Columns » Ernest Dumas

Meet Tim Griffin


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Who said the George W. Bush Justice Department would never investigate injustice in its own ranks?

Maybe it was me, but there is good evidence that it was capable of calling out its own blundering and lying leaders and their fellow conspirators at the White House. At least the professional offices where political hacks were not in charge could occasionally call 'em like they saw 'em.

Up to a point. They pinpointed the deceptions by Justice and White House officials in the U.S. attorney scandals of 2006 and 2007 but concluded that while shameful and unethical they were not criminal.

Yes, this is about Tim Griffin, the political gunslinger who ended his 15-year career as an oppo researcher and moved to Little Rock to make his own race for Congress. The report of the Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility in the Justice Department on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, including Bud Cummins in Arkansas, is now two years old, but the 33 pages recounting the machinations to get Griffin installed in Cummins' job never got attention in Arkansas. Voters in the Second District would find it tedious but rewarding reading.

They might still vote for Griffin. He is not the least sympathetic character in the narrative because he came across as an ambitious schemer, yes, but fairly honest with the Justice Department investigators, if not with the public. In the parlor intrigue that he instigated, Griffin seemed to become a helpless pawn pushed around by his bosses at the White House, his Justice Department enablers and Congress, mainly Senator Mark Pryor, who thought he was unworthy of the job. Griffin's career had been digging up dirt on Democrats, not practicing any kind of law that might be useful experience prosecuting lawbreakers in the Eastern District of Arkansas.

You will remember that the Justice Department fired Cummins, the good Republican prosecutor, in 2006 at the urging of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, Bush's political adviser and chief counsel, so that Griffin could get the job to pad his resume for a future political race in Arkansas.

The good guys in the IG report? Cummins emerges even better than his public persona. Although Griffin had schemed to get his job, Cummins arranges before leaving to hire him as an understudy so that it doesn't look like Rove was masterminding the appointment. He also pulls his punches in public remarks so as not to embarrass Griffin. He is not rewarded for his magnanimity.

The report rehabilitates Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, if only a little. Gonzales resigned over the prosecutor affair. He was accused of lying to Sens. Pryor and Blanche Lincoln about Griffin's appointment. But it was only a little white lie. He never really intended to do what he did, which was to appoint Griffin under a stealth provision of the 2006 reauthorization Patriot Act so that he would not have to be confirmed and undergo questioning.

Confidential Justice Department e-mails said Griffin's Patriot Act appointment actually was permanent and that the plan was to act like they were looking for a permanent attorney and "gum it to death" while Griffin served the rest of Bush's term.

The IG report recounts that when Pryor indicated to him in a private meeting on Feb. 15, 2007, that he doubted he could support Griffin, Gonzales assured the senator that Griffin's appointment was temporary. He would not ask the Senate to confirm Griffin and he would instantly seek nominations from Congressman John Boozman, the Arkansas Republican, to replace him.

Back in Little Rock, Griffin was telling his staff and others that he would not go through the confirmation process but that he would serve for the rest of Bush's term. Minutes after the conversation with Pryor, Gonzales's assistant Monica Goodling (she had to resign, too) called Griffin and the White House with the bad news: he had to go. Gonzales told the investigators that the White House — Rove and Miers presumably — reacted furiously but that he had always thought skirting the confirmation process with the Patriot Act appointment was "a bad idea."

Griffin took the news like you'd expect he would. He quickly issued a statement saying that he had decided a couple of weeks earlier not to stand for the regular appointment because Pryor and other Democrats were being so partisan and that he no longer wanted to serve out the term. He said no one suggested to him that he bow out.

The IG report meticulously chronicles Griffin's campaign to get the job, starting in 2005 when he's a researcher for Rove. He is an Army Reserve JAG officer and a four-month White House leave and deployment to Iraq are arranged in April 2006. The lines between his office in Mosul and Washington are kept burning while the plans to dump Cummins are implemented. Griffin will one day get to run for office as both an Iraq war veteran and U. S. prosecutor.

Over and over, the investigators take apart White House and Justice Department letters and testimony on the Griffin affair and conclude that they were lies — make that "misleading statements."

When the axe falls on Cummins and the other prosecutors who were out of favor at the White House, the Justice Department says it was because Cummins was a poor prosecutor, although the supervisor of the nation's prosecutors told the investigators that Cummins was one of the nation's top five.

Justice officials would alternately admit it was simply to give Griffin the job and insist that it was because Cummins was deficient. Justice and White House officials who pressed for Cummins' ouster and Griffin's appointment told the investigators that they heard from many places that Cummins was "lazy." They could identify only one source: Griffin.

Griffin told the investigators that he could not remember telling each of them that Cummins was lazy but that, yes, he probably did. He did not think Cummins was lazy and he was only passing along what he had heard some people say.

Your next congressman.


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