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Newly released email shows Rove signed off on deal to remove U.S. attorney

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 12, 2009 - A 2005 White House email shows that Karl Rove signed off on a deal under which Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., won the removal of former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves in return for withdrawing his objections to an Arkansas judicial nominee for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

An internal Justice Department investigation concluded last fall that Graves' removal was the "inappropriate" result of political pressure from Bond's office. Bond said at the time that he had not known that his former chief legal counsel, Jack Bartling had contacted the White House about Graves.

Shana Marchio, a Bond spokesperson, said on Tuesday that "Sen. Bond did not know or approve his former staffer's actions so obviously he didn't make a deal to have someone dismissed that he didn't want fired in the first place." Asked why Bond had withdrawn the hold on the Arkansas judge if he had not known of the White House deal, Bond's office declined further comment.

The Dec. 21, 2005, memo, released on Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee, was addressed to then White House counsel Harriet Miers from associate counsel Richard D. Klinger.

"For our Eighth Circuit seat issue," it states, "I believe the pieces are in place to go back to Sen. Bond's office.

"We can indicate that we have heard and will work to satisfy Sen. Bond's request regarding a replacement for the U.S. Attorney in the W.D. Missouri. Scott Jennings indicates that Karl (Rove) is fine with the replacement. The process there would be a gradual easing out of the incumbent ... (I can discuss the precise process separately), with Sen. Bond's office to be told he will be invited to suggest names for a replacement in the relatively near future."

Jennings was a political aide to Rove.

The memo suggests that Bond would withdraw his objection to the appointment of an Arkansas judge to the federal appeals court. Bond thought the seat should go to a Missourian.

Rove told the Judiciary Committee that "Congressman Graves' political consultant put up a website devoted to attacking Sen. Bond, and this irritated Sen. Bond, who was both a former client and friend of mine, enormously. And he complained about Congressman Graves, and this is his brother Todd Graves who was the U.S. attorney.

"He did not bring up Todd Graves in his conversations with me, but he was very clear that he was upset with Congressman Graves' political guy running an open, aboveboard, in the clear website devoted to trashing Sen. Bond." The reference is apparently to Jeff Roe, a sharp-elbowed political consultant to Rep. Graves.

Rove went on to tell the committee why he approved of the deal. "The trade is -- it's the trade is what -- I'm fine with the trade. They're going to -- the U.S. Attorney's going to be replaced. The Eighth Circuit seat, he's going to release the hold on the Arkansas U.S. Senator, the Arkansas nominee, and let that seat go forward and we can nominate."

In releasing the email and thousands of pages of documents, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said the documents showed Rove's deep involvement in the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys. "After all the delay and despite all the obfuscation, lies, and spin," Conyers said, "this basic truth can no longer be denied: Karl Rove and his cohorts at the Bush White House were the driving force behind several of these firings, which were done for improper reasons. Under the Bush regime, honest and well-performing U.S. attorneys were fired for petty patronage, political horsetrading."

Conyers described the Bond deal this way: "Kansas City U.S. Attorney Todd Graves was removed as part of a White House-brokered deal with U.S. Sen. Kit Bond. In exchange for the administration firing Graves, Sen. Bond agreed to lift his hold on an Arkansas judge nominated to the Eighth Circuit federal appeals court. A White House e-mail stated that 'Karl is fine' with the proposal."

In a statement, Bond's office said: "Sen. Bond did not know or approve his former staffer's actions so obviously he didn't make a deal to have someone dismissed that he didn't want fired in the first place." 

Wiliam H. Freivogel is director of the school of journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

William H. Freivogel is director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Previously, he worked for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 34 years, serving as assistant Washington Bureau Chief and deputy editorial editor. He covered the U.S. Supreme Court while in Washington. He is a graduate of Kirkwood High School, Stanford University and Washington University Law School. He is a member of the Missouri Bar.