E-mails Show '02 Lobbying For US Attorney Post in Ohio
By Jack Torry and Mark Niquette
The Columbus Dispatch
Sunday 22 July 2007
When Greg White wanted the job of U.S. attorney in Cleveland five years ago, he delivered his pitch to just about any Republican who mattered in Ohio.
"I talked to the governor at the Lorain County Fair today," White e-mailed Brian K. Hicks, chief of staff to then-Gov. Bob Taft. "Do you think that the governor would be willing to call the president on this issue? ... Is there anything else we can do?"
The longtime Lorain County prosecutor also expressed frustration to Hicks about the process and declared, "I doubt there are too many county chairs for the Bush campaign that worked harder."
Hicks told White in another e-mail that he and Ohio GOP Chairman Robert T. Bennett had talked to top presidential adviser Karl Rove: "I think we made a strong and compelling case for you, but we need to keep pushing."
White's lobbying campaign apparently hit all the right connections; in March 2003, President Bush nominated him as U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio. His primary rival for the job, Craig Morford, was selected last week by Bush to be the acting No. 2 official at the Justice Department, making him White's boss.
The e-mails help give a sense of the role that politics plays in the process.
White acknowledges that it's "a little like making sausage."
But he and others involved make no apologies, saying that all candidates for such appointments seek political support and that politics is part of the competition - along with demonstrating the right qualifications and passing a rigorous background check.
"I don't think there's anything nefarious in any of the e-mails I sent that certainly (are) saying, 'Hey, I'm qualified for the position,'" White said. "I was competing for the position, and that's exactly how it was carried out.
"But the bottom line is, you just can't have (political support). You've got to have the other stuff to go with it, because you've got to be able to cash the check once you get here."
U.S. attorneys can be hired and fired at the president's discretion.
To those familiar with the process in which the president selects federal judges, prosecutors and marshals, the e-mail exchanges between White and Hicks in the summer of 2002 are typical. "This is fairly common fare," said Joseph DiGenova, a former U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. "These e-mails are relatively mild compared to conversations I have been privy to."
Republican Chairman Bennett said, "This is the way it normally is. The only thing I can think of that's more intense is when a federal judgeship opens."
White was one of three Republicans recommended to Bush by Republican Sens. Mike DeWine and George V. Voinovich. The two senators established a committee of lawyers to screen applicants for U.S. attorney and federal judge posts before they chose the finalists. By custom, the president almost always selects the candidate backed by the home-state senators in his own party.
The committee recommended White, then-assistant U.S. attorney Morford and attorney Roger Synenberg, former Cuyahoga County GOP chairman. Although White appeared to be the favorite of DeWine and Voinovich, Bush could have selected any of them.
Then the back-stage campaign began.
The e-mails, turned over by Taft's office in 2005 after news organizations requested records of communication involving Taft and his top aides, show White peppering Hicks, even apologizing once in July 2002: "This is the last e-mail I will send today, I promise."
In July 2002, Hicks wrote White that he and Bennett had talked directly with Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser. "My sense is that it's between you and Morford," Hicks wrote.
Taft said he did not always back a candidate for federal appointments but knew White, respected him and thought he clearly was the best qualified. The former governor said he made calls and sent letters to the White House but didn't speak personally with Bush about it.
Bennett said, "I make no apologies for recommending Greg White. I can't think of anybody who was more deserving based on his record and background." Hicks did not return calls.
White said that although politics plays a role in the selection of U.S. attorneys, what matters is that the winner does what is right, regardless of politics.
"In some respects in this process, I think that we've confused the definition of loyalty; the definition of loyalty for U.S. attorneys, and certainly I view it that way, is not loyalty to a person or a process, it's loyalty to principles," he said. "That's the difference. If there's a question of that, then I think we really do cause concern."
Even though he was appointed by Bush with Taft's support, White noted that he was part of a task force that aggressively prosecuted Republicans - including Taft, found guilty in 2005 of violating state ethics laws.
"Nobody has ever said a word to me about what we have done, and clearly the consequences to the Republican Party in this state are evident," he said.