Last February, The Nation published an article of mine, “Can Justice Be Trusted?” raising questions about whether the White House and the Justice Department replaced the US Attorney in Guam, Fred Black, because of an investigation he had opened into Jack Abramoff’s lobbying activities on the island in 2002. This story is worth revisiting in light of the Bush Administration’s firing of eight top US prosecutors.
Fred Black was the acting US Attorney in Guam between 1991 and 2003. In November 2002, Black began investigating a contract between Abramoff and Guam’s highest court and asked for DOJ’s assistance. Since Black’s communication happened to raise serious questions about the integrity of a high-level federal official who was being renominated to his post, Justice passed the information on to then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales.
A grand jury, convened by Black, subpoenaed the Abramoff contract on November 18, 2002. The next day the Bush Administration announced that Black would be replaced as US Attorney and demoted him to Assistant US Attorney, after twelve years on the job. His replacement, Leonardo Rapadas, had close ties to the Guam Republican Party, including the support of Abramoff and another lobbyist with access to Karl Rove.
Potential US Attorneys were approved by a panel of Administration lawyers, who then sought approval from the Attorney General. According to the IG report, “Sampson stated that he could not recall any occasion when the Deputy Attorney General, Attorney General, and White House Counsel did not concur with the panel’s recommendation for a US Attorney.” After receiving approval from the White House Counsel (at that time, Gonzales), “Sampson said he would then discuss the US Attorney candidate recommendations with the President.” Sampson said he replaced Black, along with other US Attorneys, because the Bush Administration wanted to “get a fresh team in.” (The IG found no evidence of foul play, but leaned heavily on Administration testimony to reach its conclusions.)
Thus, it’s hard to see how Sampson was acting as a rogue agent–either with regards to Guam or Attorneygate–as the White House now claims. And it’s difficult to imagine that Gonzales was not intimately involved, first as White House counsel and then as Attorney General. “Did the White House interfere to stop Black’s investigation?” I wrote in February 2006. “Was Gonzales involved?”
These questions about Gonzales–and the White House’s uneasy relationship to the rule of law–have even greater significance today.