Today, White House counsel Fred Fielding released a letter informing Congress that President Bush will assert executive privilege over White House documents relating to the firing of U.S. attorneys. Fielding attached a legal memorandum written by Solicitor General Paul Clement, laying out the legal basis for the executive privilege claim.
Clement reviewed the documents that the Congress subpoenaed. In his letter, Clement reveals what investigators have suspected from the very beginning — that the White House was intimately involved in the attorney scandal. Upon examination of the White House documents, Clement writes:
Among other things, these communications discuss the wisdom of such a proposal, specific U.S. Attorneys who could be removed, potential replacement candidates, and possible responses to congressional and media inquiries about the dismissals.
The White House had “said that Mr. Bush’s aides approved the list of prosecutors only after it was compiled.” President Bush himself said that “the Justice Department made recommendations, which the White House accepted” regarding the removal of the attorneys.
On a related point, Marcy Wheeler writes that it is a serious conflict of interest for Clement to be advising Bush to assert executive privilege in the very same scandal that Clement is supposed to be investigating.
Paul Clement, as you’ll recall, is the guy currently in charge of any investigation into the US Attorney firings, since Alberto Gonzales recused himself some months ago. He’s the one who technically oversees the Office of Special Counsel investigation into whether politics played an improper part in Iglesias’ firing or the hiring of career employees in DOJ, he’s the one who oversees the joint Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General investigations into whether anything improper–including obstruction of justice–occurred in the hiring and firing of USAs. And now, he’s the guy who gets to tell the President that he doesn’t have to turn over what might amount to evidence of obstruction of justice in the Foggo and Wilkes case, among others.
Clement’s letter reveals the White House was deeply involved in selectively targeting attorneys for removal. These documents presumably reveal the motives of the White House in purging the U.S. attorneys. Now Clement is working to ensure those documents never become public.
UPDATE: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) raised these concerns in remarks this morning:
[T]he suggestion at the end of Mr. [Fred] Fielding’s letter that ‘we may all return to more productive activity on behalf of the nation.’ I think it is extremely productive to assure the people of the United States that their Department of Justice can be trusted. It is an enormous power, the power of federal prosecution, and if it is not wielded sensibly, and if it is not wielded honorably, and if it is not wielded without political purpose, we have a grave issue that demands our attention.
And then in the Solicitor General’s letter, here’s some interesting stuff. He’s reviewed the communications among the White House Counsel. Quote: “these communications discuss specific U.S. Attorneys who could be removed, potential replacement candidates, and possible responses to congressional and media inquires about the dismissals.” We’ve been wondering if this went into the White House. Clearly it does.