(No, not THAT Samson.)
In Chicago, some prosecutors accused Mr. Gonzales’s subordinates of operating as if the prosecutors were an obstacle to be side-stepped instead of a resource to be tapped in developing departmental policy, one person said.
At least one prosecutor complained that United States attorneys had been excluded from deliberations that led to a change in policy on prosecuting corporate crime, a person familiar with the discussions said. He and others would speak only on condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential.
SEN. LEAHY QUESTIONS: Starts asking whether Sampson has any documents with him today, or in his custody that have not yet been turned over to the committee? No.
Have you spoken with the President about the USA firings or personnel at DoJ since 2004? Or been involved in any meetings where the President was present? No.
Now going over the Miers e-mails and other e-mails. Miss Taylor ran the office of political affairs, that answered to Karl Rove, and ultimately answered to the President. Going over communications and legal affairs as well.
E-mail that Sampson sent to Miers and her deputy — subject "USA Replacement Plan." Lists a number of USAs, including Lam and Iglesias. Told them that he has not informed anyone in "Karl's shop." Do you know whether the plan was circulated to Karl's shop? OAG45 — says that was done. I believe it was.
E-mail you wrote was "We'll stand by for a green light from you?" Yes, sir.
You asked "who will require whether this deserves the President's attention?" Sampson doesn't know if the President was ever consulted.
Doc. #OAG-231 (12/7/06): Asked to talk to Jennings about the particulars of Ryan's firing. Karl wanted to know something about it. Sampson says that Ryan had called in some particular political chits as a result of the firing/request for resignation, and Karl had questions. Asking Mr. Kelly to forward to Mr. Rove's Deputy? Sampson says he doesn't remember what it was. Leahy says hopes he will search his memory on this.
SEN. SPECTER QUESTIONS: Thank you or coming in voluntarily. Was any USA asked to resign because that attorney was pursuing hot leads on corruption or refused to pursue cases deemed politically important? And then I want to get to the issue of whether the AG has been candid with us.
Begins with discussion of Carol Lam's firing. Day before her firing, she issued search and seizure warrants. Was there any connection of her broadening her investigation to consider Rep. Lewis and memers of the adminsitration. Sampson says there was never any connection in his mind. Specter asks is your e-mail saying it was "just a conincidence" that you wrote this e-mail saying that there was now a real problem with Lam? Sampson says the real problem at that time was the prosecution of immigration cases. (Sampson clears throat nervously as he is saying this.)
11:20 am ET
Let's move on to the USA in New Mexico. Was there any consideration of asking Mr. Iglesias to resign because he refused to carry out a prosecution that you wanted carried out? Sampson says: Not to my knowledge. Says done in consultation with Mike Ellston, Deputy AG, and others.
Are you prepared to swear under oath that no USA was asked to resign because they were pursuing a case that was too hot or not pursuing something you wanted? Sampson says, to my knowledge, that was not the case. Specter says "okay," in a skeptical tone.
Moving on to e-mails and question of AG's veracity. E-mails show that Gonzales was involved in a meeting that took up the issue of USA firings. Was your e-mail correct. Sampson says that the AG's statement that he wasn't involved in discussions was not accurate. Sampson recalls talking to him about this issue. Specter asks: So Gonzales was not correct in his statement during his news conference? Sampson: Yes sir.
Isn't it true, as these e-mails suggest, that there was a calculation by the DoJ and others to avoid scrutiny by the Senate via this Patriot Act provision? This was a bad idea from staff, Sampson says he recommended it at one point, but that it was never adopted by the AG. The AG rejected this idea.
Has no e-mail to confirm this. (CHS notes: Gee, Arlen, and how did that provision get inserted into the Patriot Act?)
11:27 am ET
SEN. SCHUMER QUESTIONS: Sampson says he doesn't remember if the AG ever saw documents, but we did discuss this as early as Jan, 05, when he was the AG-designate. Remember talking to him about this repeatedly through the fall of 2006. I spoke with him every day, so there were at least 5 times that we discussed that over that period, per Schumer's questions.
Sampson doesn't think that there was any paper handed out at the meeting — does recall circulating the "replacement plan" prior to the meeting. Thinks that the AG did participate in the discussion at the meeting. AG said at presser that the Chief of Staff didn't circulate information. Is that an accurate statement? Sampson says that he does not believe at any time that he tried to mislead Congress. Is that true or false? Sampson said he shared inforamtionwith everyone — I was very open and collaberative in this process. I did share information with McNulty and Moschella and others in the preparation process. Sampson says he thinks the question is not accurate.
Cornyn now interrupts to complain that Sampson is being interrupted, and that he should be able to fully answer the questions (CHS says read: filibuster with abandon to run out time on Democratic questioning). Leahy says they are trying to get Sampson to answer, and Cornyn will have a turn.
Back to Schumer.
When did he sign on to the final list? Sampson doesn't remember specifically. At some point there was agreement, and AG also asked that Sampson coordinate with the WH. Sampson doesn't recall the AG ever removing or adding anyone to the list. AG was more interested in making sure that senior department leaders agreed on the list.
SEN. CORNYN QUESTIONS: Believes that this was mishandled? Sampson says yes. At any time, were you approached by anyone for a reason to remove any individual for any reason that you would have believed individually to be improper? Sampson doesn't remember anything like that.
Going over the FBI office complaint on the Lam firing. Did you have any direct contact with the public integrity section or supervisors in the criminal division. Sampson says that he spoke with Alice Fisher several times, but not about identifying USAs who might be asked to resign for poltiical reasons.
Are USAs the ones who typically handle the day to day corruption cases? Sampson says that it is his understanding that they are usually handled by career prosecutors. (CHS notes: this is a smooth Q&A, and I'd guess that Cornyn lined these questions out a bit in advance with Sampson's counsel, just based on the completeness of the answers immediately after the questions. Just my take.)
Cornyn now hitting on why Sampson testifying instead of taking the 5th. Sampson said testifying today is the right thing to do. Cornyn asking about why a DoJ compadre is taking the 5th? Sampson says he has no comment on that.
Cornyn now stating that there is no evidence of any impeding an investigation that he's heard. (CHS notes: he must have been a dream to work with for investigators in his district, given his track record of prejudging potentially politically damaging information before it even gets investigated. The "unfortunate that we're doing oversight" meme for the GOP continues.)
LEAHY Responds: If people don't commit perjury, they aren't prosecuted for perjury. And a person has every right to invoke the 5th under their civil rights.
SEN. KOHL QUESTIONING: Kohl begins by saying the DoJ serves the rule of law, not a partisan political agenda. Brings up the "loyal Bushies" comment in Sampson's e-mail, and says that he does not want citizens to have to worry abotu some crass political motive or other improper reason for prosecutions. How can you assure that the citizens can have confidence in the system of justice? Sampson says that he understands Kohl's concern. In my e-mails, what I meant was "loyalty to their policies and the priorities that they had laid out." (CHS notes: Good deflection.)
Sampson says that USAs have to take the cases as they find them, but they also have to implement the President's priorities. Kohl gets into the political operative role of Rove — and the average person around the country thinking about this in terms of Rove's very active role in this process. AG says that he wasn't involved, in recent days, yet he signed off: either AG is absent of management of the DoJ, or he is not being candid with the American public, which is it? Sampson dodges an answer — AG was involved in the "thinking phase of the process," then AG asked Sampson to be involved in the active phase. Ultimately he approved both the list and the actions.
LEAHY: If you need a break for a couple of minutes, let us know. Will go back and forth. Between 12:30 or so, break for lunch for about 1 hour.
SEN. HATCH QUESTIONS: Hatch begins by calling the process slow and deliberative because Sampson used a phrase "rough guess" in an e-mail. Says this took about 2 years. Sampson says that a large group of firings would not be appropriate in his mind. Hatch says, "I remember that." Administration has said that the USAs were fired for "performance related reasons." How was that defined? You were in charge of that determination — how was that viewed?
Sampson says not a scientific or quantitative analysis. Hatch says "more than just looking at stats." Sampson says it was looking at stats in some cases, and talked to others in the DoJ about other issues. Hatch says that his Democratic colleagues are saying "no performance problems." Did you look at something broader than stats? Sampson says included production itn eh office, management abilities, production on AGs advisory committee, work in developing policies of the Administration, not engaging in policy conflicts with main justice (CHS notes: In other words, do not question my authoritay — even if I am legally on shaky ground.).
Were any fired for improper reasons? USAs are political appointees, and I think the distinction between political and process reasons is artificial. Sme of the reasons may be described as political by some people. Hatch says others might see them as performance reasons.
Hatch gets into Lam's firing. Sampson says that he didn't conclude that Lam should be fired because of the Cunningham case. Hatch says that he read the documents on Lam — 2/24/05 Lam came up, several weeks before Cunningham case broke in the media. (CHS asks: but, when did DoJ know about it?) Hatch brings up smuggler cases. When did concerns on Lam's performance arise and what were they? Sampson says that Lam is a good person and skilled lawyer, but she consistently appeared b/c her office failed to embrace the President's "gun violence and safe neighborhoods" initiatives, and it was an issue of consternation starting with Comey's office and moving forward.
SEN. FEINSTEIN QUESTIONS: Would like to go back to Sen. Specter's questions on notice on search warrant.
(Am going to start a new thread.)