Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

EDITORIALS>>U.S. attorney plot thickens

Witnesses come and witnesses go, but not one of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ former and present aides gives him the slightest nourishment in his effort to outlast the storm over his leadership of the nation’s law-enforcement system.
Neither do they help J. Timothy Griffin, the political assassin whom Gonzales installed five months ago as the federal prosecutor for eastern Arkansas.

Monica Goodling, the Gonzales deputy who resigned when the fury over the firing of U. S. attorneys erupted and claimed her right to avoid self-incrimination, finally took the stand on a promise of immunity from prosecution. She defended her old boss but acknowledged that he had not been truthful to the congressional committees about his role in the prosecutor firings.

When it appeared that both she and Gonzales would have to testify under oath about the firings, Gonzales sat down with her to rehearse each other’s memory of things. She said she felt very uncomfortable. No wonder. Bill Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice for a similar conversation with Betty Currie, his secretary.

Goodling was more blunt about Gonzales’ chief deputy, who she said just plain did not tell the truth. They were aware, Goodling said, of the White House’s interest in getting rid of the Republican U.S. attorneys in a number of states and replacing them with people more suitable.

High on the list was H. E. “Bud” Cummins II in Arkansas, who was replaced by Griffin, an aide in the White House political office and former opposition researcher for Republican campaigns.

Although he was appointed on an interim basis to avoid confirmation by the Senate, Griffin is still serving. Congress passed legislation last week that will force him out in four more months. Goodling and Griffin worked together in the White House political office of Karl Rove and before that at the Republican National Committee and remain corresponding friends.

“I believe that the deputy [former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty of Whitewater fame] failed to disclose that he had some knowledge of the White House’s interest in selecting Tim Griffin as the interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas,” Goodling told the House Judiciary Committee.

McNulty, of course, promptly said Goodling was not telling the truth. The White House and Gonzales have insisted all along that the White House was not really involved in the ousters. Goodling made it clear that they were deeply involved. She had little choice. Already divulged electronic correspondence made that apparent.

Although she received immunity from the committee for her testimony, Goodling is in some jeopardy because the Justice Department is investigating whether she broke the law in basing hirings for career jobs in the agency on political leanings. Only Republicans were hired.

Goodling admitted that she had done that in her ardor for the cause and she said that she regretted it. The Goodling correspondence unearthed during the week did not help the case of Griffin, who maintains that old Republican loyalties would not affect his independent and nonpartisan pursuit of justice now that he has the job.

Not long after taking the job in December the new chief prosecutor was e-mailing Rove and other White House aides and Goodling chortling about how he had taken a good swipe at Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who was mad that Gonzales had lied to him and that Griffin would avoid Senate confirmation. The Justice Department had assured Pryor that Griffin would undergo the usual confirmation process while privately Gonzales aides were saying he would not.

“Everything’s political to him,” said a Pryor aide. “He e-mails Karl Rove, and he’s bragging about how he took a swipe at Pryor. This e-mail was sent to the entire White House team right at the time everybody was saying, ‘Oooh, Karl Rove’s got nothing to do with this.”

Griffin was also corresponding almost immediately with Goodling about Justice aides’ idea of replacing the chief of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office at Little Rock as a step in getting control of the Arkansas operations.
“Awesome,” Griffin replied.

And we had reflected favorably on Griffin’s demotion this month of Robert Govar, the criminal chief, after Govar had threatened the publisher of this newspaper over a column critical of his role in the Lonoke Police Department scandal.
It turns out that Govar had simply made it easy.

Arkansas will have to wait four more months to be confident that impartial justice is being administered. If then.