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From The Archives:

Did Rove's Protégé Puff Up Résumé?

By Richard L. Fricker
October 28, 2010 (Originally published April 3, 2007)

Editor’s Note: J. Timothy Griffin, the onetime Karl Rove protégé who was caught up in the Bush administration's scandal over politicizing federal prosecutions, is now running for U.S. Congress from Arkansas’ 2nd District -- and he has taken a shot at for reporting more than three years ago that he puffed-up claims of his prosecutorial experience.

Griffin said during a debate on Tuesday that he only “found out the other day” about the articles, though we published the stories by Richard L. Fricker in spring 2007. Back then, Griffin declined to comment, but the stories offer reactions from Griffin’s spokeswoman.

Griffin also suggested that, which he dismissed as a “blog,” has been using the articles about him as a way to raise money, though we haven’t mentioned the articles during Campaign 2010 and frankly were surprised by Griffin’s attacks on us.

“Apparently  there is an allegation that started on a blog that is now asking for contributions so it can stay up [claiming that] apparently I have misrepresented that I prosecuted 40 cases when I was in the military,” Griffin said, as if our dependence on contributions from readers to support our journalism somehow undercuts our credibility.

The substantive point, however, is that Griffin is again claiming that he “prosecuted” some 40 cases while serving as a military attorney. During Tuesday’s debate, he said, “I pulled out the spreadsheet [of his cases] and I looked, and I actually prosecuted more than 40. I have the spreadsheet with the names and the cases.”

Griffin also insisted that an unnamed “commanding officer from the Army” would back up his claims of having prosecuted the cases.

However, as the following story from our Archives shows, the Army offered a different account three years ago, with its records indicating that Griffin only served as an assistant trial counsel on three cases, which were all settled as plea bargains.

At the time, his spokeswoman, Cherith Beck, sought to “clarify” Griffin’s claims of prosecutorial experience by suggesting that the higher number may have related to cases that Griffin worked on in some capacity, not cases that went to trial.

Fricker’s further examination of Griffin’s record found that he apparently never took a criminal case to trial either as a civilian or a military prosecutor. Federal court files in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Griffin served as an assistant U.S. attorney, show that from September 2001 to June 2002 Griffin was associated with 30 cases, but none went to trial during that time frame.

Fricker’s archived story on Griffin’s military legal career, dated April 3, 2007, follows:

Little Rock’s interim U.S. Attorney J. Timothy Griffin – already at the center of a firestorm over whether the White House has put politics ahead of prosecutorial integrity – made claims about his experience as an Army lawyer that have been put in doubt by military records.

The 38-year-old Griffin claims on his official Web site that he prosecuted 40 criminal cases while at Ft. Campbell, where he was stationed from September 2005 to May 2006. But Army authorities say Ft. Campbell’s records show Griffin only serving as assistant trial counsel on three cases, none of which went to trial.

Griffin didn’t agree to be interviewed about his claim of 40 criminal prosecutions versus the Army’s confirmation of three cases, all of which were settled as plea bargains. But Cherith Beck, a Griffin spokeswoman, suggested that Griffin’s higher number might refer to all cases he worked on in any capacity.

“Just wanted to clarify, make sure you had an understanding that prosecuted means it’s a case he handled while he was there; it doesn’t mean that it went to trial necessarily,” Beck said. “Prosecuted means he handled those cases in one form or another.”

Griffin’s prosecutorial experience at Ft. Campbell is important in evaluating Griffin’s fitness to serve as the top federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Arkansas since the bulk of Griffin’s legal career has been in political operations, such as opposition research on Democrats or work as a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill.

Seeking to burnish Griffin’s prosecutorial credentials, his backers also have cited a letter of recommendation dated Aug. 13, 2002, from then-Little Rock U.S. Attorney H.E. “Bud” Cummins III praising Griffin’s nine months of work as one of his assistants.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, hailed Griffin as “a person with prosecutorial experience who the attorney – who the U.S. Attorney who was going to be removed said was his right-hand man and one of the best prosecutors he had.”

In an e-mail to me, however, Cummins disputed Hatch’s characterization of the letter.

“I don’t see here where I referred to him as my ‘right arm,’” Cummins said. “I don’t know where they are getting that. Tim [Griffin] worked hard and did a good job organizing the launch of what became a very successful PSN [Project Safe Neighborhoods] program. But the great success was at least equally due, if not a great deal more, to the efforts of virtually every prosecutor in the office after his departure.”

False Talking Points

Cummins noted that Hatch also made disparaging remarks about Carol Lam, the U.S. Attorney in San Diego who was another of the eight federal prosecutors fired last year because the White House and Justice Department didn’t rate them highly on lists that included an assessment of whether they were “loyal Bushies.”

“I imagine Senator Hatch will be very upset with the person or persons that fed him all the wrong information,” Cummins said in the e-mail. “I know he doesn’t want to put HIS credibility at risk, too. Sounds like he was provided talking points by someone as reckless with the facts as other previous occurrences in this saga.

“I have lost count of the public statements they have made that are simply wrong, or at least obviously deceptive. It smacks of desperation. You wonder if the bosses know the underlings are composing talking points for them with such little regard for the facts.”

In an earlier phone interview, Cummins told me he had no clear recollection of Griffin actually trying any case during his nine-month stint in Little Rock. “I honestly don’t remember,” Cummins said. “He may have tried one or two but nothing jumps out at me.”

Cummins added that Griffin “got a lot of indictments but other people had to try his cases because he left.” Griffin quit his job with U.S. Attorney Cummins to go to work as an opposition researcher for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign.

It was in such political assignments that Griffin became a favorite of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove whose office pressed for Griffin’s appointment as U.S. Attorney in Little Rock starting in 2005.

In December 2006, Griffin was named to replace Cummins, a Republican who was well-regarded for his fairness by both Republican and Democratic lawyers in Arkansas. Cummins was put on the Justice Department hit list as early as March 2005 with Griffin tapped as his replacement by January 2006, according to internal administration documents and e-mails.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other administration officials have denied acting improperly in the prosecutor purge, but Gonzales is under increasing fire from Congress over a series of inaccurate explanations about how and why the firings occurred.

Griffin’s other principal experience in a prosecutor’s office came early in his career, in the mid-1990s, when he was hired as an associate to special prosecutor David Barrett, a Republican lawyer who was appointed by a conservative-dominated three-judge panel, to investigate alleged misstatements by President Bill Clinton’s Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Henry Cisneros about payments to a mistress.

Cisneros, then one of the most promising Hispanic politicians in the United States, eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of lying to the FBI about the payments, effectively destroying his career.

In the final report on the case, Barrett thanked Griffin “for helping in the early stages of the investigation.” Griffin’s résumé, however, paints a more substantial picture of his role, saying he “interviewed numerous witnesses with the FBI and supervised the execution of a search warrant, drafted subpoenas and pleadings and questioned witnesses before a federal grand jury.”

Griffin next went to work for the House Committee on Government Reform, which was looking into other alleged offenses by Democrats, including improper campaign contributions.

‘Oppo’ Researcher

In September 1999, Griffin joined the Bush-Cheney campaign as deputy research director handling what’s known in the Washington political world as “oppo” or opposition research, digging up dirt on political opponents. He also worked as a legal adviser in the Florida recount battle that gained Bush the White House.

In 2001, Bush appointed Griffin as a special assistant to Michael Chertoff, assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s criminal division. During five months on the job, Griffin “tracked” issues for Chertoff, such as extradition and provisional arrest, according to Griffin’s résumé.

Griffin then spent nine months in Little Rock as a special assistant to U.S. Attorney Cummins before returning to the political world where he was named research director and deputy communication director for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign.

Griffin’s campaign initiatives included the use of a technique known as “caging” to identify suspect voters. Griffin’s team sent letters to newly registered voters in envelopes barring any forwarding, so they would be returned if a voter wasn’t at that address.

BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast uncovered Griffin’s role in this practice that proved especially effective in “caging” African-Americans who lived in low-income areas or who were in the U.S. military. “Caged” voters would then be challenged by Republican lawyers when they arrived at the polls or cast absentee ballots.

After Bush secured a second term, Griffin joined the White House staff as deputy director for political affairs under Karl Rove.

Griffin’s résumé again portrayed him playing an important role. Starting in April 2005, Griffin said he “advised President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney on political matters, organized and coordinated political support for the President’s agenda, including the nomination of Judge John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”

Military Lawyer

Griffin’s brief White House service was interrupted in September 2005 when he reported for active duty as an attorney at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. It was there where Griffin claimed to put significant prosecutorial experience under his belt.

Griffin’s Web site states that “At Fort Campbell, he prosecuted 40 criminal cases. One of those, U.S. v. Mikel drew national interest after Private Mikel attempted to murder his platoon sergeant and fired upon his unit’s early morning formation. Private Mikel pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.”

When I asked the Army to identify the cases prosecuted by Griffin at Ft. Campbell, the Army’s public relations office replied, “According to our SJA [Staff Judge Advocate] office, Major Griffin was involved in these three cases (guilty pleas before a military judge alone) as an assistant trial counsel at Ft. Campbell, US vs. Hurst, vs. Mikel, and vs. Edwards.”

Then, after a tour of about three months as an Army lawyer in Iraq, Griffin returned to the United States where the White House offered him the job as U.S. Attorney in Little Rock. Over the preceding two years, White House and Justice Department officials had collaborated to create the vacancy by ousting Griffin’s old boss, U.S. Attorney Cummins.

Although the Justice Department initially denied knowing “of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Griffin,” an e-mail by Gonzales’s chief of staff Kyle Sampson revealed that Griffin’s appointment was “important to Harriet, Karl, etc.,” in a reference to then-White House counsel Harriet Miers and Karl Rove.

As a furor arose over the firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys, Sampson resigned. However, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 29, he insisted there was no contradiction between the initial denial about Rove’s role and the e-mail because he only “assumed” Rove’s interest from the pressure coming from Rove’s staff to grant Griffin the appointment.

Griffin’s appointment also has proved controversial because Gonzales exercised a new emergency power that was put into the USA Patriot Act to give the Attorney General discretion to name U.S. Attorneys without the normal Senate approval.

Both houses of Congress have now voted to rescind that power.
Griffin also has indicated he will not submit himself to the Senate confirmation process.

Griffin told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that “I have made the decision not to let my name go forward to the Senate. … I don’t want to be part of that partisan circus.”

One of the questions Griffin may want to avoid is a detailed recounting of his courtroom experience.

Richard L. Fricker is a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based freelance reporter/writer and two-time winner of the American Business Press Editors Award for Investigative Journalism.

[For another story about Griffin's background, see Fricker’s “Rise of a Very ‘Loyal Bushie’”]

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