Former Interim U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin used more than an hour to tell his life story from Magnolia to the White House, Iraq and a recent rough political ride during a brownbag lunch at the Clinton School today. He was often emotional.
No press questions were allowed (by pre-agreement with Griffin, Dean Skip Rutherford said) and the time for audience questions was very brief. I had several questions prepared that I couldn't ask of the man whose appointment eventually prompted a change in the law that allowed the president to use the Patriot Act to install interim U.S. attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation:
1) The White House has described predecessor Bud Cummins as lazy. Griffin worked with him for several months. Does he agree?
2) Griffin described as baseless the press accounts of voter challenge techniques he employed in Florida in 2004, known as "caging" and described in the press accounts as a way to remove Democratic-leaning voters. Griffin characterized this reporting as the work of partisans. I would have asked what his former colleague and Bush Justice Department official Monica Goodling meant when she gave this written testimony to Congress in May regarding previous testimony by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty:
The deputy testified that he "[did not] know anything about" allegations that Tim Griffin "caged" black voters in Arkansas during the 2004 presidential election. In fact, I informed the Deputy that this issue could arise on February 5th."
Caging in Arkansas? Perhaps this is a garbled reference to the accounts of caging in Florida that might come up in context of Griffin's appointment to a job in Arkansas. But the plain words say "caging in Arkansas."
3) I'd have asked him how close he came to turning the Hispanic maid who worked for Mark Pryor -- an undocumented worker according to some accounts at that time -- and making her a full-blown issue in the final days of Pryor's defeat of Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson in 2002. Griffin was a Republican researcher then and was working hard to get personal contact with the woman before she left the country. He came very close, his friends have told me. Pryor's people say they learned of this only recently, long after they'd begun raising objections to Griffin's installation as U.S. attorney without Senate confirmation.
4) I'd have loved to ask a followup to his emotional closing. He said you pay a great price for public service in these polarized times and he's not sure his trial was worth it or that he'd do it again. Things were said that were inaccurate or taken badly out of context about him, he said. Tim Griffin did have a hard time. He might have had an easier time had he been willing to tell his side of the story, either to media or the U.S. Senate. His feelings are understandable, human even. What this sympathy-tugging speech overlooks, however, is the years he spent doing exactly the same thing he decried -- tearing down the political opposition by any means available. And -- according to many news accounts about Griffin -- he delighted in the activity. Live by the sword .... (See the jump for link.)
5) Oh, and I forgot: I'd have asked him if he ever prosecuted in a jury trial. He talked at length of his prosecution experience -- as his defenders have -- but multiple searches have yet to turn up a case in the Army or Justice Department records that show he has taken a criminal case to a jury as a prosecutor.
News was in short supply. Griffin said he was not nearly so close to Karl Rove as has been depicted (he only worked for him for five months, he noted) and recounted at length the jobs he'd sought from Republicans and not gotten. He said Bud Cummins had planned all along to leave the office and knew that Griffin would be his likely successor. Griffin mentioned that, while working with Cummins, he had learned from the White House that Cummins was on a list to be removed, but that he could not tell Cummins that. What a pal.
He said he'd long tried to come back to work in Arkansas -- not to investigate Hillary Clinton, to influence the 2008 election or to run for Senate. He said he could write a book about his experience: "You Can Go Home Again. It Just Isn't Easy.
There was this news. He said he'd continue private law practice in Arkansas and establish a "bipartisan" public affairs form to do lobbying, crisis communications and the like. We saw Griffin's old friend Bill Vickery in the crowd. He wouldn't directly answer the question of whether he might be joining up in that effort. Nor did we get an idea who the Democratic side of the bipartisan partnership would be.
Above is one clip -- on the Cummins/Griffin switch. The second clip is about caging.
Here's just one of the articles describing in rich detail the opposition research team on which Tim Griffin worked. They did not play pattycake.
One film scene of the debate-night frenzy captures the prevalent attitude in national politics. As he directs the investigation of Gore's statements in real time, Griffin, standing next to a sign that reads ON MY COMMAND—UNLEASH HELL (ON AL), pauses for a moment to reflect on his role. "We think of ourselves as the creators of the ammunition in a war," he says. "We make the bullets."