LA Times ignored evidence refuting Gonzales claim that U.S. attorney firings were "performance-related"
Research ››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER
A March 26 Los Angeles Times article reporting on the investigation into the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys noted that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales had claimed the dismissals were "performance-related." However, while the Times quoted one of the ousted U.S. attorneys, H.E. "Bud" Cummins III, describing this claim as "outrageous," the article ignored the evidence that contradicts Gonzales' assertion. Not only have Department of Justice officials acknowledged that performance played no role in the firings but also many of the dismissed U.S. attorneys had received positive job evaluations before being fired.
The Times began by noting that "Republican senators joined Democrats on Sunday in saying that the credibility of [Gonzales] had been badly undercut by his confused and seemingly contradictory statements on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year." The article continued, adding Gonzales defense but only noting criticism of that defense from Cummins:
It is unusual for an administration to fire a group of prosecutors that it appointed. Gonzales has said the eight prosecutors were dismissed for "performance-related" reasons rather than because of political pressure from Republicans or the White House, as critics allege.
A recently released memo written by D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' then-chief of staff, said that in early 2005, President Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, and then-White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers suggested replacing some U.S. attorneys while retaining, as Sampson put it, "loyal Bushies."
Cummins, who served as U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark., said the Justice Department's contention that he and his colleagues were dismissed for poor performance was "outrageous."
However, as Media Matters for America has noted, assistant attorney general Paul J. McNulty testified before the Senate Judiciary committee that performance played no role in Cummins' dismissal. McNulty claimed that Cummins' resignation was forced in order "to provide a fresh start with a new person in that position." This "new person" was J. Timothy Griffin, a former aide to Rove who replaced Cummins in December 2006. In a recently released December 19, 2006, email, Sampson stated: "Getting him [Griffin] appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc." -- a reference to Rove and Miers.
In addition, The New York Times reported on March 20 that according to emails released by the Justice Department, McNulty admitted that he had not reviewed the performance record of Nevada U.S. attorney Daniel K. Bogden before Bogden was fired:
One e-mail message released showed that even top officials were not certain of the rationale for some firings. In a December 5 Mr. McNulty admitted that he had not even reviewed the record of Mr. Bogden and appeared to have mixed feelings about removing him.
"I'm still a little skittish about Bogden," Mr. McNulty wrote to D. Kyle Sampson, then Mr. Gonzales's chief of staff, noting that Mr. Bogden had never worked outside of government and was counting on a longer tenure.
"I'll admit have not looked at his district's performance," Mr. McNulty added.
The March 26 Los Angeles Times article also did not mention that Gonzales' claim is undermined by the fact that a majority of the dismissed U.S. attorneys received positive, and in some cases glowing, job evaluations, as reported by numerous news outlets. For example, a February 12 McClatchy Newspapers article reported:
Although the Bush administration has said that six U.S. attorneys were fired recently in part because of "performance related" issues, at least five of them had received positive job evaluations before they were ordered to step down.
Supporters of the U.S. attorneys and Justice Department officials familiar with the job evaluations suggested in recent interviews with McClatchy Newspapers that top Justice Department officials may have exaggerated the role job performance played in the firings.
Performance reviews of U.S. attorneys are conducted every three to four years by a team of experienced Justice Department officials, who interview judges, staff members, community leaders and federal agents. In some of the five cases, the reviewers made recommendations for improvements, but overall their assessments were positive, Justice Department officials said.
A February 28 New York Times article, citing "[i]nternal Justice Department performance reports," also noted that some of the fired U.S. attorneys had received positive job evaluations:
Internal Justice Department performance reports for six of the eight United States attorneys who have been dismissed in recent months rated them "well regarded," "capable" or "very competent," a review of the evaluations shows.
The performance reviews, known as Evaluations and Review Staff Reports, show that the ousted prosecutors were routinely praised for playing a leadership role with other law enforcement agencies in their jurisdictions.
The New York Times article added that some of the fired U.S. attorneys were not given any reason for their dismissal and that their decision to speak publicly on the matter resulted from testimony given by Assistant Attorney General Paul J. McNulty to the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 6 that the attorneys were fired for "performance-related" issues:
Of the dismissed prosecutors who have spoken publicly, all have said they were given no reason for their dismissal. At first, most appeared willing to leave quietly with the understanding that they were presidential appointees who could be replaced at any time.
But their willingness to step down without complaint changed abruptly when Paul J. McNulty, the deputy attorney general, said at a Senate hearing earlier this month that most of the dismissals were carried out to correct performance problems, according to associates of several prosecutors.
Reporting on the high job ratings, a Washington Post article also noted that the attorneys' decision to go public with their version of events came after McNulty's testimony:
The breaking point for Cummins and the others was testimony this month by Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the six U.S. attorneys in the West and Southwest had been dismissed for "performance-related" reasons and that Cummins had been pushed out to make room for Griffin.
In addition, the Post reported on March 19 that U.S. attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico was "fired by the Bush administration after Republican complaints that he neglected to prosecute voter fraud," but the report added that Iglesias "had been heralded for his expertise in that area by the Justice Department, which twice selected him to train other federal prosecutors to pursue election crimes."