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Abramoff Emails Raise New Questions in USA Firings

Abramoff Emails Raise New Questions in Attorney Firings


By Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report
From: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/032807A.shtml

Wednesay 28 March 2007

A Congressional probe into the dismissals of eight US attorneys last year has raised new questions about the role that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff played in the 2003 demotion of Frederick Black, the former US attorney in Guam.

At issue is whether a report compiled by the Department of Justice's inspector general took into account the fact that White House officials had been using email accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee before concluding that Black was not demoted for political reasons.

Black had served as interim US attorney in Guam for twelve years and was appointed by former President George H.W. Bush before being abruptly replaced in May 2003.

His dismissal stirred controversy at the time because Black was a political enemy of Abramoff, who had been retained as a lobbyist by numerous individuals that were being investigated by Black for public corruption.

Many of the White House and DOJ officials currently under scrutiny in the US attorney firings played a role in Black's replacement, including then Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales, his former Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson and President Bush.

A parallel issue with the current US attorney firing investigation is the vital role of the liaison between the DOJ and the White House. In both cases, this official coordinated and participated in meetings with DOJ and White House staff who were planning the replacement of US attorneys. In the Guam case, Sampson served as a liaison for communications between then Attorney General John Ashcroft and the White House. Sampson met directly with President Bush prior to announcing Black's demotion to gain approval for the candidate for Black's replacement.

The inspector general's report stated that "Sampson said that he believes the normal procedures were followed in this case - that is, after the interview panel had agreed to propose Rapadas, the interview panel obtained concurrence from the deputy attorney general and the attorney general." Sampson told the investigators "he believes he [subsequently] presented Rapadas's candidacy to the president, and the president approved the nomination, pending successful completion of a background investigation."

The DOJ's inspector general conducted an investigation into the circumstances behind Black's removal to determine whether allegations that Abramoff was involved had merit and whether the Bush administration and Justice Department's decision to replace Black broke any laws.

While the report turned up many instances in which Abramoff used his connections to the White House to monitor the progress of an effort to replace Black, the report concluded that Abramoff did not influence either the decision to remove Black or the decision to nominate Leonardo Rapadas as Black's replacement.

However, letters sent Monday by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to the RNC regarding White House officials' use of outside email accounts to conduct official administration business call into question the conclusions of the inspector general's report.

Waxman's letter included documentary evidence that a former aide to Karl Rove and Abramoff used an RNC email account to communicate with the convicted lobbyist about official government business in order to avoid leaving a paper trail of their exchanges.

Furthermore, Waxman said, "The investigation also found that Barry Jackson, deputy assistant to the president and deputy to the senior adviser, used a 'georgewbush.com' email account to communicate with Neil Volz, an Abramoff associate who has been convicted of public corruption charges."

"In one case, Mr. Abramoff sent Ms. Ralston an email on her RNC account asking her to 'pass on to Karl that Interior is about to approve a gaming compact ... for a tribe which is an anathema to all our supporters,'" and requesting "some quiet message from WH that this is absurd," Waxman wrote, quoting from the Ralston and Abramoff email exchange. "This email was forwarded to Jennifer Farley in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, who apparently then warned one of Abramoff's associates about the dangers of leaving a record of their communications. According to an email Mr. Abramoff received from his associate Kevin Ring: 'Your email to Susan was forwarded to Ruben Barrales and on to Jen Farley, who read it to me last night. I don't know what to think about this, but she said it is better not to put this stuff in writing in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.... Just letting you know what she said.'"

Abramoff responded to that exchange, according to Waxman, writing in an email: "Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her RNC pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system."

According to the inspector general's report, email communications between Leonard Rodriguez - the White House staff member tasked with finding a replacement for Black - and Jack Abramoff did occur, and that Rodriguez communicated with Abramoff "at the behest of Ken Mehlman," the former chair of the RNC and former White House political director.

Mehlman "recommended or suggested that [Rodriguez] reach out to make Jack aware of issues related to Guam." Rodriguez "recalled sending one email to Abramoff stating that Rodriguez would be the point person on the US attorney nomination, and if Abramoff had any issues or concerns that he should bring those to Rodriguez's attention," according to the IG report.

The report added that: "Rodriguez said that the communications with Abramoff about Guam issues was one-sided. Rodriguez's description of these communications was confirmed by our review of Abramoff's emails."

Rodriguez was cleared of impropriety by the DOJ, and a review of Abramoff's emails was deemed sufficient to conclude that Abramoff did not exert influence over the selection process for Black's replacement, despite an admission by Rodriguez that he contacted Abramoff and told him to "feel free to contact me directly for any requests from Guam," according to the IG report.

But the revelation in Waxman's letter that Abramoff communicated with Susan Ralston - Rove's former assistant - via an RNC email account suggests that the DOJ inspector general may not have obtained email correspondence between Abramoff and the White House because RNC emails can be destroyed, whereas emails sent using a White House account are automatically archived, in conjunction with the Presidential Records Act.

Waxman's assertion that White House officials used outside email addresses to sidestep archiving procedures raises new questions about Abramoff's role in Black's firing and whether he sent additional emails about the Guam case to White House officials' RNC accounts, which would not have been netted in the inspector general's probe.

According to Naomi Seligman Steiner, deputy director of the watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), "There were misstatements in the DOJ inspector general report that were never investigated. [CREW] hopes that with the current scandal making headlines, officials will take a second look at the findings of the IG report."

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Matt Renner is a reporter for Truthout.org.

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