WASHINGTON -- The White House has confirmed that President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, helped prepare a senior Justice Department official for his testimony on the firing of US attorneys.
William Moschella, the principal deputy attorney general, told Congress on March 6 that the White House had limited involvement in the firings, a statement contradicted a week later by e-mails the Justice Department gave Congress.
Rove was among a group of presidential aides who met with Moschella the night before his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman. She took issue with a description of the meeting, first reported May 3 on Newsweek magazine's website, that White House officials gathered to "coach" Moschella.
"The way you're describing it in terms of coordinating some sort of message was not the case," Perino told reporters. White House officials were encouraging the Justice Department "to make sure that all the information got out quickly" to lawmakers "so that we could move on from that story," she said.
Instead, the issue exploded into a bigger political controversy a week later when e-mails disclosed that the White House initiated the firings and was more extensively involved in coordinating them than Justice Department officials acknowledged to Congress. The disclosure intensified calls from lawmakers for replacing Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
Congressional committees investigating the firings have sought to question Rove about whether he orchestrated the dismissals and whether they were carried out for political motives. Bush has refused to let Rove and other White House aides testify under oath.
A Justice Department official, who briefed reporters about the meeting that preceded Moschella's testimony, said Rove came late and left early. The officials discussed whether the Justice Department should publicly state the individual reasons for firing the prosecutors, the official said.
Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty and Moschella later said they were not aware of the extent of White House involvement in the dismissals when they told lawmakers it was limited to the White House being consulted before the US attorneys were fired.
In a private interview with congressional investigators April 27, McNulty said he was surprised to learn of the plan for the dismissals in October, according to congressional aides.
Gonzales and McNulty, in congressional testimony, resisted stating why individual prosecutors were fired, saying they didn't want to air sensitive personnel matters.
During testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, Moschella was asked whether Rove played a role in recommending that one of Rove's former aides, Timothy Griffin, be named to replace a fired US attorney in Little Rock, Ark. "I don't know that he played any role," Moschella testified.
But Justice Department e-mails later turned over to Congress showed that Rove and then-White House counsel Harriet E. Miers were interested in appointing Griffin to the position.