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Inside Politics

Gap in Justice, White House e-mails raises questions

Story Highlights

• No e-mails released on firing of U.S. attorneys during a 16-day period
• Investigators interested in period between November 15 and December 2, 2006
• Last e-mail before gap asks whether issue should be raised with the president
From Kevin Bohn
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A 16-day gap in e-mail records between the Justice Department and the White House concerning the firing of U.S. attorneys last year has attracted the attention of congressional investigators.

In an investigation into whether seven U.S. attorneys were fired for political rather than professional reasons, the Justice Department on Monday handed over 3,000 pages of documents to the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

But the documents included no correspondence about the firings in the critical time period between November 15, 2006, and December 2, 2006, right before the attorneys were asked for their resignations.

In addition, citing executive privilege, President Bush has refused a congressional request to have his key aide Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, who was involved in the firings, testify under oath. (Full story)

All eyes on the AG

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has come under fire in the past week, as both Republicans and Democrats suggested it might be best if he resign. (Watch Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer explain why he is unhappy with the White House response Video)

On November 15 -- the last day before the e-mail gap -- Kyle Sampson, who was then chief of staff to Gonzales, e-mailed Miers and her deputy an outline of the plan to fire the prosecutors and wrote, "The plan, by its terms, would commence this week."

Sampson resigned last week amid outcry about the firings.

Later in the same e-mail Gonzalez said, "I am concerned that to execute this plan properly we must all be on the same page and be steeled to withstand any political upheaval that might result."

Miers responded that same morning, saying, "Not sure whether this will be determined to require the boss's attention" and noted that President Bush had left town the night before. Sampson then asked, "Who will determine whether this requires the president's attention?"

There is no follow-up response in the documents so far released to those questions and no correspondence at all about the plan to fire the attorneys from that point until December 2, when Sampson e-mailed Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's chief of staff, saying, "The list is expanded; still waiting for green light from White House (though we would not launch until after 12/7 anyway)."

On December 4, Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley told Sampson, "We're a go for the US atty [sic] plan. WH leg [legislative affairs], political, and communications have signed off and acknowledged that we have to be committed to following through once the pressure comes."

Sampson said he forwarded the message to other Justice Department officials, saying, "We are a go for Thursday."

Justice denies gap in e-mails

There are documents from days in that time period, but they deal with related issues such as setting up an interview for Tim Griffin, who was the replacement for Bud Cummins, the U.S. attorney in Arkansas who was one of the eight asked to resign. They also deal with a request for a copy of an evaluation of an unnamed U.S. attorney and how U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton was directed to provide a prosecutor for a high-profile trial.

A Justice Department official said "there was no lull" when asked about the time period between mid-November and early December.

The White House has yet to release internal communications that could shed light on the issue. It has offered to release communications between White House staffers and those at the Justice Department or others outside the White House, as part of negotiations with congressional committees over their access to key White House officials.

The White House, however, has not included internal communications between White House officials in its offer.

Members of a House Judiciary subcommittee voted Wednesday to authorize the committee's leaders to issue subpoenas to force testimony from key White House and Justice Department figures in the controversy over the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys. (Full story)

The vote does not mean that subpoenas will be issued; only that they could be used if at least four White House officials and a former Justice Department official do not voluntarily come to testify before the committee.

CNN's Terry Frieden and Ed Henry contributed to this report.


story.vert.sampson.dmn.jpg

E-mail between Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to the U.S. attorney general, and the White House has been at the heart of the controversy.

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