Five former U.S. attorneys are gathering in Little Rock, Ark., on Monday to discuss a mutual, and curious, political past. All of them were fired by the Bush administration during 2006-07.
The controversy erupted when officials of George W. Bush's White House and Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department fired nine U.S. attorneys in midterm. All of them had been appointed by the Bush administration. The unusual nature of the firings
created suspicion that the government lawyers were sacked because they didn't see eye-to-eye ideologically with the White House.
The reasons are myriad but include failure to prosecute Democratic politicians, and conversely, as retribution for prosecuting Republican politicians. Another reason to fire the attorneys was to clear the path for young Republicans to start political careers.
The event that brings together five of those former U.S. attorneys is hosted by the Clinton School of Public Service and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. According to a news release, the panel will discuss professional ethics and lessons that can be learned from the controversial firings.
The five former U.S attorneys are Carol Lam, Southern District of California; David Iglesias, District of New Mexico; Paul Charlton, District of Arizona; Bud Cummins, Eastern District of Arkansas; and John McKay, Western District of Washington.
The five gathered in Arizona in January for a similar panel. But Monday's Arkansas panel comes with complicated political ties.
Cummins, who served five years, was replaced by Tim Griffin
, who worked as an aide in the Bush White House. He is now running as the Republican nominee for Congress in Arkansas' 2nd District against Democrat Joyce Elliott. If elected, Elliott would be the first black elected to Congress in Arkansas. A recent poll shows Elliott trailing by 35 percent to 52 percent.
The seat has been held by Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder since 1996, when Snyder ran against Cummins. Cummins lost that race with 48 percent of the vote to Snyder's 52 percent. He later served as former Gov. Mike Huckabee's chief legal counsel.
Some Arkansas Republicans have whispered about the timing of the event, considering Cummins is a Griffin foe and the Clinton School is a co-sponsor. They suggest that this panel will embarrass Griffin and aid Elliott's struggling race. But Alice Stewart, senior communications adviser for the Republican Party of Arkansas, says that some Republicans don't believe the conspiracy. "I'm sure the deans at the Clinton School and UALR Law School would not use public funds to influence an election," Stewart said. "I believe the timing is merely a coincidence."
Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School, told Politics Daily that the event has been planned for months.
Griffin declared his intention to run for Congress almost a year ago.
"The date was built around the schedules of participants -- not an election," Rutherford said. "I first thought about it when I read about them speaking together at an event months ago in some other state."
Rutherford said that the school had previously hosted both Griffin and Cummins as well as Karl Rove to speak at the Clinton School.
Monday's event is likely to trigger a rash of press releases by Elliott's campaign and the Democratic Party of Arkansas highlighting Griffin's past connections with the scandal. It will put pressure on Griffin to publicly explain his side of the story in more detail.
Griffin resigned his interim position as U.S. attorney after six months. As Congress began investigating the firings, documents showed that the White House wanted a vacant slot in Little Rock so Griffin could fill it. He resigned before confirmation hearings.
When Bill Clinton visited Arkansas earlier this month
for a series of fundraisers for Democratic candidates, he had harsh words about Griffin.
Clinton voiced his support for Elliott, saying, "There is none of the kind of ethical problems and political-abuse-of-power charges and all those other things that have come out against her opponent (Griffin). And the main thing is he wants to join that group of people that will go back and do those things that got us in trouble in the first place. It's not about blaming them for the past – it is about what they want to do tomorrow."
In 2007, Arkansas' two Democratic senators, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, expressed doubts about placing Griffin, a former Republican National Committee operative, in charge of a U.S. attorney's office. The Washington Post reported
that e-mails showed that Justice officials prepared to use a change in federal law to bypass input from Pryor or Lincoln.
"This was a very loyal soldier to the Republicans and the Bush administration, and they wanted to reward him," Pryor said at the time. "They had every right to do this, but it's the way they handled it, and the way they tried to cover their tracks and mislead Congress, that has turned this into a fiasco for them."
In July, Obama's Justice Department announced
that no indictments would occur from the investigation.