WASHINGTON --The White House was deeply involved in the decision late last year to dismiss federal prosecutors, including some who had been criticized by Republican lawmakers, according to administration officials.
In October, President Bush called Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to pass along complaints among Republicans that prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud, the White House said yesterday.
The president did not call for the removal of any specific U.S. attorneys, according to a White House spokesman, but the Justice Department forced out seven of them weeks later.
Justice Department officials said yesterday that they only recently learned that the idea of dismissing federal prosecutors originated in the White House more than a year earlier. In 2005, Harriet E. Miers, then the White House legal counsel, asked a Justice Department official whether it would be feasible to replace all 93 U.S. attorneys when their four-year terms expired, according to the department.
She sent her query to D. Kyle Sampson, later to become chief of staff to Gonzales, the officials said. Sampson, who once worked with Miers in the White House, replied that filling so many jobs at once would overtax the Justice Department. As an alternative, he suggested replacing a smaller group, according to e-mail messages and other internal memorandums compiled by the Justice Department in recent days.
Yesterday, Sampson resigned after officials said he had not disclosed his extensive communications with Miers even though he attended several briefing sessions on the dismissals. The exchanges were discovered Thursday when Sampson turned over the material to officials who were assembling documents in response to congressional requests.
The internal documents made available yesterday did not provide a clear motive for the firings and none suggested why Miers wanted the Justice Department to ask for mass resignations. Some documents suggested that Justice Department officials were dissatisfied with some prosecutors, but none cited their efforts in public corruption as an explicit reason to remove them.
The exchange of e-mails showed that the White House was far more deeply involved than had been previously known in the decision to replace the U.S. attorneys.