BARTLETT: Which boss?
Q The Attorney General.
MR. BARTLETT: Well, he said he had general understanding of what he was doing. But did he know that his Chief of Staff was not talking to somebody else in his office? That’s why you have a Chief of Staff, somebody like him who had the expertise in dealing with personnel matters, working in the White House Counsel’s Office, where he dealt with U.S. attorney issues. He had a lot of confidence in Kyle, for good reason, to handle these issues and know that they were being taken care of.
Unfortunately in this case, that information wasn’t shared with other members of the Department of Justice. But, ultimately, as the Attorney General said himself, he is accountable, and he’s going to take corrective action to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And Now, A Little Levity
Q Dan, what does it say about the administration, that you hire eight so ineffective prosecutors in the first place? (Laughter.)
MR. BARTLETT: These are —
Q I mean, these are your guys, right? I mean, what’s the —
MR. BARTLETT: Well, they do, they serve at the pleasure — that doesn’t mean that at some point that he was doing well, but as the totality of his tenure there we felt like somebody else could do a better job.