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When the White House press office was informed in late 2006 about the Justice Department’s plan to fire former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, President Bush’s press team was worried about the potential perception of a connection to Lam’s bribery prosecution of former U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

That issue has been one of the overarching questions about Lam’s dismissal: Was there a reason for her firing besides concerns about her immigration enforcement? Or did the Republican administration get rid of her because she had prosecuted a corrupt Republican congressman?

No direct evidence of that has turned up. But Dana Perino, a former spokeswoman for President Bush, knew it would be an issue.

When told of the plan to fire multiple U.S. attorneys, Perino wrote in an e-mail: “Get me the oxygen can!!”

Jeanie Mamo, another White House press officer, responded: “Issues in the press for which Dana will need the oxygen can: Carol Lam prosecuted Rep. Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham.”

Perino responded: “Give me a double shot — I can’t breathe.”

That e-mail exchange is among hundreds of once-secret documents that the House Judiciary Committee released earlier this week.

Told about Perino’s concern, William Kelley, then the White House’s deputy counsel, responded in an e-mail: “The appearance concern is real, of course, but there is obviously no connection.”

Karl Rove, the Bush aide, offered similar testimony July 13, 2009. The White House needed to be prepared to explain Lam’s dismissal because:

There was a broader issue of, explain why we did it. … [B]ecause if you don’t explain, this is the kind of stuff that pops up. And if this is all they’ve got to hang their hat on, you know, Carol Lam, you won’t tell us why, but she prosecuted Duke Cunningham and sent him away, you know, if you don’t explain why, that is all that is left. … [Y]ou had to explain why, otherwise people were able to fill in the blanks themselves.

ROB DAVIS

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