When it came to firing San Francisco U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan, it seems his bosses in Washington were more concerned about publicizing their audit of his office than they were about the audit’s contents.
Throughout the scandal over the recent wave of U.S. attorney firings, the Northern District has largely been left out of the fun. Sure, Ryan got the boot along with the rest of the purged prosecutors. But whereas press reports over the last couple of weeks — and, today, a slew of internal Justice Department e-mails released to the press by Congress — show them to be the victims of politics, there’s not a lot being said about Ryan.
Other than the occasional press mention of how Ryan is the only one of the eight U.S. attorneys who was fired after receiving a negative performance review, the newspapers haven’t written much about him.
The same goes for the hundreds of e-mails released today, and kindly posted by the WSJ Law Blog. Indeed, most of the references to Ryan are, at worst, tepid. He appears as one U.S. attorney who, at least in the initial go-round of e-mails about a mass firing, nobody was planning to oust.
But then Ryan’s name pops up in an e-mail string between Justice Department officials in December, beginning with a somewhat alarmed message from David Margolis, a career Justice Department official, to a group of other administrators.
Margolis writes that he was told that a judge, whose name is redacted from the message, would be asking three California legislators “to secure copies of the EARS evaluation and the special follow-up review.” That refers to the normal three-year audits each U.S. attorney’s office gets (they’re conducted by the DOJ Evaluation and Review Staff, hence the acronym), as well as a second review conducted last year after the Northern District’s EARS slammed Ryan’s management style.
“A couple of months ago,” Margolis continued, “the judge (with whom I have dealt for almost 10 years and have dined with) had called to ask me for a copy of the evaluation and I declined, noting that I would not ask her for, and she would not give me, a copy of any evaluations of the court or the clerk’s office.
“I thought she was satisfied. Evidently I was wrong.”
We’re going to hazard a guess here that the jurist was Northern District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel who, The Recorder reported last year, had complained to Margolis about Ryan’s performance in 2004. She also played a key role in getting former U.S. Attorney Michael Yamaguchi canned in 1998.
The request for the EARS review seemed to bother the Justice insiders. Michael Elston, from the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, wrote in response that “any chance that we get candid information from such evaluations would be gone if we just turned it over.
“This may also become unlikely,” he added, “if the list is expanded by one as we discussed earlier” — that is, if Ryan's name were added to the group bound for firing.
In response, Kyle Sampson — the now-deposed chief of staff to the attorney general, and a mastermind of the U.S. attorney firings — wrote: “The list is expanded; still waiting for green light from White House.”
They got it.
— Justin Scheck