Exclusive: E-mail Shows Internal Rift At Justice Over Firings

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U.S. News's Chitra Ragavan has learned that one day after Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty testified on Capitol Hill about the reasons eight U.S. attorneys were summarily fired, a Justice Department spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse--who was traveling abroad with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in Argentina -- sent an E-mail to Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, and spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos saying Gonzales was unhappy with McNulty's testimony regarding why U.S. attorney Bud Cummins of Arkansas had been let go. That E-mail is what is causing the most concern at the Justice Department among the 2000 pages of documents about to be released on Capitol Hill in the next hour.

On February 6, McNulty acknowledged during contentious testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Cummins had been fired because the administration wanted to name Timothy Griffin, a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove, who had also worked for the Republican National Committee. But McNulty said the firings of the other prosecutors were related to their poor performance.

During the hearings, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York posed the following question to McNulty: "First, Bud Cummins has said that he was told he had done nothing wrong and he was simply being asked to resign to let someone else have the job. Does he have it right?"

McNulty: "I'll accept that as being accurate, as best I know the facts."

Schumer: "So, in other words, Bud Cummins was fired for no reason. There was no cause."

McNulty: "No cause provided in his case, as I am aware of it.

Schumer: "None at all. And was there anything materially negative in his evaluations, in his EARS reports or anything like that? From the reports that everyone has received, he had done an outstanding job and had gotten good evaluations. Do you believe that to be true?"

McNulty: "I don't know of anything that's negative, and I haven't seen his reports, or probably only one that was done during his tenure, but I haven't seen it. But I'm not aware of anything."

McNulty's responses earned Gonzales's displeasure and Roehrkasse communicated that fact to McNulty.

In the E-mail, Roehrkasse said the attorney general disagreed with his characterization of Cummins's firing, because Gonzales believed that it was at least in part performance related.

The E-mail shows an internal rift between top leadership over how to portray the firings, and indeed the reasons for the firings.

Update: Roehrkasse has issued a statement saying that he had emailed Sampson very early in the morning on February 7, the day after McNulty's testimony, to convey the attorney general's "concerns" about news stories relating to McNulty's congressional hearing. "Many of the stories early that morning focused on the fact that Bud Cummins was removed as U.S. attorney," said Roehrkasse, "solely to make room for another candidate." The attorney general was "upset," Roehrkasse said, because he believed that "Bud Cummins' removal involved performance considerations and it was that aspect of the DAG's testimony that the Attorney General was questing."

Among the 2,000 pages, there were a handful of other documents that are causing concern at the Justice Department, sources said, because they "may not put things in a great light" and could be seen as Justice officials' "potentially misleading" Congress, sources said, which is the key concern among members of Congress.

Note: An earlier edition of this story indicated that the email was sent to McNulty, when in fact it was sent to Sampson and Scolinos.