Prosecutors Fired for Not Backing Bush
WASHINGTON (AP) - Eight federal prosecutors were fired last year because they did not sufficiently support President Bush's priorities, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff says in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday to Congress.
Separately, the Justice Department admitted Wednesday it gave senators inaccurate information about the firings and presidential political adviser Karl Rove's role in trying to secure a U.S. attorney's post for one of his former aides, Tim Griffin.
In a letter accompanying new documents sent to the House and Senate Judiciary committees, Justice officials acknowledged that a Feb. 23 letter to four Democratic senators erred in asserting that the department was not aware of any role Rove played in the decision to appoint Griffin to replace U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins in Little Rock, Ark.
Sampson, in remarks obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, spoke dismissively of Democrats' condemnation of what they call political pressure in the firings.
"The distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial," he said. "A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective ... is unsuccessful."
Democrats have described the firings as an "intimidation by purge" and a warning to remaining U.S. attorneys to fall in line with Bush's priorities. Political pressure, Democrats say, can skew the judgment of prosecutors when deciding whom to investigate and which indictments to pursue.
Sampson, who resigned earlier this month because of the furor over the firings, is to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In his prepared testimony, he maintained that adherence to the president's and attorney general's priorities was a legitimate standard. He strongly denied Democrats' allegations that some of the prosecutors were dismissed for pursuing Republicans too much and Democrats not enough in corruption cases.
"To my knowledge, nothing of the sort occurred here," he said.
The White House said it will withhold comment on Sampson's testimony until he actually testifies.
In a letter accompanying documents sent to lawmakers on Wednesday, Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling said that certain statements in last month's letter to Democratic lawmakers appeared to be "contradicted by department documents included in our production."
The Feb. 23 letter, which was written by Sampson but signed by Hertling, emphatically stated that "the department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin." It also said that "the Department of Justice is not aware of anyone lobbying, either inside or outside of the administration, for Mr. Griffin's appointment."
Those assertions are contradicted by e-mails from Sampson to White House aide Christopher G. Oprison on Dec. 19, 2006, about a strategy to deal with senators' opposition to Griffin's appointment. In the e- mail, Sampson says there is a risk that senators might balk and repeal the attorney general's newly won broader authority to appoint U.S. attorneys.
"I'm not 100 percent sure that Tim was the guy on which to test drive this authority, but know that getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc," Sampson wrote. Former White House Counsel Harriet Miers was among the first people to suggest Griffin as a replacement for Cummins.
In his written testimony to the Senate committee, Sampson also refers to the White House role in the firings, beginning with the quickly rejected idea of replacing all 93 U.S. attorneys after the 2004 election. He said he periodically provided to the White House over two years updated lists of U.S. attorneys whose dismissals were under consideration.
Sampson's testimony Thursday is voluntary, though committee chairman Patrick Leahy told reporters he has kept a signed subpoena in case Gonzales' chief of staff backed out.
There was no indication of that happening. In his remarks, Sampson said he was pleased to appear and pledged to stay as long as necessary.
Nothing will stop the investigation, Leahy said Wednesday—not even Gonzales' resignation.
"In case anybody's thinking of shortchanging it that way, I have a message for them: We'll finish this investigation before we'll have any confirmation hearings for a new attorney general," said Leahy, D- Vt. "I want to know what the facts were."
The developments reflect the fragile hold Gonzales has on his job and the escalating tensions between Democrats in Congress and Bush over any testimony by White House aides and documents related to the firings.
Leahy indicated Gonzales' credibility had suffered from repeated attempts to explain contradictions between his account of his involvement in the firings and e-mails released by his department that suggest he may have done more than sign off on them.
"You can only do, 'What I really meant to say,' three or four or five or six times," Leahy said, half-kidding. "Then people tend not to believe it."
Sampson said in his testimony that any inconsistencies were innocent mistakes.
"This is a benign rather than sinister story," he said.
Gonzales has refused to resign over the firings and the Justice Department's bungled response to questions about them from Congress. For now, he retains Bush's support—though the president has put the onus on Gonzales for resolving lawmakers' questions.
During a multistate tour, Gonzales has acknowledged his precarious position.
"I'm traveling a bumpy road these days," Gonzales said Wednesday during a brief lunch speech to about 1,000 members of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, Democrats pressed their case for Rove, Miers and their aides to testify publicly about the firings. "We have not heard from you," Leahy and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan wrote to White House Counsel Fred Fielding.
The White House has indicated no willingness to move beyond Bush's initial offer to let Rove, Miers and their deputies to speak to committee members in private, without being sworn.
Conyers , meanwhile, has signed a contract with the law firm Arnold & Porter worth up to $225,000 through the end of the year to help with the investigation.
Republicans said the contract, which was first reported by The Washington Times, was evidence that Democrats were willing to invest taxpayer money in efforts to conduct political investigations of the administration.
Imagine the gall, of anyone even mildly conservative, thinking that they oughtta be able to enforce their policy agenda.
Why, the nerve of these people. It's criminal, criminal I tell ya!!