Note to Gonzales on CIA Prosecution Preceded Firing of U.S. Attorney
On May 11, 2006, Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, sent a confidential E-mail to the White House counsel's office regarding the "removal and replacement" of U.S. attorneys whose four-year terms had expired, including the U.S. attorney in San Diego, Carol Lam: "The real problem we have right now with Carol Lam," Sampson wrote, "that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."
So what was the "real problem" that Sampson thought the administration had with Lam?
U.S. News has learned that on May 10, one day before Sampson's E-mail to the White House counsel's office, the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego alerted the Justice Department that the FBI would execute search warrants in two days for the No. 3 official at the CIA, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, in connection with the spiraling corruption probe into former Republican Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham of California.
Now Democratic members of Congress want to know whether that alert triggered Sampson's E-mail and whether Lam's firing and those of seven other federal prosecutors were politically motivated. Sampson's E-mail, sent one day after the alert, raises serious questions as to whether the CIA tried to intervene in a politically charged investigation and tried to get Lam fired.
In politically sensitive cases, the U.S. attorney's office notifies senior Justice Department leadership of developments in the case by sending what's known as an urgent report.
In this case, the U.S. attorney in San Diego sent an urgent report to Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty at 10:16 a.m. on May 10, notifying them of the imminent search. Foggo was under investigation for allegedly accepting gifts and favors from his best friend, a defense contractor named Brent Wilkes, who also allegedly was bribing Cunningham. Wilkes had close ties to prominent Republicans. Both Wilkes and Foggo have since been indicted by a federal grand jury on corruption charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Although the FBI had worked closely with the CIA in connection with targeting CIA spies like Aldrich Ames, never in the agency's history had such a search warrant been issued against such a high-level CIA official for nonespionage criminal conduct. And the prospect of it raised alarming institutional concerns. Before becoming the No. 3 official at the CIA, Foggo had served in the Directorate of Operations, and he had access to enormously sensitive secrets.
The Justice Department is expected to release more than 400 pages of E-mails and other documents today relating to the U.S. attorney firings. The urgent report of May 10 and Sampson's E-mail of May 11 will become crucial pieces of evidence in trying to determine whether the Bush administration acted improperly and fired Lam and other U.S. attorneys to squelch politically sensitive public corruption cases.
U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. But although they are political appointees, there is supposed to be a firewall that allows them to make decisions in criminal investigations without regard to politics.