Monday, March 19, 2007

The big problem with Rove's talking point is... it's not true.

Paul Kiel at The Muckraker tells us:

The House and Senate judiciary committees want to hear from Karl Rove, and it looks like there's going to be a fight before they do. But Rove has already spoken twice on the U.S. attorney firings, and on both occasions, he auditioned a talking point that provides an excellent case for firing Carol Lam -- the only problem with it being that it's not true.

On March 8th, Rove said that Lam had been fired because "[she] refused to file immigration cases… at the direction of the Attorney General, she was asked to file, and she said I don’t want to make that a priority in my office."

One week later, he said that Lam had made a "principled decision... that she would not commit resources to prosecute immigration offenses. She made a decision that that was not going to be a priority of her office. The United States Department of Justice asked her to make it so, she did not."

Now, no one else, either from the Justice Department or the White House, has made a similar assertion. And that's because, as Lam testified repeatedly under oath before Congress, she was never asked (let alone "directed") to change her office's handling of immigration cases.

But that's not all. As recounted numerous times on this blog, the Justice Department wrote a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) vouching for Lam's handling of immigration cases just three months before she was fired. The letter stated that Lam had committed "fully half of its Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute criminal immigration cases," and noted that the number of alien smuggling cases filed in her office had been "rising sharply." Three months later, she was fired.

In other words, Rove's assertion is not only a lie, but a damned lie.

But here's the question: where did this talking point come from? Rove, of course, has denied having much involvement at all with the whole process, a claim that grows weaker as more documents are released. We now know that Rove was involved in the early brainstorming, and Sampson bowed to Rove's political wisdom in orchestrating the firings ("if Karl thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I"). We also know that Rove's deputy worked closely with Sampson to get Rove's former deputy Timothy Griffin installed as the U.S. attorney in Arkansas. So was it Sampson who provided Rove with this talking point?

Or maybe it was the other way around. As Josh notes today, the only email released by the Justice Department that broaches the topic of Lam's handling of immigration issues reads very much like "an effort to find a rationale for firing Lam and inquiring to see whether a paper trail or record exists to back that rationale." Sampson wrote: "Has ODAG [the Office of the Deputy Attorney General] ever called Carol Lam and woodshedded her re immigration enforcement? Has anyone?"

No one ever did. But if someone had, and she had refused to make it a priority, it would have been an excellent reason to fire her.

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