Friday, March 16, 2007

Subpoenas to DOJ in U.S. Attorney Firing Investigation

The U.S. Attorneys firing fracas will take another turn with the Senate Judiciary Committee authorizing the issuance of subpoenas to five current or former senior-level Department of Justice attorneys to testify at a hearing:

  • Michael Elston, chief of staff for Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty.
  • Kyle Sampson, recently resigned chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales whose e-mail correspondence with the White House is at the center of the controversy.
  • Monica Goodling, senior counsel to AG Gonzales and his White House liaison.
  • Bill Mercer, the acting Associate Attorney General, the number three position in the Department.
  • Michael Battle, who was director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and delivered the bad news to the seven (or eight) fired U.S. Attorneys.

AG Gonzales indicated earlier that he would allow DOJ attorneys to testify in the investigation, and an AP story (here) quotes a spokesman for Gonzales stating, "We have clearly communicated to the Congress our willingness to make available voluntarily department employees whom the Congress wishes to interview privately and in public hearings . . . We are disappointed that some members of the Judiciary Committee chose to disregard these facts and have sought to pursue unnecessary and seemingly political act of authorizing the issuance of subpoenas."

An interesting question will be whether any of the subpoenaed witnesses will invoke the Fifth Amendment, especially Sampson.  Recent statements by AG Gonzales and Deputy AG McNulty that they were not aware of all the facts about contacts with the White House puts Sampson on the spot based of his e-mail correspondence with then-Counsel to the President Harriet Miers about terminating the U.S. Attorneys.  Sampson's lawyer -- I assume he's retained counsel and won't try to deal with this alone -- may have him assert the privilege at this point until it becomes clear whether there will be a criminal inquiry into possible false disclosures to Congress and who might be the targets of an investigation, if there is one.

Next up for the Judiciary Committee is deciding whether to subpoena aides to the President, including Karl Rove and Ms. Miers.   The Department of Justice released another e-mail exchange involving Sampson (here) that specifically references Rove's interest in the termination of some U.S. Attorneys in January 2005. The subpoena issue has been postponed for a week while issues of Presidential privilege got sorted out.  (ph)

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