Buchanan naming 'out of context'
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An official with the Justice Department says he never thought Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney here, should be fired, despite an e-mail he sent that included her as a possibility.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that Ms. Buchanan's name was one of five listed in a Nov. 1, 2006, e-mail sent to D. Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Yesterday's story came a month after the House Judiciary Committee announced it wanted to interview Ms. Buchanan, who formerly served as director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, about any role she might have played in the dismissals of other U.S. attorneys. The revelation that the Justice insider thought to be a possible contributor to the proposed firing list had been listed as a possible target was surprising.
But Michael Elston, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, said yesterday through his attorney that his e-mail was taken out of context.
The names that were included had been suggested to him by others, and Mr. Elston never thought anyone on that list should be fired.
"To the contrary, Mike's view is that the five U.S. Attorneys mentioned in the e-mail are among the Department's best," the statement said.
When asked to comment, Ms. Buchanan issued a written statement in which she dismissed the notion of a possible termination.
"Simply put, there is no logical reason that my name would appear as part of an e-mail suggesting prosecutors to be considered for replacement," she said, noting that she's had "unprecedented success" during her tenure.
"While surprising, I do not intend to allow this event to disrupt my focus. Rather, I will continue working with my colleagues throughout the Department of Justice to serve and protect the public."
According to attorney Robert Driscoll, Mr. Elston was asked in October 2006 by others in the Justice Department "if there were any concerns about U.S. Attorneys that senior department leadership was not aware of."
When Mr. Elston asked around, his attorney said, he was not specifically asking for names of people to be terminated, only for those who others might have a problem with.
It was then that Mr. Elston forwarded the names of Ms. Buchanan and those of the U.S. attorneys for Roanoke, Va.; New Jersey; Delaware; and Macon, Ga.
"At no time did Mike ever believe that any of the U.S. attorneys mentioned in the November 1st e-mail should be dismissed," the statement said.
Later, it went on, Mr. Elston recommended that those five people not be added to the list of those who would be asked to resign.
None of them were. Everyone on that particular list continues to serve.
Less than a month after Ms. Buchanan's name was mentioned in the e-mail, she was appointed by the president to serve as acting director of the Office on Violence Against Women -- a role she continues to hold.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who has been following the U.S. attorney firing scandal, said it didn't make much sense that Ms. Buchanan would have been included for possible termination.
"She had been rewarded by the Justice Department with these various appointments and was doing everything they wanted," he said. "It seems a little inconceivable to me how she'd even be on the list."
The Washington Post reported that at least 26 of the 93 U.S. attorneys across the country had been considered for dismissal at one point or another.
It could have been that the department thought it could manage a transition of about 25 percent of the prosecutors, Mr. Tobias said. Or, it may have been nothing more than incompetence from officials in the Department of Justice not talking to each other, he said.
Yesterday, Justice Department officials issued a brief statement on the matter, saying the department would not publicly confirm whether any U.S. attorney was on one of Mr. Sampson's lists, which were used by him in the discussion process.
"Many names on these lists which have been shared with Congress, clearly did not represent the final actions or views of the Department's leadership or the Attorney General," the statement said.
"Whether they are on any list or not, U.S. Attorneys currently serving enjoy the full confidence and support of the Attorney General and Department of Justice."
Later in the day, Mr. Gonzales sent another statement, specifically about Ms. Buchanan, saying that she has his full confidence and support.
First Published May 17, 2007 11:30 pm