The important part of Murray's story today is not, IMO, the news that Sampson had Chris Oprison review a letter asserting Rove had nothing to do with Cummins' firing and his replacement with Griffin. That was clear from the emails released in one of the document dumps, where we see Sampson's side of the entire email chain, including the email saying, "Chris, please review this draft 3." [Two notes: for a description of this drafting process, go here and here; and also note that there are thirteen documents on Sampson's list of documents not turned over which appear to have been turned over--though it's possible there was something different in the drafts that we're not aware of.] Murray's story is useful on this issue for getting Tony Fratto to repeat Oprison's dubious claim to have forgotten Rove's interest, as well as the failure of Fred Fielding and Bill Kelley to ask Rove about his involvement for the letter.
But Murray's story is really important as it relates to the drafting of a January 31 letter, denying that Sampson and others ever intended to install Griffin using the PATRIOT Act provision allowing the AG to appoint a USA permanently.
On January 31, 2007, Hertling wrote Pryor to say that "not once" had the Bush "administration sought to avoid the Senate confirmation process" by exploiting the PATRIOT Act. "As the Attorney General has stated to you," Hertling wrote, "the Administration is committed to having a Senate confirmed United States Attorney for all 94 districts. At no time has the Administration sought to avoid the Senate confirmation process by appointing an interim United States Attorney and then refusing to move forward... on the selection, nomination and confirmation of a new United States Attorney. Not once."
In drafting the letter, Sampson consulted with Sara Taylor, the White House political director and an aide to Rove. Taylor had been aware of considerations that the PATRIOT Act might be invoked to permanently install Griffin, according to withheld administration papers. In an e-mail -- among those that the Justice Department has withheld from Congress -- Taylor wrote: "I'm concerned we imply that we'll pull down Griffin's nomination should Pryor object."
The senior executive branch official who read the e-mail said it was significant because Taylor signed off on the letter despite the fact that Taylor, Oprison, and other White House officials knew that the administration had indeed considered using the PATRIOT Act to make Griffin a U.S. attorney. [my emphasis]
Now, Murray also gets some even more dubious denials about this. First, Tony Fratto, who I suspect will live to regret this comment:
Fratto said he believed that the e-mail showed that Taylor wanted to use the Senate confirmation process to have Griffin made U.S. attorney without using the PATRIOT Act. "We battle with the Senate with nominations every day," Fratto said. "It is very important to us.... That's what Sara was saying: 'We shouldn't imply we're willing to walk away from the nomination.'"
Call me crazy, but that's a completely implausible interpretation of what Murray reports Taylor to have said in the email.
More importantly, there's this denial from Brad Berenson, the designated firewall defense lawyer.
Berenson said that the letter was technically accurate because Sampson and Oprison never ultimately implemented the plan to install Griffin as U.S. attorney through the PATRIOT Act provision. "The principals never adopted it, and it was never done," Berenson said. "The statement in the letter is accurate."
This is the key graf of Murray's entire article. Because, if Berenson is correct--and Griffin was never appointed using the PATRIOT provison--then his 120 day interim period should have already expired, some time in April. It had appeared that Griffin was just riding the wave on the PATRIOT Act provision until Bush signs the revocation of that authority, at which point some other arrangement would presumably have to be made. But he's still there in Arkansas. Am I missing something? Under what terms is Tim Griffin still serving as US Attorney? Is there a US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas?