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(No, not THAT Samson.)

As we get started with the hearing, Sidney Blumenthal reminds us to "follow the e-mails" this morning.

The discovery of a hitherto unknown treasure-trove of e-mails buried by the Bush White House may prove to be as informative as Nixon's secret White House tapes. Last week the National Journal disclosed that Karl Rove does "about 95 percent" of his e-mails outside the White House system, instead using a Republican National Committee account. What's more, Rove doesn't tap most of his messages on a White House computer, but rather on a BlackBerry provided by the RNC. By this method, Rove and other White House aides evade the legally required archiving of official e-mails. The first glimmer of this dodge appeared in a small item buried in a January 2004 issue of U.S. News & World Report: "'I don't want my E-mail made public,' said one insider. As a result, many aides have shifted to Internet E-mail instead of the White House system. 'It's Yahoo!, baby,' says a Bushie."

The offshoring of White House records via RNC e-mails became apparent when an RNC domain, gwb43.com (referring to George W. Bush, 43rd president), turned up in a batch of e-mails the White House gave to House and Senate committees earlier this month. Rove's deputy, Scott Jennings, former Bush legal counsel Harriet Miers and her deputies strangely had used gwb43.com as an e-mail domain.  (emphasis mine)

Too bad for them that Rep. Henry Waxman is on the case. There is much, much more in Sidney's article, so please read the whole thing.  This should prove to be very, very interesting indeed.

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SEN. LEAHY OPENING:  Sen. Leahy begins, telling everyone that there are still votes ongoing in the Senate and there will be accomodations made to allow voting while the hearing is ongoing.

Kyle will be testifying with representation by a WH attorney, and will do so voluntarily.  They will be discussing the mass firings of US Attorneys.

Leahy says that Gonzales says that mistakes were made, but appears to say that if they were, they were mostly Mr. Sampson's.  And that most of the information shared with the Congress was incomplete.  We are asking that Mr. Sampson provide the truth and the whole truth about what happened in these matters.

Leahy says that he wants a Justice Department that is an independent prosecutor system that prosecutes without fear or favor, and that prosecutors deicisions on when to bring — or not to bring -a charge is done independent of political considerations.  They should merit the trust of the American people.

We have heard a series of shifting explanations and excuses, and it seems that the Administration does not understand or own up to the seriousness of this situation.  We must ascertain whether incomplete information was provided, deliberately or otherwise, to this committee and to the Senate.  I take the right and the duty of advice and consent very seriously — when someone tries to use a "back door" way to get around this advice and consent, it does not sit well.

Meetings with various WH officials have been contradicted by the sworn testimony of US Attorneys and the e-mails that were given.  A lot of the material has been erased or removed.  Despite initial claims of no WH involvement, that has been subsequently proved to be false.

US attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President.  But the justice system does not — it is for the whole of the public.  Our justice system is the envy of the world — it can be easily eroded, and we must be vigilent in protecting its foundation.  The US Attorneys who testified were concerned that political advantage and the mixing of partisan political roles was mixed into the system of justice, and that is a serious concern and wrong, if correct.

Ranking member still held on the floor, now yielding to Sen. Schumer and will yield to Specter and Hatch when available.

SEN. SCHUMER OPENING:  Just seven weeks ago when I chaired the first hearing on this issue.  Since then, the Senate has voted 94-2 to overturn the provision int he Patriot Act back door appointment provision.  Going through the litany of resignations, and all of the inconsistencies of what the Senate was initially told — and what they now know happened.  "Maybe no one has anything to hide and everyone acted honorably, but it is sure hard to come to that conclusion after the events of the last seven weeks."  It is not up to the DoJ to show that it behaved well, not for us to show that it behaved badly.

Many people in the DoJ are pointing the finger at Sampson, but today we hear Mr. Sampson's side of the story.  I hope that we will hear more of the facts that have eluded us thus far.  His testimony is the logical next step of the investigation.  Plan to pursue lengthy factual questions when my opportunity comes up today.  The purpose is not "gotcha," the purpose is "just the facts."  Based on the facts that we already know, the situation is grave.  Whether the AG was intimately involved in this "de-back-le" or whether he allowed it to go on and didn't even know, either way that is a substantial problem.

The DoJ must enforce the law equally, without fear or favor.

They are waiting for other Senators to return from a floor vote.  Taking a brief recess.

10:35 am ET:  Sampson sworn in.  (Mary, he's wearing a yellow tie this morning.)

SAMPSON:  Came voluntarily without subpoena.  Have been public servant, and observed a numberof things that happened in this matter.  happy to share with the Committee the things that I DO remember.  The decisions were part of an internal process that were an aggregate of senior DoJ officials — consensus based process, DoJ officials who were informed about USAs performance.  Performance for Presidential appointee judgment differs from civil service evaluation — throws in management abilities, relationships with law enforcement and other factors.

If that USA has aliented the department in Washington, that USA is unsuccessful.  (CHS notes:  Ah, yet another reason thrown into the mix.  The AG didn't like me.)

Also throws in David Margolis as a credibility factor.  (CHS notes:  smooth, if true — and the committee should consult Margolis to see how much input he was actually given on this.)

No US atty was asked to resign for any improper reason, to my knowledge.  To my knowledge, based on everything I have seen and heard, I believed that every USA selected for firing was done so under apporpriate reasons.  Nonetheless, I believe the DoJ's response was poorly handled.  (CHS notes:  this is the point where he falls on his sword.)  Apologizes to DoJ colleagues for his role in this.  Resulted in confusion and embarassment.  As chief of staff, I could have and should have, prevented this — I felt honor bound to accept my share of the blame.  I did not intentionally mislead the Congress.

Focus of perparation for McNulty's testimony was on other subjects and not on WH involvement, so we just inadvertantly didn't talk about it, Sampson says.

8 years ago, I moved my wife and children to DC, because I was interested in politics.  Worked with Hatch, and it was an honor to do that.  I believe in public service, and I have devoted myself to doing so with integrity.

(Final vote — Leahy leaving to vote, and will be right back.)

Sampson continues:  Appreciate Sen. Schumer saying this was not a "gotcha!"  Hoping that he can share information with Congress and, frankly, put this behind me and my family.

Sen. Kohl holding the gavel while the vote is ongoing.  Break in proceedings until Sen. Leahy and others are back from voting.

10:45 am ET

Restarting the hearing at 10:57 am ET.  Sen. Leahy discussing the series of roll call votes, and Mr. Sampson is re-entering the hearing room.  Will yield first to Sen. Specter for opening statement.

SEN. SPECTER OPENING:  Begins with a discussion of roll call vote niceties and apologizes for being on the floor.  It is Specter's hope that this hearing will provide some coherence, accuracy and veracity as to what is going on here.  Senators have to make a determination as to why the USAs were asked to resign — there is a concensus that the President does not have the right to ask the USAs to resign for a "bad reason"  Mentions Lam's investigation of former Rep. Cunningham, and whether Iglesias was removed for not pursuing a prosecution of an issue of voter fraud when their was no legal basis for doing so.

Right now, it is generally acknowledged that the DoJ is in a state od disarray, with morale low, and with USAs not able to exercise their discretion with these questions hanging out there.  We need to know whatwas the role of the AG.  He has said that he was not involved in these discussions — and that statement is contradicted by e-mails.  Want to see him, eyeball to eyeball, on the witness stand.

Lots of questions — not just USAs, but also national security letter questions.  AG has serious questions to answer on that.

Then there is the role that Mr. Rove played, and we need to hear from him — candidly, sooner rather than later.  This needs to be aired out, so that the DoJ can perform its role in the national interest.  Specter says that he has discussed Miers and Rove's testimony with Fielding — President is wrong to insist on no transcript.  Has to be written down — that is the essance of our judicial system.  Prepared to agree with the President that they need not appear before whole committees — limited number of officials fromboth chambers in Congress.  Thinks public has a right to see these, but that is negotiable with Specter as well.

Have to respect Executive privilege.  (CHS notes:  what about the substantial discussions that were going on outside any talk wit Bush? and the outside e-mails?  Those are arguably NOT covered.)

SEN. SESSIONS OPENING:  I served as a USA for a number of years.  I think that some President's just do not understand how difficult a job the AG's office is.  Sometimes, AGs have difficulty in the job because they didn't have the experience to do it.  (CHS notes:  Nice backhanded slap at Gonzales there, Sessions.)  Sessions says that the President should supervise the USAs — and goes through the immigration talking points as an example as to why the supervision is necessary.  Goes through some questions raised by e-mails — notes that Sampson brought up the Patriot Act provision that might have obviated the Senate's advice and consent requirements.  Sessions says that Sampson appears to have been sensitive to DoJ concerns — and says that if Sampson had been listened to, there might not be this problem.

(Sampson looking thoughtful as Sessions is talking.)

Sessions says that he is inclined to bleive that he has never met finer people than those who work at the DoJ, it is a difficult job, and the AG deserves a fair shake.  We will have hearings, we will get facts.

Starting a new thread for questioning.