My theory is that Carol Lam was originally the sole target. The Rove White House and the Dept. of Justice assembled a list of seven other US Attorneys plus Lam, in order to create a plausible cover story for her dismissal. If a bundle of attorneys were replaced with a common rationale for dismissal, Lam's dismissal would stick out less like a sore thumb.*
While compiling this "smokescreen list," Rove and Miers detected other targets for dismissal for political reasons, and added their names.
After the election, firing the US Attys became much more risky, but the WH-DOJ axis went ahead with it anyway. The risk of Lam continuing to investigate a chain of corruption that stretched all the way to DC outweighed the other risk.
*The Rove White House clearly misread the political landscape and the communications revolution. Lately this kind of Rovian faulty calculus and overreaching has become more and more apparent.
My theory is that it was the Carol Lam problem which drove this whole search for attorney change. However, ousting one particular US Atty, the one who was prosecuting a chain of connected corrupt Republican officials, would appear too pointed, too politically motivated, if done solo.
Therefore a compromise was reached, whereby a "bundle" of US Attys were targeted to be replaced under cover of a plausible "performance issues" rationale. Once this decision was reached, opportunities arose to cull other un-loyal Bushies. Inevitably this list ended up including other attorneys targeted for political reasons. One or two were just low-performance, it seems.
That's why Kyle Sampson's "list" was never a serious aggregation of "performance review" data from competent, objective sources. His list was an evanescent work-in-progress that has left no paper trail at all, apparently.
The "performance issue" in Carol Lam's case was documented by the disingenuous letter signed by Randy "Duke" Cunningham:
Four months after the San Diego United States Attorney's office launched an investigation into whether he had accepted bribes from defense contractors, and little more than a month before he pled guilty to those charges, Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) signed on to a letter criticizing U.S. Attorney Carol Lam's "lax" handling of immigration crimes.
The letter, signed by 18 other Republican lawmakers, was sent October 20, 2005. Cunningham pled guilty November 28 to bribery charges and resigned from office.
Kyle Sampson seems to have understood the "performance issues" were a cover rationale. In an e-mail dated May 11, 2006, Sampson urged the White House counsel's office to call him regarding "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam."
It was on May 10, 2006, that Lam notified the Justice Department of her plan to serve search warrants on Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the No. 3 official at the CIA. This trail of corruption is alleged to encompass the CIA, Pentagon, and perhaps the White House.
Because Sampson knew the "performance issues" were a cover rationale, not the real reason for the dismissals, they did not need to be seriously investigated & firmly documented. And they weren't, as Sen. Whitehouse et al. established on Thursday.
Possibly Rove and Miers never "officially" discussed the master plan regarding Lam with AG Gonzales, nor with Kyle Sampson and other DOJ employees at his level. Sampson no doubt understood the purpose behind the list and knew the choices on it must have a rationale that defused the political motive.
Sampson simply followed directives from the AG and White House to "assemble" a list of USAs about whom complaints had been made. People pipelined complaints and bad performance reviews to him, and the list took shape.
Armed with a list of people who had similar "performance issues," The DOJ could then plausibly fire Carol Lam under cover of the rationale that they had a "policy" of replacing attorneys who weren't carrying out Bush's alleged "signature" agenda items, i.e. firearms and immigration cases, aggressively enough.
David Iglesias was a last-minute pick for this list, chosen purely because of his refusal to indict Democrats immediately before an election. Before that, Iglesias was a DOJ golden boy, cited as a real "comer" for his expertise, exemplary record, and "diversity."
Only the "principals" knew the whole master plan was about. The disjuncture between what the "principals" knew and what they told Gonzales and DOJ underlings like Sampson caused a ruckus. Because Gonzales was kept out of the "Lam + 7" plan loop, he did not have his story straight, and screwed up by making conflicting statements.
My theory may be flimsy as hell, but it has the merit of meshing beautifully with one segment of Sampson's account. When he cutely told Miers and Bill Kelley "Patrick Fitzgerald could be added to this list," a stone-cold silence answered him. "They just looked at me."
Imagine their consternation. Ye Gods! Add the notorious Fitzmas to a list that was supposed to defuse accusations of political dismissal? Ehhh.