Columns » Ernest Dumas

The real Tim Griffin

Republican candidate last week dodged deserved damage.


FORMER FRIENDS: Tim Griffin, now the Republican candidate for Congress, was a key player in the firing of former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins (inset) so that Griffin could land the job to build his political resume.
  • FORMER FRIENDS: Tim Griffin, now the Republican candidate for Congress, was a key player in the firing of former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins (inset) so that Griffin could land the job to build his political resume.

If you live a charmed political life or else dwell in the right place like Arkansas, or both, you just don't have bad days, not even during a sequence of scary ones like Tim Griffin had last week.

Griffin, the anointed Republican candidate for Congress from Central Arkansas, was named by a Washington ethics watchdog as one of the 11 most corrupt candidates for Congress who are not already in Congress. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is a bipartisan scourge of ethical malefactors in the national Capitol, both Democrats and Republicans.

Its  list of the most corrupt members of Congress includes seven Republicans and eight Democrats, and its current crusade is to oust Rep. Charles Rangel and another Democratic congressman from New York whom it accuses of gross improprieties. It hit Griffin in passing and noted that there might be candidates with even lower ethics than Griffin among the 2,300 Democrats and Republicans running for federal office this year. It asked for tips to identify them.

Griffin made the group's list of delinquent aspirants for his part in a sleazy scheme to keep blacks and other potential Democratic voters in Florida away from the polls in the 2004 presidential election when he was an operative for the Republican National Committee and for his unsavory role in the U.S. attorney scandal in 2006, which forced the resignation of seven top Justice Department officials, including the attorney general of the United States.

Except for a blog or two, Griffin's brief notoriety escaped notice in the Arkansas media. As luck would have it, the next day the Justice Department announced the findings of a special prosecutor's investigation of the nine U. S. attorney firings although it was mainly about the dismissal of the New Mexico federal prosecutor and not Arkansas prosecutor Bud Cummins, who was canned to make room for Tim Griffin so that he could pad his resume for a congressional career. The special prosecutor said it was shameful to politicize justice that way, but she didn't have enough evidence to prosecute anyone.

The miscreants, including the disgraced attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, pronounced themselves vindicated. In the Arkansas media the next day Griffin's role in the scandal was not reprised and he managed to come off sounding like he might be one of the good guys. He said the Justice Department "mishandled" the political firings of the attorneys.

Did it ever! What Griffin did not acknowledge and the newspapers didn't point out was that Gonzales and his deputies "mishandled" the firings at the direction of Griffin's office in the White House and that he was a beneficiary — maybe the only beneficiary — of the "mishandling."

The special prosecutor had mainly investigated the firing of David Iglesias, the Republican prosecutor in New Mexico, after he refused to buckle to pressure from Sen. Pete Domenici and other Republicans that he help his party before a tight election by filing voter-fraud charges against Democrats. The Justice Department at first maintained that Iglesias and the other eight Republican attorneys, including Bud Cummins, were fired for their lousy work, but it turned out that they had all been given good evaluations. The special prosecutor concluded that Iglesias had been fired for political reasons, which flouted Justice's policies but was not prosecutable.

In addition to ousting Cummins, his former friend and benefactor, and grabbing his job, Griffin seemed to have some role in Iglesias' ouster. J. Scott Jennings, Karl Rove's deputy in the White House political office, e-mailed Griffin, a master of campaign trickery, for advice on what else he could do to force the Justice Department to fire Iglesias, whom Karl Rove wanted out. We don't know what Griffin told him.

They never could recover many e-mails from Rove's offices because they turned up missing and Griffin and some others took their e-mails through a server at the Republican National Committee so that they would not be public records.

We also don't know if the special prosecutor's report dealt with Griffin's finagling to destroy Cummins. It would be helpful to voters in the Second District, who seem not to know who Tim Griffin is. But we know a little about it from Justice Department and White House e-mails that turned up in the congressional investigation.

Griffin wanted Cummins' job so that he could launch his own political career. He sucked up to Rove, who could get things done, sending him glowing e-mails ("I know where the true power lies," "My wife is pregnant. We are thinking about naming him karl. Lol."). Cummins had given Griffin his start by hiring him briefly in 2002 so that he could say he had been an assistant U. S. attorney.

After Gonzales fired Cummins, Griffin did not want to undergo the usual questioning of prosecutor nominees in the Senate. Gonzales assured senators that Griffin would be nominated and undergo questioning about his past but he was lying. Records would show that all along they intended to install Griffin by a secret process under the Patriot Act so that Senate confirmation would be skipped. Congress quickly closed the loophole after Griffin was sworn in. Griffin said later that he figured the senators were going to be nasty to him if there was a confirmation hearing.

Griffin resigned as U.S. attorney six months after his appointment as the House Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department began investigations. Two senators on the Judiciary Committee had asked the Justice Department to look into his voter caging work in Florida.

Monica Goodling, the Justice Department liaison with the White House, later testified under an immunity grant that Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who resigned over the Griffin controversy, had not been honest in his congressional testimony about his knowledge of Griffin's involvement in vote caging in the 2004 election.

Were there machinations inside Karl Rove's office over Griffin's vaulting ambition? Here is a series of e-mails between two of Griffin's superiors in Rove's office — Jennings, Rove's first deputy, and Little Rock native Jane Cherry, his associate — over the growing controversy over Cummins' firing and Griffin's nomination:

Cherry: "Good lord. What have you done?"

Jennings: "Followed orders."

Cherry: "Isn't that what the Nazis claimed?"

Jennings: "shut up. these things always roll down hill. You are the one in the office iwith [sic] the most motive to help Griffin, so I'm guessing you are going down."

Cherry: "[unreadable] do I have the least motive? Tim Griffin made my life absolutely miserable for 5 months. Plus, my mother was Bud's first assistant. He was a good family friend. I think I could argue I was pushing to keep him around but you were the one who wanted him out. Heheh."

Jennings and another Rove aide exchanged messages over Griffin's prospects of getting the job after the controversy erupted. They agreed he was "toast." Felts asks Jennings if Griffin knew that. "If he doesn't, he's retarded," Jennings replied.

Jennings was toast. Griffin seems to be headed to Congress, unless voters find out who he is. How will they?

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