Former Top Justice Official to Contradict Gonzales Statements
When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee this Thursday about the controversial firings of eight U.S. attorneys, he's unlikely to throw any big bombs at the Bush administration that are of the magnitude of a direct link between Bush's political advisor Karl Rove and the dismissals, a close associate of Sampson's tells U.S. News. But Sampson will set off some fireworks by contradicting a key assurance that Gonzales made to Congress and the American public last Tuesday that he was not in the loop during the long deliberations leading up to the firings.
Gonzales probably spoke to Sampson 20 times a day and had a daily morning management meeting on a range of issues with Sampson and other key officials also involved in the U.S. attorney deliberations. Gonzales had delegated the replacement plan for U.S. attorneys largely to Sampson and was monitoring it at "the 30,000-feet level," Sampson's associate says. But Sampson will testify that the attorney general not only discussed the idea while he was still White House counsel and signed off at the end but also was "aware of the arc of the whole process" in between, says this source. "The idea that there were no discussions on this overall issue," says the source, "the attorney general could not have meant to say that."
While Sampson's testimony won't implicate White House officials, it won't rule out their involvement including Rove'sin the selection of the fired U.S. attorneys either. In fact, it will only give Democrats in Congress new fodder to demand the testimony under oath of Rove and other key Bush officials something Bush has so far said he won't tolerate, citing executive privilege. Sampson is likely to testify that although he exchanged E-mails and had discussions with then White House counsel Harriet Miers and her deputy, William Kelley, what happened "behind the curtains" in the White House was largely invisible to him.
Sampson also is likely to portray the whole U.S. attorney firings issue as a "mundane pseudo-scandal" and say that no one in the administration was guilty of anything other than faulty political judgment and of organizing a flawed bureaucratic response to the allegations of malfeasance. "I don't think he's aware of any improper motivations for the firings," says Sampson's associate, "nor is he aware of anybody doing anything other than doing their level best to give accurate information to Congress, no matter how badly the effort got botched."
Even as Sampson preps to get grilled, another senior Gonzales aide, Monica Goodling, has declined to be raked over the coals, citing her constitutional right to protect herself against self-incrimination, her attorney John Dowd told the Associated Press. Goodling served as Gonzales's senior counsel and White House liaison and was involved in the firings. She's now on an indefinite leave of absence. The Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Goodling last week, along with other top Justice officials. "The potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real," said Dowd. Sampson's attorney, Bradford Berenson, said that his client "plans to testify fully, truthfully, and publicly." Berenson also said that hearings "in a highly politicized environment like this can sometimes become a game of gotcha," but he added that "Kyle has decided to trust the Congress and the process."