Before Attorneygate, there was Guam.
Back in the spring of 2002, when Guam's then-Governor, Carl Gutierrez, found himself in the cross-hairs of a federal corruption probe, he hired disgraced über-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to force out the US territory's longtime acting US Attorney, Frederick Black. "I don't care if they appoint bozo the clown, we need to get rid of Fred Black," Abramoff wrote to colleagues in March 2002.
Eventually Black, a well-regarded prosecutor who'd held the position since 1991, began investigating Abramoff for a $324,000 contract the lobbyist had received from Guam's highest court–and asked for Washington's assistance. The Justice Department forwarded the information to then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. Instead of receiving help, Black was pushed out of his job [see "Can Justice Be Trusted?" February 20, 2006].
The same fate would later befall eight other US Attorneys, dislodged from their posts this past December. But it's not only the pattern that's similar. Many of the Administration officials playing starring roles in Attorneygate–including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson–also had a hand in the dismissal of the US Attorney in Guam.
Black's allegations of his politically motivated ouster were the subject of a report by the DOJ's Inspector General last June, which found no evidence of foul play. But the IG report, which leaned heavily on Administration testimony, including that of the now-discredited Sampson, failed to include crucial information backing up Black's claims. For example, while the report stated that the White House had decided to replace Black with Assistant US Attorney Leonard Rapadas in March 2002, other evidence suggests that it was only after Black began his aggressive pursuit of Abramoff later that year that a decision was made to install Rapadas–the nephew, as it happened, of a major figure in the Gutierrez investigation. David Sablan, who headed the Guam Republican Party at the time, says he received a call in September 2002 from a DOJ lawyer named Juan Carlos Benitez, who told him that "Rapadas was not selected for the US Attorney position out here and that I was to come up with another person or persons for the position." Benitez, who subsequently went to work at the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates, where Abramoff landed briefly in 2004, says he does not recall the conversation, and has since been publicly circulating letters of support for Gonzales.
On November 7 Black informed the DOJ of his preliminary investigation of Abramoff. Days later, Guam's new Republican Governor, Felix Camacho, wrote a letter to the White House asking to keep Black on. Yet on November 19, a day after Black subpoenaed the Abramoff contract, the Administration announced that it was nominating Rapadas. Black was subsequently barred from handling any public corruption cases.