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Spotlight on H.E. Cummins, Eastern Arkansas

Adam La,bert
Original Publication Date
HE Cummins

It isn't new news that US Attorney H.E. "Bud" Cummins (Eastern District of Arkansas) "resigned" abruptly in December 2006.  And it isn't new news that former aide to Karl Rove, J. Timothy Griffin was picked by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to be Cummins' replacement.

And it certainly isn't new news that Arkansas Senators Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln (both Democrats) have been critical of the circumvention of the process that normally has the Senate provide its advice and consent regarding the appointment of US Attorneys.

The "new" news here is that the spotlight is on these resignations and the subsequent appointments of people who are "friendly" to the administration by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  On February 6, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty testified about the decision made to replace Cummins with Timothy Griffin.  In the hearings, McNulty basically confirmed that Cummins was not replaced due to performance issues, although six others were:

He [McNulty] said the six prosecutors dismissed besides Cummins -- including San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, who oversaw the corruption prosecution of former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif. -- were let go for performance-related reasons.


McNulty acknowledged that Cummins had had a successful tenure in Arkansas and that he was asked to step aside last year to allow former White House aide Tim Griffin to take the job.

The Resigning U.S. Attorney:

McNulty's testimony  confirms Cummins'  reaction when he was called last June:

Cummins, 47, was more than a little surprised when he got a call from the Justice Department last year asking him to resign. He was told there was nothing wrong with his performance, but that officials in Washington wanted to give the job to another GOP loyalist."

"I don't think many of us were aware that the administration might want to ask someone to step aside just to give someone else an opportunity," said Cummins, who left office in December and was replaced by J. Timothy Griffin, a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove. "The precedent was that once you were appointed, assuming you were successful in office, you were there until there was a change in the White House."

Cummins was, by most accounts, a good US Attorney.  He investigated fraud with respect to FEMA funds after hurricane Katrina.   A U.S. News and World report article indicates that Cummins increased drug and firearms prosecutions and he had helped organize a multiagency counterterrorism council.   On Tuesday 02-06-07, McNulty even indicated in his testimony before the Judiciary Committee that he had not heard anything negative about Cummins.

Still, while defending the decision to replace the seven US Attorneys, McNulty did not provide any concrete reason for the decisions, leaving the decision subject to increased speculation of "rewarding party loyalists."

While it certainly is the prerogative of President Bush to replace a US Attorney for whatever reason he so desires, the fact that there were (1) so many replacements in such a short period of time, (2) the laws were recently changed in a manner that would circumvent the Senate review process for appointing interim US Attorneys, (3) the temporary 120 day tenure of an interim US Attorney was stricken from the law altogether and (4) the replacements were, by and large, being filled by loyalists to the Bush administration.  

The Replacment:

A review of Tim Griffin's work history prior to his role as Karl Rove's head of opposition research, establishes that Griffin also did a stint as the research director (2002 - 2005) for the Republican National Committee:

A quick perusal of Griffin's resume shows that his more-or-less exclusive vocation has been doing opposition research on Democrats on behalf of the Republican Party. Until recently, he was head of oppo[sition] research at the White House, working directly for Karl Rove. In 1999 and 2000, he was deputy research director for the Republican National Committee. In 2002 he returned as research director for the national GOP and stayed on for the next three years.

Additionally, according to Griffin's bio:

In September 2005, Griffin was mobilized to active duty to serve as an Army prosecutor at Fort Campbell, Kentucky , the home of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

Griffin is one of a handful of U.S. Attorneys who, since the passing of the Patriot Act Reauthorization in March of 2006, have assumed their posts without being confirmed by the Senate.  This alone makes for some serious questions about Griffin's appointment to replace Cummins, who by some measures, is a capable US Attorney.  Cummins reported that the Justice Department indicated as much when it advised him that he would be replaced.

A spokesman for Senator Pryor had these same concerns about the manner in which Griffin was appointed:

Teague noted that an interim appointment could keep Griffin at the helm of the top prosecutor's post in the state's Eastern District for the two years remaining in Bush's term.

"This process circumvents a way to find out about his legal background," Teague said. "We know about his political background, which is unbalanced. If he's just interim for the next two years, every decision he makes during that time is going to be somewhat suspect."

The timing of Griffin's nomination/appointment is also curious.  While there certainly was no sense of urgency with the need to replace Cummins immediately, Griffin's selection was announced on December 15, 2006, only one week after the 109th Congress adjourned, and three weeks before the 110th Congress started its term.  The timing of the appointment has the appearance of using the newly-changed laws to circumvent the normal Senate confirmation process.

Another of the most important reasons why Griffin's appointment deserves a harder look is from his involvement in "caging," which "appeared to be" a Republican Party effort to challenge the ballots of thousands of voters in largely African American communities through mailings targeting those who were serving in Iraq.  Since they were stationed out of country, they were not at the address to which the mailings were sent, and the letters were returned as "not deliverable," establishing "cause" to strike the intended recipients from the voter roles. Who sent the originating email with respect to this caging "program"?  Tim Griffin.

Clearly, there are many issues with the recent resignations of the US Attorneys as well as the controversy over replacements.  However, in the case of a highly qualified U.S. Attorney such as Cummins and the political ties in the background of his replacement the timing and motives should be questioned even further.

In related news: Since McNulty's testimony that six attorneys were let go because of "performance-issues," two of the six have spoken out.

 In an Seattle PI  article yesterday, John McKay said:

"I was ordered to resign as U.S. attorney on Dec. 7 by the Justice Department," McKay, who had led the department's Western Washington office, said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. "I was given no explanation. I certainly was told of no performance issues."

Additional information about McKay's resignation was reported in the Las Vegas Review:

On Wednesday, former U.S. Attorney John McKay of Seattle said his resignation was ordered by the Bush administration without explanation seven months after he received a favorable job evaluation.

The same article also reported in reference to resigning Nevada's U.S. Attorney, Daniel Bogden:

[Nevada Republican Senator] Ensign said the [Justice] department told him there were "performance reasons" for Bogden's departure.

But Bogden said he never was told the Justice Department had a problem with him or his office. Rather, in an unexpected phone call on Dec. 7, he said, he was told he served at the pleasure of the president, as is the case for federal appointees.

The Justice Department declined to comment Thursday on Bogden.

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