It’s Friday after the close for the evening news, just the time every week when we sit and wait for the latest carefully shelved piece of bad news from Bushland to drop from the sky. And today’s headline…
Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, and the man dispatched as the enforcer to warn filed U.S. Attorneys that they’ll button their lip if they know what’s good for them, tenders his resignation.
As McNulty’s top aide, Elston’s duties included overseeing the government’s 93 U.S. attorneys nationwide. He was closely involved in the firings of seven of the eight prosecutors who were dismissed in 2006. In addition to helping plan those firings, he called several of the U.S. attorneys afterward trying to quell the growing outcry. At least four of the prosecutors Elston contacted said they felt threatened by his calls, which they interpreted as demands to stay quiet about why they were fired. Congress is investigating the firings, which Democrats believe were politically motivated…
Elston and his attorney, Bob Driscoll, said the phone calls were never meant to be threatening. Statements released from the House Judiciary Committee painted a different picture.
“I believe that Elston was offering me a quid pro quo agreement: my silence in exchange for the attorney general’s,” wrote Paul Charlton, the former U.S. attorney in Nevada.
John McKay, former top prosecutor in Seattle, said he perceived a threat from Elston during his call. And Carol Lam, who was U.S. attorney in San Diego, said that “during one phone call, Michael Elston erroneously accused me of ‘leaking’ my dismissal to the press, and criticized me for talking to other dismissed U.S. attorneys.” A fourth former U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins in Little Rock, Ark., had made a similar accusation in an e-mail released in March.
This, however, is but the tip of the iceberg on the Elston charge sheet. He was also knee deep into the process of vetting job applicants and weeding out those who had the slightest hint of not being “loyal Bushies” about them. And of course, he is the man who called Carol Lam in San Diego and effectively told her, in response to her plea to be able to wrap up a couple of matters, that she needed to start packing her bags right now, and that these orders were coming “from the very highest levels of the government.” Should we call him Karl Rove’s hatchet man?