Friday, March 30, 2007

Sampson Recommended Firing Fitzgerald

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was more deeply involved in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys than he has sometimes acknowledged, and Gonzales and his aides have made a series of inaccurate claims about the issue in recent weeks, the attorney general's former chief of staff testified yesterday.

In dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, D. Kyle Sampson also revealed that New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias was not added to the dismissal list until just before the Nov. 7 elections, after presidential adviser Karl Rove complained that Iglesias had not been aggressive enough in pursuing cases of voter fraud. Previously, Rove had not been tied so directly to the removal of the prosecutors. ...

Sampson said he even suggested firing U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Chicago while Fitzgerald was prosecuting Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff for perjury. Sampson said he immediately dropped the idea, which he raised at a White House meeting last year, when he received negative reactions from then-White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers and her deputy, William Kelley.

In his daylong appearance on Thursday, Mr. Sampson shed no new light on why Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, first proposed the dismissals after the 2004 election. ...

Asked whether Mr. Rove, who testified several times before Mr. Fitzgerald's grand jury, had ever expressed an opinion about removing Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Sampson said: "To the best of my recollection, no. I don't remember that." ...

Mr. Sampson disputed suggestions that (Carol) Lam was removed because of her office's corruption investigation of former Representative Randy Cunningham, a Republican, who was convicted in 2005. ...

None of the dismissals were intended to interfere with political corruption investigations, he said. "During this process, I never associated asking the U.S. attorneys to resign with any investigation," Mr. Sampson said.

Sampson provided new detail of Gonzales's involvement, testifying in response to questioning that he had at least five discussions with his boss about the project after Gonzales first approved the idea in early 2005 and that the attorney general was aware which prosecutors were under consideration for dismissal.

"I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions of U.S. attorney removals was accurate," Sampson said. "I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign."

Sampson added later that "the decision makers in this case were the attorney general and the counsel to the president" -- Miers.

The conservative Washington Times has a slightly different take on the revelations which came out during Mr. Sampson's testimony:

On the matter of the fired federal prosecutors, Democratic senators failed to unearth any bombshells from D. Kyle Sampson, during nearly seven hours of sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. One Republican senator on the panel said that after the long day of questioning, Democrats had found no smoking gun on the substantive issues.

"It's a waste of time. They have no evidence, just innuendo. They're just looking for anything they can use to hurt the White House," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

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