As a Michigander still wondering why Margaret Chiara got fired, I keep coming back to Chiara's role on the Native American Issues Subcommittee (NAIS). After all, if Chiara were fired for investigating powerful Michigan Republicans, those Republicans would likely hail from Grand Rapids, the center of all Republican evil in MI (think Dick DeVos, one of the GOP's top donors nationally, and all his friends). And those very same Republicans have been fighting for years to prevent a local tribe from building a casino in their neighborhood. Some of the last hurdles for the casino fell in place just before Chiara announced her resignation (after which one of the more crooked Republicans in question did a 180 on local casinos to advocate setting up a competing casino). Finally, about the only thing that has appeared in the document dumps on Chiara pertain to her role in the NAIS. And, as presumably-ousted USA Tom Heffelfinger pointed out, five out of the ousted USAs were on the NAIS.
Heffelfinger said he's been trying to understand why he might have been targeted. "The only thing I can think of is my advocacy on behalf of Native American issues," Heffelfinger said.
He noted that five of the eight U.S. attorneys who were fired had served on a subcommittee that works on American Indian issues; Heffelfinger had chaired the group.
Heffelfinger said he pushed aggressively -- without success -- for a seat on the Attorney General's Advisory Committee, which meets about monthly in Washington.
"It gives you direct access to the attorney general on a regular basis, not intermittently like I had," he said.
Of the dozen or so "subject matter committees" the U.S. attorneys have formed, the only one that never had a seat at the attorney general's table during in the Bush administration was the Native Americans issues subcommittee, Heffelfinger said. "And I thought that was inappropriate."
Well, Friday's document dump contains a good deal of support for this argument. But more importantly, it reveals certain behaviors on the part of Bill Mercer that suggest all sorts of things about the centrality of Native Americans to the USA purge. In this post, I'll just lay out the timeline. In a later post, I'll talk about Bill Mercer's role in all of this.
So here's the timeline:
February 14, 2006: Tom Heffelfinger, then chair of NAIS, resigns
May 9, 2006: Bill Mercer writes Kyle Sampson:
Have you filled the NAIS chairmanship? Chiara was Tom's vice, but she has limitations.
Sampson sends an email to Goodling stating he is 99% sure he hasn't appointed Chiara. Goodling responds that,
Perhaps she just assumed it was hers after Tom left...
May 25, 2006: Judy Beeman in USAEO writes Goodling to say that she'll need to give Chiara a title for the AGAC summary; should she write "Acting Chair" of the NAIS? Goodling responds:
Can Johnny [Sutton] handle when he calls to say they don't have any money for a subcomm mtg by just mentioning that he knows that AG is thinking about who to appoint, but that he knows she's on the list? Then you can send out your memo. Thanks.
From this exchange, we can conclude that:
- Monica Goodling has absolutely no management ability, being unwilling to deal with this directly
- DOJ wasn't going to provide budget for NAIS to meet
- Johnny Sutton, a USA from TX being moved to DOJ, was asked to deal with this
June 20, 2006: Chiara meets with Michael Battle, head of USAEO, regarding "WD/MI and NAIS,"--that is, her district, the Western District of Michigan, and NAIS.
October 22, 2006: Chiara writes Mercer to complain that EOUSA has backed out on its promise to fund Leslie Hagen as the primary liaison to NAIS.
I met with Dan Villegas. ... He informed me that he was no longer able to honor his previously stated commitment to renew Leslie Hagen's detail through which she primarily serves as liaison to NAIS and to federally recognized tribes and other Indian communities nationwide.
What is critical about this situation is the absolute necessity to continue Leslie's service in her capacity as IC/NAIS liaison. She has spent a year establishing difficult to forge constructive contacts throughout IC [Indian Country].
It has taken me almost a year to recoup from Tom Heffelfinger's tenure as chair with EOUSA/AGAC. I have accomplished this with Leslie's assistance because she goes almost everywhere and does almost everything that Tom believed that he had to do personally. Dan Villegas ... has a directive from Monica Goodling that detailees will no longer be renewed for a second or subsequent year.
Basically, Chiara is arguing that EOUSA (and indirectly, Monica Goodling) has taken away the funding for the staffperson that makes the Subcommittee successful. She would lose Hagen at the end of the calendar year.
October 27, 2006: After Chiara sends a follow-up on October 27, Mercer responds. He asks her not to mention this to anyone else.
I have done some initial work. I would ask you to hold up on further communications w/NAIS members or others. Perhaps we will be able to resolve it. If so, it would be unfortunate to create an unnecessary stir.
He suggests they discuss the issue again "late next week," Friday of the following week would be November 3 [timing corrected here and below per bmaz].
October 30, 12:33: Chiara responds, thanking Mercer for his "effort on behalf of Indian Country," agreeing not to tell anyone from NAIS or the tribes of the issue.
October 30, 2006, 4:42: Michael Elston leaves Chiara a message.
November 3, 2006: Elston tells Chiara that she "should expect contact from the White House requesting my resignation as USA shortly after the November 7 elections.
November 5-7, 2006: Chiara has an email exchange with Paul McNulty in which he all but confirms that she will be fired after the election. She asks--but does not receive--an explanation for her firing.
December 7, 2006: Michael Battle informs Chiara her tenure will end at or before January 31, 2007.
February 3, 2007: Margaret Chiara has been asking for more time to allow her to find a job before she resigns. On this day, she confirms in an email to Paul McNulty that Mike Elston has agreed to let her resign on February 23, with a final date of March 9. But then she asks to extend that date so she can finish an obligation with NAIS:
I am the NAIS chair. Our first full field-based meeting in over a year is scheduled on March 13 and 14 in North Carolina. Gretchen Shappert and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are hosting the meeting and a tribal summit which will include 26 federally recognized tribes in the region. Secretary of the Interior Kempthorn is expected to attend. The NAIS staff detailee, who is from WDMI, was terminated despite an outstanding evaluation because EOUSA would not renew her detail. The replacement has not been announced nor will he be available to assist. It makes good sense for me to prepare, (which I have been doing), and chair the meeting. This is particularly true because 4 NAIS members are part of "the group" (Charlton, Bogden, McKay, Iglesias), It is better for me to handle the situation than an interim chair.
February 7, 2007: Elston responds for McNulty four days later:
I have looked into the NAIS meeting. Given the turnover on that subcommittee, I think it makes sense to postpone the meeting until the summer when the new USAs will be in place. Accordingly, let's leave the dates as the 23rd and the 9th.
I will resign effective March 9. However, it is too late to postpone the meeting. Invitations have been extended to 26 Tribes and the host Tribe, (Eastern Band of Cherokees) has made extensive preparations for the tribal summit. To cancel now would be a setback to the government-to-government relations we work so hard to maintain. Also, the agenda for the [sic] rest of the meeting has been planned. We have a signed contract for the facility. Almost all of the NAIS members, including the 2 now in Arizona and Western Washington, have affirmed their participation. USA G. Shappert is the host USA. She, with some of the experienced members, can handle the event in my absence. This assignment has educated me to what it takes to work effectively in Indian Country. I ask that you reconsider the request to cancel.
Keep in mind, by now, Congress is hip to what DOJ has tried to pull, and DOJ is trying to postpone news of Chiara's departure so as not to add to the stink. In fact, in the middle of this exchange, Elston and McNulty try to get Chiara into an internal DOJ job, so they can present her departure as unrelated to the other firings.
February 12, 2007: When he writes back, Elston is a total asshole--but he agrees to her request.
I have spoken to Gretchen Shappert, and, as you recommended and based on the additional information Gretchen provided, I have concluded that it makes sense to keep the meeting date as scheduled in March despite the absence of some long-time members of the subcommittee.
You also mentioned that two new members of the subcommittee from Arizona and Western Washington would attend. I don't have any problem with the interims from Arizona and Western Washington attending, but I wanted to make it clear that they are not members of the subcommittee.
AFAIK, Chiara attended and chaired the meeting. Gretchen Shappert, named in the discussion of the March meeting, assumed the chair of NAIS.
The NAIS issues are not the only reasons the clique running DOJ didn't like Chiara. There were two or three other reasons, even in the document dump. But two things stand out, at least as it relates to NAIS. First, after having successfully wished Heffelfinger to leave in early 2006, they canned the full time staffer for the Subcommittee, and then, when she complained about it, canned Chiara.
And look at the timing of the first notice she'd be fired. Chiara makes a stink about EOUSA reneging on its agreement to fund the NAIS staffer. Mercer tells her to be quiet. And then--on the same day Mercer is scheduled to get back with her (it's not clear from the document dumps whether he did or not) Elston tells her the White House--the White House, mind you--will fire her.
As I said, I'll look at Mercer's role in all of this in a later post.