GOP Senators Misled on Prosecutor
The Bush administration fed Republican senators misleading talking points that hailed the prosecutorial experience of interim Little Rock U.S. Attorney J. Timothy Griffin, although the protégé of White House political adviser Karl Rove appears never to have actually tried a criminal case.
The Justice Department and White House sent talking points and other information to Congress stressing the 38-year-old Griffin’s “significant experience as a federal prosecutor at both the Department of Justice and as a military prosecutor.” Republican senators then echoed those assessments of Griffin as a seasoned professional.
But an examination of Griffin’s record as a prosecutor reveals a much less impressive body of experience, with no indication that Griffin ever 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.
On his official Web site, Griffin also claims to have prosecuted 40 criminal cases as an Army lawyer while stationed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, from September 2005 to May 2006. But Army officials 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 legal experience, but his spokeswoman Cherith Beck suggested the discrepancy between Griffin’s claim of 40 criminal prosecutions and the Army’s record of three might be explained because Griffin’s number refers to all cases he worked on in some 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 told me. “Prosecuted means he handled those cases in one form or another.”
In criminal law, the common legal definition of the word “prosecute” is “to charge a person with a crime and thereafter pursue the case through trial on behalf of the government.” Black’s Law Dictionary says, “to ‘prosecute’ an action is not merely to commence it, but includes following it to an ultimate conclusion.”
Many average citizens who hear about someone prosecuting a case probably think of scenes from TV dramas, such as “Law and Order,” where prosecutors present evidence at trial and make arguments to a jury. But a looser definition of the term – apparently the one adopted by Griffin – can be “to conduct any legal action by a lawyer.”
Despite these discrepancies in Griffin’s record, the Bush administration succeeded in getting senior Senate Republicans to promote him as a well-traveled prosecutor with a strong record.
In January 2007, Monica Goodling, then a key aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wrote an e-mail saying “WH political [office] reached out to Sen. [Jeff] Sessions [of Alabama] and requested that he ask helpful questions to make clear that Tim Griffin is qualified to serve.”
At a later Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sessions did push the theme of Griffin as an experienced prosecutor. That claim was repeated by other Republicans, including Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah who described Griffin on NBC’s “Meet the Press” as “a person with prosecutorial experience who the attorney – who the U.S. Attorney was going to be removed said was his right-hand man and one of the best prosecutors he had.”
No ‘Right Arm’
However, former Little Rock U.S. Attorney H.E. “Bud” Cummins disputed Hatch’s characterization about Griffin’s value to the office during his nine-month stint. “I don’t see here [in Griffin’s recommendation letter] where I referred to him as my ‘right arm,’” Cummins wrote to me in an e-mail.
Cummins, a Republican prosecutor who was well-regarded for his fairness by both Democrats and Republicans, said Hatch’s comments about Griffin fit with a pattern of misstatements that have surrounded the administration’s ouster of the eight U.S. Attorneys who were deemed not “loyal Bushies.”
“Sounds like he [Hatch] was provided talking points by someone as reckless with the facts as other previous occurrences in this saga,” Cummins said. “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.”
Griffin did secure 25 grand jury indictments while at the Little Rock office, but he left before any of those cases went to trial, the court records show.
Many of Griffin’s cases resulted from cooperation with local law enforcement under the Safe Neighborhood Program, which permits federal charges when local authorities arrest felons for crimes if a firearm was used or was in the possession of the accused.
After Griffin left, the cases were assigned to other prosecutors who took them to trial or reached other settlements. Two sources close to the U.S. Attorney’s office told me that some of Griffin’s indictments were so flawed they required superceding indictments. One former prosecutor said the requirement to “clean up” the messy indictments became known inside the office as “Tim work,” referring to Griffin’s first name.
Court files also show that Griffin was involved with five magistrate hearings, three of which were concluded within a day as routine appearances on warrants from other jurisdictions.
Griffin quit his Little Rock job after only nine months to work for George W. Bush’s re-election. At the Republican National Committee, Griffin was responsible for investigating President Bush’s political opponents.
Griffin also became the point man on a Republican operation aimed at “caging” – or disqualifying – new voters who may have put down inaccurate or old addresses on their voter registration forms. The project proved especially effective in “caging” African-Americans who were either poor or in the U.S. military.
Catching Rove’s Eye
Griffin’s work at the RNC caught the eye of White House political adviser Rove, who hired Griffin early in Bush’s second term. Starting that same year, in 2005, Rove’s office began promoting Griffin to replace Little Rock U.S. Attorney Cummins. In December 2006, Attorney General Gonzales officially tapped Griffin for the Little Rock job.
Besides Griffin’s short stays on the prosecution teams in Little Rock and at Ft. Campbell, he worked briefly in the mid-1990s 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, 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 next went to work for the House Committee on Government Reform, which was looking into other alleged offenses by Democrats, including improper campaign contributions. Griffin also worked on the Bush-Cheney campaign of 2000 and in the Florida recount battle.
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 that job, Griffin “tracked” issues for Chertoff, such as extradition and provisional arrest, according to Griffin’s résumé. But his Justice Department work didn’t call for courtroom expertise.
As a furor arose this year over alleged political motivations in the firings of the U.S. Attorneys, the Senate Judiciary Committee launched an investigation. Attorney General Gonzales denied wrongdoing but is expected to be grilled at a committee hearing this week.
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.
Griffin’s appointment also 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 has indicated he will not submit himself to the Senate confirmation process. “I have made the decision not to let my name go forward to the Senate,” he told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “I don’t want to be part of that partisan circus.”
[For more on the Griffin appointment, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Rise of a Very Loyal Bushie” and “Did Rove’s Protégé Puff Up His Résumé.”]
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. He writes regularly for the Swiss newsweekly Sonntags Blick and Consortiumnews.com. Fricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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