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Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has been a kind of side character in the purge scandal. Comey, who left the Justice Department in 2005, may best be known as the guy who appointed Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Plame affair.

It seems pretty apparent that if he were still in charge, things would have been different.

U.S. News reports that Comey, when he was still with the department (he left in August of 2005), produced his own list of "weak U.S. attorneys" who, in his opinion, were underperforming.

Only, it was, well, different:

...a former Justice official says that Comey's list bore little resemblance to the list of those fired last year. The only prosecutor on the fired list who also was on Comey's list was Kevin Ryan, in San Francisco, who, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, had "widespread management and morale problems in his office."

As we pointed out before, Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson had Ryan on his list as a "strong" U.S. attorney. In other words, not only was he not to be fired, he was to be commended.

What accounts for the discrepancy? Maybe it had something to do wtih the criteria. A "strong" U.S. attorney to Sampson, remember, was one who had "exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General."

Comey also had a particularly strong difference of opinion on New Mexico's David Iglesias, whom the Justice Department insists was fired for "performance related" concerns. He told The Washington Post last month that Iglesias "was one of our finest and someone I had a lot of confidence in as deputy attorney general."

Update: And it seems especially worth pointing out that San Diego's Carol Lam didn't make Comey's list at all.

Bush commented this afternoon on his administration's mass firing of federal prosecutors:

Update: This clip only comprises one half of Bush's remarks today -- we'll have the rest up shortly.

Update: Here it is:

Update: Transcript below.

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In March of 2005, Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff sent White House counsel Harriet Miers a list rating U.S. attorneys.

Certain prosecutors were rated “strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General," others had not "distinguished themselves either positively or negatively, and others Sampson “recommend[ed] removing" -- those were “weak U.S. Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives.”

Carol Lam was one of the prosecutors Sampson recommended removing.

This was, of course, a full three months before the Duke Cunningham scandal came to light. The San Diego Union-Tribune broke the story on June 12, 2005.* So does that mean that Lam really was removed for other reasons?

Well, Sampson also wrote this list a number of months before Republicans started raising complaints about Lam's handling of border cases. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who led the charge against Lam, began publicly raising concerns in the summer of 2005.*

And while the list makes clear that Lam, one way or another, got on Sampson's hit list, it's very unclear whether that was because of some deficiency in performance.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee sent five letters late yesterday asking White House Counsel Harriet Miers, her deputy White House counsel William Kelley and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the mass firings of US attorneys.

"We would like to work out a process for you to make yourself available to the Committee for interviews, depositions, or hearing testimony, on a voluntary basis, and to produce documents in your possession, control, or custody related to our investigation," the letters, signed by Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-PA), read. "We fully expect that we will be able to devise a convenient arrangement."

In a White House briefing yesterday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said, "I find it highly unlikely that a member of the White House staff would testify publicly to these matters, but that doesn't mean we won't find other ways to try to share that information."

The House Judiciary Committee has also requested to speak with Kelley, Rove, and Miers.

The committee also sent letters to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House Counsel Fred Fielding requesting documents relating to the investigation.

I knew there was a moral to this story.

Here's the Politico's Mike Allen on MSNBC last night discussing the Justice Department's various (many false) explanations for why the administration fired a group of federal prosecutors.

"The problem is," Allen said, "you have to pick something you can say that you can stick to."

I think that's his way of saying that you should tell the truth?

US Sponsored Secret Renditions in East Africa "A network of U.S. allies in East Africa secretly have transferred to prisons in Somalia and Ethiopia as many as 150 people who were captured in Kenya while fleeing the recent war in Somalia, according to human rights advocates here. Kenyan authorities made the arrests as part of a U.S.-backed, four-nation military campaign in December and January against Somalia's Islamist militias, which Bush administration officials have linked to al-Qaida." (McClatchy)

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Yesterday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett got out in front of the cameras to say that President Bush had "all the confidence in the world" in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

But, as The New York Times reports, there are murmur in high places:

[Gonzales'] appearance underscored what two Republicans close to the Bush administration described as a growing rift between the White House and the attorney general....

The two Republicans, who spoke anonymously so they could share private conversations with senior White House officials, said top aides to Mr. Bush, including Fred F. Fielding, the new White House counsel, were concerned that the controversy had so damaged Mr. Gonzales’s credibility that he would be unable to advance the White House agenda on national security matters, including terrorism prosecutions.

“I really think there’s a serious estrangement between the White House and Alberto now,” one of the Republicans said....

....inside the White House, aides to the president, including Mr. Rove and Joshua B. Bolten, the chief of staff, were said to be increasingly concerned that the controversy could damage Mr. Bush.

“They’re taking it seriously,” said the other of the two Republicans who spoke about the White House’s relationship with Mr. Gonzales. “I think Rove and Bolten believe there is the potential for erosion of the president’s credibility on this issue.”

As the Times and other papers note, no Republicans have yet called for Gonzales' resignation, although a number of high-profile figures, like Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), who heads up the National Republican Senatorial Committee, have said that they're on their last nerve.

Emails in August of 2006 show that Karl Rove's deputy was intimately involved in getting Tim Griffin, who himself used to be an aide to Rove, installed as the federal prosecutor in eastern Arkansas.

An email from Scott Jennings, Rove's deputy as the Deputy Political Director at the White House, shows that Jennings was in close contact with Grfffin, even working out the logistics of getting Griffin appointed. The email also shows that then-U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins cooperated in ushering Griffin in.

"Tim said he got a call from Bud offering this idea," Jennings wrote to Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson in late August, "that Tim come on board as a special [assistant U.S. attorney] while Bud finalizes his private sector plans. That would alleviate pressure/implication that Tim forced Bud out. Any thoughts on that?"

"I think it's a great idea," Sampson responded.

The Justice Department made Griffin a special assistant USA in Arkansas the next month. Finally, in December, Griffin was made the U.S. attorney.

The Justice Department told Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last month that Rove had "no role" in Griffin's appointment.

In a press conference this afternoon, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) continued to express exasperation at the Justice Department's firing of his nominee, U.S. Attorney for Nevada, Daniel Bogden.

He said that the attorney general "completely mishandled" the replacement of the prosecutors. But should he resign? Well...

QUESTION: Should the attorney general step down?

ENSIGN: Mistakes were made and changes need to be made in processes. Those changes are being made. And I believe that if we can come out of this with a better system that America will be better off for that.

And so the attorney general is taking steps. They have admitted the mistake to me that they made as far as the process was concerned. And as long as they are taking those steps and as long as folks follow through with what they said, I think that I will be satisfied.

QUESTION: It sounds as if you believe that the deputy attorney general (OFF-MIKE) in January either accidentally or intentionally mislead.

ENSIGN: The deputy attorney general -- the conversations that I had -- he was either ill-informed of the whole process or intentionally misled, one of the two....

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) do you continue to have confidence in Attorney General Gonzales' ability to be in charge over this?

ENSIGN: I want to see how the attorney general leads the Justice Department in this time of crisis. He is presented with a very difficult challenge now.

I want to see if he's wiling to make the changes that are necessary at the Department of Justice because things have been handled poorly up to this point.

Now that Alberto Gonzales has admitted that the Justice Department didn't give accurate information to Congress, it's worth reviewing what they said. Here's an example.

In late February, Richard Hertling, the acting Assitant Attorney General, wrote a letter to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in which he claimed that the "Department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint [Karl Rove's former aide Timothy] Griffin."

Unfortunately, for the Justice Department, however, in an email outlining the media strategy for defending Griffin's appointment, Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson wrote that getting Tim Griffin appointed was "important to Harriet, Karl, etc." You can read the email here.

Update: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had a pretty complete rundown of the false statements made by Justice Department officials to Congress and the press. Transcript below...

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