Issa’s leak to CNN contributed to ire over Lam

Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) release of an anonymously authored Border Patrol report to CNN’s Lou Dobbs last year led to growing resentment of former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam within the Department of Justice (DoJ) seven months before she was fired, according to administration e-mails released Wednesday night.

Issa had been criticizing Lam’s prosecution of illegal-immigrant smuggling since as early as 2004 and had written several letters to her and the DoJ inquiring about their guidelines for prosecuting repeat human-smuggling offenders. DoJ had taken note of Issa’s concerns, even preparing talking points for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to use in answering any potential questions Issa may have had during an April 2006 House Judiciary hearing.

But tensions among DoJ officials toward Lam appeared to spike after Issa leaked a report claiming that the lack of border-smuggling prosecutions was lowering morale in the Border Patrol agency to Dobbs and appeared on his show lambasting Lam for lax immigration prosecutions.

The subsequent internal DoJ consternation focused on Lam’s decision to release a statement to CNN that was not vetted or approved by anyone at DoJ headquarters. In it, Lam said that “Issa has been misled” and denounced the Border Patrol report as an altered and unauthorized version of an old report issued by a single substation.

Issa countered in later press reports that he had received the document from a source at the Homeland Security Department and that Lam had refused to respond to the report’s underlying data.

After the CNN story, Lam sent an urgent memo to DoJ headquarters alerting them of the report and the statement. Media calls started pouring in to the public-affairs office asking about the statement and the issue, ruffling feathers in the process.
“Did you see this?” DoJ spokesman Brian Roehrkasse asked in an e-mail forward of Lam’s urgent memo to headquarters. “Did [Lam’s office] run their statement by anyone here?”

 “No one in [the office of legislative affairs],” Rebecca Seidel, a deputy assistant attorney general, replied.

Kimberly Smith, another spokeswoman, said Lam had contacted the Office of Public Affairs the night before, right after she sent the statement.

“I’ve been working with them this morning to address it,” she wrote. “As to why they sent an Urgent, I have no idea.”
“Maybe because they didn’t tell u about [the statement] till after fact?” Seidel responded.

Issa’s release of the report and the subsequent alarm over Lam’s unilateral action came during a critical period in Lam’s wide-ranging investigation into the bribery scandal that had already convicted then-Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.).

The CNN report aired May 22; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has said that on May 10 Lam notified the DoJ that she planned to issue search warrants in a criminal probe of defense contractor Brent Wilkes and Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, two days after Foggo had resigned as the third-ranking CIA official amid questions about his ties to Cunningham. Former Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) had resigned from the CIA unexpectedly just three days before Foggo.

The day after Lam informed DoJ about the search warrants, Kyle Sampson, then-chief of staff to Gonzales, sent an e-mail message to William Kelley, a deputy White House counsel, about the real reason they should dismiss Lam.

“Please call me at your convenience to discuss the following,” Sampson wrote, referring to “the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.”

Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said the timing of the release was not related to the Cunningham investigation in any way. Issa had been criticizing Lam to reporters months before the release to CNN and as early as January had been planning to release the report to the media pending requested Congressional Research Service data, according to e-mails Issa’s office provided to The Hill.