New unreleased e-mails from top administration officials show that the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys was raised by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove in early January 2005, indicating Rove was more involved in the plan than the White House previously acknowledged. The e-mails also show how Alberto Gonzales discussed the idea of firing the attorneys en masse while he was still White House counsel -- weeks before he was confirmed as attorney general.
The e-mails put Rove at the epicenter of the imbroglio and raise questions about Gonzales' explanations of the matter.
The White House said Thursday night that the e-mails did not contradict the previous statements about former White House counsel Harriet Miers' role. The e-mail exchange, dated January 6, 2005, is between then-deputy White House counsel David Leitch and Kyle Sampson at the Justice Department. According to a senior White House official who has seen the e-mail exchange, "It's not inconsistent with what we have said."
Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said Gonazales "has no recollection of any plan or discussion to replace U.S. attorneys while he was still White House counsel." She said he was preparing for his attorney general confirmation hearing and was focused on that.
"Of course, discussions of changes in presidential appointees would have been appropriate and normal White House exchanges in the days and months after the election as the White House was considering different personnel changes administration-wide," Scolinos said.
The e-mail exchange is dated more than a month before the White House acknowledged it was considering firing all the U.S. attorneys. On its face, the plan is not improper, inappropriate or even unusual: The president has the right to fire U.S. attorneys at any time, and presidents have done so when they took office.
What has made the issue a political firestorm is the White House's insistence that the idea came from Miers and was swiftly rejected.
White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters Tuesday that Miers had suggested firing all 93 attorneys, and that it was "her idea only." Snow said Miers' idea was quickly rejected by the Department of Justice.
The latest e-mails show that Gonzales and Rove were both involved in the discussion, and neither rejected it out of hand.
According to the e-mails, Rove raised the issue with Leitch, prompting Leitch to e-mail Sampson, who was, at the time, a lawyer in the Justice Department. Sampson moved over to the Justice Department after working with Gonzales at the White House.
Sampson responded to Leitch that he had discussed the idea with Gonzales two weeks earlier, and that they were considering several different options.