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Fired Bush-Era U.S. Attorneys to Speak in Arkansas; Some in GOP Question Timing

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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.

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I can just imagine how deep the criminal behaviour of the Bush-Cheny regime went...

September 20 2010 at 1:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Serving at the pleasure of the President". Words that are usually overlooked in these "firings" when critics demonize the President for replacing folks in his administration. Unfair? Perhaps. Politically motivate? Most definitely. A stepping-stone to political office? Most assuredly! This "non-controversy" but sand-storm of criticism, politically motivated by the Bush detractors has nothing to do with nothing. Bill Clinton replaced all of them, when he came into office. Not a word was said. "At the pleasure of the President" was cited as the reason for replacing them. Just leave it at that.

September 20 2010 at 12:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tomklingthomas's comment

tomklingthomas- The controversy was NOT simply that Bush fired the attorneys. It was that he fired the attorneys after they refused to bring bogus charges against Bush's political enemies.

September 20 2010 at 6:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hah!, Anything like this during an election run-up is political. Or would you prefer to view some real estate I'm offering?

September 20 2010 at 12:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Democratic Party and Elliott's campaign will of course blow this up. The firings were not a scandal. The news media tried to make it a scandal. President Bush hired them and he fired them just as other Presidents have done. The public is on to all these attempts by liberals to influence the uninformed. If anyone believes this little meeting in Clinton's planned setting, at this planned time, is just coincidence....get real!!!

September 20 2010 at 11:03 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The Democrats will stop at nothing to win in November. This is all old news and will fail to accomplish the ends they wish to succeed at. Bush had every legal right to fire whom he wanted. Nothing has come of it. Trying to incite controversy again will be futile.

September 20 2010 at 10:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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