In his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee today, James Comey sent two main messages:

  • With the exception of Kevin Ryan (who had serious management problems), the USAs who were fired were not only competent, but in several cases, some of the best.
  • If DOJ is, in fact, using partisan tests for Assistant USAs, it would not only be illegal, but would seriously discredit our judicial system. "I don't know how you'd put that genie back in the bottle," Comey said.

As to the partisan tests in hiring, I want to remind people that the charge is not new. Chuck Schumer first mentioned it publicly 5 weeks ago, and evidence has reinforced that claim in the interim time period. So when Chris Cannon keeps talking about how this investigation–and not the corruption underlying it–has hurt morale at DOJ, just remember that the allegations that Monica Goodling has been using partisan tests in the hiring of career employees has been known to members of Congress (on the Senate side, at least) for well over a month.

Speaking of Chris Cannon, he said that Comey's testimony didn't do anyting to clarify the White House involvement in the firings. But two pieces of evidence released to the public yesterday did. First, there's Carol Lam's description of a conversation she had with Michael Elston about her firing: 

On January 5, 2007, I received a call from Michael Elston informing me that my request for more time based on case-related considerations was "not being received positively," and that I should "stop thinking in terms of the cases in the office." He insisted that I had to depart in a matter of weeks, not months, and that these instructions were "coming from the highest levels of the government."

Last I checked, the "highest level of government" in the United States is the President. In this administration, you could argue that Karl Rove and/or Dick Cheney occupy that spot. But in all of these cases, that highest level resides in the White House.  Michael Elston basically told Carol Lam that those in the White House,

  1. Didn't want her to stay beyond January 31, 2007
  2. Wanted her gone in weeks, not months
  3. Didn't want her to worry about her active investigations

And if that's not enough to raise your hackles, consider John McKay's description of a different conversation with Michael Elston:

On January 17, 2007 at 2:30pm while still serving as U.S. Attorney, I received a telephone call from Michael Elston, the Chief of Staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Mr. Elston proceeded to make a number of statements using a familiar tone which I did not appreciate in light of the circumstances, and related that “no one could believe that they had not seen any incendiary comments from John McKay”. I did not respond. He then indicated that the Attorney General would be holding to general statements about U.S. Attorney resignations in his upcoming testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and that they had been advised by “OPA” that they could say no more than this about the circumstances of our removals, including our forced resignations.

You see, OPA could mean one of two things. DOJ's Office of Public Affairs. In which case you'd have to believe the Tasia Scolinos was bossing around Alberto Gonzales. Or, it could mean the White House Office of Political Affairs.  Given this description–which describes OPA as telling Gonzales what he could say, rather than what  he should say, which do you think it is?

I think Patrick Leahy has decided that Karl Rove, and not Tasia Scolinos, has the ability to tell Gonzales what he can and cannot say. So he has subpoenaed the DOJ for any emails in its possession–particularly those DOJ got in the course of the Plame investigation. If I were Leahy, I'd also ask for any emails gathered in the course of the Abramoff investigation, because I'm betting some of those emails relate more closely to the USA hirings and firings of recent years. But it's a broadly worded subpoena, so maybe we'll get those too.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is this: we are circling around the White House's involvement in illegal politicization of the DOJ. We're not going to get any further until we actually start getting information about White House involvement. Whether it's Karl Rove's emails, Goodling's testimony, or Sara Taylor's that gives us that information, getting it is the requisite next step that will determine whether the White House coverup on this matter will succeed or fail.

Note: A few people have gotten confused or objected to my snide use of the term "loyalty oaths" when discussing Goodling. I was using it as shorthand for a range of partisan tests used in the hiring and promotion process, but if it is read without the intended snark, it is misleading. I've adjusted my phrasing accordingly and apologize for any confusion. 



Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel is an American journalist whose reporting specializes in security and civil liberties.