Special Report

The Smearing of a U.S. Attorney

"It looks a lot like politics."

By 3.16.07

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- If you knew Tim Griffin only by what you'd read about him in the press of late, here's how you might describe the new U.S. attorney from Arkansas:

Political hack. Hatchet man for the Republicans. Legal degree no doubt from Shyster Sam's Law Schools R Us. Shoe-shiner for Karl Rove. Wholly unqualified for any post higher than, well, shoe-shiner for Karl Rove. Torpedoed the career of one of the Most Distinguished Lawyers in Arkansas -- no, the world -- as a reward for, well, shining Karl Rove's shoes.

The final blow: Having been a major player in the Great U.S. Attorneys Purge and having raised the suspicious ire of nice-guy Mark Pryor, Arkansas' junior U.S. senator and leading Griffin opponent, Griffin must be Evil Incarnate. End of story. Start of caricature.

The other day, in an Editorial Observer column for the New York Times headlined "Why Have So Many U.S. Attorneys Been Fired? It Looks a Lot Like Politics," Adam Cohen took aim at Mr. Griffin, who replaced his former boss as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Wrote Cohen:

The firing of H. E. Cummins III is raising...questions. Mr. Cummins, one of the most distinguished lawyers in Arkansas, is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike. But he was forced out to make room for J. Timothy Griffin, a former Karl Rove deputy with thin legal experience who did opposition research for the Republican National Committee....An obvious question is whether the administration was more interested in his successor's skills in opposition political research -- let's not forget that Arkansas has been lucrative fodder for Republicans in the past -- in time for the 2008 election.

Given his recent press -- nearly all of it bad -- you might suspect that J. Timothy Griffin of Magnolia, Ark., also had three heads to go with his obligatory horns, tail and pitchfork.

Luckily, lots of Arkansans know the real Tim Griffin, a fifth-generation Arkie, politico and lawyer who has a reputation for being aggressive, smart, and loyal. But just who is that H. E. Cummins III fellow? Oh, Cohen must mean Bud Cummins. He's a swell guy who seemed to do fine as a U.S. attorney, but probably not even ol' Bud would describe himself as "one of the most distinguished lawyers in Arkansas." At least not with a straight face.

Cummins ran for Congress in the '90s, then served briefly in the Arkansas governor's office as legal counsel before being appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Nobody complained about ol' Bud's legal experience.

NOW LET'S LOOK CLOSER at Griffin's "thin legal experience," shall we? First off, Griffin is a cum laude graduate of Tulane's law school in New Orleans and is a member of both the Arkansas and Louisiana bars. He studied at Pembroke College in Oxford, England, and received his undergraduate degree in economics (again cum laude) at one of Arkansas' finest private institutions, Hendrix College. (Locally famous, irony of ironies, as a liberal enclave.) Second off, he's spent 10 years as an officer in the Army Reserve, during which time Major Griffin of the Judge Advocate General's Corps served as a prosecutor at Fort Campbell, Ky. You may remember the notorious case about the private who tried to murder his platoon sergeant. Major Griffin prosecuted it -- and 40 other criminal cases.

This also isn't his first stint in the U.S. attorney's office in Arkansas. He previously served as a special assistant in that office, under Distinguished Counselor Cummins, and handled drug and firearm cases. He organized a state-federal effort to reduce gun violence, an exercise styled Project Safe Neighborhoods. Assessing this "thin legal experience," an editorialist in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote of Griffin: "For a partisan appointee, Tim Griffin makes a pretty nonpartisan law-and-order guy."

Indeed, Adam Cohen's favorite lawyer, Bud Cummins -- excuse me, H. E. Cummins III -- once called Griffin his "right hand" in the U.S. attorney's office. But the most impressive endorsement of all comes from Griffin's superior officers. Consider this from his Officer Evaluation Report in 2005, before he was promoted from captain to major: "[Captain] Griffin is an extraordinary soldier and attorney.... In addition to his outstanding management and leadership skills, [Captain] Griffin's reputation for cogent and precise legal analysis, writing and advocacy is outstanding." -- Lieutenant Colonel Scott Romans.

And this from another superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Price: "[Captain] Griffin's legal analysis and advocacy skills are superb....He maintains the highest ethical standards...."

Another superior called Griffin "a born litigator." And because of his background and evaluation ratings, Griffin was chosen to deploy to Iraq shortly after he began work as a special assistant to the president at the start of Bush's second term. Surely a Rove Flunkie could have gotten out of that, no?

But none of these facts matter when it comes to partisan politics. Legal expertise, military experience, glowing evaluation reports, promotions, duty to country... all that is meaningless to the usual partisan suspects. Why? Because J. Timothy Griffin not only has the audacity to be a loyal Republican but had the unmitigated gall to help George W. Bush get re-elected.

Scandalous!

AND GET THIS, KIDS: He wasn't ashamed of it. Google up Tim Griffin and you'll find stories like "Oppo Man On the Attack" in the Washington Post circa 2003 -- complete with photos and quotes and everything. Griffin may have thought he was just being up-front and honest, but what he ended up doing was handing some cheap ammo to the demagogues, which, uncharacteristically, seem to include Arkansas' Senator Pryor.

Pryor usually isn't one for personal attacks or vendettas. His father, former U.S. Senator David Pryor, is legendary in Arkansas for his gentlemanly manner. And it's clear Pryor the Younger got the good-guy gene.

But the current Senator Pryor seems personally offended by the political appointment of Tim Griffin to this political post. Could it be because Griffin was dispatched to Arkansas by the RNC in the waning weeks of Pryor's '02 campaign for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Tim Hutchinson? And that Griffin's job was, yes, Oppo Research in an effort to turn out the GOP vote -- such as it is in true-blue Arkansas? (Pryor won easily.)

Do we hear a "Duh" from the cheap seats?

Although Camp Pryor has complained about the interim appointment of Griffin circumventing the precious Process of nomination and subsequent senatorial circus, listen to what Pryor's spokesman Michael Teague, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

"The one thing that stands out is that [Griffin] worked for Karl Rove in the West Wing of the White House. Is he getting special treatment?...Is he going to make good legal decisions or is he going to make political decisions?"

Because, you see, not only is Tim Griffin a Republican, which is bad enough, but he has a connection to...Karl Rove! Which clearly trumps everything else on his impressive resume, including that year he spent dodging IED's just outside Baghdad.

A few days ago, Mark Pryor's office sent out a press release expounding upon the senator's strong support for military men and women, how he's spent "much of his time in office fighting for military personnel and their families." Just not, apparently, Major Tim Griffin.

The senator's press release would be kind of funny if it didn't look a lot like politics.

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About the Author

Kane Webb is a writer who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.