Minnesota attorney was on dismissal list
By Frederic J. Frommer
WASHINGTON — The former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, Tom Heffelfinger, was on a list compiled by Kyle Sampson of prosecutors to be considered for dismissal, a congressional aide said today.
A January 2006 e-mail from Sampson, who was chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the time, to then-White House counsel Harriet Miers, lists seven U.S. attorneys that "might be considered for removal and replacement."
Three names have been redacted, but the congressional aide who saw an unredacted copy told the Associated Press today that Heffelfinger was one of those names redacted. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. He also declined to identify the other two names that had been redacted.
The four U.S. attorneys whose names were not redacted from the list were ultimately fired.
Heffelfinger announced in February of last year that he would resign, and has maintained that he was not pressured to leave.
Also today, The Washington Post reported the Justice Department considered firing 26 U.S. attorneys — more than 25 percent of the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys.
In a telephone interview, Heffelfinger said he wasn’t particularly surprised at this point that his name was on a list.
"It is new and somewhat surprising that Kyle Sampson has apparently targeted more than one-quarter of the U.S. attorney community, which had he been successful in doing so, could have been devastating to the effectiveness of the Department of Justice," he said.
Heffelfinger said again that he had no idea when he resigned that he had been targeted for dismissal.
"As late as early fall of ’05, I had a private meeting with the attorney general related to Native American issues, and Sampson was present at that meeting," he said. "Had they had concerns about my performance, (Gonzales) had the opportunity to raise them and didn’t. So I could reasonably conclude that he didn’t have a problem with my performance."
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last week, Gonzales said that Heffelfinger "was identified as someone that perhaps there may be issues with," but added, "I don’t know the source, why Mr. Sampson had that particular view."
Heffelfinger was replaced as U.S. attorney by Rachel Paulose. This year, three lawyers in her office resigned their top management posts.
In a statement, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said that the department would not confirm whether a particular U.S. attorney was on a list.