Waas: Alberto Gonzales' Secret Firing Order

Update: Think Progress has Sen. Patrick Leahy's response to Murray's disclosure.


Murray Waas breaks new ground in the U.S. Attorney firing scandal, by unconvering a secret, March 2006 order signed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales broadly delegating hiring and firing of non-civil service Justice Department officials, including high-level staff at the Criminal Division, to his then Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson and to Monica Goodling who became his White House liason a month after the order was signed.

In the order, Gonzales delegated to his then-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, and his White House liaison "the authority, with the approval of the Attorney General, to take final action in matters pertaining to the appointment, employment, pay, separation, and general administration" of virtually all non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department, including all of the department's political appointees who do not require Senate confirmation. Monica Goodling became White House liaison in April 2006, the month after Gonzales signed the order.

The existence of the order suggests that a broad effort was under way by the White House to place politically and ideologically loyal appointees throughout the Justice Department, not just at the U.S.-attorney level. Department records show that the personnel authority was delegated to the two aides at about the same time they were working with the White House in planning the firings of a dozen U.S. attorneys, eight of whom were, in fact, later dismissed.


Robert Litt, who served as a deputy assistant attorney general under former President Bill Clinton, said in an interview that during the Clinton presidency "it was routine that senior appointments in the department would be vetted by the White House. Appointees were often placed by the White House." Such a process is typical under most presidents, Litt said, because they "want to ensure that their administration's policies and priorities are carried out."

But Litt also called Gonzales's secret delegation of authority to Sampson and Goodling unprecedented. It was distressing, he said, that many of the most sensitive appointments at the highest levels of the Justice Department were to "be made by these two people with no law enforcement experience... that this extraordinary authority was being delegated to these two young puppies," and apparently without much input by more-experienced and less-partisan officials.

There's lots more in Murray's article, so go read the whole thing.

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    Bravo, Murray! (none / 0) (#1)
    by scribe on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 06:34:52 PM EST
    and a big bravo to those disgruntled career prosecutors in the Department of Justice:

    A copy of the order and other Justice Department records related to the conception and implementation of the order were provided to National Journal.

    I don't recall ever seeing those documents among either the DoJ DocDumps, or on the list of purportedly privileged materials.

    Interestingly, though, this might mean that Gonzo was, in fact, testifying truthfully (barely) when he said he "was presented with a list".  He just left out the facts of who did the presenting, and that he himself had set up the procedure under which he'd be presented with a list.

    it would seem to me (none / 0) (#2)
    by profmarcus on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 08:59:31 PM EST
    that this revelation by murray is highly incriminating and, judging from patrick leahy's immediate and very powerful reaction, is going to turn up the heat under the already boiling doj scandal... it's becoming ever more clear that executive branch agencies  have been, for the past 6+ years, little more than branch offices for karl rove and the republican national committee...

    And, yes, I DO take it personally

    what to make of this? (none / 0) (#3)
    by orionATL on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 10:07:47 PM EST

    gonzales was giving the white house  - almost certainly rove - authority to hire and fire all political appointees, except those at the top.

    put differently,

    the doj was to become a political patronage machine.

    and a pathway for young right-wing true-believers to get into the federal judiciary.

    it seems sen. leahy is right. . . (none / 0) (#4)
    by the rainnn on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 10:09:26 PM EST
    this "secret order" was NOT
    produced, as contemplated by the subpoena
    issued by the house judiciary committee,
    nor was it turned over pursuant to
    the lawful requests of the senate judiciary
    and house oversight committees.  the most
    interesting development, from a legal point
    of view is the potential for a contempt-of-
    congress charge from the house -- for an
    apparently willful failure to produce
    documents plainly covered by the four
    corners of the subpoena.

    more at my joint, on the likely
    next steps
    -- shortly. . .