Gonzales Faces a Pivotal Week
Mercer has told the committee that Gonzales also was present at that meeting, Schumer said. And Sampson, said Schumer, says he believes Gonzales was there as well. On May 11, Sampson had sent an intriguing E-mail to the White House counsel's office about the ouster of U.S. attorneys whose four-year terms had expired, including Lam.
"The real problem we have right now with Carol Lam," Sampson wrote, "that leads me to conclude we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires." Just one day before that E-mail was sent, Lam's office had alerted the Justice Department that the FBI was soon to execute search warrants on the CIA's No. 3 official, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, in connection with a politically explosive public corruption case involving former Republican Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says that was a meeting but that it was not about Lam's ouster. Instead, it was about congressional complaints about inadequate immigration enforcement in Lam's district.
Sampson's meeting with the Judiciary Committee staff lasted six hours and covered a wide range of issues.
Schumer pointed out that in the NBC interview on March 26, Gonzales stated that he did not recall a conversation with President Bush that prominent Republicans were unhappy about some U.S. attorneys' perceived lack of commitment to voter fraud cases, in particular U.S. Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico.
"I don't remember that conversation," Gonzales told NBC, "but what I'm saying is, is during the process, there may have been other conversations about specifically about the performance of U.S. attorneys." But Schumer says Sampson told the committee staffers Sunday that in early March, before that NBC interview, when he and Gonzales were going over what had happened with respect to all the firings, in preparation for congressional hearings, Gonzales told Sampson he was, in Schumer's words, "aware of specific concerns about Mr. Iglesias, not only from [White House political adviser] Karl Rove, but the president himself." Sampson said that Gonzales relayed the conversation he had had with Bush, back in October, about Iglesias. Roerhkasse said the meeting reference could have been in relation to an October conversation that White House counselor Dan Bartlett told reporters about on March 13, in which Bush "briefly" told Gonzales about congressional concerns about "election fraud matters" and that Bush was just telling Gonzales "to make sure you're on top of that, as well." Bartlett said that there was "no directive given, as far as telling him [Gonzales] to fire anybody or anything like that."
According to Schumer, Sampson also contradicted a statement by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty that U.S. Attorney H.E. "Bud" Cummins of Arkansas had not been removed for performance reasons, as McNulty has testified, but to make way for Rove protégé J. Timothy Griffin. Schumer said Sampson told the committee staff that there were "performance issues" involved with Cummins's termination, and said that Cummins "hadn't distinguished himself." But Schumer said Sampson could not give specifics.
Other knowledgeable sources say Sampson's testimony was not as clear cut as Schumer indicated. According to their version, while Sampson indicated there had been some performance issues with Cummins that placed him on the potential firing list well before Griffin had entered the picture, Sampson said the explanations about the Cummins firing were complex enough that different people could interpret the reasons for the firings differently.