White House Stands By 'Performance Related' Reason for Sacking U.S. Attorneys

Despite a growing counter-attack by the eight terminated U.S. attorneys to the Bush Administration’s line that their forced exits were “performance related,”  the White House is sticking to its story.

At Monday morning’s gaggle (early morning briefing) for White House correspondents, I cited published reports of sacked U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara’s press conference last week in which the former Grand Rapids prosecutor defended her record and said her firing was not performance-related.  Noting the reports of strong praise for Chiara by the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Western Michigan and defense attorneys who had squared off against her in court, I asked acting Press Secretary Dana Perino whether the administration was still sticking to its story that Chiara and seven fellow U.S. attorneys were removed for “performance-related” reasons.

Perino, who is filling in for Tony Snow while the President’s top spokesman is in the hospital for treatment, said the administration stood by the reasons expressed “by the Justice Department.”

“By [Deputy Atty.] Gen. [Paul] McNulty?” I asked, referring to the Number Two man at the Department of Justice, whose testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee was the first occasion in which an Administration official cited “performance-related” reasons for the controversial firings.

“Yes,” Perino replied, without hesitation.

Her stand with McNulty and his stated reasons for the firing came only days after Chiara defended her record in a news conference and sacked U.S. Attorneys John McKay of Washington State and David Iglesias of New Mexico strongly suggested they were removed for political reasons.  Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McKay recalled how he refused to press a voter fraud case that might have upended a Democratic gubernatorial victory and that White House Counsel Harriett Miers and her deputy Bill Kelley “asked me why Republicans in the state of Washington would be angry with me;”  Iglesias, who appeared on the same program, was asked if he felt he was removed for political reasons and replied: “Absolutely, yes.”