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White House suggested in '05 firing all prosecutors

WASHINGTON -- The White House suggested two years ago that the Justice Department fire all 93 US attorneys, a proposal that eventually resulted in the dismissals of eight prosecutors carried out last year, according to e-mails and internal documents that the administration will provide to Congress today.

The dismissals took place after President Bush told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that he had received complaints that some prosecutors had not energetically pursued voter-fraud investigations, according to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Gonzales approved the idea of firing a smaller group of US attorneys shortly after taking office in February 2005, but he left it to an aide, Kyle Sampson, to carry out most of the details, according to interviews and documents reviewed yesterday by The Washington Post.

Sampson resigned yesterday, officials said, after acknowledging he did not tell other Justice officials who testified to Congress about the extent of his communications with the White House, leading them to provide incomplete information in their testimony to lawmakers.

Congress has requested the documents as part of an investigation by both Judiciary committees into whether the firings were politically motivated.

While it is unclear whether the documents answer that question, they show that the White House and other administration officials were more deeply involved in the dismissals, and at an earlier date, than they have acknowledged.

Seven US attorneys were fired Dec. 7 and another was fired months earlier, but with little explanation from the Justice Department.

Several former prosecutors have since alleged intimidation, including improper telephone calls from GOP lawmakers or their aides, and have alleged threats of retaliation by a Justice Department official.

Administration officials have repeatedly portrayed the firings as a routine personnel matter, designed primarily to rid the department of a handful of poor performers.

But the documents and interviews indicate that the idea of the firings originated at least two years ago, in February 2005, with former White House counsel Harriet Miers suggesting that all prosecutors be dismissed and replaced with new personnel.

Over the next two years, Bush, top adviser Karl Rove, and other White House officials also forwarded complaints that US attorneys were not doing enough to prosecute certain crimes such as voter fraud, according to officials and documents.

Perino said that "it doesn't appear the president was told about a list nor shown a list" of US attorneys during the discussions.

She said Rove had an early conversation with Miers about the idea of firing all chief prosecutors and did not think it was wise.