The Wall Street Journal is out with a story suggesting Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) exerted untoward influence over a US Attorney pick for Georgia by blocking an experienced candidate who had prosecuted a longtime friend.
Is there anything to the story?
Here’s the basic outline of the WSJ piece: Lewis and other Georgia Democratic congressmen were tasked, as is routine, with sending a list of preferred U.S. Attorney candidates to the administration. Sally Yates, a longtime prosecutor in Georgia, was seen as an ideal candidate, but someone within the Democratic delegation cut her name from the list sent to the White House.
But the administration was still interested in Yates, so Lewis called White House Counsel Greg Craig directly to torpedo her candidacy — because, the WSJ reports, Yates led the corruption probe that netted Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, a Lewis ally and friend. Campbell was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2006 for tax evasion; at the same time, he was acquitted of bribery charges.
Lewis finally lifted his objections only after inquires from the press made his position untenable. And the White House is now poised to nominate Yates for the job.
Lewis’ chief of staff, Michael Collins, flatly denied to the WSJ that any effort was made to block Yates.
It’s routine that some level of political consideration going into these hiring decisions. So it’s not entirely clear what’s improper here.
A story earlier this month in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution also touched on the Yates case, but told a somewhat different story than the WSJ. In the Journal-Constitution’s version, the White House asked the delegation to submit Yates’ name, and Lewis complied. It did not report on the phone calls to Craig.
Here’s a timeline based on the two stories.
March 2009. Committee of lawyers and elected officials appointed by Georgia’s Democratic congressmen looks at applications for US Attorney slot in Atlanta.
April. Committee comes up with 10 finalists. The three top candidates include Yates when the committee sends its list to the congressmen.
May. Georgia congressman meet to discuss the candidates. Yates is dropped. The reasons are unclear. The Journal-Constitution reported only that: “No one specifically objected to Yates, one person familiar with the discussions said.”
Late May. Just before Memorial Day, the recommendations are sent to the White House, with Yates’ name off the list. But “word circulated that the White House was still considering her for the position,” WSJ reports.
Early This Summer. WSJ: “Mr. Lewis telephoned Mr. Craig, the White House counsel, and asked the administration not to consider her.”
Late August. Rep. Lewis again calls White House Counsel Craig — “after queries from The Wall Street Journal,” the paper says — and drops his objections to Yates. However, in an apparent discrepancy, the Journal-Constitution reported the White House asked the delegation to submit Yates’ name after her supporters got in touch with the administration — and Lewis was the one to “per her name back on the list.”
Days After Lewis’ Call. White House puts in Yates’ name for background checks before official nomination as US Attorney.
So the key question is: did Lewis call Craig after a request originating in the White House because of lobbying by the Yates camp? Or did he call Craig to rescind his objection after being spooked by media inquiries? Or is it something else entirely?
We’ve put in a request for an interview with Lewis and for comment from his office.