Sunday, March 25, 2007


It's not just for foreign policy anymore!:

HINOJOSA: Bud Cummins, I need you to help us understand what it means when yourself, a Republican, former federal prosecutor, and you are prepared to say flat out that the U.S. Attorney General is a liar.

CUMMINS: What I don't know is exactly how much truth he knows about the lies that he has continued to—perpetuate. He's apparently surrounded himself with a—a lot of little political mischief-makers who probably had no business in these important positions at the Department to begin with. And I think the problem now is—it's hard for me to hold the President of the United States responsible, for instance, for this because it looks to me like all the people that he's getting direct advice from and he's relying on to tell him about what happened here, are the very people who are trying to keep themselves outta trouble for their role in it.

And so I think if he could see beyond their briefings to know that the seven people that I'm talking about—and—and I separate myself because they've admitted the truth in my case, that I asked was to leave so that another person could serve in my place. And they were within their legal discretion to ask me to leave. They asked me to leave. I left. And they're pretty squared away in my case.

But they never admitted whatever the other reasons were in the other seven cases, and tried to just lump them all together as performance-related decisions. And as recently as yesterday, I saw where Karl Rover gave a speech and tried to—ratify that suggestion once more. And—and that's just simply not true. And he knows it. And I'm—Paul McNulty, the Deputy Attorney General, knows it, because he has enough direct experience in this business to look at the list of reasons that—that they have recited to the Congress, and know that on their face they don't hold water.

HINOJOSA: So when Karl Rove in fact says, "Look, the previous Administration fired all the U.S. Attorneys," and he's basically saying, "This is something that's part of the MO of—of—of Presidential Administrations." And he says, "No one made a big political discussion about the firings." So clarify for our audience, what makes this different?

CUMMINS: Well, I want your audience to understand, like you said, I am a—very Rep—Republican person. I agreed to put that aside when I became a U.S. Attorney. And I did very successfully. But I—I have a very deep political background. And I'm very familiar with what a talking point is. And I think you are, too. And probably most of your li—listeners are.

He's reading from the talking points. And—and somebody has decided that if they try to continually talk about Bill Clinton firing 93 U.S. Attorneys, that will somehow you know, muddy this water up to where people can't see anything. The truth is, what they have done here is unprecedented. Presidents are entitled to—to appoint their own U.S. Attorneys. In modern history, Presidents have come into (UNINTEL) office, wiped the slate of 93 U.S. Attorneys clean, appointed their own people.

I can make a good argument why that's—that's the right thing to do. I think it's important to have their own people that are on the same page with their priorities and initiatives. But no President that I'm aware of has ever then reached out later in his term and tried to remove one of his United States Attorneys that he appointed, absent malfeasance. There have been a handful of cases where people have made serious mistakes of some—one kind or another. And they've been asked to leave.

HINOJOSA: And has the Justice Department released any kind of information that shows that the ot—the seven other fired U.S. Attorneys did have performance problems, that there was a history of a discussion around these seven—U.S. Attorneys?

CUMMINS: No, Maria. And that's—and that's really, I think, the key point in why I'm so embarrassed that they continue to continue to wanna say that. They—they had Will Moschella go to the House Judiciary Committee the same day we testified there under subpoena. We were under subpoena. He wasn't.

And he recited the supposed reasons in each of those seven cases. And the—the reasons are in some cases laughable. There—there is no substance to really any of it. Additionally, if you look at the e-mails—from Kyle Samson that were released early in the week, there's no discussion of any of those issues there.

And the thing that's most persuasive to me, and maybe you'd had to work in the Department to really understand it, but the people that worked in Main Justice, what we call Main Justice in D.C. don't make a decision about changing a light bulb without writing a 30 page memo. They write memos to their bosses about anything. They always cover themselves.

Will Moschella described a deliberative committee performance review process that had taken place of all the United States Attorneys. If anything resembling the process that he described to Congress had taken place, there would be a stack of memos a mile high. And they have not rolled out so much as a half a page.

Don't you think if they were gonna disclose all those embarrassing e-mails, that by now they would've shared the memo where they analyzed 93 U.S. Attorneys on their performance? The—the—the memo hasn't been produced because it doesn't exist, because such an exercise never took place. But there's no excuse, they could cure this problem today by just conceding that performance was never on the table when they made the decisions about my seven colleagues. And it's outrageous to me that they haven't done that.

HINOJOSA: Do you think that you and your colleagues were targeted because you were not quote unquote "loyal Bushies," that you were too independent, that you were not prepared to follow—a kind of political line on prosecutions that the White House wanted you to follow?

CUMMINS: Well the short answer is, we don't know really. And Kyle Samson's credibility is so low, that trying to draw a conclusion about that from his e-mails is not you know, a real useful exercise. But I'll just tell you this. I've been a Republican all my adult life. I was a Congressional candidate in 1996. I've raised money and campaigned for other Republicans for 30 years.

I was the Bush Cheney Arkansas counsel in 2000. I went to Florida and counted chads during the recount. I was a electoral college elector for Bush Cheney in 2000. And all that happened before I became United States Attorney. I think the fact that my name turned up and other names turned up on the disloyal list had a lot more to do with some political minion at Justice wanting to be a U.S. Attorney and wanting to create a vacancy than it had to do with anybody's loyalty to the President.

HINOJOSA: So when you hear that Democrats and—and even Republican Arlen Specter, are trying to investigate whether or not the—the firings were motivated by a desire to squelch corruptions in—corruption investigations that may have involved Republicans, you say what?

CUMMINS: There was a time when I would say that that was a little bit too conspiratorial or a little too paranoid, and—and that it probably doesn't reach so far to retaliate against somebody that conducted a corruption investigation, or to stop someone from conducting another one, or to punish somebody for not investigating a voter fraud case or a Democrat public corruption case. But at this point, the—the credibility of some of these people involved in this is so low that I wouldn't—you know, I really wouldn't wanna put my credibility on the line and tell you that it—that didn't happen.

It—it—it seems more obvious to me that this had mostly to do some mid level, like I said, political mischief-makers wanting to create some vacancies for themselves and their friends. I think there was some personal animus probably factored into it. Maybe the Deputy Attorney General and other people just kinda didn't like certain people, and would like to see 'em gone.

And I think that at the end of the process, that it's very likely that somebody threw a few names in because some Republican members of Congress or party leaders in their home states were aggravated at 'em for one reason or another. The first two reasons are kinda dumb and petty. But you know, I don't think the history of the world changes because they change out a U.S. Attorney 'cause somebody wanted his job.

The last reason is a lot more serious. Because you know, when I became a U.S. Attorney, I had—I explained to my wife you know, "I have to go where these cases lead me. And they may lead me to take out Republican leaders, you know Republican businessmen in the community. And at the end of the time I'm United States Attorney, if I do this job right, we may not be real popular in the circles we have previously—moved in. And that's just the way it's gonna be." But it never occurred to me that the Department would fail to insulate me from that pressure so I could do my job. And—and this suggestion or this notion that—that prosecutors were out there doing their job by the book, exercising their very important prosecutorial discretion in the right way, and that it somehow aggravated their party leaders at home and they filed a complaint with the White House, and that immediately resulted in their dismissal, is very frightening.

HINOJOSA: But one of the things—one of the issues that this Administration has apparently wanted to pursue is—pressing cases of voter fraud. Is there really a case for U.S. Attorneys to pursue cases of voter fraud when we have a new report—released by the Project Vote—, which says that there is essentially extremely rare—extremely rare cases of voter fraud in the United States, and that actually this is a myth that promulgated to quote unquote "suppress voter participation." So do we have a case in the United States where voter fraud is something that we should be pursuing? Or is this something that this Administration wants to pursue for political reasons?

CUMMINS: I will tell you that in my experience here in the eastern district of Arkansas, that there is a—a perception in the Republican Party that there is you know, widespread rampant voter fraud going on on election day, that people are voting dead people. Or there's a widespread feeling among the Democrats that reposition are somehow conspiring to violate people's civil rights by keeping them away from the polls.

Occasionally actual complaints came to me or to the FBI along both of those lines. They were always investigated. Always investigated. Very seldom was there any evidence to back them up. People will call you and say, "Everybody over here in Smith, Arkansas," if there is a Smith, Arkansas—forgive me, I—I'm not—I'm not aware of one. I'm—trying to make up a generic name. But, "Everybody over here in Smith, Arkansas, knows that they stole our election over here."

And so you say, "Okay, give me the first witness and we'll interview 'em." "Well, I—I don't know who that would be. But—everybody knows it was stolen." And that's kinda what you run up against. And so I can just tell you that I—I would be shocked if any U.S. Attorney didn't proactively investigate any complaints along either of those lines. It's a high priority for the depar—I mean for the Bureau, too. So the idea that out in the field we are somehow lax on voter fraud investigations is silly. Moreover, we never had any—there was never any communication to us that there was a desire by the Administration to emphasize that more than we were already doing it.

HINOJOSA: I'm wondering about—again in this process of you suddenly being a newsmaker, when you were really behind the scenes just trying to do the job as—as a U.S. Attorney, but in your history as—as a member of the Republican Party—an active member—you supported—the Patriot Act. You were a big supporter of the Patriot Act. You were a member of the Department of Justice's Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council . But in essence, they were able to replace you because of a provision in the Patriot Act. So what are your thoughts on the Patriot Act now?

CUMMINS: To the extent I'm familiar with the Patriot Act, and I don't claim to—I obviously didn't know about this page, 'cause I'd never heard about the change in the interim appointment process in the Patriot Act, and I don't think any of us had—I don't think any of the senators had that voted on it. You know, the events in the last several weeks—not only the you know, frivolous use of the Patriot Act to try and circumvent the Senate in the case of the United States Attorneys, but also the audit about the National Security letters—of the FBI's use of the National Security letters—has probably jeopardized the future of the Patriot Act.

This discredits the whole project. And—and it would be impossible for me if I wasn't one of the eight U.S. Attorneys and I was still in office, if they asked me tomorrow to go back and put my credibility on the line for the Patriot Act in the same way that I had before, it would be impossible for me to do that. So I think it was really reckless of the people that thought this was a cute way to solve a political problem.

HINOJOSA: So what do you think needs to happen right now? Is—I mean are you saying there should be an apology? Are you saying there should be official testimony? Are you saying there should be resignations? What does Bud Cummins want right now?

CUMMINS: They need to admit that the idea of performance is silly and—and embarrassing, and they shoulda never said it to begin with. And they need to apologize to those seven. On the one hand, if you were advising them you might say, "Well, if you do that then the Congress is gonna accuse you of lying to 'em." But I—you know, I got news for 'em.

I've spent a lot of time unfortunately with the—the staffs in the judiciary committees in Congress. Nobody believes 'em anyway. They've got severe credibility problems now with the Congress and with the public. And frankly, they—you know within the United States Attorney community, I mean there's a—there's 93 U.S. Attorneys, but they represent you know, tens of thousands of career prosecutors and paralegals and legal—assistants. And you know, I talk to enough of those people to know that they've got some severe morale and confidence problems among those ranks right now, based on what those people have seen in these e-mails.

HINOJOSA: So you're saying that we have U.S. Attorneys right now that are having morale problems, that there are morale problems in the Justice Department. Just finally Bud, what does this mean to all of us as citizens?

CUMMINS: Well I just think that it's important that every citizen can believe that federal prosecutors are operating in a neutral and non-partisan way. Well many of us were political before we got those jobs. We come to 'em through a fairly political process. But it's very important that we leave the politics out and give up that part of our lives while we serve as federal prosecutors.

Because when you go and indict somebody and threaten to take their liberty away and their property—you know, that's a pretty serious thing. And—and the public has to believe that you're doing it for right reasons and no wrong reasons. Once something like this happens, and you let somehow politics get injected into substantive decisions of the Department, people have a perception that maybe there is a political component to other decisions you're making.

And they really question every decision you make. And it's—and it's already being demonstrated. I—I—you know, I'm—right now talkin' to probably a dozen or two dozen reporters a day. They're asking me questions about things that are so far distant from this, and whether they're related to Karl Rove, or—you know and I don't really have any information on that for 'em. And I really doubt that there are connections to most of these things.

But that's the natural result. Once you lose your credibility, people question every decision you make. So they're asking me whether this incident is related to decisions that have been made in the civil rights division, or the environment division. And that's what people naturally do when they lo—they've lost confidence in your credibility.

And—and—and the Department of Justice frankly lives on its credibility. So it's important that that not happen. It has happened. And it needs to be fixed.

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