Attorneys Spin Contradicts Internal DOJ Documents
Attorney Firing Spin Proposed by DOJ Spokesperson Contradicts Internal DOJ Documents
By Arlen Parsa
t r u t h o u t | Report
Tuesday 27 March 2007
According to emails released by the Department of Justice late Friday evening, DOJ officials tried to manufacture public reasons for firing several US attorneys late last year.
Two-hundred and eighty-three pages of emails and other documents were released Friday that were not part of the Justice Department's initial 3,100-page document dump Monday. Among the sensitive new emails and other documents are discussions of how best to publicly spin the simultaneous firings of six US prosecutors.
A November email between Public Affairs Director Tasia Scolinos (a lead spokesperson for DOJ), and vice presidential assistant Catherine Martin offered a suggestion of how to explain the firings of three US attorneys. "The one common link here is that three of them are along the southern border," Scolinos suggested after reviewing a list of six US attorneys the administration was planning to fire. "You could make the connection that DOJ is unhappy with the immigration prosecution numbers in those districts."
Scolinos and Martin had exchanged emails November 17 through 21 last year. On November 17, Martin emailed fellow PR guru Scolinos to ask, "Are you looped [in] on this? What is your comms plan" asking what her plans were for handling questions from the press about the impending firings.
"Its only six US attorneys (there are 94) and I think most of them will resign quietly," Scolinos assured Martin. "I don't see it as being a national story - especially if it phases in over a few months. Any concerns on your end?" After Martin asked which six US attorneys were being forced to resign, Scolinos thought the matter over for a few days and responded, listing six US attorneys to be fired and suggesting Martin tell the press that they were fired over immigration matters, since three of them (Paul Charlton of Arizona, Carol Lam of Southern California, and David Iglesias of New Mexico) were from border states.
On March 15, Scolinos found herself defending her boss, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in a statement she made to the press in an attempt to limit the fallout from the widening scandal. "The Attorney General has no recollection of any plan or discussion to replace U.S. attorneys while he was still White House Counsel," Scolinos promised.
What she did not mention, however, was that she herself had been involved in a the plot to fire more than a half-dozen US attorneys only months earlier. Scolinos sat in on at least eight and a half hours of meetings devoted to the subject, according to newly released schedule information in the months after the firings, and she was also apparently involved in discussions about how to spin the story before the attorneys were fired in 2006 as well.
An Argument That Didn't Hold Water
Scolinos' idea to explain at least one border state US attorney's firing as immigration-related does not hold water, according to newly released documents.
In the fall of 2005, nineteen Republican members of Congress complained to Attorney General Gonzales about Carol Lam, little more than a month before Republican Representative Duke Cunningham (one of the nineteen) pled guilty in Lam's now-famous corruption investigation involving the CIA and private contractors. Lam, the US attorney for Southern California, was too lax on immigration-related matters, the congressmen argued.
After Cunningham's guilty plea, Lam informed the Department of Justice that she would be continuing her investigation, and that they should expect further movement that might effect high-ranking officials soon. Almost immediately after Lam's notification to the DOJ, Republican Congressman Darryl Issa (R-Calif.) began a waging a media battle against Lam's office. In May 2006, Issa leaked an altered document to the Associated Press, which he claimed demonstrated that Lam's lax attitudes towards immigration were hurting the morale of Border Patrol agents. He later appeared on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" to criticize Lam's record on immigration.
After Lam was fired, the explanation the administration put forward was that her record on immigration was indeed to blame. But newly released documents show that the Department of Justice was prepared to back Lam up in her fight against Congressman Issa at a time when immigration was a major political issue. The department had prepared statistics demonstrating that immigration-related prosecutions had gone up under Lam's tenure, to counter the media fallout from the altered document Issa had leaked.
Emails between key Justice Department officials show that they had clearly taken Lam's side in the matter. Further, official DOJ job reviews indicated that Lam's office, which had devoted fully half of its resources to prosecuting illegal immigration-related cases, had "appropriate" priorities. The DOJ had even hoped to help arrange a meeting between the congressman and Lam in order to, in the words of one DOJ official, "ratchet down the venom coming from Issa."
The plan appears to have worked: Lam wrote in an email about meeting Issa later that year: "It was fine (at least I think it was). The tone was civil and at times even friendly." Another official at Justice said of the meeting, seemingly surprised: "Sounds like she handled it well and it was actually constructive." Nevertheless, Lam was fired, supposedly over immigration, just months later.
Arlen Parsa is a documentary film student at Columbia College Chicago. In between classes, Parsa writes about American politics and current events at TheDailyBackground.com.