The Justice Department released a list of internal documents Thursday focusing on lawmakers' concerns and media questions about the firings of eight federal prosecutors, but the department resisted congressional demands for copies of the memos.
The list of 159 e-mails and memos, spanning nearly three months, at the least demonstrates concern about how the dismissals were being publicly received before they erupted into a firestorm that has resulted in calls for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign.
The small pile of documents, sent to Capitol Hill on Thursday night, also included e-mails about articles published in The Washington Post and The New York Times that quoted unidentified Justice officials justifying the firings. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said congressional investigators requested those two stories to determine who the unidentified officials were.
Ensign, Pryor material withheld
The new documents were released on the eve of closed-door congressional testimony by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Documents listed as not being released were all authored by Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff, who resigned March 12 over the handling of the firings.
The list briefly describes each document being withheld. It shows that many of the memos and e-mails involve internal discussions over conversations with lawmakers.
"Request for information from Sen. Ensign re: dismissal of Bogden," reads the description of one, dated Dec. 8 - two days after Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bodgen and six other prosecutors were ordered to quit. "Discussion with Sen. Pryor staff re: ways a person can become a USA," reads another on Dec. 18. "USA" stands for U.S. attorney.
The senators named in the e-mails are John Ensign, R-Nev., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark. Pryor had objected to the firing of U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins of Little Rock, who was replaced by Tim Griffin, a protege of White House political adviser Karl Rove.
Most of the e-mails on the list focused on media coverage of the firings.
One, dated Jan. 13, is described as "Notifying FBI of Union-Tribune article re: Lam's resignation and FBI SAC D. Dzwilewski." Carol Lam was the U.S. attorney in San Diego, where Dan Dzwilewski is heading the FBI's local office until he resigned April 30.
Full test of all documents requested
Sampson has acknowledged, under questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that he complained to FBI headquarters about Dzwilewski's contention that Lam's firing was politically motivated.
Sampson also wrote some of the e-mails, released in full, that discussed the stories in the Post and Times.
"Great work Brian. Kudos to you and the DAG," Sampson wrote in a March 3 e-mail to several senior Justice officials, responding to a Post story that spokesman Brian Roehrkasse described as a "far better" account of the firings.
The House Judiciary Committee has demanded the full text of all documents that had been partially or completely blacked out among nearly 6,000 pages of e-mails, calendar pages and memos released to Congress as it investigates whether the firings were politically motivated. The documents being sought include correspondence with lawmakers and journalists about the firing.
More Justice documents are expected to be sent to Congress on Friday. Additional lists of documents that are being withheld, from other Justice staffers, will be released to Congress "on a rolling basis," Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling told Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the two Democratic chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary committees investigating the firings.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who sits on the Senate panel, said the withheld documents "may contain very important answers. It's critical that we get them."