U.S. SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE HOLDS A HEARING ON U.S. ATTORNEY FIRINGS
MARCH 29, 2007
SEN. PATRICK J. LEAHY, D-VT. CHAIRMAN
SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY, D-MASS.
SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.
SEN. HERB KOHL, D-WIS.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-CALIF.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, D-WIS.
SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER, D-N.Y.
SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN, D-ILL.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, D-R.I.
SEN. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, D-MD.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA. RANKING MEMBER
SEN. ORRIN G. HATCH, R-UTAH
SEN. CHARLES E. GRASSLEY, R-IOWA
SEN. JON KYL, R-ARIZ.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-TEXAS
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-KAN.
SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.
FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF
TO ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES
ATTORNEY FOR KYLE SAMPSON
LEAHY: Good morning.
I would note we're starting just a couple moments late here. There's a series of roll-call votes on the floor. And what I'm going to do is try to start as quickly as possible with statements by myself and the ranking member.
If we have further votes this morning, we're going to try to do it in a way that we go back and forth on the votes and keep the hearing going. This is too important a hearing. I know senators have a number of other things they're doing. But we'll go forward.
Today, the committee proceeds with another hearing into the mass replacements of U.S. attorneys. And this morning we'll hear testimony from D. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Gonzales.
He is represented by another attorney who served in the White House Counsel's Office for the White House, Bradford Berenson.
Mr. Sampson could have been subpoenaed, but we thank him for appearing voluntarily and testifying.
I hope this hearing will provide us with an opportunity to learn additional facts and help us get beyond the shifting stories to the truth. Our goal is to get to the bottom of what happened, but also why it happened and who was involved in devising and implementing this plan to replace so many United States attorneys around the country.
At his press conference two weeks ago, and actually again this week in an interview, Attorney General Gonzales seemed to heap much of the responsibility for this matter on Mr. Sampson.
The attorney general admits that mistakes were made but he seems, according to him, to say: "However, those mistakes were mostly by Mr. Sampson.
LEAHY: He was one of the people in charge of assembling the list of U.S. attorneys to be fired. The attorney general indicated he was also one of the people who concealed information from others at the Department of Justice so there was, in the words of the attorney general, "consequently information shared with the Congress that was incomplete."
This hearing gives Mr. Sampson a chance to answer these charges by the attorney general, and also to present the facts as he knows them. We're going to ask only that Mr. Sampson share with us the truth and the whole truth with regard to these matters.
I want the American people to have a Justice Department and United States attorney's offices that enforce the law without regard to political influence and partisanship. I want that today, but I want to set the standard so that whoever is president two years from now, whether it's a Democratic or Republican administration, we have an independent prosecutor system that will prosecute without fear or favor.
We also know that one of the most important things a prosecutor can do is decide not only when to bring a charge, but when not to bring a charge. And if the people feel that there is somehow -- somehow political influence on those decisions, then we all suffer.
I want the American people to have confidence in federal law enforcement. I want our federal law enforcement officers to have the independence they need to be effective and to consistently merit the trust of the American people.
LEAHY: And regrettably, what we've heard from the administration has been a series of shifting explanations and excuses, a lack of accountability or even acknowledgment of the seriousness of this matter.
This investigation stems from this committee's responsibilities to the American people.
The Judiciary Committee has the authority to conduct oversight and investigations related to the Department of Justice and U.S. attorneys' offices.
We have the authority to examine whether inaccurate or incomplete testimony was provided to this committee, to consider legislation within our jurisdiction, and to protect our role in evaluating nominations pursuant to the Senate's constitutional responsibility to provide advice and consent.
As one who has been in the Senate for 32 years, I take the right and the duty of advice and consent very, very seriously. And I must admit that when anybody tries a back-door way to get around the Senate's constitutional duty and obligation of advice and consent, it does not sit well.
Indeed, it was in light of this jurisdiction, confirmation power vested in the Senate, the jurisdiction of this committee over the review of U.S. attorney nominations, that our ranking member observed early on that we have primary responsibility to investigate this matter.
The answers to our question at the January 18 hearing with the attorney general and the February 6 hearing with the deputy attorney general, as well as a series of statements by White House spokespeople and other Justice Department officials in private briefings, have been contradicted by the sworn -- by the sworn testimony of the former United States attorneys.
LEAHY: They've also been contradicted by the limited e-mails and other documents we've attained from the Department of Justice.
Let me emphasize it's been limited. A lot of them have been erased. The material in them have been removed.
And despite the initial denials of White House involvement, it's now apparent that White House officials were involved in the planning and replacement of U.S. attorneys and the subsequent misleading explanations from Justice Department officials.
U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. But justice does not serve at the pleasure of the president or any president.
Our law enforcement and justice system is the envy of the world. It is one of our country's greatest strengths. It was built on a foundation of checks and balances, and the people's faith in the rule of law without fear or favor.
That foundation can be easily eroded. We need to be vigilant in protecting it.
The dismissed U.S. attorneys have testified under oath and said in public that they believe political influence was applied.
Incidentally, these U.S. attorneys were all appointed in a Republican administration.
And they've given chapter and verse and specific examples.
If they are right -- and that's why we're having these hearings, to determine if they are right, the mixing of partisan political goals into federal law enforcement -- then we have a situation highly improper. And it corrodes the public's trust in our system of justice. It's wrong.
That's what we're seeking to determine through our investigation of the facts.
We need a thorough and fair investigation of what happened and why and who was involved.
Normally, I'd go to the ranking member at this point. I think he's probably still held on the floor. Because of the importance of this, we want to start.
I will yield to the chairman of the appropriate subcommittee. I will then yield to Senator Specter. Should Senator Hatch wish to say anything, we'll yield to him.
SCHUMER: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak and, more importantly, for your vital leadership on this critically important issue.
I also want to thank Senators Feinstein, Pryor and Lincoln, who raised the alarm about what went on in their states.
And I want to thank Mr. Sampson for coming here today voluntarily to shed some light on these events.
I just want to take a couple of minutes to note first what we've uncovered so far in this investigation, second what we can expect to accomplish today, and third where we expect to go from here.
First, let me comment on where we've been and how far we've come.
SCHUMER: It was only seven weeks ago that I chaired the first hearing on this issue.
Just seven weeks ago, the Department of Justice and most of my friends across the aisle were insisting we needed to keep a secretly passed provision in the Patriot Act that threatened to take the Senate out of the confirmation process for U.S. attorneys.
Since then, the Senate has voted 94-2 to return a vital check and balance to the U.S. attorney appointment process. And this week, the House voted overwhelmingly to do the same.
Just seven weeks ago, the Department of Justice was insisting we were making a big deal out of nothing. Since then, the attorney general's chief of staff has resigned, the official who made the fateful calls on December 7th has resigned, and the Justice Department's liaison to the White House has taken an indefinite leave of absence and asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self- incrimination.
In the last seven weeks, we've learned that Attorney General Gonzales was personally involved in the firing plan after being told that he wasn't. We've learned that the White House was involved after being told that it wasn't. We have learned that Karl Rove was involved after being told that he wasn't. And we have learned that political considerations were very important after being told that they weren't.
The list of contradictions, contortions and retractions grows longer every day.
Maybe no one has anything to hide, and everyone acted honorably. But it is sure hard to come to that conclusion based on the events of the past seven weeks.
I dare say that given the unbroken stream of mishaps, missteps and misstatements, the burden has shifted. It is now arguably up to the Department of Justice to show that it behaved well, not for us to show that it behaved badly.
All of these developments raise serious and troubling questions, which brings me to my second point: What can we expect today?
Many people in the Justice Department are pointing the finger at Kyle Sampson but today we hear Mr. Sampson's side of the story. For that reason, this is a very important hearing.
I hope and trust we'll learn more of the facts that have so far alluded us. Kyle Sampson was at the epicenter of all of this and should know those facts better than anyone else.
It is the logical next step in our investigation to have him here today. It's not the beginning, and it's certainly not the end. It's a very important step, but we may not even realize the importance of it until we hear from other witnesses and other facts come out.
I appreciate, again, Mr. Sampson's willingness to stay here for as long as we have questions, and I intend to take him up on that offer and pursue some lengthy, factual questioning when I have the opportunity to do so, so the hearing may last awhile.
SCHUMER: The purpose of today's hearing is not to find a smoking gun. The purpose is to build a factual base and to continue to figure out what went on. The purpose is not "gotcha." The purpose is, as they said in "Dragnet," just the facts, ma'am.
I hope we learn more about the involvement of the attorney general in all this. Based on the facts we already know, his situation is grave. Whether he was intimately involved in this debacle or just presided over a department that allowed it to happen and didn't know a thing, that's a pretty severe indictment.
Finally, whatever happens at this hearing, and, for that matter, whatever happens to Attorney General Gonzales, we have a duty to continue to ask questions and investigate until we're satisfied that all of the facts have been found. If we do anything less, we're abdicating our responsibility to the citizens who elected us and who wanted to trust, once again, that the Department of Justice enforces the law equally and without fear or favor.
PROTESTER: End the war now! Fund redeployment! Do not fund the war any longer!
SCHUMER; Ladies and gentlemen, we are waiting for other senators to return. There is one final vote, and then we won't be interrupted the rest of the day thanks to Senator Reid and the way he scheduled this. So we're going to take a brief recess.
LEAHY: We've -- only because I'd like to see the witness, I'm happy to cooperate with the photographers, but I, kind of, like to see who I'm talking with.
I'm not sure what's happening on the floor. We're having a lot of votes that we weren't supposed to have. I would hope that that's simply because people are exercising their constitutional rights and not because, as they're all coming from the other side, whether these votes are those who wish we weren't going to have the hearing.
What I'm going to do is I'm going to swear in Mr. Sampson. When Senator Specter -- and be getting his statement. If Senator Specter gets here, of course, he'll have a chance to give his statement. He will take priority over everybody else.
Mr. Sampson, please stand and raise your right hand.
Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you're about to give in this matter shall be the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help you God?
LEAHY: Thank you.
As I said earlier, Mr. Sampson, I appreciate you and your attorney cooperating to have you here. And I'd note, again, you appeared without us having to issue the subpoena, which I had signed.
Please go ahead.
SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As you know, I've come here voluntarily to answer your questions.
I've been a public servant for the past eight years. During the past several years, I've served Attorney General Gonzales in a staff position culminating in my service to him as his chief of staff.
In that role, I was responsible for organizing and managing the process by which certain U.S. attorneys were asked to resign. From that vantage point, I believe I was well-positioned to observe and understand what happened in this matter.
I can't pretend to know or remember every fact that may be of relevance, but I am pleased to share with the committee today those that I do know and those that I do remember.
After the 2004 election, the White House inquired about the prospect of replacing all 93 U.S. attorneys with new appointees. I believed, as did others, that less sweeping changes were more appropriate. The Department of Justice then began to look at replacing a limited number of U.S. attorneys in districts where, for a variety of reasons, the department thought change would be beneficial.
Reasonable and honest people can differ, and, in fact, did in various stages in the process, on whether particular individuals should be asked to resign. But the decision to ask them to do so was the result of an internal process that aggregated the considered collective judgment of a number of senior Justice Department officials.
I would be the first to concede that this process was not scientific, nor was it extensively documented. That is the nature of presidential personnel decisions.
But neither was the process random or arbitrary. Instead, it was a consensus-based process based on input from Justice Department officials who were in the best position to develop informed decisions about U.S. attorney performance.
SAMPSON: When I speak about U.S. attorney performance it is critical to understand the performance for a Senate-confirmed presidential appointee is very different than -- it's a very different thing than performance for a civil servant or a private sector employee.
Presidential appointees are judged not only on their professional skills, but also their management abilities, their relationships with law enforcement and other governmental leaders, and their support for the priorities of the president and the attorney general.
A United States attorney may be a highly skilled lawyer and a wonderful person, as I believe all of the individuals who were asked to resign are, but if he or she is judged to be lacking in any of these respects, then he or she may be considered for replacement.
The distinction between political- and performance-related reasons for removing a U.S. attorney is, in my view, largely artificial. A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective, either because he or she has alienated the leadership of the department in Washington or cannot work constructively with law enforcement or other governmental constituencies in the district, is unsuccessful.
With these standards for evaluating U.S. attorneys in mind, I coordinated the process of identifying U.S. attorneys that might be considered for replacement. I received input from a number of officials at the Department of Justice who were in a position to form considered judgments about the U.S. attorneys.
These included not only senior political appointees, such as the deputy attorney general, but also senior career lawyers, such as David Margolis, a man who served justice for more than 40 years under presidents of both parties and who probably knows more about United States attorneys than any person alive.
I developed and maintained a list that reflected the aggregation of views of these department officials over a period of almost two years. I provided that information to the White House when requested and reviewed it with and circulated it to others at the Department of Justice for comment.
By and large, the process operated by consensus. When any official I consulted felt that an individual name should be removed from the list, it generally was.
Although consideration of possible changes had begun in early 2005, the process of actually finalizing a list of U.S. attorneys who might be asked to resign and acting on that list did not begin until last fall.
In the end, eight total U.S. attorneys were selected for replacement: Bud Cummins in mid-2006 and the other seven in a group in early December of 2006.
With the exception of Bud Cummins, none of the U.S. attorneys was asked to resign in favor of a particular individual who had already been identified to take the vacant spot. Nor, to my knowledge, was any U.S. attorney asked to resign for an improper reason. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and may be asked to resign for almost any reason with no public or private explanation.
The limited category of improper reasons includes an effort to interfere with or influence the investigation or prosecution of a particular case for political or partisan advantage. To my knowledge, nothing of the sort occurred here.
Instead, based on everything I've seen and heard, I believe that each replaced U.S. attorney was selected for legitimate reasons falling well within the president's broad discretion and relating to his or her performance in office, at least as performance is properly understood in the context of Senate-confirmed political appointees.
SAMPSON: Nonetheless, when members of Congress began to raise questions about these removals, I believe the department's response was badly mishandled. It was mishandled through an unfortunate combination of poor judgments, poor word choices and poor communication in preparation for the department's testimony before Congress.
For my part in allowing this to happen, I want to apologize to my former DOJ colleagues, especially the U.S. attorneys who were asked to resign.
What started as a good-faith attempt to carry out the department's management responsibilities and exercise the president's appointment authority has unfortunately resulted in confusion, misunderstanding and embarrassment.
This should not have happened.
The U.S. attorneys who were replaced are good people. Each served our country honorably, and I was privileged to serve at the Justice Department with them.
As the attorney general's chief of staff, I could have and should have helped to prevent this. In failing to do so, I let the attorney general and the department down.
For that reason, I offered the attorney general my resignation. I was not asked to resign. I simply felt honor-bound to accept my share of blame for this problem and to hold myself accountable.
Contrary to some suggestions I've seen in the press, I was not motivated to resign by any belief on my part that I withheld information from department witnesses or intentionally misled either those witnesses or the Congress.
The mistakes I made here were made honestly and in good faith. I failed to organize a more effective response to questions about the replacement process. But I never sought to conceal or withhold any material fact about this matter from anyone. I always carried out my responsibilities in an open and collaborative manner.
Others in the department knew what I knew about the origins and timing of this enterprise. None of us spoke up on those subjects during the process of preparing Mr. McNulty and Mr. Moschella to testify, not because there was some effort to hide this history, but because the focus of our preparation sessions was on other subjects; principally, why each of the U.S. attorneys had been replaced, whether there has been improper case-related motivations for those replacements and whether the administration planned to use the attorney general's interim appointment authority to evade the Senate confirmation process.
SAMPSON: As I see it, the truth of this affair is this: The decisions to seek the resignation of a handful of U.S. attorneys were properly made, but poorly explained. This is a benign, rather than sinister, story. And I know that some may be disposed not to accept it, but it's the truth as I observed it and experienced it.
And, Mr. Chairman, if I may just add, eight years ago I moved my wife and children here to Washington because I was interested in public service. And I came to work here for this committee first, for then-Chairman Hatch. And it was an honor for me to do that. And really, through serendipity I've had opportunities for other public service in the government.
And I believe in public service, and in all of my work in public service I've made every effort to operate openly and forthrightly and with integrity.
LEAHY: Mr. Sampson, I don't mean to cut you off, and we have given you extra time, as you know.
We have now what I believe is a final vote. Then I am going to turn the gavel over to Senator Kohl, while I go and vote. I will come back.
If you wish to add to the part that is cut out, certainly I'll give you the time. Thank you.
SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KOHL: Mr. Sampson, finish your statement.
SAMPSON: Mr. Chairman -- thank you, Mr. Chairman.
All I had to say -- all I wanted to conclude in saying is that I've come up here to testify voluntarily today because I believe in public service, and because I believe in the goodness of our political process.
I appreciated Senator Schumer saying this was not a gotcha. And I came here today because this episode has been personally devastating to me and my family.
SAMPSON: And it's my hope that I can come up here today, share with you the information that this committee and that the Congress wants and, frankly, put this behind me and my family.
And with that, I'm happy to answer any questions any senator may have.
KOHL: We will hold further proceedings until the chairman returns.
SAMPSON: Thank you.
PROTESTER: Fire all the liars and bring the troops home now!
Fire all the liars and bring the troops home now!
Fire all the liars and bring the troops home now!
America, stand up! Stand up! These are war criminals!
LEAHY: Just to let everybody know what we're going to do, Mr. Sampson's on his way back in.
And I really apologize for the way this is going. Unfortunately, you never know what the Senate schedule's going to be.
If anyone's watching us, to understand, we've had a series of roll call votes. And a decision was made by anybody who might have been holding up the Senate that they will not. We've had the final vote. And now senators can stay here.
As I was saying as I was leaving, Mr. Sampson was making a personal comment, which we made sure got on the record. And I'm sorry I had to account for that. I made that vote by about 30 seconds.
I'm going to yield first to Senator Specter. We've already had some -- for his opening statement -- questions of Mr. Sampson. We'll yield for the opening statement to Senator Specter. I will ask questions and then Senator Specter will ask questions.
SPECTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, did you forget me?
LEAHY: And also, I told Senator Sessions yesterday, as he's the ranking of the appropriate subcommittee, that following Senator Specter's statement -- he wasn't here when we made the opening statements earlier -- I'll yield to Senator Sessions.
SPECTER: I'm sorry to have missed your opening statement, Mr. Chairman, and the opening statement by Mr. Sampson. But as has already been said, we've been in the midst of roll call votes, with the final passage vote in process now on providing the $100-plus billion for the troops in Iraq. And I was on the floor and was deliberating as to how to vote.
So as soon as I could make up my mind, I came over for this subject.
It is my hope that this hearing today will provide some coherence, accuracy and veracity as to what has gone on here. We have very important questions that we have to find the answers to. We have to make a determination as to why these U.S. attorneys were asked to resign.
It is admitted that the president has the authority to replace U.S. attorneys for no reason, but I think there's a consensus that the president does not have a right to ask for resignations for a bad reason; that is, whether U.S. Attorney Carol Lam in San Diego was asked to resign because she was hot on the trail of confederates of Duke Cunningham. We don't know whether she was or not, but these hearings are designed to find that out.
We don't know whether or not U.S. attorney in New Mexico, Iglesias, was asked to resign because he refused to bring a fraud prosecution where there was no basis for it.
SPECTER: We have to make that determination.
We have to find out whether there was a calculated effort by the Department of Justice to use this provision in the Patriot Act to avoid Senate confirmation and Senate scrutiny on who the United States attorneys were.
So there are some really important questions to be determined.
And right now it is generally acknowledged that the Department of Justice is in a state of disrepair, perhaps even dysfunctional, because of what has happened, with morale low, with U.S. attorneys across the country do not know when another shoe may drop, whether they may be asked to resign for a bad reason if they're not exercising their discretion.
And it's vital that U.S. attorneys be able to exercise their discretion in good faith and make prosecutions, something I've had some experience with with myself.
And then we need to know what was the role of the attorney general. He has said that he was not involved in discussions, and that statement is apparently contradicted by e-mails.
Well, I'm not prepared to make a judgment on whether the attorney general should stay or go based upon what I read in the newspapers. I want to see him eyeball-to-eyeball at that witness stand and have a chance to ask him questions.
And there are serious questions beyond this U.S. attorneys issue. The national securities letter, one which this committee took up earlier this week, of really great importance on tools for law enforcement, whether they're being exercised properly with regard for civil liberties. And I think the attorney general has serious questions to answer on that.
And then there is the role that Mr. Rove played. And I think we ought to hear from him candidly, sooner rather than later.
I think we ought to try to get to the bottom of all these factual situations so that we can make a determination as to who ought to stay, who ought to go, and how the Department of Justice ought to perform on its very vital role in the national -- in the national interest.
I have discussed the issue of the participation by Mr. Karl Rove and Ms. Harriet Miers, Mr. Bill Kelley and others in the White House, I have discussed that with Mr. Fielding. And I have agreed with some of the president's conditions and disagreed with others.
I think that the president is wrong in insisting that there not be a transcript. I don't see how we can function without a transcript. If we do, we have a hearing and senators walk out and in perfectly good faith give different versions.
SPECTER: So it has to be written down. That's the essence of our judicial system.
I'm prepared to agree with the president that these White House officials ought not to appear before both bodies with so many members present. We can have a joint proceeding with a limited number of members; at least we can in my opinion.
And while the oath is also salutary, I don't think it's indispensable, because the penalty for a false official statement is five years, the same as for perjury.
And I would like to see the hearings in public but -- I think the public has a right know, but I think that is negotiable as well.
But we ought not to be at polar opposites and at swords' points between the White House and the Congress. We have to respect the executive privilege. The president is right when he says he needs to have unfettered information and his deputies telling him what their advice is without the fear of being hauled before a committee.
But we can balance that out, and there are some 73 appearances by similar executive officials since 1944. And Condoleezza Rice, as national security counselor, appeared under oath before a commission.
So let's work it out. Let's try to come to terms here to get the information this committee needs so we can make a judgment.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you.
And, Senator Sessions?
SESSIONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I spent 15 years in the Department of Justice, 12 as a United States attorney. And those were great, great years and there's nothing I enjoyed more or was more proud of then serving as United States attorney. The Department of Justice is one of the great departments in Washington.
I think sometimes presidents have not understood just how difficult the job of attorney general is. If you just look back at the history of the people that have served, there are many quite capable but had great difficulties because they had, I think, in some ways, less experience in that job then they needed to take it over.
Let me just say this. Mr. Sampson, I think you -- reading some of the e-mails -- and I certainly haven't read them all -- you understood I think pretty well the difficulties of removing United States attorneys.
They are removable.
SESSIONS: They do serve at the pleasure of the president. Everyone knows that.
In fact, in 1926, the Supreme Court found unconstitutional a postmaster statute that the Congress had passed to declare that Congress not only would advise and consent in the appointment of postmasters, but would advise and consent in their termination. And they said that denied the president the power to run the executive branch, and declared that part of it unconstitutional.
So that we know is a legitimate thing, that the president should supervise the United States attorneys. They are paid by the taxpayers. If they don't prosecute immigration cases in a certain district, who else will there be to prosecute those cases? No one but that United States attorney has the venue or the jurisdiction to prosecute the cases.
So the president must have the ability to control that and make sure that the laws are faithfully executed in our country.
I noticed that on -- in your -- one of your e-mails, you talk about you oppose the wholesale removal of all of the U.S. attorneys, correctly noting it would cause significant disruption in the Department of Justice. You noted that a suitable replacement must be found in consultation with the home state senators, and that Senate must confirm them.
Later on you talk about the appointment under the Patriot Act that might have obviated that confirmation requirement.
You noted that, "If a decision is made to remove and replace a limited number of United States attorneys, then the following might be considered for removal and replacement." And you named four.
SESSIONS: Later you suggested perhaps three, and said that if you would like to see more change, in effect, let me know.
So I think you are sensitive to those problems that have occurred. And perhaps had you been listened to more carefully, we wouldn't be in this fix.
You noted that you're concerned -- I am quoting your e-mail -- "I am concerned that to execute this plan properly, we must all be on the same page, be steeled to withstand any political upheaval that might result. If we start caving to complaining United States attorneys or senators, we shouldn't do it. It'll not be worth the trouble."
I think that might have been good advice for some people to listen to.
There's some inconsistencies in comments that have been made, Mr. Sampson. I think you're in the middle of a lot of that. Maybe you can shed some light on it.
I'm inclined to believe that I've never met finer people than those who serve in the Department of Justice. But the demands are great. The demand for integrity is important. So we'll give you a fair shake. I think the attorney general deserves a fair shake.
But there will be hearings, and we will get facts. And in the end I think the truth will come out.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you very much, Mr. Sessions.
Mr. Sampson, let me just get a couple preliminary things out of the way.
Did you bring any documents with you?
SAMPSON: I didn't.
LEAHY: Do you have any documents related to this investigation under your control or custody?
SAMPSON: I reviewed the documents that the Department of Justice made available to the committee. And perhaps the folks who are here with me today have copies.
LEAHY: No, but do you have anything in your possession, under control or custody, that has not been turned over to us?
SAMPSON: No, sir.
LEAHY: Now, since the 2004 election, did you speak with the president about replacing U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: I don't ever remember speaking to the president after the 2004 election.
LEAHY: So your answer would be no?
SAMPSON: Yes, no. I haven't spoken with the president since I worked in the White House.
LEAHY: Did you attend any meeting, then, with the president, since the 2004 election, where the replacement of U.S. attorneys was discussed?
SAMPSON: I did not.
LEAHY: Are you aware of any presidential decision document since the 2004 election in which President Bush decided to go ahead with the replacement plans for U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: I'm not aware of any.
LEAHY: Now, I'm going to give you a copy, or will provide you with a copy of a document. I'm actually going to go through a number of documents. And they're all -- they're OAG and then a whole series of zeros, and then a number. Just to make it easier, I'll just refer to them as OAG and the file number.
This is OAG-45. It's a copy of a December 4, 2006, e-mail exchange between you and Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley, copied to White House Counsel Harriet Miers. Is that correct?
SAMPSON: Yes, sir.
LEAHY: Now, Mr. Kelley's e-mail states, "We are go for the U.S. attorney plan. White House leg, political and communications signed off, acknowledged we have to be committed to follow through once the pressure comes." Is that correct?
LEAHY: Who headed the White House political operation at the time?
SAMPSON: Sara Taylor was the director of the Office of Political Affairs.
LEAHY: And was Ms. Taylor the overall head of the political operation?
SAMPSON: I understood that Ms. Taylor was the director of the Office of Political Affairs, and she -- that office, reported to Karl Rove, that ultimately reported to the president.
LEAHY: Who headed the White House communications operation at the time?
SAMPSON: I don't remember. I'm not sure if it was Dana Perino or -- I don't know, Senator.
LEAHY: Who headed the White House legal operation at the time?
SAMPSON: I think that the e-mail refers to White House leg, which is short for legislative affairs, and that was Candy Wolf, I believe.
LEAHY: Now, let me give you a copy of a document that's numbered OAG-40-43.
You notice the first page is a copy of a November 15, 2006, e- mail you sent to White House Counsel Harriet Miers. Her deputy, William Kelley, has copied the deputy attorney general, Paul McNulty. Is that what you were just handed?
LEAHY: The subject of the e-mail is, "USA Replacement Plan." The "USA" is referring to U.S. attorneys, is that right?
LEAHY: Attached there was a plan for the removal of a set of U.S. attorneys, including Paul Charlton, Carol Lam, Margaret Chiara, Dan Bogden, John McKay and David Iglesias, is that correct?
LEAHY: Now, in this e-mail, dated November 15, 2006, shortly after last fall's elections, you told Ms. Miers and Mr. Kelley that you had not informed anyone in Karl's shop which you considered a, quote, "pre-execution necessity," close quote. By "Karl," are you referring to Karl Rove?
LEAHY: In the e-mail, you asked Ms. Miers and Mr. Kelley to circulate the plan to "Karl's shop," is that right? Is that what you asked?
LEAHY: Do you know whether that was done?
SAMPSON: I believe that the previous e-mail that you provided me a copy of, OAG-45, indicates from Mr. Kelley that White House leg, political and communications have signed off. And the reference in the e-mail I drafted that's OAG-40 to Karl's shop was to the Office of Political Affairs at the White House.
LEAHY: But do you know whether then it was circulated to Karl's shop? I mean, your answer is it was, is that correct?
SAMPSON: I believe it was, yes.
And in the e-mail you write, "We'll stand by for a green light from you," is that correct?
SAMPSON: Yes, sir.
LEAHY: Now, you state in your e-mail that, quote, "You've consulted with the DAG" -- D-A-G -- close quote. That's the deputy attorney general, Mr. McNulty, correct?
LEAHY: Had you, by the time of your November 15 e-mail, discussed the replacement plan with the attorney general?
SAMPSON: I believe so.
LEAHY: You believe you had?
LEAHY: OK, let me give you a copy of a document number DAG-14. Now, this document contains Ms. Miers' response on November 15 to your e-mail that day, and your reply to her. You asked, quote, "Who will determine whether this requires the president's attention?" is that correct?
LEAHY: Did you get an answer to that question?
LEAHY: Who decided?
SAMPSON: I don't know.
LEAHY: Did the president reveal this plan for the removal and replacement of U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: I personally don't know.
LEAHY: You don't know either way? You've never heard either way.
SAMPSON: I don't know. That's correct.
LEAHY: And do you know today either way?
SAMPSON: I don't know.
LEAHY: Between this November 15 e-mail exchange and the December 4 e-mail from Mr. Kelley which informed you of White House leg and political and communications had signed off on the plan, did you have further communications with the White House regarding the plan to regard and replace several U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically. There was a Thanksgiving holiday in between there, and I just don't remember.
LEAHY: So you don't know whether you did or not?
SAMPSON: I don't remember if I did or not.
LEAHY: Let me give you a copy of the document numbered OAG-231.
LEAHY: That's a December 7, 2006, e-mail exchange between you and Mr. Kelley of the White House Counsel's Office, copying Scott Jennings, special assistant to the president, deputy director of political affairs, is that correct?
SAMPSON: I'm sorry, Senator. I was looking at the document.
LEAHY: Is this a copy of a December 7, 2006, e-mail exchange between you, Mr. Kelley of the White House Counsel's Office, copying Scott Jennings, special assistant to the president, deputy director of political affairs?
LEAHY: You received this e-mail from Mr. Kelley on the day seven of the U.S. attorneys were told to resign, asking you to talk to Scott Jennings about the particulars of Kevin Ryan's situation. He's one of the U.S. attorneys told that day to resign.
And did Mr. Kelley write, quote, "Karl would like to know some particulars as he fields these calls," close quote?
SAMPSON: Senator, I didn't remember this until looking at this document right now. But what I remember is that after Mr. Ryan was called and asked to resign, that some -- that the White House Office of Political Affairs had received some calls; that Mr. Ryan had called in some political chits, as it says there.
LEAHY: But my question was, does it say, "Karl would like to know some particulars as he fields these calls"? Is that in the e- mail?
SAMPSON: It is.
LEAHY: And that's Karl Rove?
SAMPSON: I assume so.
LEAHY: Do you have many other Karls spelled with "K"?
SAMPSON: I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman. I think it must have been.
And you responded by copying Mr. Jennings, asked him to call you, and then sent another e-mail to Kelley yourself, asking Kelley to forward something to Mr. Jennings.
What were you asking Mr. Kelley to forward to Mr. Rove's deputy?
SAMPSON: I don't remember, Mr. Chairman. It looks like I replied to both Mr. Kelley and to Mr. Jennings, and then again forwarded it to Mr. Kelley and asked him to forward it to Mr. Jennings. I don't remember why.
LEAHY: Well, I wish you did remember. It'd be awfully helpful.
My time is up. We're going to come back to this. And I would hope that you would search your memory as we go along.
SPECTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Sampson, first of all, thank you for coming in. It is not easy to be in your position. And to appear voluntarily is commendable. So thank you for doing that.
In the time I have on the first round, I want to take up two questions with you.
One is, was any United States attorney asked to resign because either that United States attorney was pursuing hot leads on corruption which somebody wanted stopped or whether any U.S. attorney was asked to resign because the U.S. attorney refused to prosecute cases which should not have been prosecuted?
And then I want to get to the question as to whether Attorney General Gonzales has been candid in his responses.
Starting off with U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, it has been reported that on the day that Ms. Lam was the subject of an e-mail from you raising an issue about asking her to resign, that she broadened the investigation to include the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and that the day before she had initiated search-and- seizure warrants.
SPECTER: And my question is: Was there any connection between those two events, the issuance of the search-and-seizure warrants, the broadening of the investigation to include a member of the House, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and the e-mail which you sent saying, "We ought to be looking to replace Ms. Lam"?
SAMPSON: There was never any connection in my mind between asking Carol Lam to resign and the public corruption case that her office was working on.
SPECTER: Is it just a...
SAMPSON: I don't remember...
SPECTER: ... just a coincidence that you sent that e-mail saying, quote, "The real problem we now have with Carol Lam, that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her four-year term expires"?
Now, admittedly, that's some time in the future. But if neither of those incidents was connected, what was the problem with Ms. Lam to ask her to resign?
SAMPSON: The real problem at that time was her office's prosecution of immigration cases. In the months...
SPECTER: And that's the sole reason she was asked to resign?
SAMPSON: No, sir. But at that time of that e-mail, that's what was in my mind when I said: "The real problem with Carol Lam that leads me to believe that she should be asked to resign when her four- year term expires."
SPECTER: Let me move on. Let me...
SAMPSON: In my mind, that was immigration enforcement.
SPECTER: Let me move on, then, to a situation with the U.S. attorney in New Mexico.
Your e-mails show that the name of David Iglesias was not added until November 7th, 2006, which -- he had not been on a list of anyone to be asked to resign.
SPECTER: But it was added on that day, which was the day of the election and after the calls had been placed to Mr. Iglesias.
Was there any consideration at all of asking Mr. Iglesias to resign because he refused to carry out a prosecution which you thought should have been carried out?
SAMPSON: Not to my knowledge.
In mid-October, as this process was being finalized, I went back and looked at a list -- at the list of U.S. attorneys whose four-year terms had expired to see if anyone else should be added to the list. And I did that in consultation with others at the Department of Justice, including Mike Elston, who is the deputy attorney general's chief of staff, the deputy attorney general and others.
And there were four U.S. attorneys who were added to the list sometime there in mid-October, and appeared on the list on November 7, or -- or during that period of time. And they were close cases. They were U.S. attorneys who, for a variety of reasons...
SPECTER: Mr. Sampson, I have your answer. And I need to move on because of the limitation of time.
SAMPSON: Very good.
SPECTER: Are you prepared to swear under oath that no U.S. attorney was asked to resign because the U.S. attorney was pursuing an investigation which you thought was too hot, or was failing to undertake a prosecution which you thought should have been made?
SAMPSON: To my knowledge, that was the case.
Well, let me turn to the issue as to the candor or truthfulness of the attorney general.
In his press conference on March the 13th, Attorney General Gonzales said that he was not involved in any discussions relating to the issue. But the e-mails show that on November 27th, there was a meeting which Attorney General Gonzales attended which took up the issues or, apparently, discussions on the U.S. attorney appointments.
Was your e-mail correct that Attorney General Gonzales was present at a meeting on November 21st, at which there were discussions about U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions about U.S. attorney removals is accurate. And...
SPECTER: Is what? Is accurate?
SAMPSON: I don't think it's accurate. I think he's recently clarified it.
But I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign. And I believe that he was present at the meeting on November 27th.
SPECTER: So he was involved in discussions, contrary to the statement he made at his news conference on March 13th?
SAMPSON: I believe yes, sir.
SPECTER: In the limited time I have remaining, I want to come to one final issue from this round. And that is the question of whether there was a calculation by the Department of Justice to use this new provision in the Patriot Act to avoid Senate confirmation or Senate scrutiny on replacement U.S. attorneys.
Without going into it now, because I have no time left but want to finish the question, isn't it true, as these e-mails suggest, that there was a calculation on your part and the part of others in the Department of Justice to utilize this new provision to avoid confirmation by the Senate and to avoid scrutiny by the Senate and to avoid having senators participate in the selection of replacement U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: Senator, that was a bad idea by staff that was not adopted by the principals.
I did advocate that at different times. But it was never adopted by Judge Gonzales or by Ms. Miers or any of the...
SPECTER: But it was adopted. It was your idea -- at least your idea, according to the e-mails.
SAMPSON: I recommended that at one point.
SPECTER: But you're saying that others didn't adopt it?
SAMPSON: I was the chief of staff, and I made recommendations of different options that the decision-makers might pursue. And I did recommend that at one point. But it was never adopted by the attorney general.
SPECTER: Was it ever rejected by the attorney general or Ms. Miers?
SAMPSON: It was rejected by the attorney general. He thought it was a bad idea and he was right.
SPECTER: Do you have an e-mail or any confirmation of that rejection?
SAMPSON: I didn't communicate with the attorney general by e- mail, so I don't.
SPECTER: Well, I'll pick this up in the next round. I think there's a lot more to it from the e-mails, which I'll get into in detail.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Specter.
I'm somewhat boggled because that's exactly the provision of the Patriot Act, now been repealed by the Congress, that was used. It was an idea never adopted by anybody. Somehow miraculously it was used, at least for eight of these U.S. attorneys.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Again, Mr. Sampson, let me thank you for coming here voluntarily. I think that's most appreciated.
I want to follow up on Senator Specter's discussion about the attorney general and his involvement in the dismissal of these eight U.S. attorneys and these statements about it.
First, let's go over some of the attorney general's statements.
As you know, at a press conference on March 13th, the attorney general discussed this process of dismissing the U.S. attorneys and he said, "I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood." Was that statement accurate?
SAMPSON: I don't think it's entirely accurate what he said.
I don't remember if the attorney general ever saw documents. I didn't prepare memos for him on this issue.
But we did discuss it as early as -- before he became the attorney general, when he was the attorney general designate in January of 2005, I think; and then, from time to time, as the process was, sort of, in a thinking phase through 2005 and 2006. And then I remember discussing it with him as the process sort of came to a conclusion in the fall of 2006.
SCHUMER: So there were repeated discussions.
SAMPSON: Yes. And I think the attorney general clarified that a couple of days ago.
SCHUMER: Just want to get it clear.
So were there at least five?
SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically, but it would -- I spoke with him every day, so I think at least five.
SCHUMER: Yes, OK.
And you asked about the documents -- I asked you about the documents. You said you're not sure he's read a document. He received documents that mentioned this.
SAMPSON: I don't know that he did. I don't think the attorney general saw every iteration of the list.
SCHUMER: Let me ask you...
SAMPSON: And I'm not sure that he saw the replacement plan that I drafted.
SAMPSON: I don't remember if he did or not.
SCHUMER: The November 27th meeting that Senator Specter alluded to; he was there, right?
SAMPSON: Yes, I think so.
And the purpose of that, according to the e-mails, was to discuss U.S. attorneys with you and other senior Justice officials, right?
SCHUMER: Was a document handed out at that meeting? Was there any paper?
SAMPSON: I don't think so. I had circulated the replacement plan to the deputy attorney general and others who were discussing this matter. And -- and we may have had it at that meeting, but I don't remember.
SCHUMER: Was there a discussion at the meeting?
SCHUMER: Did the attorney general participate in the discussion?
SAMPSON: I think so. I don't -- I don't remember the meeting clearly, Senator.
SCHUMER: OK. But your recollection is, he did speak at the meeting?
SCHUMER: OK. Now, that in itself says a whole lot.
At the same press conference, the attorney general also said, "The charge for the chief of staff here was to drive this process. And the mistake that occurred here was that information that he had was not shared with individuals within the department who were then going to be providing testimony and information to Congress."
The attorney general was referring to you as his chief of staff, correct?
SCHUMER: Was that an accurate statement that he made?
SAMPSON: Senator, I believe that -- that at no time did I ever intend to mislead the Congress, or mislead witnesses that were coming before the Congress. I think we mishandled the preparation for Mr. McNulty's testimony...
SCHUMER: Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt. I just am trying to get yes-or-no questions.
He said, OK, that the mistake that occurred here was that information you had -- Karl Sampson had was not shared with individuals within the department.
SCHUMER: Is that true or false?
SAMPSON: Senator, I shared information with anyone who wanted it. I was very open and collaborative in the process, in the preparation for Mr. McNulty and Mr. Moschella's testimony.
SCHUMER: So I want to ask, did you share information with Mr. McNulty and Mr. Moschella?
SAMPSON: I did.
SCHUMER: So the attorney general's statement is wrong. It's false. How can it not be?
If you shared information with Mr. McNulty and Mr. Moschella, and the attorney general is saying it wasn't shared with individuals in the department who were providing testimony, to wit Moschella and McNulty, his statement's false, correct?
SAMPSON: Senator, as I look back on that process, the problem was that we were focused on other questions.
SCHUMER: I understand but it's just...
SAMPSON: And I think any information that I didn't provide was...
SCHUMER: Time is limited.
SAMPSON: I'm sorry, sir.
SCHUMER: The statement is false, correct? The statement is false. There's no way to believe it's not.
SAMPSON: I don't think it's accurate if...
SCHUMER: OK, we'll leave it at that. It's not accurate.
SAMPSON: ... the statement implies that I intentionally withheld any information.
SCHUMER: Right. I'm not asking intent; I'm just asking whether it was false and you said it was inaccurate.
CORNYN: Mr. Chairman, I think it's not fair to the witness to not allow him to answer the questions and to continually interrupt and to ask whether something's true or false and...
LEAHY: If we could -- gentlemen, the senator from Texas is going to have a chance to follow up if he wants. If he feels they're not answered, he can follow up.
CORNYN: Mr. Chairman, it's not fair. This witness is testifying under oath and if the penalty of perjury is attached to this testimony, he ought to be able to answer the question fully and not be interrupted.
LEAHY: And this witness has said a couple dozen times that he doesn't remember on things, and we're trying to find what in Heaven's name he does remember. I'll let the senator from New York continue.
SCHUMER: Thank you.
And I think the questions are clear-cut, factual and demand some factual answers. And I'll continue.
CORNYN: And the witness ought to be allowed to answer the question fully.
SCHUMER: Similarly, DOJ spokesman, on March 24th, Ms. Scolinos, said the attorney general did not participate in the selection of U.S. attorneys to be fired.
SCHUMER: Was that an accurate statement?
SAMPSON: I don't think that's an accurate statement.
SCHUMER: Ms. Scolinos did say on that occasion that the attorney general did sign off on the final list. Was that an accurate statement?
SAMPSON: Yes, that's an accurate statement.
And when did he sign off on the final list?
SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically. It was during this period in time when we had an ongoing discussion.
I remember that he asked me to make sure that I was consulting with the deputy attorney general, and that he agreed with the list of U.S. attorneys who should -- who we might consider asking to resign. And he also asked that I be sure to coordinate with the White House.
Did the attorney general add or remove any names from the list at any time?
SAMPSON: I don't remember him ever doing that.
Did you discuss with the attorney general the reasons or method for selecting individuals to put on that list?
SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically doing that.
You know, we had talked over the course of a couple of years about the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. attorneys, and he was more interested in making sure that senior department leaders agreed that that was the right list.
SCHUMER: But at some point in time you mentioned the names to him, right?
SAMPSON: Yes, I think so.
So how could Mister -- Ms. Scolinos say he didn't participate at all in the -- quote, her words, "did not participate in the selection of the U.S. attorneys to be fired"?
SAMPSON: I can't really speak to what she said.
SCHUMER: OK. Thank you.
I have many more questions in this regard, Mr. Chairman, but I'm at a synapse here, so yield.
LEAHY: Senator Cornyn, I recognize you next.
CORNYN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Sampson, in your written statement you say, "I believe the department's response was bad mishandled. It was mishandled through an unfortunate combination of poor judgments, poor word choices, poor communication and preparation for the department's testimony before Congress."
Is that your testimony today?
CORNYN: Mr. Sampson, for me, these next two questions are the most important part of this inquiry. I'm talking about for me personally.
In your prepared statement you explain that to your knowledge no United States attorney was asked to resign for an improper reason. You say that the limited category of improper reasons include an effort to interfere or influence the investigation or prosecution of a particular case for political or partisan advantage.
At any time were you approached by anyone with the administration with a complaint about a U.S. attorney that you would consider taken alone to be an improper reason to remove the individual?
SAMPSON: No, Senator, I don't remember anything like that.
CORNYN: I believe Director Mueller of the FBI testified a couple of days ago and was asked whether any of this -- these removals -- to his knowledge had provoked a response from an FBI agent to the effect that it had interfered with an ongoing investigation or prosecution, and his testimony was consistent with yours.
Am I correct that the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division oversees the department's efforts to combat public corruption through the prosecution of elected and appointed public officials at all levels of government?
CORNYN: At any point during the process that you were evaluating U.S. attorneys, did you have any direct contact with attorneys or other employees of the Public Integrity Section or supervisors in the Criminal Division in relation to the work of a particular United States attorney or a particular district?
SAMPSON: I don't remember that.
I spoke with Alice Fisher from time to time about various issues, but I don't remember speaking with her ever about the idea of identifying a set of United States attorneys who might be asked to resign. And I certainly didn't speak with her with the idea of identifying U.S. attorneys who might be asked to resign so as to influence a case for political reasons.
CORNYN: Mr. Sampson, the United States attorneys, are they the ones -- the ones that are appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate, are those the ones who typically handle the day-to-day investigation and prosecution of public corruption cases or other serious crimes?
SAMPSON: It's my understanding that those sorts of cases are usually handled by career investigators and prosecutors.
CORNYN: Is there any -- is there any reason, to your knowledge, to believe that the -- that the replacement of a United States attorney with another individual appointed by the president, and confirmed by the United States Senate, would by -- in and of itself, tend to interfere or impede with any investigation into any criminal -- serious criminal matter that a U.S. attorney's office was investigating or prosecuting?
SAMPSON: Not to my knowledge.
My observation was that U.S. attorneys -- political appointees -- came and went. We had -- I had participated in the selection of all of the U.S. attorneys from the beginning of the administration and about half of them had already left office. There was much turnover in the U.S. attorney ranks.
And it had -- it never was my belief that a U.S. attorney changeover would have much influence at all on a particular case.
CORNYN: Mr. Sampson, why have you chosen to voluntarily appear before the committee today rather than invoke your rights under the United States Constitution, under the Fifth Amendment?
SAMPSON: Well, because I wanted to come up to the Senate and explain the facts as I understood them. I considered what the appropriate thing to do was, and for me, it was to come and testify here today.
CORNYN: At least one of the other people that worked with you at the Department of Justice has invoked her rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Do you have any -- any opinion with regard to why it is that a public servant working at the Department of Justice would find it necessary, when a civic committee is conducting an investigation, to invoke her rights against self-incrimination?
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't really.
It's no small thing to come up here and meet before this committee. But -- but I really wouldn't want to venture an opinion.
CORNYN: Well, Mr. Sampson, I -- I appreciate your testimony. And basically, there -- from everything that this committee has heard so far, at least what I've heard, there is no evidence that any of this replacement of U.S. attorneys was designed to or actually did impede a criminal investigation or prosecution.
If there was any evidence, I'd be the first one to be jumping down your throat. But I've heard no evidence of that.
I regret, if in fact at the end of this investigation there is -- continues to be no evidence of that, I regret the fact that dedicated public servants get caught up in politically motivated attacks against the administration or other individuals and find it necessary to have to hire lawyers and to invoke their rights under the Constitution not to testify, rather than risk perhaps prosecution for perjury or some other related criminal matter.
CORNYN: I think it's unfortunate. I really do. And I appreciate your testimony here today.
SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you.
I'm not quite sure how to take that last statement.
We have investigations all the time. Obviously, if people don't commit perjury, they don't get prosecuted for perjury.
If everybody -- if they feel they might be the subject of a criminal investigation, they do have a constitutional right to take the Fifth.
CORNYN: Mr. Chairman, my only point was, I believe there was some implication that by invoking the Fifth amendment, that inference of guilt could be drawn from that. And I think that's an incorrect statement of law.
And I don't think any negative inference can or should be drawn from anyone invoking their constitutional rights.
LEAHY: My statement was that if somebody doesn't commit perjury, they don't get charged with perjury.
KOHL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Sampson, what has always made our country and justice system so special is our confidence in the independence and the integrity of our judicial system, of which the Justice Department, as you know, is an integral part.
Our Justice Department exists to serve the rule of law and justice, not some partisan political agenda.
So the firing of these eight U.S. attorneys has disturbed me and others greatly. I believe it tells us how far from this proud tradition of our democracy the administration has fallen.
The administration has fired nearly a tenth of our nation's U.S. attorneys, but retained the remaining 85 percent -- 85. What separated the 85 who remained from the eight who were dismissed?
Your e-mails, Mr. Sampson, appear to tell us the story. The U.S. attorneys you chose to retain had proven themselves to be, quote, "loyal Bushies," or, quote, "exhibited loyalty to the president and the attorney general," unquote.
This process strikes at the core of the integrity of our justice system.
When one of the U.S. attorneys in my state of Wisconsin brings an indictment, I do not want to worry, and I don't want our citizens to have to worry, that he did so for some crass political motives or to settle scores with some political opponent or to advance the agenda of his political party.
It is a sacred tenet of our democracy that politics must stay out of criminal prosecutions.
Merely by pursuing investigations and obtaining indictments, U.S. attorneys have enormous power to blacken reputations and destroy lives. To retain U.S. attorneys on the basis of loyalty to a political agenda, to fire other well-qualified and regarded U.S. attorneys whom the political echelons at the Justice Department and the White House suspected were not loyal Bushies strikes at the very heart of our system of justice.
So, I ask you, Mr. Sampson, what confidence can citizens have in the fairness of our system and the unbiased nature of decisions to prosecute, after reviewing what happened with the dismissal of these U.S. attorneys?
Isn't there tremendous damage done to the Justice Department and our entire system of justice when the appearance of partisan politics seems to trump the administration of justice?
SAMPSON: Senator Kohl, thank you.
I understand the concern that animates your question. Let me just say that, in my e-mails, by referring to loyal Bushies or loyalty to the president and the attorney general, what I meant was loyalty to their policies and to the priorities that they had laid out for the U.S. attorneys.
The president, at the beginning of the administration, launched a domestic policy initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods, to increase federal gun prosecutions. If that's the example -- that's an example of what I was referring to.
I agree wholeheartedly that, with regard to particular matters and investigating cases, that United States attorneys and federal law enforcement officers have to take the facts as they find them and prosecute cases based on the facts and the law.
I understand -- my observation is that United States attorneys also have another role, which is, as political appointees, to promote the president's priorities and initiatives in the area of law enforcement.
SAMPSON: So I hope that my answer has given you that assurance that I shared that view as well.
KOHL: Well, partially.
What is the public's perception to be when somebody who is -- like Karl Rove, who is the ultimate political operative, the ultimate political insider, who's function is political almost by definition, is so involved in this process? What would you expect average people to think around the country other than the process is highly politicized?
SAMPSON: Senator, I wouldn't want to speculate on what the perception around the country is. I don't know.
KOHL: Well, can you disagree with people who might have the impression, however inaccurate, that the process is highly politicized when the ultimate political insider is so involved it in?
SAMPSON: Senator, if that is the impression that people have, then I regret it because that does bring harm.
KOHL: But isn't the job of -- ones of the jobs of people like yourself to do everything that they can to see that that impression is not given however accidentally?
SAMPSON: Senator, the answer is yes. And I failed in that, and that's what I resigned.
KOHL: We have heard the attorney general compare his management style to that of a CEO. He seems to have said in recent days that he was not involved in determining which U.S. attorneys would be fired or for what reason. And yet he did acknowledge that he signed off on the final list of terminations that you compiled.
In essence, he is saying that he permitted his deputies to fire almost 10 percent of the U.S. attorneys with almost no input from him at all.
Now, this is hard to believe.
Either the attorney general is simply absent as manager of the Justice Department, or he's not been candid with the American people about his participation in this firings. Which one is it or is there some other explanation?
SAMPSON: Well, as I said in a previous answer, the attorney general was aware of this process from the beginning in early 2005. He and I had discussions about it during the thinking phase of the process.
Then after the, sort of, more final phase of the process in the 2006 began, we discussed it. He asked me to make sure that the process was appropriate, that I was consulting with the deputy attorney general and others in developing the list.
And then ultimately he approved both the list and the notion of going forward and asking for these resignations.
KOHL: Mr. Sampson, the fact that you and your colleagues at the top echelons of Justice decided to fire these eight U.S. attorneys, individuals that you have referred to in your written statement to the committee as, quote, "good people," who, quote, "each served our country honorably," makes us wonder what exactly do the other 85 U.S. attorneys do to keep their jobs?
Were there any political discussions regarding any U.S. attorneys who were not fired that led them to pursue cases that they were not otherwise working on, or not to pursue cases that they were working on?
But again, you fired these who were otherwise good people, honorable people, doing nice jobs. You didn't fire any of the other 85. What is it about the other 85 that caused them not to be fired?
SAMPSON: Senator, to my knowledge there was no -- no U.S. attorney asked to resign for the purpose of influencing a particular case for a political reason.
My view was that these were political appointees, and that under the statute they serve four-year terms and then can hold over. And so with regard to all 93 U.S. attorneys, we didn't even consider U.S. attorneys who were in the midst of their four-year term.
So we only considered, in a collaborative manner among senior Justice Department officials, United States attorneys who had served more than four years, who had completed their term. And of that group, we identified a group of U.S. attorneys who, it was the considered judgment of folks, could be thanked for their service and that it would be beneficial to have a new U.S. attorney appointed.
KOHL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you.
Mr. Sampson, I should have noted at the beginning, obviously if you at some point in here need a break or something for a couple of minutes, (inaudible) following the normal tradition of this committee, you're aware of that and give us a signal?
SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: And we'll make it -- we'll make it possible for you to go.
What I'm going to do in going back and forth -- and we decided at the last meeting (inaudible) Senator Cornyn spoke first for the Republicans. But I want to go by the list that Senator Specter has. And under that list, Senator Hatch will -- will go next. Following Senator Hatch, Senator Feinstein on our side.
It's also my intention, people can plan, to go somewhere between 12:30 and quarter of 1 and break so that you and your attorneys can have -- have lunch.
LEAHY: It will depend upon just where we are in the sequence of questioning. And we'll break for about one hour.
HATCH: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
One indication that the process was thorough and deliberative was that in your January 2005 e-mail, "rough guess" -- you used the language -- the rough guess was that you were going to retire about 15 to 20 percent, and in the end less than 10 percent were asked to resign.
So this process, as I understand it, took almost two years, is that correct?
SAMPSON: Senator, the issue was raised, you know, in early 2005 about whether all the United States attorneys should be removed and replaced.
HATCH: I remember that.
SAMPSON: It was my view, along with others, that that would not be appropriate and that we might consider as a management effort to identify a smaller subset of folks who might be asked to resign after their four-year terms had expired. And the process after that took a while.
None of the United States -- in January of 2005, none of the first class of Bush-appointed United States attorneys had served their four-year term. The first expirations didn't begin until the fall of 2005.
So during 2005, it was really a thinking phase in the process where we were just identifying U.S. attorneys where there were issues or concerns with them.
HATCH: I'm grateful that you agreed voluntarily to come here today. And I'm glad you're here primarily because you were in charge of this process of evaluating U.S. attorneys and recommending some for replacement.
One thing the administration's consistently said is that seven of the eight U.S. attorneys were asked to resign for performance-related reasons. Now, the only way properly to evaluate the administration's decisions is on the administration's terms. So it is very important, it seems to me, to understand how the administration defined that key word "performance" in this process.
You were in charge of the evaluation process and in making the recommendations. In that January 9th, 2005, e-mail you spoke of a desire to remove U.S. attorneys who you described as, quote, "underperformers," unquote. Now, how did the administration view this category of performance?
SAMPSON: Senator, as I said in my opening statement, it was not a scientific or quantitative analysis for identifying U.S. attorneys who might be considered underperforming.
HATCH: But it was more than looking at just statistics, right?
SAMPSON: Frankly, Senator, it wasn't -- it was looking at statistics in a few of the cases, but in other cases it was a process of asking leaders in the department, folks who would have a reason to have an informed judgment, who were U.S. attorneys that presented issues and concerns.
HATCH: Well, I want to be crystal clear on this.
Our Democratic colleagues here in the Senate and in the House claim that there were no performance problems by using a very narrow definition of that term. They say the only legitimate performance problem is one that shows up on the statistical evaluation conducted every three years.
So let me ask you again, just to be clear: When you evaluated the performance of U.S. attorneys, did you look only at statistical categories and written evaluations, or was your idea of performance much broader than that?
SAMPSON: To me and to others in the process, performance-related was much broader. It included production in the office, management abilities, extracurricular U.S. attorney work on the attorney general's advisory committee or other work in developing policies of the administration. It included not engaging in policy conflicts with main Justice.
It was a general process where I talked to senior leaders in the department and asked them, "If we were going to ask a handful of U.S. attorneys to resign so that others might serve, who would you have on your list?"
And so performance-related is a plastic term that included a lot of things to a lot of people in the front (ph).
HATCH: A lot of additional things than what you've just said here today, right?
SAMPSON: Yes, sir.
HATCH: Well, based on the broader definition of performance you actually used, do you believe that there was or that there were legitimate performance-related bases for asking several of these U.S. attorneys to resign?
SAMPSON: Yes, I believe that all eight were asked to resign for reasons related to their performance.
HATCH: You were in charge of this project. It was assigned to you. We have hundreds, even thousands, of pages of documents showing that you worked very hard on this project for approximately two years. I want to ask you to respond to some of the many claims and charges swirling around, most coming from the other side of the aisle.
HATCH: One of my Democratic colleagues said that the only -- that the only U.S. attorneys the administration fired are those who, quote, "are investigating Republicans or not investigating Democrats when somebody wanted them to," unquote. Is that true?
SAMPSON: To my knowledge, that was not a consideration in adding a U.S. attorney to the list.
HATCH: One of my Democratic colleagues said that when you were the attorney general's chief of staff, you actually admitted that U.S. attorneys were fired for political reasons.
Have you ever admitted such a thing? Or were any of them asked to resign for political reasons? Or should I say improper political reasons, because the president -- they serve at the president's pleasure?
SAMPSON: U.S. attorneys are political appointees. And, as I said in my opening statement, I think the distinction between performance-related and political is artificial.
I'm not aware of any of the United States attorneys being asked to resign for the improper political purpose of influencing a case for political benefit.
But I'm aware that some were asked to resign because they weren't carrying out the president and the attorney general's priorities. And in some sense, that may be described as political by some people.
HATCH: But that's also described as a performance situation.
SAMPSON: That's right.
HATCH: Some of my colleagues focus on one of these U.S. attorneys more than any other, claiming that Carol Lam was asked to resign as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California because she was investigating and prosecuting the corruption case involving former Representative Duke Cunningham.
They say it flat out, so let me ask you flat out: Did you conclude that Carol Lam should be replaced because she was pursuing the Cunningham case?
SAMPSON: I did not.
HATCH: Here's one of the things that confuses me about this claim that Carol Lam was removed because of the Cunningham case, or any other case, for that matter. Any other cases?
SAMPSON: Not to my knowledge, sir.
HATCH: As I read the documents provided by the Department of Justice, you listed Carol Lam as a recommended replacement on a chart dated February 24th, 2005. Now that was several months before the Cunningham scandal even broke in the media, which was before federal investigators and prosecutors, as far as I can see, got involved.
And I see correspondence and other evidence that complains about her performance are coming in even earlier, in 2004, from House members.
HATCH: And Southern California newspapers reported in 2003 about the frustration of Border Patrol agents that Carol Lam's office was bringing so few prosecutions of smugglers of immigrants.
And complaints about her performance in 2003 and 2004 led to a February 2005 recommendation that she be asked to resign for performance-related reasons. It seems pretty reasonable, if those are true.
I guess I'm baffled how a case that did not even exist could somehow have been responsible for her removal. And that is the tale being spun by some that I've heard, who -- and I confess, I just don't understand it.
And reading the record correctly, when did concerns and complaints about Carol Lam's performance arise and what were they?
SAMPSON: Carol Lam is a good person and a very skilled lawyer.
HATCH: I agree with that.
SAMPSON: But she consistently appeared on the list that I aggregated, based on input from other senior Department of Justice officials, from the beginning of this process.
My recollection is that, in the beginning, it was due to her office's failure to embrace the president's anti-gun violence initiative, Project Safe Neighborhoods. The district in San Diego simply did not devote any resources to that initiative. And it was the subject of consternation in former Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey's office and early on through the process.
Later, in 2005 and 2006, the concerns about Carol Lam related to her office's immigration enforcement, in the context of the debate that was going on about comprehensive immigration reform.
HATCH: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Sorry I went over a little bit.
LEAHY: Thank you.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to go back to your answers to Senator Specter's questions, when he asked you about the notice you received on the search warrant on May 10th, 2006, and you indicate -- and he asked you if that was related -- the real problem aspect was related to this case. And you said no, it was her immigration record.
FEINSTEIN: I'm sending -- asking my chief counsel to give you a letter and asking that that letter be also distributed to the committee as well as to the press. This is a letter dated February 15th...
LEAHY: And does the senator want that in the record also?
FEINSTEIN: I would. Thank you very much.
LEAHY: Without objection.
FEINSTEIN: ... September 15, 2007, signed by the director of field operations of the United States Customs and Border Protection Agency. It's sent to Carol Lam. And it is a letter of commendation, and I will just read a few sections.
"To address the alien enforcement issue, your office supported the implementation of the Alien Smuggling Fast Track Program, and has demonstrated a commitment to aggressively address the alien smuggling recidivism rate.
"In support of Border Patrol referrals for prosecution, your office maintains a 100 percent acceptance rate of criminal cases while staunchly refusing to reduce felony charges to misdemeanors and maintaining a minimal dismissal rate and supporting special prosecution efforts.
"In validation of enforcement initiatives, your staff aggressively prosecuted enrollees in the Sentry program who engaged in smuggling to support a zero-tolerance posture. They have focused on cases of fraud, special-interest aliens, prosecution of criminal aliens and supported our sustained disrupt operations.
"The prosecution's unit presented 416 alien smuggling cases, which represents a 33 percent increase over the 314 cases presented in '05. The prosecutions unit identified and pursued the prosecution of several recidivist alien smugglers and presented 30 non-threshold alien smuggling cases for prosecution, resulting in a 100 percent conviction rate. This represents a 329 percent increase over the seven non-threshold cases presented in 2005."
Additionally, a cumulation study done by USA Today places Carol Lam as one of the top three attorneys in the United States for the prosecution of these cases. It is a real surprise to me that you would say here that the reason for her dismissal was immigration cases.
Now, if I might go on, who, Mr. Sampson, was Dusty Foggo or is Dusty Foggo?
SAMPSON: I understand from news reports, Senator, and from general knowledge, that he was an employee at the CIA.
FEINSTEIN: And who is Mr. Wilkes?
SAMPSON: I don't know. I understand, again from news reports, that he's affiliated somehow with Mr. Foggo.
FEINSTEIN: And are you aware that on May 10th Carol Lam sent a notice to the Department of Justice saying she would be seeking a search warrant of the CIA investigation into Dusty Foggo and Brent Wilkes?
SAMPSON: I don't remember ever seeing such a notice.
FEINSTEIN: But the next day you wrote the e-mail which says, "The real problem we have right now -- right now -- with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day after her four-year term expires," that that relates to her immigration record.
SAMPSON: The real problem that I was referring to in that e-mail was her office's failure to being sufficient immigration cases.
SAMPSON: The attorney general in the month before had been subject to criticism at his -- at a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. And thereafter at the Department of Justice, in our senior management meeting with the deputy attorney general and others, there had been a robust discussion about how to address that issue.
The department was being criticized for not doing enough to enforce the border, largely by House Republicans. And the attorney general was concerned about it. And he asked the deputy attorney general to take some action to address that issue.
I recall also that the deputy attorney general was scheduled to meet with the California House Republicans, who were critical of Carol Lam, on May 11th.
FEINSTEIN: Let me just move on.
On January 13th, Dan Dzwilewski, the head of the FBI office in San Diego, said that he thought Carol Lam's continued employment was crucial to the success of multiple ongoing investigations.
FEINSTEIN: Did you call FBI headquarters and complain about those comments?
SAMPSON: I did. I called Lisa Monaco (ph), who serves as a special assistant to the director of the FBI, and asked her why an FBI employee was commenting on that issue.
FEINSTEIN: And why would you think that the special agent in charge in the area should not comment on whether her termination was going to affect cases?
SAMPSON: I understood that Carol Lam was a political appointee, and that a decision had been made in the executive branch to ask her to resign so that others could serve.
I'd like to just go over a series of cases quickly, in the time I have remaining. I'll finish it on the next round if I don't have a chance.
Were you aware that Bud Cummins was looking at an investigation into Missouri Republican Governor Roy Blunt? I'm just asking if you were aware of that.
SAMPSON: I don't remember being aware of that.
To the best of your knowledge, was the attorney general?
SAMPSON: I don't know.
FEINSTEIN: Were there any discussions that you heard that discussed this?
SAMPSON: No, I don't -- I don't remember being aware of that.
Were you aware that Dan Bogden had opened a probe relating to Nevada Republican Governor Jim Gibbons?
SAMPSON: I don't remember being aware of that.
FEINSTEIN: You were not.
Were you aware that John McKay declined to intervene in a contentious governor's race in Seattle?
SAMPSON: I remember hearing about that back in 2005, I believe. But I don't really have any specific recollection about that. I may just have heard of that through news accounts.
FEINSTEIN: Were you aware that Paul Charlton had opened preliminary probes into Republican Congressmen Jim Kolbe and Rick Renzi before the November election?
SAMPSON: I think that I was aware of that through news accounts.
FEINSTEIN: And of what were you aware?
SAMPSON: That he had -- that there was some preliminary investigation of those two congressmen.
And were you aware that David Iglesias had been overseeing an investigation of state Democrats?
FEINSTEIN: And let me just put a period -- question mark there.
SAMPSON: I don't remember being aware of that until, you know, the last month or so.
FEINSTEIN: Were you aware that calls were made to Mr. Iglesias?
SAMPSON: I was not aware of that.
FEINSTEIN: Were you aware that there were concerns with that case?
SAMPSON: I was not aware of any concerns with any particular case in New Mexico.
FEINSTEIN: My time is up. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll continue in the next round.
LEAHY: Senator Kyl is not here. We'll go to Senator Sessions.
SESSIONS: United States attorneys have got to be strong people. They are given difficult challenges. They're not shrinking violets. Somebody criticized them, they're not likely to wither and run and hide. I think that's important to note. And I think every day, most of them go forward, almost universally, making tough calls that they believe are just and fair and take the consequences no matter what people say.
I just hate anything that suggests here that there are some serious problem with United States attorneys not doing what they think is right because I think daily they do.
This idea to remove a number of United State attorneys, did the attorney general object? Did he call to the White House and say, "This is not a good idea"?
You expressed some concern. Your initial numbers were three, maybe four to be terminated. Did he object to removing a United States attorney for -- to give someone else a chance?
SESSIONS: You know, attorney generals are lawyers for the president in one sense -- no this personal lawyer, but they're the country's lawyer. And I think sometimes they just have to say no. And I think a lot of attorney generals have, and maybe we would have been better off if there had been some explanation of the difficulties that you've raised here with this process had been conveyed further up in a firm way.
Why didn't they -- you did say earlier in 2005, which was the appropriate time to tell people they would be leaving -- they'd completely nearly four years at that time; most had. Why didn't you tell them, "By the time your four years is up, maybe September, October, later in the year, that we want to replace you and you need to be looking for something else"? Why didn't that happen?
SAMPSON: Well, Senator, to my recollection is the very first U.S. attorneys had not completed their four-year terms until September.
SAMPSON: And then for the next year, sort of September '05 to September '06, is when that first class' four-year terms expired.
SESSIONS: But wouldn't you have told them in January of '05 that they would be moving on later on in that year, when their four years's completed?
SAMPSON: That was never communicated, I think perhaps because...
SESSIONS: That's sort of part of the bungling, it seems to me. That would have been -- perhaps you said it should be done quietly, respectfully of the United States attorneys, but it really didn't happen that way, did it?
SAMPSON: No, sir.
SESSIONS: Now, I think we've got to talk about this November 27th meeting.
The attorney general himself said he was not involved in any discussions about what's going on. "We never had a discussion about where things stood."
Now, this was a pretty big meeting. Your e-mails indicate you understood the seriousness of -- at least politically, if not substantively -- of removing a number of United States attorneys. Memos had been sent out. A lot of people of key importance were at that meeting. Isn't it true?
SESSIONS: How long did it take?
SAMPSON: I don't remember the meeting being that long, maybe 20 minutes.
SESSIONS: And who all was there?
SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically, and perhaps the documents reflect this.
I remember specifically that the deputy attorney general was there, and I believe that one or two of his deputies. I believe that Monica Goodling, who was the senior counsel to the attorney general, and the attorney general and myself.
SESSIONS: And the attorney general stayed the whole time?
SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically.
I know that he was there at least for a portion of the meeting. I think he's acknowledged as much in the last couple of days.
I remember in my mind that it was in the attorney general's conference room. And that at the close of the meeting I went to follow the attorney general into his office, and the deputy attorney general called me back with a question. I have that recollection in my mind.
SESSIONS: Well, I don't think it was a small matter. And I think the attorney general -- I'm disappointed he didn't remember that in his statement.
Now, with regard to Senator Schumer asking you about preparing Mr. McNulty for his testimony, the deputy attorney general didn't know all the e-mails that have been produced here, and didn't know all the conversations you'd had with people in the White House or other offices, about these appointments, did he?
SAMPSON: He did not. And at the time that we were preparing Mr. McNulty, I didn't remember all of them.
SESSIONS: So you're not saying that you told him everything it later turned out he really needed to know to answer the questions honestly in the committee, and accurately?
SAMPSON: In the preparation for Mr. McNulty, we really focused on the issues of the day, the questions that the Congress had. And I remember that Mr. McNulty was focused on trying to provide the Congress the information it wanted.
And so we talked about why, the different performance-related reasons each of the U.S. attorneys made it onto that list.
We talked about whether the administration had ever made a decision to circumvent the Senate's confirmation process.
And we talked about whether, to any of the knowledge of anybody in those preparation sessions, any of these U.S. attorneys had made it on the list, in an effort to influence a case for an improper political reason.
That's what we really focused on at his preparation. We didn't focus on the historical origins of this process that is initiated at the White House.
SESSIONS: I can understand how that's possible, and...
LEAHY: Senator Sessions?
SESSIONS: Is the green light still on?
LEAHY: I'm sorry. I read it wrong. You're OK. Go ahead, please. I apologize.
SESSIONS: I can see how that's possible. But when he was asked those things and when he responded, in some instances incorrectly -- do you have any information that, at that time, he knew something different and was providing information to the committee that he knew was inaccurate?
SAMPSON: I don't.
SESSIONS: And so you believe he testified to the best of his knowledge when he testified?
SAMPSON: I think we collectively failed to prepare appropriately. And I felt some responsibility for that.
SAMPSON: And that's why I offered my resignation to the attorney general.
But I didn't intend to mislead Mr. McNulty or Mr. Moschella or the Congress. And I honestly don't think either of them intended to.
SESSIONS: Well, I just think we -- we want to get that straight if we can. And I appreciate your candor on that subject.
With regard to Carol -- I guess my time is up.
I would just say this: With regard to the FBI supervisor's comment that her presence as United States attorney was crucial to the success of corruption cases, he should have probably been disciplined for that, because it's not so.
She probably -- I would be amazed if she personally was trying those cases. United States attorneys turn -- turn over all the time. And I don't believe that that's an accurate statement. If it is, I'd like to see him make proof of that.
But I -- and if it comes up in this committee that what occurred had some tendency to block a legitimate prosecution, then people are going to be in big trouble with me and, I think, this Congress. But I assume and hope and pray that that was just an overreaction by him, to make a statement that was over the top...
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Sessions.
SESSIONS: ... and I think it was not correct for him to do so.
LEAHY: Thank you.
CARDIN: I thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Sampson, thank you for being here.
In your prepared statement, you indicate that one reason for dismissal would be the loss of trust or confidence of important local constituencies in law enforcement or government. And I want to ask you whether that played a role in the eight U.S. attorneys that were dismissed. But I'm particularly interested, quite frankly, in New Mexico and California. And I would appreciate if you could answer that somewhat briefly.
SAMPSON: Senator, the reason that eight U.S. attorneys were put on the list is -- was related to their performance. Related...
CARDIN: My question is, related to the concerns of the local political establishment?
SAMPSON: I understand.
What -- I understand that the eight were put on the list because of concerns related to their performance. I also understand that -- I know that at the time, the department knew that Congressman Issa and others were very critical of Ms. Lam.
I also have been reminded that the attorney general received three calls from Senator Domenici complaining about Mr. Iglesias, and that the deputy attorney general received a call from Senator Domenici complaining about Mr. Iglesias.
I'm not sure those things were on my mind when those names were added to the list. But they certainly may have been influential. I know that the department cares about the views of Congress...
CARDIN: But who would be the principal person that you -- advised you on who should go on the list? Who would be responsible for weighing the local political issues?
SAMPSON: Well, that wasn't a -- I don't believe that was specifically a consideration. I guess I just wanted to share with you that -- that looking back on this, as I sit here today, the department as a whole was aware of those complaints from those members of Congress. No one in the senior DOJ leadership who I was getting input from would be responsible for assessing the views of Congress specifically.
CARDIN: You mention in your testimony that, "I developed and maintained a list that reflected the aggregation of views of these and other departmental officials over a period of almost two years."
The chairman asked you in the beginning whether you had additional documents. Is this a document that would be available, that reflects these different views as relates to the U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: It wasn't one document. And it wasn't a -- it was in the context of a, sort of, a presidential personnel context, where I gathered information from various sources...
CARDIN: Did it include political information locally?
SAMPSON: I don't remember. I don't remember specifically looking for that or receiving that.
CARDIN: How did you arrive at eight as the number? Could it have nine, could it have been seven, could it have been 15? Was there a specific number you were looking for?
SAMPSON: There really wasn't.
In fact, in mid-October, after presenting the list to different DOJ officials, I remember asking, "Let's go back and look at all the remaining United States attorneys whose four-year terms have expired," which was another 30 maybe, "and see if there are any folks there that ought to be added to the list."
And I remember that four U.S. attorneys were added to the list at that time, relatively close cases, but ones that we could consider whether it would be beneficial or not to ask them to resign.
CARDIN: You indicate you compiled a list over two years, but it's not one document, it's numerous documents. Are those documents available?
SAMPSON: I don't personally have control of any documents. I don't work at the Justice Department anymore. I don't think they exist. They were lists that I kept and marked up and then threw away and a new list, so I believe that the...
CARDIN: So over two years you -- I'm a little bit confused. Your testimony says that, "I developed and maintained a list that reflected the aggregation of views of these and other department officials over a period of almost two years." Is that not accurate then?
SAMPSON: To be clear, it was not one list that was sustained through the two years. It was an...
CARDIN: And this list no longer exists?
SAMPSON: Senator, what it was -- the Executive Office of United States Attorneys prepares a running chart of all the United States attorneys, of when they were appointed, you know, and other U.S. attorneys who are in the pipeline to be appointed or are there on interim appointments. It's a master chart of the U.S. attorneys at that specific time. And...
CARDIN: But your statement said that it had an aggregation of views related, I assume, to the performance. And my question is whether that exists, and you're indicated it was more note-taking, and so you didn't maintain one consistent list over the period of two years.
SAMPSON: That's accurate. All I can say is that it wasn't scientific and it wasn't well-documented.
CARDIN: I want to get to perception here. Because I tell you, we all worry about perception. Perception and public confidence go hand in hand.
You acknowledge here that an inappropriate way to discharge a U.S. attorney would be for interference or influence the investigation or prosecution of a political case for political or partisan advantages.
You've also acknowledged that you were aware of what was happening in California at the time that the decision was made to ask for the resignation of the U.S. attorney.
You also acknowledge you were aware in New Mexico of the contacts that were made in regard to a sensitive decision on whether to prosecute or not.
CARDIN: Do you see a perception problem here?
SAMPSON: Senator, at the time, in my mind, I did not associate at all the idea of asking a U.S. attorney to resign and the idea that it would be done to improperly influence a case for...
CARDIN: Do you see a perception problem here, of the timing relative to the investigations and the U.S. attorneys that were selected?
SAMPSON: Senator, in retrospect, I do. And that -- I believe that it was a failure on my part. And I want to take accountability and responsibility...
CARDIN: You're saying the failure was the manner in which you handled it, but not the decisions that were made on the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: I'm acknowledging, Senator, that it was a failure on my part, and others, but I will hold myself responsible for not -- for the lack of foresight that people would perceive it as being done to influence a case for an improper political reason.
CARDIN: And the impact...
SAMPSON: I didn't associate...
CARDIN: ... it's having on U.S. attorney's offices across this country?
SAMPSON: And I regret that.
CARDIN: You regret it.
Would you -- if you could do it over again, would you have a different list, no list, or what -- I'm not sure I understand what you're acknowledging to this committee: whether it's just a public relations problem in presenting it or whether it's a real problem in the method that was used to ask for the U.S. attorneys to resign.
SAMPSON: I guess I was just trying to answer your question.
I was acknowledging that, at the time, I personally did not take adequate account of the perception problem that would result.
CARDIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you.
Is Senator Kyl coming back?
LEAHY: Well then, what we will do, is we will go to Senator Whitehouse at this point.
LEAHY: And then we will recess until quarter of 1.
(UNKNOWN): Quarter of 1? Quarter of 2.
LEAHY: Quarter of 2. We were using -- I guess we weren't even using California time.
WHITEHOUSE: Thank you, Chairman.
LEAHY: Quarter of 2.
WHITEHOUSE: Hello, Mr. Sampson.
WHITEHOUSE: Could you tell me who, other than your family and your lawyers, you've discussed your testimony today with, before you came in here?
SAMPSON: No one.
WHITEHOUSE: Who had it been coordinated with, to your knowledge, other than your own lawyers and your family?
SAMPSON: No one. I've not spoken with anyone at the department or anywhere else.
WHITEHOUSE: When you were in charge of this project, did you keep a file on this project?
SAMPSON: I think it would be too much to say that I kept a file. In my lower right-hand desk drawer, I had the charts that I referred to in answering Senator Cardin's question. It was just, sort of, a drop file. It was changed in and out.
I think, in looking back and reviewing the documents in preparation for this testimony, I see that there were lots of lists at different times. But as I said to Senator Cardin, I didn't keep one list.
WHITEHOUSE: But did you keep one file where you kept information related to this project?
SAMPSON: Again, just as, sort of, a drop file in my lower right hand desk drawer.
WHITEHOUSE: Did somebody else keep it for you?
SAMPSON: No. There really was no file. There really was no documentation of this. It was an aggregation of views and various lists and notes at different points in time.
As the process finalized in the fall of 2006, it became a little more formalized, but only in the sense that we were working in the senior leadership of the department to finalize the list.
WHITEHOUSE: So this was a project you were in charge of, this was a project that lasted for two years, this was a project that would end the careers of eight United States attorneys, and neither you nor anybody reporting to you kept a specific file in your office about it?
SAMPSON: Senator, I didn't keep a specific file on this issue. I -- I guess I just don't want to associate myself with -- with the premise in your question that it ended the careers of eight U.S. attorneys. In my view...
WHITEHOUSE: Eight U.S. attorneys, in event.
SAMPSON: My view is they are good people and skillful lawyers and served well for four or five years...
WHITEHOUSE: But not U.S. attorneys.
Let me ask you a different question, if you know.
Is it true that a career attorney working for the Department of Justice who refuses to cooperate with an OPR or an OIG investigation, and who refuses to testify, is terminated as a result of refusing to cooperate?
SAMPSON: I don't know.
WHITEHOUSE: You don't know?
SAMPSON: I don't know.
WHITEHOUSE: Do you know if it's the policy of the Department of Justice that an officer of a corporation that is under investigation who refuses to cooperate and testify is required by the department -- the department requires the corporation to have that officer dismissed?
SAMPSON: I don't know.
I -- I understand that there are -- that the department has a policy with regard to the charging of corporations. But I'm not familiar with it. I'm not well-versed enough to answer your question.
WHITEHOUSE: We have a situation right now in which there is a employee of the Department of Justice who has asserted Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination with respect to their conduct in office at the Department of Justice. And that person has, as of the last I've heard, not been terminated.
In your recollection and to your knowledge, in the entire history of the Department of Justice, has there ever been an attorney working for the Department of Justice who asserted Fifth Amendment privileges against self-incrimination regarding their conduct in office who was not terminated and who was kept on as an employee and on the payroll?
SAMPSON: I've never looked at that question, and I don't know.
WHITEHOUSE: Are you aware that courts and juries are allowed regularly as a matter of standard practice to draw an adverse inference, it's called, from the assertion of Fifth Amendment privilege by a witness in a civil case?
SAMPSON: I've not researched that issue, and I don't know. And I wouldn't want to venture a guess here, today.
WHITEHOUSE: All right.
In your experience as an attorney, have you ever tried a criminal case?
SAMPSON: I have.
WHITEHOUSE: Where and when?
SAMPSON: In the Southern District of Florida in 2004, I was appointed a special attorney and went and tried a case down there.
WHITEHOUSE: That was the one case?
Do you remember the nature of the charges?
SAMPSON: Yes, it was a gun case. It was felony possession of a firearm and also felony in possession of narcotic with the intent to distribute.
WHITEHOUSE: Have you ever tried a civil case?
WHITEHOUSE: When? Where?
SAMPSON: I was an associate at law firm in Salt Lake City for two years, and participated in the trials. I was not the lead counsel but participated in...
WHITEHOUSE: The second chair?
SAMPSON: ... yes, a handful of cases.
Should we be concerned with the experience level of the people who are making these highly significant decisions for United States attorneys?
WHITEHOUSE: And I reference in particular an e-mail between you and Monica Goodling, in which she suggested that the U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina should not be on the list. And now -- what do you know? -- that person is not on the list. Do you know whether Monica Goodling has ever tried a case?
SAMPSON: I don't know. I know that she served as an assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia for a time.
I wouldn't want to -- let me just leave my answer at that.
WHITEHOUSE: You wouldn't want to what?
SAMPSON: I'm sorry, Senator. I just lost my train of thought.
Well, the question was, should we have any concern about the experience level in terms of actual -- I mean, these are people out there making very hard decisions in the real world and they're under a lot of pressure.
And here their careers as United States attorneys are brought to an end. And in some cases, it appears that the make-or-break decision is being made by somebody who graduated from law school in 1999, who may or may not have ever tried a case. This is pretty remarkable to me.
SAMPSON: Senator, the decision-makers in this case were the attorney general and the counsel to the president. I and others made staff recommendations, but they were approved and signed off on by the principals.
WHITEHOUSE: On what basis?
SAMPSON: They were...
WHITEHOUSE: Because they were your recommendations, or did the principals look through those recommendations and make an independent judgment themselves as to whether the U.S. attorneys should remain?
SAMPSON: I think you'd have to ask the principals.
WHITEHOUSE: You don't know.
SAMPSON: I think you'd have to ask the principals. I made recommendations, and some of them were adopted and some of them weren't.
WHITEHOUSE: I think my time has expired, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: I'm not sure you ever got an answer to your last question. But we'll -- let's end that. We'll stand in recess until quarter of 2.
SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Good afternoon.
Before we start, I've been advised that Mr. Sampson -- I've been advised that Mr. Sampson has a clarification he wants to make about something that came out in the testimony in our morning session.
And so before I yield to Senator Kyl, Mr. Sampson, what is the clarification you wish to make?
SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I stated this morning that I had not spoken with the president since the time that I had worked at the White House as associate counsel...
LEAHY: As I recall, that was in answer to a question I asked you.
SAMPSON: Yes, sir.
I remembered at lunch that I had spoken to the president briefly sometime in 2005 at a meet-and-greet in honor of Chief Justice Roberts' confirmation.
I don't think -- we didn't speak about anything substantively. I'm not even sure if I said words with the president. But I wanted to be clear that I had been in a room with the president since I worked there at the White House.
LEAHY: Well, I appreciate that clarification. Had you not, I would have reminded you of it. I was there at that -- I was there at that time.
Just for whatever that's worth.
SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Senator Kyl?
KYL: The world wants to know if you had words with the president.
LEAHY: I did, and with the vice president on occasion.
Go right ahead.
KYL: And we don't need to go into what words, right?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Sampson, I'm going to ask you a few questions first about the former U.S. attorney in Arizona, Paul Charlton.
Did you know Paul Charlton?
SAMPSON: I know Paul Charlton, Senator. And I think him to be a fine man and a very good lawyer.
KYL: That was the other question I was going to ask. He has a reputation of being a topnotch attorney and performed very well as Arizona's U.S. attorney.
The reason why he was -- do you know the reason why or the primary reason he was asked to resign?
SAMPSON: I do.
KYL: And did that have to do with policy differences with the department?
SAMPSON: It did.
KYL: Primarily two particular policy matters?
I think, as Mr. Moschella testified in the House a couple of weeks ago, the concerns and issues that were raised with Mr. Charlton related to the death penalty, and also the interrogation -- the recording of interrogation, the department-wide policy about that.
In some cases there were differences of opinion about when to seek the death penalty, is that right?
KYL: And Paul Charlton had pretty much a running dispute with the department, wanting to use recorded confessions by the FBI. And the FBI did not want to record confessions in most cases.
And that policy dispute actually went on for some time and represented several different meetings and communications between Mr. Charlton and the department, is that right?
SAMPSON: That's my understanding.
But this -- but clearly, this is a policy dispute. Let me ask one more question.
Did you also believe that the Department of Justice felt that perhaps Mr. Charlton had pursued his point of view after -- after the attorney general had made his decisions final, that Mr. Charlton continued to press his point of view?
SAMPSON: Yes. Yes, sir. That was the substance of the concern.
KYL: So it was that rather than some kind of underperformance in his duties as U.S. attorney that occasioned his request for removal, is that correct?
SAMPSON: Again, I think the term "underperformance" has led to a lot of confusion here. But I think that's a fair characterization.
KYL: Well, I -- it may have led to some confusion, but I think you would also acknowledge that there's a difference between indicating that someone had a policy difference with the administration, and as a result the administration has the perfect right to ask them to pursue something else; on the other hand, when you suggest that it is a matter of performance or underperformance, would you not agree it's almost a challenge for any good lawyer to come forward and defend his reputation or her reputation?
SAMPSON: I would agree with that, Senator. I think that largely was the mishandling and bungling that the Department of Justice did in the wake of this.
KYL: So even though I can appreciate how you could consider that, under the overall general rubric of performance, policy differences would be subsumed in that, in retrospect, would it not have been better to characterize situations like Mr. Charlton's as predominantly depending on policy differences rather than an underperformance of his duties?
KYL: Thank you.
Did the Department of Justice or the White House, to your knowledge, have a replacement in mind for Mr. Charlton when they asked him to step down in January?
SAMPSON: To my knowledge, there was no replacement ready to replace Mr. Charlton.
KYL: And, to your knowledge, is there any yet?
I mean, Senator McCain and I have recommended someone, and I'm not asking you to prejudge that. But there's nobody by the White -- the White House doesn't have its own candidate, to your knowledge?
KYL: Was there any suggestion that anyone, to your knowledge, ever considered investigations, either in the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona or the FBI in Arizona -- was there any suggestion that Mr. Charlton be removed because of a pending or potential political corruption case?
SAMPSON: To my knowledge, that was not the case.
KYL: Could you say that you probably would have had knowledge, given all of the discussions that were occurring back and forth, that anyone sought to remove him because of his involvement and/or lack of involvement in a political corruption case in which they might have had a different point of view?
SAMPSON: I believe so. I was the aggregator of input that was coming in from sources. And based on everything I observed and heard, that was not a factor.
KYL: So you would have probably known, although I know you can't say for sure.
SAMPSON: I can only...
KYL: You would have probably known if anybody had ever talked about that?
SAMPSON: I can only speak for myself, and I was not aware of any of that, to the best of my knowledge.
KYL: But you were the aggregator of information that didn't see anybody else speaking to it, either, is that correct?
SAMPSON: That's correct.
KYL: Now, in an e-mail on September -- or, excuse me -- December 7, 2007 (sic), you wrote, quote, "Senator Kyl is fine," end of quote.
That -- there's a number 61 by that. I presume that designates the number of the e-mail.
Were you aware that I had asked Paul McNulty to request of the attorney general to reconsider the decision with respect to Mr. Charlton?
SAMPSON: I don't believe I was aware of that.
My recollection is that the attorney -- as part of the plan, the attorney general was going to call you to let you know of the decision to ask Mr. Charlton to resign. But then Mr. McNulty indicated that he would make the call because he had a relationship with you.
And to the best of my knowledge, what I remember is hearing a report that you understood that that was the decision of the administration.
KYL: That you thought that I understood that from the attorney general, or...
KYL: You don't remember whether it was from the attorney general or Mr. McNulty?
SAMPSON: No, to the best of my recollection, Mr. McNulty called you. And to the best of my recollection, it was reported to me that you were fine, that you understood that...
KYL: OK. How about if I correct the record here. because, obviously, you're not aware?
The attorney general called me.
KYL: I believe it was December 7th.
KYL: And I expressed some shock and dismay at the decision and asked if he could please explain to me the reasons why. He said that he would send Paul McNulty up to see me, and Paul McNulty did come to see me the next day.
KYL: At the conclusion of that meeting, I asked Mr. McNulty, given all that he explained to me about the policy differences rather than something wrong with Mr. Charlton's performance, if he would ask the attorney general to reconsider the decision and allow Mr. Charlton to stay.
You were not aware of that conversation?
SAMPSON: No, I don't remember that, Senator.
KYL: One of the Department of Justice documents says that -- and I'm quoting now -- Charlton, quote, "worked outside of proper channels in seeking resources without regard to the process or the impact his action would have on other U.S. attorney's offices." Those are -- there's a number 168 and 169 by that.
Do you know anything about that? Was that your e-mail or document?
SAMPSON: It would be helpful to me if I could see that document. I don't remember precisely.
KYL: I'm not sure -- maybe if you look at this you can help me describe what it is. Does this look familiar to you in any way?
SAMPSON: I did not prepare this document...
KYL: It looks like it might have been prepared in the House.
Well, let me just ask you, in this what appears to be a document prepared to Judiciary in the House, there's a reference to Charlton, quote, "worked outside of proper channels in seeking resources." Do you know anything about that?
SAMPSON: I think, Senator, that this was a document prepared at the Department of Justice. I don't remember it specifically, but it looks to me like a document that was prepared in advance of Mr. Moschella's testimony so that he could go and explain the reasons why certain U.S. attorneys, these U.S. attorneys who were asked to resign, were put on the list.
My time is up, but do you know anything about that?
SAMPSON: I have some recollection that there was some concern, dating from the time that Attorney General Ashcroft was the attorney general, that Mr. Charlton had sought, by contacting members of Congress directly, to get resources put in his office. I only have vague recollection of this.
KYL: Mr. Chairman, if I could just conclude this with a comment, it may -- although I have no idea what it refers to -- I routinely met with the U.S. attorney and his staff. Each year in December I would meet with him, and I would always ask him, "What do you need? What can we do to help you?"
And on one occasion that was a comment about needing more attorneys on immigration cases, and I think I had something to do with helping them to get some of those resources.
So I wouldn't want anybody to think that it was Paul Charlton initiating a contact improperly. But it may well refer to the fact that he was responding to a question that I had asked. I'm not sure.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: I thank the senator from Arizona.
The senator from Massachusetts?
KENNEDY: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you, Mr. Sampson, for appearing here. Others have expressed that, but you've come here voluntarily. And I think that's impressive, an attempt to try and respond -- to respond truthfully to the questions put to you.
KENNEDY: So we thank you very much for that.
Just very quickly -- and I want to move past this -- I think you mentioned that you were the aggregator of input and information on U.S. attorneys. And I think in response to Senator Whitehouse earlier, you said you kept a file on the U.S. attorneys in the desk drawer.
Do you know where that file is? Do you know whether all of that material's been made available to the committee?
SAMPSON: Senator, what I remember -- I don't remember keeping a very good file. I remember that it was a chart and notes and that I would dump it into the lower right-hand drawer of my desk at the Department of Justice.
My understanding is that the department has made an effort to make everything relevant available to the committee. But I resigned the department and don't have possession of any of my files. And I really don't know.
KENNEDY: So we don't know whether everything that was in that file has been made available to the committee; you'll have to get a look at.
SAMPSON: To the best of my knowledge there's...
KENNEDY: OK. I understand.
SAMPSON: ... it wasn't really much of a file. And I think that everything...
KENNEDY: He doesn't have the file.
SAMPSON: ... that was there has been made available, to the best of my knowledge.
KENNEDY: The Justice Department has admitted now that its February 23rd letter was inaccurate in asserting that the department was not aware of any role played by Karl Rove in the decision to appoint Tim Griffin to replace the U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Do you agree that the February 23rd letter was inaccurate?
SAMPSON: Senator, I participated in the drafting of that letter. I drafted the first draft. And at the time I drafted that letter, I was not aware of Karl Rove having expressed an interest in Tim Griffin being appointed.
I remember thinking at the time: "I'm not even sure Mr. Rove is in support of Mr. Griffin being appointed."
And when I drafted that letter, I was focused on the attorney general's interim appointment of Mr. Griffin, which had happened in mid-December. And I knew that the attorney general had independently determined whether to appoint Mr. Griffin.
I had recommended that the attorney general appoint him to be the interim U.S. attorney. He asked for more information. He determined to call Senator Pryor before doing that. And he had a couple of phone conversations with Senator Pryor, and ultimately decided to appoint Mr. Griffin by pledged to Senator Pryor that he would continue to work with him as far as getting a Senate-confirmed person in there.
But I remember, at the time that I worked on the drafting of that, I was not aware and I did not remember then and I don't remember now whether Mr. Rove actually was interested in Mr. Griffin being appointed.
I circulated the letter widely to make sure it was accurate. And no one disabused me of that idea.
KENNEDY: Well, you remember the December 19th letter from yourself to the White House, where you used those words, knowing that "getting him appointed," referring to Griffin, "was important to Harriet and Karl." that's what you wrote.
SAMPSON; That e-mail was based on an assumption.
SAMPSON: I knew that Sara Taylor and Scott Jennings had expressed interest in promoting Mr. Griffin for appointment to be U.S. attorney. And I assumed, because they reported to Karl Rove, that he was interested in that.
But later, in February, when I participated in the drafting of that letter, I did not remember then ever having talked to Mr. Rove about it. I don't remember now ever having talked to Mr. Rove about it.
I'm not sure whether Mr. Rove was supportive of Mr. Griffin's appointment.
KENNEDY: Well, what I'm getting at is that you did mention that -- in your first e-mail, that this was important to Karl, et cetera, and then in the general letter that was circulated to the White House, that aspect was dropped and the White House effectively approved a letter.
KENNEDY: And today the Justice Department has admitted that the letter was inaccurate in asserting that the department was not aware of Karl Rove. That's the sequence as I see it.
Is that about what you understand?
SAMPSON: To the best of my knowledge, Senator, I don't remember Karl Rove ever talking to me, in person or on the phone. I don't remember anyone telling me that Mr. Rove was interested in Mr. Griffin being appointed. And that was my understanding at the time I participated in the drafting of that letter.
Well, then, do you know why you would mention it in your e-mail where you said that, "it was important to Harriet and Karl," if there was no reason? Do you know -- have any idea why you would write that?
SAMPSON: As I said, that was based on an assumption. I know it was important to Sara Taylor and to Scott Jennings, both of whom reported to Mr. Rove.
KENNEDY: All right.
Now we have the situation where the Justice Department has admitted that the 23rd letter was inaccurate. So now you agree -- do you agree with that?
SAMPSON: I'm not aware that the Department of Justice has admitted that. It would be useful to me, if they've done so, if I could see where that is.
Well, it just is in the wire story, Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling said that statements made to Democratic lawmakers appear to be contradicted by department documents included in our production. Then it said the February 23rd letter, which was written by Sampson, signed by Hertling, emphatically started the department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin. Also said the Department of Justice is not aware of any lobbying effort. And is now saying that that's inaccurate.
SAMPSON: ... before I could comment on that, I'd need to see the department's letter.
I can tell you that at the time I drafted that letter I was not aware of Karl Rove being interested in Mr. Griffin's appointment. And as I sit here today, I don't remember if that's true.
I, obviously, assumed that in December when I wrote that e-mail. But I think that the e-mail is based on an assumption, and to the best of my knowledge the letter was based on the facts as I understood them at the time.
KENNEDY: Did you have any communication on the replacement of U.S. attorneys with anyone in the Republican National Committee?
SAMPSON: Not to my knowledge.
KENNEDY: And did you attend any meetings in the White House where the issues of replacing U.S. attorneys was discussed?
SAMPSON: Yes. On a handful of occasions I met with Harriet Miers.
KENNEDY: Can you tell us how -- can you tell us who was there at those meetings?
SAMPSON: I remember speaking with Harriet Miers and Bill Kelley about that. Sometimes this subject would come up after a Judicial Selection Committee meeting, which was a once-a-week meeting that happened in the Roosevelt Room.
KENNEDY: Let me just ask you, because my time is running out, Chris Oberson (ph) -- was he attended? Or did Karl Rove attend? William Kelley?
SAMPSON: Attend what, Senator?
KENNEDY: Those meetings in the White House on the issue of replacing U.S. attorneys.
SAMPSON: The issue of replacing U.S. attorneys most frequently came up as sort of a pull-aside after a Judicial Selection meeting.
KENNEDY: How many meetings, approximately?
SAMPSON: Well, Judicial Selection Committee meetings happen regularly, approximately once a week; maybe something less than that. It would be canceled from time to time.
And the issue of U.S. attorney replacements was quite episodic, you know, in the thinking phase of this through 2005 and 2006. And it would just come up occasionally after a Judicial Selection meeting, usually between myself and Harriet Miers and Bill Kelley.
KENNEDY: Well, my time is up.
But a matter of enormous importance, the U.S. attorney. It gets treated casually. At some time, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to find out, you know, these meetings; who was there; and who was present and what was said and what was on the agenda. But I'll wait until my next turn.
LEAHY: You're talking about the Wednesday afternoon meetings...
KENNEDY: I'm talking about the meetings where the issue of replacement of U.S. attorneys was discussed.
SAMPSON: The Judicial Selection committee was regularly scheduled for Wednesday afternoons at 4:00, although it moved around and changed as the principals' schedules dictated.
And the question of U.S. attorney replacements only came up every once in a while. And it was usually after that meeting, in Ms. Miers' office, or, sort of, just off to the side in the Roosevelt Room.
LEAHY: I want to go to Senator Grassley. But maybe I was confused on something you said. When did you go off the DOJ payroll?
SAMPSON: On Wednesday, March 14th.
LEAHY: So you're off it now?
SAMPSON: Yes, sir.
LEAHY: You're getting no money at all from the DOJ?
SAMPSON: That's right.
LEAHY: Senator Grassley?
GRASSLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Obviously, we're here because Congress has received inconsistent information on firing of these attorneys.
It's undisputed that the president has these people serving at his pleasure; that a president has a right to hire and fire U.S. attorneys for most any reason, except if it's improper: for them being involved for retaliatory reasons or impeding or obstructing prosecution.
You know, we all know that a president's entitled to replace his U.S. attorneys if he wants to, particularly if -- he ought to be doing it if they aren't following his prosecutorial priorities aggressively enough.
And it's not against the law for a president to replace U.S. attorneys if he wants to give other individuals an opportunity to serve in that position.
GRASSLEY: But once an administration started making representations about how and why these firings came about, those representations need to at least be accurate and complete.
The document productions have revealed conflicting information with testimony of Justice Department officials before respective committees up here, as well as with letters that senators have received. Any representations to Congress need to be correct or else or oversight activities won't be able to get to the truth.
The bottom line is, we shouldn't have conflicting statements coming from somebody who is a top law enforcement officer of the United States, or his staff. We expect them to be prepared to answer questions. Congress and the American people ought to get a consistent story. And we ought to be able to expect the truth.
As an aside, I'm glad that we're having a committee hearing to sort out facts and get the story straight. Doing things out in the open, Mr. Sampson, and as you're doing with us today, is very important. And we thank you for being here.
LEAHY: If the senator would yield -- and I apologize. I apologize, Mr. Sampson.
We've just received word that the Republicans have objected, under the Senate rules, to this meeting continuing. I think that's unfortunate, but I will follow the rules of the Senate.
GRASSLEY: Does it apply to a Republican, too?
LEAHY: The Republicans are the ones that don't want to have the hearing, so the Republicans have the right, under the rules, to do that.
We will stand -- we will not adjourn. We will stand in recess until the Senate recesses. We will come back. And Senator Grassley, if he wishes to be heard further, will be the first one to be heard.
GRASSLEY: Thank you.
LEAHY: Just so people can understand what is going on here, the lack of permission going forward has now been changed. I had raised questions, and the -- whatever objection there was on the Republican side has been withdrawn so that we can -- we can continue.
LEAHY: When Mr. Sampson comes back, we will start with Senator Durbin.
Somebody here just asked me if this had all -- could have been just a result of an accident that we had this lack of concurrence by the Republicans to go forward. I grew up in a faith that believes in miracles, and it's conceivable that accidents -- I've been here 33 years; I've never seen it happen before. So maybe it's -- it was, but I suspect it was not.
Again, I would add if people feel that somehow you can stop these hearings by having these objections -- and every senator is within his right to do so -- it is really not something that's going to happen. Because we will have the hearings, if we have to have them in the evenings or on -- or on weekends or during recess.
Mr. Sampson, I'm -- I apologize to you. You were not the -- you were not the one making the objection. You were not the one stopping (inaudible) speaking briefly with you and your attorney out back, I suspect you want nothing more than to get this session wrapped up, not to have it interrupted.
We'll start with Senator Durbin of Illinois.
It's your turn, sir.
DURBIN: Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you. Thank you for testifying. I mean that sincerely. I appreciate your coming forward to answer these questions.
And I read your opening statement, in which you outlined what you considered to be reasonable standards to judge the performance of a U.S. attorney, saying that presidential appointees are judged not only on professional skills, but management abilities, relationships with law enforcement and government leaders, support for the priorities of the president and the attorney general.
Then you go on to say if he or she "is unable to maintain the morale and motivation of line assistants, is resistant to the president's or attorney general's constitutional authority, loses the trust and confidence of important local constituencies in law enforcement or government, or fails to contribute to the important non-prosecutorial activities" -- these are all elements that you think are reasonable in judging the performance.
Now, you produced -- or the department produced -- for this hearing e-mails, one dated March 2nd, 2005, in which you had sent to Harriet Miers a template or chart of attorneys -- U.S. attorneys. And they were given three basic grades, as I understand it: strikeout, removing weak U.S. attorneys; bold, recommending that you keep strong U.S. attorneys; and a third category, no recommendation, have not distinguished themselves either positively or negatively.
DURBIN: Subsequent to producing that document, administrative officials confirmed in the press that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of the Northern District of Illinois had been characterized in this March 2005 memo to Harriet Miers as a U.S. attorney who had not distinguished himself, neither positive nor negative.
I want to explore that for a moment, basically from two different perspectives: first, the perspective of the New York Times this morning, that talks about the Wednesday meeting, talks specifically about Karl Rove's concerns over Patrick Fitzgerald as the Northern District U.S. attorney; and, secondly, from the perspective of the fact that I was involved in his selection. I had to sign a blue slip for him to become the U.S. attorney.
And I did, after learning that he had been the lead prosecutor in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and speaking to him personally and then hearing from his colleagues that he was absolutely one of the best, no political agenda, a real prosecutor's prosecutor; and remembering that, in December 2003, when Attorney General Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation involving Robert Novak's disclosures, that it was James Comey, the deputy attorney general, who picked Patrick Fitzgerald, among all others, to be the special prosecutor in that case.
So I'd like to ask you: By what basis did you come to the conclusion, in your memo, that Patrick Fitzgerald of the Northern District of Illinois had not distinguished himself?
SAMPSON: Senator, Pat Fitzgerald is widely viewed within the Department of Justice as being a very strong U.S. attorney. He's a strong manager. He's a skillful lawyer and is, by all accounts, a very strong United States attorney.
That e-mail that I sent to Harriet Miers early in March was one of the first -- I believe, sort of, the first time that I had ever aggregated information and put together a list and shared it with the White House.
I knew that Mr. Fitzgerald was handling a very sensitive case and really didn't want to rate him one way or the other.
DURBIN: So you're saying that you were neutral in terms of his performance because he was involved in a controversial case?
SAMPSON: Yes, Senator. To the best of my recollection, I didn't rate him any way.
SAMPSON: And after consulting with folks at the Department of Justice to get their views about the relative strengths and weaknesses of other U.S. attorneys, I did not rate him. I know that he was handling a sensitive case and didn't want to rate him either way.
DURBIN: I have to pursue this. If the deputy attorney general thought so highly of him as to choose him to prosecute that controversial case, you felt that you couldn't communicate to the White House a feeling as to whether he was a strong or weak U.S. attorney?
SAMPSON: Senator, what I remember is that that first list of U.S. attorneys who might be considered for resignation after their four-year terms had expired was a very early, preliminary draft. And I don't remember rating Mr. Fitzgerald one way or the other.
And I believe I probably did that because I didn't want to go anywhere near that. I knew he was handling a very sensitive case, an investigation that included the White House. I was communicating a list to the White House. And so I just didn't touch it.
DURBIN: So were you concerned that if you gave him a positive rating, that the White House might look unkindly on that designation?
SAMPSON: I don't remember feeling that way.
DURBIN: Well, I'm troubled by this, because is there anything that you knew about him to suggest that he wasn't an effective, strong U.S. attorney?
SAMPSON: No, I believe he is a strong, effective U.S. attorney. And I don't remember ever hearing any contrary reporting from anyone within the Justice Department of anywhere else for that matter.
DURBIN: You can see where it leads to a conclusion that because he's involved in a case that necessarily involves people who work in the White House that the Department of Justice, at least from your point of view, didn't want to go out on a limb and say something positive about him.
SAMPSON: The best of my recollection, I didn't want to say anything at all about him.
DURBIN: Were you ever party to any conversation about the removal of Patrick Fitzgerald from his position as Northern District U.S. attorney?
SAMPSON: I remember on one occasion, in 2006, in discussing the removal of U.S. attorneys, or the process of considering some U.S. attorneys that might be asked to resign, that I was speaking with Harriet Miers and Bill Kelley, and I raised Pat Fitzgerald.
And immediately after I did it, I regretted it. I thought -- I knew that it was the wrong thing to do. I knew that it was inappropriate.
And I remember at the time that Ms. Miers and Bill Kelley said nothing. They just looked at me. And I immediately regretted it, and I withdrew it at the time, and I regret it now.
DURBIN: Do you recall what you said, at the time, about Patrick Fitzgerald?
SAMPSON: I said, Patrick Fitzgerald could be added to this list.
DURBIN: And there was no response?
SAMPSON: No. They looked at me like I had said something totally inappropriate, and I had.
DURBIN: Why did you say it?
Why did you recommend, or at least suggest, that he be removed as U.S. attorney?
SAMPSON: I'm not sure. I think -- I don't remember. I think it was, maybe, to get a reaction from them. I don't think that I ever -- I know that I never seriously considered putting Pat Fitzgerald on a list. And he never did appear on a list.
DURBIN: It's interesting what has happened with the Bush Department of Justice, the Gonzales Department of Justice recently. There was a time when senators would suggest one name to the Department of Justice.
And that was referred to in this New York Times, that Karl Rove was quoted as saying he was upset that my former colleague, Peter Fitzgerald, only recommended one name, Patrick Fitzgerald, in this case.
Now, it seems to be the custom and practice that multiple names are suggested. In Illinois, former speaker Hastert has been told to submit at least three names.
Can you tell me why that practice has changed?
SAMPSON: I remember that, at the beginning of the administration, the then-counsel to the president, Alberto Gonzales -- this is to the best of my recollection -- I believe that he sent a letter to members of the Senate, with regard to judicial appointments and perhaps also U.S. attorney and U.S. marshal appointments, requesting that senators provide three names for each vacancy.
And I know that that was the general practice that the administration has followed.
DURBIN: One last question: Were there any conversations between you, or conversations you overheard, involving Karl Rove and the appointment of Patrick Fitzgerald as the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois?
SAMPSON: Not that I remember. I really don't think so.
DURBIN: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Durbin.
Let me give you a copy -- and I'm going to go do this as I did with the documents before, skip the zeros -- this OAG-5-11. It's a copy of a March 2, 2005, e-mail exchange between you and White House Counsel Harriet Miers, attaching a copy of chart entitled "United States Attorneys Appointment Summary."
Is that correct?
SAMPSON: I guess I have OAG number five.
LEAHY: And in this version, on the list of U.S. attorneys recommended for replacement, you've bolded the name of David Iglesias.
LEAHY: Is that right?
LEAHY: According to the key in your e-mail, by doing that that's an indication of somebody to retain, to keep as U.S. attorney. Is that correct?
SAMPSON: At the time that I drafted this, or sent this e-mail and this chart, that's correct.
LEAHY: Now let me give you a copy of documents OAG 20, 21. January 9, 2006 e-mail you sent to White House counsel Harriet Miers, her deputy William Kelley (ph). Do you have that, sir?
SAMPSON: Yes -- OAG 20 and 21?
SAMPSON: I do.
LEAHY: Now, in this e-mail you recommended that the Department of Justice and the office of the counsel to the president work together to seek the replacement of a limited number of U.S. attorneys.
And this e-mail listed U.S. attorneys that might consider -- be considered for removal and replacement. These are people that might be considered for removal and replacement. David Iglesias's name is not on there, is it?
LEAHY: And then let me give you a copy of document numbered OAG 121 through 122. A September 13, 2006 e-mail from White House counsel Harriet Miers to you, that you forwarded to Monica Goodling. Is that correct?
SAMPSON: Yes, sir.
LEAHY: And Goodling responded to you, and you responded to Ms. Miers with a list on September 13 last year. Now that list of U.S. attorneys to be replaced did not include David Iglesias, did it?
SAMPSON: No, sir.
LEAHY: And then let me give you a copy of documents number DAG 546, 547. An e-mail exchange on October 17, a couple weeks before the election. It's between you and Michael Elston, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general.
David Iglesias is not on that list, is he?
SAMPSON: No, sir.
LEAHY: Now I provide you with a copy of documents number DAG 548, 549, copy of a November 7, 2006 e-mail you sent to Michael Elston with a subject line, "U.S. Attorney Replacement Plan."
You solicited Mr. Elston's comments. You told him you wanted to send it to White House counsel Harriet Miers that very night. Now the November 7 list, the name of David Iglesias has now been added. Is that correct?
LEAHY: Is that the first time Mr. Iglesias's name was added, is November 7? The first time his name was included on the list of U.S. attorneys to be replaced?
SAMPSON: I remember that in the weeks before this, some time after October 17 but before November 7, in consultation with the deputy attorney general and his chief of staff and others in the senior leadership in the department -- the department went back and looked at the list and asked the question, is there anyone else who should be added?
LEAHY: But is this the first time you've seen him on a list?
SAMPSON: And at that time, four additional U.S. attorneys were added to the list, sometime during that period.
LEAHY: Well, do we have that list? I mean, supposedly we have all the things from the Department of Justice. I haven't seen any list prior to November 7th that has Mr. Iglesias' name on it. Is there -- are you aware of a list somewhere that has his name on it that we haven't received?
SAMPSON: No, Senator. But if you look at this document, dated November 7th, you'll see that there are three other names that are redacted. Sometime between October 17th and November 7th, four names were added, including David Iglesias'.
LEAHY: Are you saying that there is a piece of paper from the Department of Justice that has Mr. Iglesias' name on it before November 7th?
I mean, apparently -- they've told us they've given us everything with his name. Are you telling me they've withheld something?
SAMPSON: No, sir. This is the first one I'm aware of.
LEAHY: All right. That was...
SAMPSON: To the best of my knowledge. This is the first one I'm aware of.
LEAHY: That was my question. That was my question.
SAMPSON: I apologize for not understanding it.
LEAHY: Now I just want to make sure that I'm understanding you correctly. You are under oath and I want to -- I don't want to ask a question that might leave some ambiguity in your mind.
SAMPSON: Mr. Chairman, may I say, I left the department and don't have any -- don't have possession of any of the documents.
SAMPSON: So I've prepared by reviewing these documents. And to the best of my knowledge, this is the first document that reflects David Iglesias...
LEAHY: Certainly it's the first one that they've provided us that has his name on it. It's right after the elections.
Now, on March 5th Mr. Iglesias testified before this committee under oath that Senator Domenici and Congresswoman Heather Wilson called him prior to the 2006 election to ask him about a pending high- profile investigation in New Mexico.
Then, according to news accounts, New Mexican -- New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh complained in 2005 about Mr. Iglesias to someone in the White House. Mr. Weh later asked Mr. Rove about Mr. Iglesias at a December 14, 2006, White House holiday party, and he was told by Mr. Rove that he's gone -- meaning Iglesias.
The White House has said that President Bush complained to the attorney general in October 2006 about certain U.S. attorneys, although the attorney general has told us he doesn't recall that conversation with the president.
What do you recall hearing in the way of complaints about the way Mr. Iglesias handled corruption investigation and voter fraud cases in New Mexico?
SAMPSON: I don't remember hearing any complaints or anything about Mr. Iglesias's handling of corruption cases in New Mexico.
SAMPSON: I do remember learning -- I believe, from the attorney general -- that he had received a complaint from Karl Rove about U.S. attorneys in three jurisdictions, including New Mexico.
And the substance of the complaint was that those U.S. attorneys weren't pursuing voter fraud cases aggressively enough.
LEAHY: And where did those complaints come from?
SAMPSON: I believe, to the best of my recollection, I learned of them from the attorney general.
LEAHY: Where did the attorney general get them?
SAMPSON: To the best of my recollection, I think that he told me that he got them from Karl Rove.
LEAHY: And where did Karl Rove get them?
SAMPSON: I don't remember ever knowing that. I don't know.
LEAHY: Did you receive any comments from any official in the White House, complaining that David Iglesias was not aggressive enough in prosecuting voter fraud cases or corruption cases?
SAMPSON: I don't remember anything other than what I just shared with you.
LEAHY: And are you aware of anybody in the FBI getting a complaint that he wasn't being aggressive enough?
SAMPSON: I don't remember hearing that at all.
LEAHY: Do you recall hearing about the president -- firsthand knowledge of the president complaining to the attorney general about U.S. attorneys not being aggressive enough?
SAMPSON: I don't remember hearing anything like that.
LEAHY: And you, at one time, listed David Iglesias as a candidate for principal associate deputy attorney general. Is that correct?
SAMPSON: That's correct. In 2004...
LEAHY: Describing him as a "diverse up-and-comer" and "solid."
SAMPSON: When this process began, in early 2005, my belief was that Mr. Iglesias was a diverse up-and-comer, as I said. I knew that diversity was important to the president and to the attorney general.
I had met David and thought very highly of him. I came to learn, over 2005 and 2006, that others in the department had mixed views about him. And ultimately, those factored into his being added to the list.
LEAHY: But he never got on a list that you saw printed until immediately after last fall's elections?
SAMPSON: I don't remember one.
LEAHY: Thank you.
SPECTER: Mr. Sampson, going back to the issue of whether people other than you were considering using the provisions of the Patriot Act to circumvent the Senate, you sent an e-mail to Ms. Miers, dated September 13, talking about, quote, "We utilized the new statutory provisions."
And she comes back and says, "I've not forgotten I need to follow up on the info, but things have been crazy. We'll be back in touch."
Then you're still pursuing this on an e-mail on December 19, to Christopher Oprison, talking about utilizing the new procedures, saying, "I think we should gum this to death. Ask the senators to give Tim a chance, meet with him, get him some time in office. See how he performs. If they ultimately say, no, never -- and the longer we can forestall that, the better -- then we can tell them we'll look for another candidate; ask them for recommendations, evaluate the recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All of this should be done in, quote, 'good faith,' close quote, of course."
Weren't you really suggesting utilizing the provisions of the Patriot Act, as you say, to run out the clock, which appears to me the end of the president's term, and never have these replacement U.S. attorneys submitted to the Senate for confirmation?
SPECTER: Isn't that the fair reading of that e-mail?
SAMPSON: Senator, I think -- I think that that's a fair reading. I think that I was suggesting that. That was a bad idea at the staff level that was not ever accepted by the attorney general.
SPECTER: OK. Let's proceed. It was a bad idea. It really wasn't good faith at all, was it, to run out the clock?
SAMPSON: That wouldn't have been in good faith.
Now, what was happening at the level of White House Counsel Harriet Miers? You have, after the memorandum, the e-mail that she -- that you sent on September 13th and she responds on September 17th. And now we're all the way to December 19th. And you're still communicating with the White House on this plan to circumvent the Senate.
Now, is it credible that somebody in the White House, the level of White House Counsel Miers, is not going along with this idea to circumvent the Senate, when you're working on it in October, November, December? Three months later?
It doesn't sound like the kind of a matter that is a staffer's idea, that has been rejected by the White House. You're still working on it. You're in touch all the time with these folks.
How about that?
SAMPSON: Senator, if I could draw your attention to the U.S. attorney replacement plan that I drafted...
SPECTER: Well, you could, but after you answer my question.
If you're working on it for three months, on avoiding the U.S. Senate, how could it be that you would spend three months working on something which the White House officials, like White House Counsel Miers, is not going along with?
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't think the principals ever considered abusing the U.S. -- the attorney general's appointment authority in that way.
SPECTER: Abusing the U.S. -- abusing the appointment -- did you consider using it?
SAMPSON: Senator, the U.S. attorney replacement program...
SPECTER: Did you consider abusing it?
SAMPSON: I recommended to Harriet Miers...
SPECTER: When you were functioning not in good faith, you were abusing it, weren't you?
SAMPSON: Senator, if I'd be permitted to give you an answer here.
With regard to...
SPECTER: OK, I'd like an answer. But the one I'd like is to my question.
SAMPSON: As I testified earlier, that was a bad idea at the staff level that was rejected by the principals. And it was rejected by the principals with regard...
SPECTER: The question is -- the question is were you abusing the principle? You used the word "abuse." That's why I'm coming back to it.
SAMPSON: In hindsight, I believe that it would be an abuse of the attorney general's appointment authority...
SPECTER: OK, let's go to White House Counsel Miers in that minute and 58 seconds left.
The inference arises in unmistakable terms, it seems to me, Mr. Sampson, that when three month have -- three months have elapsed and you're still on this use of the Patriot provision to circumvent the Senate, that at least in your mind you must think it's something that can be accomplished.
Isn't that minimal?
SAMPSON: I made that recommendation to Harriet Miers in September of 2006 on the theory that it would be more efficient. With two years left in the president's term...
SPECTER: I know all that. My question is, with your pursuing it for some three months, doesn't it raise the unmistakable inference that at least you thought the White House would adopt your recommendation?
You're not going to maintain a recommendation over three months if you believe that the White House counsel or other equivalent authorities are opposed to it, would you?
SAMPSON: I didn't maintain it over three months, Senator. As shown in the USA replacement plan that I drafted, which showed that with regard to the United States attorneys who would be asked to resign, that the plan -- that the process would be to go to the regular process, to seek input from senators, to generate names that might be considered for nomination and confirmation.
SPECTER: Well, you might have a collateral plan, which would take me more than 20 seconds to explore. But staying on the documents, your e-mails which I've already familiarized you with, let me repeat the question one more time.
You are working on it for three months. You have proposed, in your September memo, utilizing the new statutory provision. Those are your words.
SPECTER: Then you come back to December the 19th, more than three months later, and you are proposing -- in bad faith -- circumventing Senate approval. Now would you be doing something like that if, in your own mind, you thought the White House would not consider replacements using the Patriot Act provision?
SAMPSON: Senator, at the time that I drafted that e-mail in December of 2006, December of last year, I did not think the White House would consider doing that with regard to 92 districts, which is why, in the U.S. attorney replacement plan I drafted, I drafted it following the regular...
SPECTER: How about one district? Ninety-two districts -- you're leaving one out. There are 93 districts.
SAMPSON: And that's the Eastern District of Arkansas. And at that time...
SPECTER: So would you think the White House would consider using the Patriot Act provision for that one district, Arkansas?
SAMPSON: To the best of my recollection, in my discussions at the staff level with folks at the White House, I believe it was under consideration then. But it was not adopted by the principals.
The attorney general, after talking with Senator Pryor, was unwilling to consider that.
SPECTER: Well, but it was under consideration at the White House?
SAMPSON: In conversations I had at the staff level, we discussed it.
SPECTER: Did you ever talk to anybody higher than staff level?
SAMPSON: I don't remember talking to Harriet Miers about that notion any time after the September e-mail.
SPECTER: How often did you talk to Ms. Miers?
SAMPSON: Well I would guess, on average, you know, two or three times a week.
SPECTER: And had you discussed it with Attorney General Gonzales in this three-month interim?
SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically talking with him about it. I know that in drafting the U.S. attorney replacement plan that I did, step five was to follow the regular procedure and consult with the Senate.
SPECTER: Well, Mr. Sampson, this was a pretty big point. Although it was overlooked in the Senate, although it was in the conference report for three months, this was something very much on your mind, right? You can't deny that. It's right here in the e- mails.
SAMPSON: After the Senate passed that provision, after the Congress passed that provision I was aware of it.
SPECTER: Well, we're -- you were aware before Congress passed the provision, when the Department of Justice urged its adoption?
SAMPSON: I don't remember being involved in that at all.
SPECTER: OK, but you were aware of it after it was passed?
SAMPSON: I was.
SPECTER: You saw the attorney general on a daily basis?
SAMPSON: Yes, I did.
SPECTER: Multiple times a day?
SAMPSON: Yes, sir.
SPECTER: Talking to him about -- discussing with him the plan to replace United States attorneys?
SAMPSON: Yes. As I stated before, you know, I kept him generally apprised of...
SPECTER: OK, so you were discussing plans to replace U.S. attorneys. But you never talked to him about utilizing the provisions of the Patriot Act to circumvent the Senate?
SAMPSON: Well, I think I did. But I don't think he ever liked the idea very much.
SPECTER: Well, did he say, "I don't like the idea"? Did he say, "I reject the idea"? Or did he just listen to you and go off in another direction?
SAMPSON: I don't remember him specifically rejecting the idea until after he spoke with Senator Pryor in mid-December. And I don't remember him specifically rejecting the idea until some time in January.
SPECTER: So then he was still considering the idea. He rejected it some time in January, still considering it in December. And we have these e-mails where it's still very much on your mind.
And as you say, to circumvent the Senate in what you concede is in bad faith -- and it is being considered at least for one U.S. attorney -- and you don't have any recollection of Ms. Miers or the attorney general, or anyone of that level of authority rejecting the idea?
SAMPSON: I remember the attorney general rejecting the idea.
SPECTER: But not in December. You said in January.
SAMPSON: I remember him rejecting it soon after he had a conversation with Senator Pryor. Let me -- let me just say...
SPECTER: Well, you just -- well, you just -- you just said he rejected it in January, didn't you?
SAMPSON: I remember that he spoke with Senator Pryor...
SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. I'm asking you, didn't you just say he rejected it in January?
SAMPSON: Senator, I'm not sure whether he rejected it in late December or in early January. I don't know.
SPECTER: Well, did he reject it after the December 19 e-mail, which is the critical day? That would be late December if he rejected it after that e-mail.
SAMPSON: I believe he did reject it after that e-mail. I must say, I don't recall specifically, but I don't think the attorney general ever liked the idea.
SAMPSON: He thought it was a bad idea. And he was right.
SPECTER: Well, we've gone round and round on that, and you don't have any recollection as to his specifically rejecting it. There are no e-mails on it.
And it has become a matter of some concern as to how the Patriot Act was used to get this provision in, which circumvents the Senate, and then how it was actively used at a minimum in one district, and without a rejection and apparently under consideration by the White House, and how far up we do not know, and not rejected by the attorney general.
And so you've had this exchange of e-mails.
SPECTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you.
I've been flexible on the time in the second round. Whether this provision in the Patriot Act was a good idea or not, Mr. Sampson, as you can imagine, it had one effect: It brought bipartisan unity in the House and Senate. We rejected it 94-2 here in the Senate, even though originally we'd heard from the White House that they opposed that. And then I forgot what the vote was in the House, but it was four or 5:1. And, these days, it's kind of hard to get that kind of unanimity. We usually can't even get it on a motion to adjourn.
But on this, I think senators, once they had a chance to watch how it was used, how everybody used it, they wanted to put it back the way it was.
Senator Schumer -- again, the chair of the appropriate subcommittee -- I yield to you.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm glad we're back. And the move to not let us continue has been withdrawn.
I'd like to first follow on the question that Senator Durbin touched on, and that is: As you told him, your original suggestion was that Mr. Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney from Chicago -- I guess that's the Northern District of Illinois -- should be fired.
That was in 2005 you suggested that?
SAMPSON: I believe it was in 2006, but I don't remember specifically. And as I said to Senator Durbin, it was a piece of bad judgment on my behalf to even raise it.
SAMPSON: I regret it.
SCHUMER: And you realize that, if he were fired as U.S. attorney, the general consensus is he couldn't continue as special prosecutor?
SAMPSON: I don't know that as a matter of (inaudible) law, but I'm not sure.
SCHUMER: That is. I've inquired in a number of places about that issue. And that's what most people think.
Now, it's a little confounding to hear that you suggested that. And, as I said, I respect your coming here and coming here voluntarily. But it's really a hair-brained scheme that would have just blown up even more than the firing of the U.S. attorneys has in the administration's face.
I guess you see that now.
SAMPSON: And frankly, Senator, I saw that the second the words crossed my lips.
SCHUMER: Who did you suggest it to?
SAMPSON: Harriet Miers and Bill Kelley.
SCHUMER: OK. Anyone else?
SCHUMER: And despite that, they kept you in charge or put you -- did Attorney General Gonzales ever know that you suggested that?
SAMPSON: No, I don't think so.
Did Harriet Miers remain comfortable with your supervising the firing of U.S. attorneys after you made such a suggestion.
SAMPSON: I don't know.
SCHUMER: Did anyone suggest that maybe, after that suggestion, you shouldn't be in charge of firing U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: I don't remember anyone raising that.
SCHUMER: Yes. Because I have to tell you -- and it relates to the issue we're talking about. Here is the man doing an investigation. Karl Rove had been before the grand jury I guess the previous -- in October of 2004. This is a major investigation. And you're suggesting that the chief prosecutor be fired.
It leads me to think -- first, it makes you think: Well, if it's OK to fire Fitzgerald, who's in the middle of a major investigation, maybe it's OK to fire some of these others.
But, second, it does make me question your suitability for this job.
Is that an absurd conclusion?
SAMPSON: As I stated previously, Senator, it was a lapse and I regretted it the moment I said it. And, to my recollection, I even said: I withdraw that, that was inappropriate.
SCHUMER: Would the same thought process that made you realize suggesting firing Fitzgerald -- maybe come to you with the firing of others, for whatever reason, who were doing other investigations, such as Carol Lam in San Diego?
SAMPSON: During this process, I never associated asking these U.S. attorneys to resign with a particular investigation or prosecution that they were handling.
SCHUMER: And I take it...
SAMPSON: To the best of my recollection, I never associated those things in my mind. I was aggregating information from different people at the department, but in my own mind, that would be inappropriate.
Public corruption cases were important to the department and didn't spare Republicans. And that would be wrong. And I don't remember ever associating those things in my mind.
SCHUMER: I understand that. You've said that before. But didn't you realize, when you suggested even the thought of suggesting Fitzgerald be fired, that it would at least be perceived as trying to stop a major investigation?
It's, sort of, plain as the nose on one's face.
SAMPSON: I don't know what else to say, Senator. I've expressed my regret for that.
All right, let me just follow up on something that Senator Kennedy questioned you about as well. I have a bunch of my own questions which we'll have, I guess, the rest of the afternoon for.
But I want to do some follow-ups here, while what you said was fresh in your mind.
You told Senator Kennedy that you wrote that Griffin's appointment was, quote, "important to Karl," meaning Rove, and you based that on an assumption -- that's your words, "assumption," to Senator Kennedy.
Well, you're an intelligent man. What was the assumption based on, any conversations with Rove?
You said no, already, to Senator Kennedy.
Conversations -- let me ask you if -- could it be based on conversations with Scott Jennings?
SAMPSON: Yes. I believe the assumption -- I knew that Sara Taylor and Scott Jennings were interested in Tim Griffin having the opportunity to serve as United States attorney.
And when I wrote that e-mail in December, I assumed, because Sara Taylor and Scott Jennings report to Karl Rove, that it was important to Karl.
SCHUMER: Right. But then you would still -- and I just want to get the exact words here -- you would still draft a memo that, quote, "I am not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the attorney general's decision to appoint Griffin."
The two seem contradictory. I guess you can, sort of, parse the words very parsimoniously, I suppose. But the two do seem in contradiction, don't they?
SAMPSON: When I drafted the letter, which, I think, was in February of 2007, I remember thinking to myself, am I aware that Karl Rove is interested in Tim Griffin being appointed?
And as I drafted that letter, I thought to myself, I'm not aware that Karl -- that Mr. Rove is interested in Mr. Griffin being appointed.
SAMPSON: For all I know, based on what I remember, I'm not even sure he does support it. I knew that his people that work for him were interested in that happening...
SCHUMER: Well, wait a second.
SAMPSON: ... but I wasn't sure. And I drafted the letter that way. In addition, I was focused on the attorney general's appointment of Mr. Griffin to serve as the interim, which I knew the attorney general -- which decision the attorney general made independently in mid-December after talking to Senator Pryor. And so I drafted the letter that way.
And then I circulated it widely to make sure that others thought it was accurate. And, as I sit here today, I think it's accurate based on what I remember. So I -- I can't be 100 percent sure.
So, in other words, at one point you write that Griffin's appointment was, quote, "important to Karl." Later you write, "I am not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the attorney general's decision to appoint Griffin."
I think -- and this is not jumping to any conclusion by any stretch -- that most people, if they saw that, would say there's a contradiction there. That the second letter doesn't bear out the first e-mail. And -- and even assuming that you based your assumption on conversations with Scott Jennings, you're basing the assumption not on what Scott Jennings thought but what Karl thought. That's what the first e-mail said, it's important to Karl.
And so then to later say he didn't play any role -- the very fact that you imputed, you decided to go along or to appoint Griffin, you imputed the Scott Jennings conversation to mean that Karl thought it was important and then later say Karl played no role in it, it seems directly contradictory. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Because there's the, sort of the -- well, would you explain that for a minute?
How -- how can the two not be contradictory? Scott Jennings, you say, "That means to me it's important to Karl." And then you say, "Karl had no -- Karl had -- did not play any role."
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't really have anything to add to my -- to my previous answer to that.
SCHUMER: Well, I will say this, and I think this in the record. If not, I'd ask unanimous consent, the letter of March 28 from the Department of Justice to Senator Leahy and myself in reference to the letter that Senators Reid, Durbin, Murray and I wrote you. They think it's contradictory because they write, quote, "On review it appears that certain statements in the February 23 letter are contradicted by department documents included in our production in connection with the committee's review of the resignations of U.S. attorneys. We sincerely regret any inaccuracy."
It seems pretty clear that the Justice Department itself -- letters signed by Richard Hurtling, the acting assistant A.G. -- feels that there was an inaccuracy, an inconsistency, a contradiction. Don't they?
SAMPSON: I'm -- I really...
SCHUMER: Well, doesn't the letter say that?
SAMPSON: I haven't seen the letter, Senator, and I wouldn't want to comment on a letter from the Justice Department. I don't work at the Justice Department.
SCHUMER: Well, I'll let the -- I'll let the public and the rest of the committee and the other members of the Senate decide. I just want to reiterate the words...
LEAHY: The letter will be put in the record.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
"On review, it appears that certain statements in the February 23 letter are contradicted" -- their words, not mine -- "by department documents included in our production in connection with the committee's review. We sincerely regret any inaccuracy."
It seems that something isn't right.
Let me just ask you one other thing. Did Karl Rove have anything to do with your suggestion that Fitzgerald be fired?
SAMPSON: I don't remember -- I don't remember anything like that. I don't think so. I don't remember -- I don't remember...
SCHUMER: Can you search your memory and be sure of that?
SAMPSON: I don't -- Senator, I just want to answer to the best of my recollection. I don't remember ever speaking to Karl Rove about anything related to Patrick...
SCHUMER: How about to any of his people who worked in his office or worked for him?
SAMPSON: I don't remember any such conversation.
Is it possible? Because you're not ruling it out.
SAMPSON: To the best of my recollection, no. I don't remember that.
SCHUMER: Well, "I don't remember it," or "It's not possible"?
SAMPSON: I don't think it happened.
SCHUMER: You don't think it happened would mean there's a chance that it's possible, correct?
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't think it happened. I don't remember any such conversation.
But you're not willing to say unequivocally not.
SAMPSON: I don't remember any such conversation.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you.
HATCH: Well, I was certainly interested in those questions. And your response as well, because I don't know how you can be any more forthcoming than you are.
This claim that Carol Lam was removed because of her prosecution of Republicans has been repeated so many times that it seems to have taken on a life of its own.
I ran into it just yesterday when I was on a panel with a member of the House in front of 400 editors in this country. And since there has never been any evidence for this claim, maybe those making it think that repetition rather than proof will just make it so. Now, thank goodness prosecutors cannot get away with just telling stories without any real evidence.
Because that claim has been repeated so often, let me just ask you one more time, yes or no: Did the Cunningham public corruption case, or any other member of Congress who might have been accused, have anything whatever to do with recommending Carol Lam's removal?
SAMPSON: To my knowledge it did not.
HATCH: Another one of the former U.S. attorneys, David Iglesias, of New Mexico, has done a lot of media interviews since this flap has occurred and made some very public and specific claims.
Now, since you were head of this project and know more than anyone why he and others were asked to resign, I would like a response to the following: He told Tim Russert that he absolutely believes he was removed for what he called political reasons. He was on Chris Wallace's program and said, quote, "Performance has nothing to do this. This is a political hit," unquote.
He wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which he said he was fired for, quote, "not being political," unquote, and that this group of U.S. attorneys, quote, "had apparently been singled out for political reasons," unquote.
Now, accusations and rhetoric like this are precisely why I think it's so important to clarify the standards the administration used in making their decisions in these matters. You were in charge of this project. You know better than anyone else the reasons why these U.S. attorneys were recommended for removal.
So let me just ask you directly. Was the decision regarding Mr. Iglesias, was it a political hit?
SAMPSON: Not to my knowledge, Senator. I was not -- I aggregated information from other people, and I was not aware of Mr. Iglesias -- I don't remember anyone -- to my knowledge, it was nothing of the sort.
HATCH: Was Mr. Iglesias removed because he refused to be political?
SAMPSON: Senator, as I said in my opening statement, political and performance related is sort of an artificial distinction in my mind based on the criteria that we used to look at candidates who -- U.S. attorneys who might be considered for replacement.
HATCH: Were these U.S. attorneys singled out for political reasons?
SAMPSON: To my knowledge, they were singled out because they -- because issues and concerns had been raised about them.
Some of those things might be considered political, such as a failure to carry out the president's priorities, but I'm not aware, and I wasn't aware, and I don't remember ever hearing that a factor for David Iglesias or any of the other U.S. attorneys was that there needed to be an effort to influence a particular case for political reasons.
HATCH: Was he asked to resign because of performance?
HATCH: OK. As you know, the documents we received, including e- mails -- and by performance, you mean the broad definition of performance, not the narrow one that some of our friends on the other side would like...
SAMPSON: Yes. Thank you for that...
HATCH: And by political, you mean the narrow reasons from political, which our friends on the other side broaden greatly, the narrow reasons of interfering with an ongoing investigation or an ongoing criminal trial.
Is that a fair statement?
SAMPSON: I think so. To my knowledge, based on everything I observed and heard, Mr. Iglesias was not added to the list and asked to resign in an effort to influence a case...
HATCH: Well, let me make that even more clear. As you know, the documents we received included e-mails which are conversations, which Mr. Iglesias asked if both Attorney General Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General McNulty would be reference for future employment. They both agreed they would be references for him, even after this, right?
SAMPSON: They did.
HATCH: Yes or no?
HATCH: Mr. Iglesias has now said in numerous media interviews this was actually not an honest, straightforward request, but a little test. He says that there's simply no way they would agree to be a reference if he had actually been asked to resign for performance- related reasons. The fact that they did agree to be references proves, as he put it in one interview, quote, "that the true nature was political, not performance," unquote.
Now, you've already said that this category of performance was very broad and included more than competence or statistical measures, but such things as priorities, management, policy, et cetera.
Now, you were the attorney general's chief of staff. Does the fact that he agreed to be a reference for Mr. Iglesias in any way prove that this was all about politics and not about performance?
SAMPSON: Senator, if I could say two things to that. The first is that I think David Iglesias is a fine man and a skilled lawyer. And when he asked if the attorney general would serve as a reference for him, I remember asking the attorney general if he had any problem with that. And he didn't and I didn't. And so I communicated back to Mr. Iglesias that the attorney general would agree to do that.
With regard to your earlier question about politics and politics being involved, what I remember is that Mr. Iglesias was added to the list late in the process after folks at the department went back and looked and asked the question: Are there any others that should be added?
And four close cases were added, including Mr. Iglesias.
Ultimately, three of those came off the list. And I recall in conversation, as we were finalizing the list, I remember asking what folks thought about keeping Mr. Iglesias on the list. I remember the deputy attorney general mentioning that that wouldn't create any problems with the home state senators because he knew that Senator Domenici was not pleased with Mr. Iglesias' performance.
So there was that -- you know, that was considered in keeping Mr. Iglesias on the list.
HATCH: Well, I would like to clarify something that was raised this morning regarding Monica Goodling, counsel to the attorney general, who has said that she will assert her constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Now this morning, one of my Democratic colleagues said that a jury in a civil may draw a negative inference from someone asserting the Fifth Amendment right, but in response to Ms. Goodling's assertion, the chairman issued a statement acknowledging, quote, "That everybody has the constitutional right not to incriminate themselves with regard to a criminal conduct. The American people are left to wonder what conduct is at the base of Ms. Goodling's concern if she may incriminate herself in connection with criminal charges if she appears before the committee under oath," unquote.
The Supreme Court has said over and over that no negative inference may be drawn. In Griffin v. California, the court held that the Fifth Amendment, quote, "Forbids either comment by the prosecution on the accused's silence or instructions by the court, and that such silence is evidence of guilt," unquote.
Not only that, but if I am not mistaken, a federal prosecutor who makes such a comment would not only provide grounds for a mistrial, but might even be subject to investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility within the Department of Justice.
Now, I'd like to read a portion of the editorial titled, "Political Spectacle," from The Washington Post of March 22nd, and ask if you think this is a reasonable or accurate description of the situation.
Mr. Chairman, I do ask consent to place this editorial, titled "Political Spectacle," in the record.
SCHUMER: Without objection.
HATCH: Mr. Sampson, do you think that this is a reasonable or accurate description of the situation? That the president has the authority to remove U.S. attorneys to make room for others to serve or because they were not pursuing the right priorities with sufficient vigor; that there's no evidence of anything nefarious in the dismissal process, and no evidence that the administration was trying to short- circuit prosecutions?
That is the conclusion of The Washington Post, and I'm wondering if you think, in your perspective, they got it right.
SAMPSON: Well in my opinion, based on the information that I know and remember, I think that's fair.
HATCH: All right. Mr. Chairman, cold I...
SCHUMER: Thank you.
HATCH: ... one other question.
SCHUMER: Please. We're a little bit over, but not too bad.
HATCH: I understand.
Our committee's ranking Republican, Senator Specter, was on Chris Wallace's show on the Fox News Channel about 10 days ago and he said, in his practical, common-sense way, that the question is not whether the president had the authority to remove U.S. attorneys, but whether he did it for a, quote, "Bad reason," unquote.
Senator Specter gave us an example, removing a U.S. attorney for not responding to pressure to prosecute or pressure to not prosecute.
Now once again, you were in charge of this project. You were in charge of the evaluation and recommendation process. Were any of these U.S. attorneys asked to resign for such a bad reason, that they would not give in to pressure to prosecute or not prosecute a particular case?
SAMPSON: Based on what I observed and heard, that was not the case.
SCHUMER: Thank you.
HATCH: Can I clear up the one Patriot Act thing, to the extent that I can?
SCHUMER: OK. You have to go (inaudible).
HATCH: I'll try not to -- I appreciate you granting that.
SCHUMER: Senator Hatch has one more question.
HATCH: OK. As you probably know, lots of claims have been flying around about a grand scheme in which the Justice Department's sought to change the procedure in the Patriot Act for appointing interim U.S. attorneys and then ousted U.S. attorneys so their replacement could serve indefinitely without Senate confirmation.
That's something that bothers all of us up here if that were true.
Now that's the story, as best I can recall it. In your statement, you indicate that the decision to begin evaluating U.S. attorneys for possible replacement was made at the end of 2004. Is that correct?
SAMPSON: Yes, that's correct.
HATCH: OK. Now the documents we received from the Justice Department indicate that the discussion of policy reasons to change the procedure for appointing interim U.S. attorneys began at least as early as July 2003.
Is that correct?
SAMPSON: I don't remember that.
SAMPSON: I don't know.
SPECTER: Well, that's what the documents we received say.
We also know that the Justice Department did not ask that this change be made in the Patriot Act until late 2005, long after you began the process of reviewing ongoing U.S. attorneys.
Now, was your project for evaluating U.S. attorneys and recommending some for replacement motivated in any way by the initiative to change the procedure for replacing interim U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: I think the initiative behind seeking that change, that amendment that was included in the Patriot Act, was an incident that occurred in December of 2005 with the U.S. attorney appointment in the District of South Dakota.
And there was, you know, a conflict there with a district judge who wanted to appoint a U.S. attorney from outside the office who had not had a background check and was not authorized to see sensitive law enforcement information.
And I don't remember all the details of that, but my recollection is that that was the impetus to seek the amendment that ultimately was included in the Patriot Act conference.
I really wasn't involved in that, though.
SPECTER: All right. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Senator Hatch.
And we're going to go in the order that we did the first time around. So Senator Feinstein is next.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Sampson, who decided on who would be added to the termination list?
SAMPSON: I was the keeper of the list and so...
FEINSTEIN: I know that. That's not my question. Who made the decision who would be added to that list?
SAMPSON: It was based on an aggregation of input that came into me, and then I added people to the list.
FEINSTEIN: So you made the decision of who would go on the list?
SAMPSON: Before the final decision was made by the attorney general, I was the person who kept the list, and as information came in I added people to the list based on the input of others.
FEINSTEIN: You made a list, you aggregated a list, and you took it to the attorney general.
FEINSTEIN: Is that correct?
SAMPSON: Ultimately, in the fall of 2006, he approved the final list.
FEINSTEIN: And when did he -- when exactly?
Was that at the meeting 10 days before December 7?
SAMPSON: I don't remember, specifically. I think it was before that.
FEINSTEIN: How did it go to the attorney general -- in what form?
SAMPSON: I believe it was, you know, done on an oral basis. But I don't recall specifically.
FEINSTEIN: You told him who was on the list?
SAMPSON: I don't remember, specifically. I might have shown him the list. I might have told him. I remember him directing me to make sure that there was a good process, that I had consulted with the deputy attorney general and others who would have reason to make an informed judgment about the U.S. attorneys.
And I assured him that I did and would.
FEINSTEIN: All right. Now, on November 21, you sent an e-mail entitled "Meeting for Next Monday," regarding U.S. attorney appointments: "A.G., me -- meaning you, Monica, Deputy Attorney General Moschella, Elston, Battle; one hour; A.G.'s conference room."
Do you recall that e-mail?
SAMPSON: I reviewed that e-mail in preparation for this hearing, and so I remember it now.
FEINSTEIN: And you were present at that meeting that took place on the 27th?
FEINSTEIN: And what took place at that meeting?
SAMPSON: I believe, to the best of my recollection, we discussed where things stood. I reported that I had been -- had coordinated with the White House and that they were -- that I'd asked them to make sure they touched all the bases.
FEINSTEIN: Had they signed off on the list of attorneys?
SAMPSON: I just don't remember the timeline, exactly.
FEINSTEIN: Well, either the White House signed off on it, at that point, or did not.
SAMPSON: I recollect...
FEINSTEIN: Did the White House sign off on the list before that meeting on the 27th?
SAMPSON: What I remember is that the White House really didn't -- I don't remember receiving input, during this time period, from the White House, on who should be on the list and who should be off. I remember...
FEINSTEIN: Well, that's not my question.
You told me you had aggregated a list, that you had selected, you had put together, and you took that list to the attorney general and the attorney general approved the list.
I then asked you, in what form?
And you said, "Oh, by conversation."
And so then I went to the meeting on the 27th, and who was present at the meeting. And you said, I believe -- I could ask that the transcript be re-read -- that the White House had approved the list.
SAMPSON: I don't remember -- I don't remember when the attorney general specifically signed off on the list or on the idea of proceeding and moving forward.
And I don't remember, specifically, whether he made those approvals based entirely on an oral presentation or on seeing the list. I do remember that he was concerned about process.
He directed me to make sure that the senior leaders in the department all agreed that these were the people that should be on the list. And that list...
FEINSTEIN: Well, wait one second. Someone takes responsibility for this. This was not the usual order of business. In the last 25 years, only two U.S. attorneys have been fired. And they have never been fired in bulk, to the tune of seven on one day; that's for sure.
So this was unusual. You, yourself, in e-mails to others, said that it was unusual. And you, yourself, pointed out the hazards. Someone approved that list.
FEINSTEIN: And what I thought you told me was the attorney general approved the list. Is that not correct?
SAMPSON: The attorney general approved the list, Senator. I just don't remember specifically in this time period when he did that.
FEINSTEIN: All right. But at the meeting on the 27th, what business was conducted for one hour on these appointments?
SAMPSON: I remember that I did have some concern about making sure everyone understood what was -- what we were talking about doing here, what the recommendation was and what the decision would be. And I remember calling the meeting to make sure that the deputy attorney general and the attorney general and the other people that you listed all were in agreement about the list and about going forward.
FEINSTEIN: Was there dissent in the room?
SAMPSON: I don't remember any dissent.
FEINSTEIN: So everyone was agreed to proceed? Was the date that the calls would be made mentioned?
SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically if that was discussed at the November 27th meeting, but I do remember having conversations about that.
If I may, Senator, one other thing that I remember about the November 27th meeting, I think, to the best of my recollection, is that after the meeting, after the attorney general left, I remember the deputy attorney general calling me back. And I believe that it's then that he suggested that Kevin Ryan needed to be added to the list.
FEINSTEIN: All right. So you had a list. Leaving that meeting you had a list.
FEINSTEIN: And I believe you sent an e-mail then indicating who would call the Republican senators. Only the Republicans senators of the states concerned were to be advised. None of the Democratic senators of the states affected were to be apprised of what the situation is. Is that correct?
SAMPSON: Senator, the...
FEINSTEIN: It is correct.
SAMPSON: Senator, it is correct. The view of the assembled group was that Democratic senators wouldn't have a view about the notion of replacing one Republican appointee with another Republican appointee. It was a lack of foresight.
In hindsight, we obviously should have thought of that. But I remember the discussion at the time was that we needed to speak with the Republican home state senators because it was replacing -- because the idea was to replace one Republican appointee with another Republican appointee.
FEINSTEIN: But just as a courtesy, it wouldn't occur to anybody to pick up the phone and call a senator, particularly in a state where you're replacing two U.S. attorneys from two of the largest cities in the state.
SAMPSON: In hindsight, Senator, we obviously should have done that.
FEINSTEIN: OK. There was a hiatus in e-mails from the 15th to the 27th. It's my understanding that the president was traveling and that the Justice Department was awaiting White House approval during that period of time, that you'd asked for approval and that it had not been forthcoming.
Is that correct?
SAMPSON: To the best of my recollection, I think that's what was going on. There was the Thanksgiving holiday during that time as well.
FEINSTEIN: So the meeting on the 27th was following Thanksgiving. And I would assume that you had that approval at that time to proceed.
SAMPSON: I don't remember. I believe -- I remember that there is a document that has been produced to the Senate that shows the White House communicating back that we had the approval to proceed.
SAMPSON: But I think that was later. I don't remember here. I think that was maybe on December 4th.
FEINSTEIN: And to the best of your recollection, who in the White House would be responsible to sign off on this effort?
SAMPSON: I don't know. I communicated that with Bill Kelley, the deputy counsel to the president, and just suggested to him that he let us know...
FEINSTEIN: You weren't curious as to who would sign off on it?
SAMPSON: I thought perhaps it would be Harriet Miers, the counsel to the president, but I wasn't sure and I don't know.
FEINSTEIN: OK. Is my time up? Thank you, Mister...
SCHUMER: More than two minutes.
FEINSTEIN: I beg your pardon?
SCHUMER: You're two minutes over. You want to ask one other question?
FEINSTEIN: No, that's fine. I'll wait. Thank you. Thank you.
SCHUMER: I don't know why, but we don't have too many of these...
FEINSTEIN: I can't see.
SCHUMER: ... because it's hard to see.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
SCHUMER: Senator Sessions?
SESSIONS: Thank you.
Well I think U.S. Attorney Whitehouse had some good corrections this morning -- senator now. But I do think there was some lack of comprehension on the part of the team around the attorney general and the attorney general himself, who also never had any experience in actually being a United States attorney or in the Department of Justice in understanding why these issues are sensitive and difficult to do.
I suspect that anyone at the White House or the president would think: Of course I can replace a United States attorney. If I want to get rid of a United States attorney, I don't have to answer to Congress, I can just replace them. And technically he can.
But there's more to it than that, as we've seen.
So that's part of it. I also am troubled by high Department of Justice official asserting that they can't tell the truth because it might tend to incriminate them.
I know you can't say that in a trial. And it used to -- you would call a witness on the stand and make them take the Fifth in front of the jury. And they've all said: You can't do that anymore.
But a high Department of Justice -- my recollection, Senator Whitehouse, is that a police officer who takes the Fifth is off the force, or at least off the streets.
And did I read that this individual that took the Fifth is on administrative leave now? Did I see that in the paper?
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't -- I've been gone from the department for...
SESSIONS: I think I may have seen that. That probably is appropriate. I think that's what happens if you're investigating a police officer and they take the Fifth.
So I do -- these are matters that have cast a cloud over the department. And it's very sad. I don't think that we have people here with the kind of malicious intent to do wrong that has been suggested. I reject that.
But a series of misjudgments and overreaching and pushing harder than should be, perhaps, or something, has resulted in a situation that's not healthy. Again, I just was noticing this e-mail from Colin Newman, the White House counsel -- I guess Harriet Miers's shop -- sent to David Leach, January '05. This is when you really should have been talking about who's going to be replaced. This is early in the second term.
Quote, "Karl Rove stopped by to ask you" -- talking about David Leach -- quote, roughly quoting, "how" -- asked -- "how we plan to proceed regarding U.S. attorneys, whether we're going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, et cetera," close quote.
Now, that doesn't indicate to me he was trying to dictate to the Department of Justice how the United States attorneys should be handled. Does it to you?
SAMPSON: I remember it coming in as a question, as an inquiry.
SESSIONS: Now, Carol -- on the question of Carol Lam. I want to be clear about this. She seems to be a very impressive United States attorney, and very capable lawyer. But it does appear to me her priorities were not the priorities of the Department of Justice.
And my impression when I was a United States attorney was, there was always quite a few out there that thought they knew better than everybody else what they wanted to do in their district. Sometimes they were right. Sometimes they weren't right. I've often thought they were given too much reign.
I mean, these people are given money from the taxpayers of America to execute policies, and they're not accountable to anybody, really, but the president. And they have to be held to account to utilize that money consistent with legitimate policies that the president has promised in his campaign or the -- or the people want.
Her prosecutions in 2004 over immigration cases -- and these were serious immigration cases, not just border crossings. These were people who were involved in smuggling and things of that nature -- fell from 2,054 to 1,453. And that's more than a quarter, more than 25 percent.
Her prosecutions for firearms offenses -- they're just stunning to me. 2002: 24. 2003: 17. 2004: 18. 2005: 12. 2006: 17. The Southern District of Texas was averaging at that time, let's see, about 200 a year. The Southern District of New Mexico, over 100 a year. The Southern District of Arizona, almost 200 a year.
So it seems to me that Operation Safe Neighborhoods, which emphasized from the president on down -- it was a clear priority of Department of Justice -- was not being effectively carried out in the Southern District of California, which I'm not surprised that the senator wrote a letter.
Senator Feinstein wrote a letter asking about some of these things, an inquiry. Other congressmen wrote letters about this. Not that she wasn't a good person or an honorable person, but her priorities weren't what other people thought they should be. Why did you all write a letter to defend her?
SAMPSON: I don't remember. I remember concern being expressed about that office along the lines of what you set forth with regard to gun prosecutions and border enforcement. And I don't remember specifically that letter in response. I believe that there was some incoming letters from members of Congress, and a response was prepared that did its best to defend the work of the department.
SESSIONS: Well, I think that's a typical reaction of the Department of Justice, to defend itself against criticism when perhaps you should examine the validity of the criticism. It sounds to me like it was fairly legitimate.
SESSIONS: Now, I was curious about this e-mail, on February 7 of this year, from Brian Roehrkasse to Kyle Sampson. The subject is "The Morning Clips." He read the newspaper that morning, got the summary of the newspapers.
"The attorney general is upset with stories on the United States attorneys this morning. He thought some of the DAG statements were inaccurate" -- the deputy attorney general.
What did he think was inaccurate about that?
SAMPSON: It would be helpful to me if I could see a copy of that e-mail, Senator. I apologize.
SESSIONS: That's all it said -- well, it was from Brian to you and Tasia Scolinos, dated February 7, and...
SAMPSON: To the best of my recollection, the attorney general was traveling overseas. And Brian Roehrkasse was the deputy in the Office of Public Affairs, who was traveling with him.
And the attorney general had been out of the office for a week, and was learning, for the first time, in the newspaper clips, about the deputy attorney general's testimony.
SESSIONS: Was it the question that he had stated, that all had been terminated for office procedures, or was it a question -- was that the question -- he thought all were and that Deputy Attorney General McNulty, apparently telling the truth, said that, really, there wasn't any performance problems with Mr. Cummins in Arkansas; it was just that they wanted to make a change?
SAMPSON: What I remember is that, prior to the deputy attorney general's testimony, the position of the department was that there would be no public discussion about the reasons that the U.S. attorneys were asked to resign.
SAMPSON: And I think because the attorney general was traveling overseas, he was caught by surprise that the deputy attorney general, in his testimony, had said performance-related reasons.
SESSIONS: My time is up, Mr. Chairman. I'm sorry.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Senator Sessions.
CARDIN: Thank you.
Who added David Iglesias to the list?
SAMPSON: I'm sorry, Senator?
CARDIN: Who was responsible for your consideration of David Iglesias to be added to the list?
SAMPSON: What I remember is that some time after October 17, the -- an effort was made to go back and look at the list of U.S. attorneys whose four-year terms had expired...
CARDIN: Effort made by whom?
SAMPSON: An effort made by myself, the deputy attorney general, his chief of staff, Monica Goodling, perhaps others who were...
CARDIN: Four additional names came forward.
SAMPSON: Including Iglesias.
CARDIN: And one went beyond that.
Who suggested that David Iglesias remain on the list that would be ultimately recommended...
SAMPSON: I don't...
CARDIN: For termination?
SAMPSON: What I remember, Senator, is that the discussion was, should each of these four stay on the list? And for various reasons the other three came off.
And in discussing Iglesias, all I remember is the deputy attorney general saying, "Senator Domenici won't mind if he stays on the list. Senator Domenici's dissatisfied with him."
CARDIN: And the four that were selected -- how did you come up with those four? Did you just go to your -- your master list that was in your drawer and circle four names?
How did you come up with these four being the next to be considered?
SAMPSON: I think they were all close cases. They were sort of...
CARDIN: Close cases because of performance?
SAMPSON: Because there weren't specific policy conflicts or significant management challenges. They were close cases because they were four U.S. attorneys where the aggregation of information coming in was, we -- we -- we can do better here. A change would be beneficial.
CARDIN: And Mr. Iglesias remained on the list because you felt that the senator would not object?
SAMPSON: He remained on the list because nobody suggested that he come off.
CARDIN: Who suggested that -- what -- who was there really promoting that he remain on the list, in your -- among your group?
SAMPSON: I don't remember anyone promoting that he remain on the list. The default was sort of the opposite, that he was a close case along with the other four. And that's how he came on the list. And then the question was, who of these should stay on the list?
SAMPSON: ... winnow the list to the smallest amount where everyone in a consensus fashion agreed.
CARDIN: You've indicated that, when the recommendations were made to the attorney general, that there was an additional name that was added after the meeting. How many of the recommendations you made were turned down by the attorney general?
SAMPSON: I don't remember any of them being turned down.
CARDIN: Were there additional names that you wanted included on the list that did not get suggested by the attorney general?
SAMPSON: I don't remember the attorney general suggesting names to go on or to come off.
CARDIN: No, did you -- did you want additional U.S. attorneys asked to resign that were not ultimately asked to resign?
SAMPSON: The way the process worked is that if any one of those people involved in developing the list -- the deputy attorney general...
CARDIN: Were you responsible for the list going to the attorney general?
SAMPSON: Yes, I believe I was.
CARDIN: Was there any names that you wanted on that list that didn't get on? That -- were there any names that were on that -- that you wanted on that list that didn't get on that list?
SAMPSON: It just wasn't like that. It wasn't that I wanted names on the list. I was the aggregator of information that came in from a variety of sources.
CARDIN: And other than...
SAMPSON: I don't remember any one specific U.S. attorney being on the list because I personally thought they should be on the list.
CARDIN: Let me try to go through this again. Because I'm having a hard time following the sensitivity to the point that you bring up over and over again, when asked by Senator Hatch whether you believe there was any information that these requests had any impact on pending investigations or decisions not to investigate. And you said to the best of your knowledge, you didn't believe that was the case.
CARDIN: Now, you also acknowledged that there were political considerations -- political considerations meaning support within the district of the U.S. attorney.
So there were political considerations.
You also acknowledged that there were sensitive political corruption cases in these jurisdictions. In one case, it was being expanded, which the Republicans weren't happy about. In another case, there were prosecutions not brought that the Republicans were unhappy about.
Now you acknowledge, in Chicago, the insensitivity of your comment. Didn't any red flag go off in your mind that maybe there is an inappropriate political circumstance in your equation that at least should be investigated a little bit before you take the responsibility to recommend to the attorney general the dismissal of a U.S. attorney?
SAMPSON: In my mind, Senator, I did not make that connection. It was a lack of foresight. I was gathering information from people who had served as United States attorney, from people who were senior officials in the department, but all I can say is what I remember and what I know. And I think that I failed to consider that sensitivity of that perception, as I told you before.
CARDIN: Well, and now talk about the Chicago circumstance, which -- I'm just concerned that you put in your statement that the limited category of improper reasons includes an effort to interfere with or influence the investigation or prosecution of a particular case for political or partisan advantage.
That's in your statement. That's in your written statement.
SAMPSON: I agree with that.
CARDIN: Well, what safeguards did you have in the process to make sure that wasn't being done?
SAMPSON: Senator, as I testified to you before, I don't feel like I had any safeguards in that process. I was the aggregator of information. I wish that I would have thought of that eventuality. I wish that someone else in the process would have thought of that eventuality.
I failed to do that. And that's one of the reasons I resigned.
CARDIN: Well, I appreciate your frankness in that regard. But I just find it very difficult to understand that you understand that it would be inappropriate to dismiss a U.S. attorney for that reason, and yet you are acknowledging to us there was at least information that had been presented that would raise that issue.
And were there discussions among the senior advisers, when you were discussing this, as to whether there was any impact on a pending investigation? Did that come up in your discussion? Was there discussion about what was going on in California or New Mexico?
SAMPSON: I don't remember any such discussion. To my knowledge, that was never considered.
CARDIN: But you did consider the local political issues in those jurisdictions?
SAMPSON: To my knowledge, Senator, I personally didn't consider that but I...
CARDIN: I thought you told me earlier, to answer a question, that you did; that that was one of the considerations you had gotten. When I asked you about the local support with government, you said: Yes, we had gotten calls from senators and we had gotten calls that people were upset. I thought you said you have that information.
SAMPSON: The department had that information. Let me...
CARDIN: The department means you. You were the person who got all of the information together.
SAMPSON: Others in the department had that information. And I think I may have generally been aware of that information. I don't remember whether, at the time, I considered that information. And as I said before, I don't remember ever hearing or observing anything that connected the notion of asking a U.S. attorney to resign with influencing a particular case for political reasons.
CARDIN: I've been told, even though I have seven minutes remaining, that my time really has expired.
SCHUMER: I think that's your third seven minutes. So.
We will have a third round. Mine is going to be a little longer.
SAMPSON: Mr. Chairman?
SCHUMER: Maybe yours, too.
SAMPSON: Excuse me, Mr. Chairman?
SCHUMER: Would you like to take a break?
SAMPSON: Would that be OK?
SCHUMER: Could we just go through Mr. Whitehouse, because he's been waiting?
WHITEHOUSE: There's no need for that...
WHITEHOUSE: ... if you'd prefer to take the break now.
SCHUMER: Do you want me to take the break now?
SAMPSON: If I could take a break, that would...
SAMPSON: Thank you.
SCHUMER: We will resume at 4:10.
SAMPSON: Thank you.
SCHUMER: OK, the hearing will resume.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Sampson. I know it's a long day. We have a lot of questions. But if we can get them all done today we don't have to do this again.
WHITEHOUSE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Sampson, wouldn't you agree that it's a little hard to tell whether the attorney general has, in fact, rejected your Patriot Act strategy when the, and I quote, "pledge to desire a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney" is, in fact, a part of that gumming-to-death strategy and Tim Griffin is, in fact, still in place in Arkansas?
SAMPSON: Senator, I think you'd have to ask the attorney general. What I believe is that he decided that was a bad idea and continued in conversations with Senator Pryor, asked Senator Pryor if he would support Mr. Griffin for nomination. Senator Pryor said no, and Mr. Griffin's withdrawn.
And I've left the department, but I understand and would hope that they're working with Senator Pryor to get a Senate-confirmed -- a person selected who could be nominated and confirmed.
WHITEHOUSE: But you do concede that pledging to desire a Senate- confirmed U.S. attorney was part of that gum-to-death strategy?
SAMPSON: Senator, I think after I drafted that -- I believe you're referring to a December 19th e-mail.
SAMPSON: After that, the attorney general made a decision -- the attorney general made a decision that the administration would be committed to having a Senate-confirmed United States attorney in every federal district. And I understand that to be...
WHITEHOUSE: Yes. And my point is, that's exactly consistent with pledging to desire a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney, which is part of your strategy. It's sort of a conundrum, isn't it?
SAMPSON: As I said, that was a bad idea from staff. It was not adopted by the principals.
WHITEHOUSE: Let me ask a question that is very, very important, to me anyway, and it has to do with the statement in your testimony that the limited category of improper reasons for removal of a United States attorney includes an effort to interfere with or influence the investigation or prosecution or a particular case for political or partisan advantage.
Now, I think everybody in this room can agree that that would be improper. But not only would that be improper, it would be wildly improper and well beyond the boundary distinguishing a proper from an improper reason. Wouldn't you agree?
SAMPSON: I agree.
WHITEHOUSE: And in fact even if there were no particular case involved, if you were removing a United States attorney simply because they didn't have the right sort of partisan tone, with no particular case in mind, wouldn't that injection of partisan spirit into the office of U.S. attorney also be improper?
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't know. I don't feel comfortable commenting on the hypothetical that you pose. I mean, I don't know.
The former, what I set forth in my opening statement as being improper, I believe is improper.
WHITEHOUSE: But there's a lot more that's improper than that. That's not the only thing that's improper in this consideration, is it? You don't have to attach a particular attorney general to a particular case to a particular partisan bias before you have an impropriety in the administration of justice, do you?
SAMPSON: I don't know, Senator.
WHITEHOUSE: You don't know?
SAMPSON: Senator, I'm not 100 percent clear about what you're getting at.
WHITEHOUSE: Well, let me leave this point with the closing lines of Justice Jackson's speech when he was attorney general, who said, "The citizens' safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility."
I think any attempt to inject factional purposes is an impropriety, and I would wish that you and the Department of Justice would both agree with that.
My question earlier, it's been brought up since with respect to Monica Goodling, is that I'm a little surprised that she's still there after having taken the Fifth. And I'm concerned about the signal that's being sent out of the department.
Let me give another example, because you were there at the time. I know you haven't been there for this.
Michael Elston made a call to Bud Cummins that Bud Cummins described as having a threatening undercurrent to it. The department denied that the call took place.
WHITEHOUSE: Before us, Bud Cummins produced a contemporaneous e- mail that pretty well confirmed that the call actually did take place. And when I pressed the matter a little further, every single one of those four United States attorneys allowed us how, if that type of a contact had been made to a witness of theirs before a grand jury, they would open an obstruction of justice case to inquire further.
Now, I'm not suggesting that Michael Elston has obstructed justice with his call. I don't want to go that far. But I do want to inquire whether, in response to both the department's statement that this was a fabrication, which was proved wrong by the subsequent appearance of the e-mail, and the very fact of the call having been made in the first place in very untoward circumstances, I think you might concede.
Has any action of any kind, in the time that you were there -- was it considered or taken with respect to Michael Elston over this incident? Was there any woodshedding? Was there any disciplinary action? Was there any consequence whatsoever from this?
SAMPSON: I don't remember any.
And to follow up on your conversation with Senator Feinstein, and the immigration issue. And the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam. It strikes me that when the chief of staff to the deputy attorney general of the United States has a real problem -- that's a matter of pretty significant weight. And when he says he has a problem "right now," that temporal element is also pretty significant.
And I ask you, with respect to the immigration prosecutions undertaken by her district, what was the problem "right now" that fits into that temporal urgency that is -- that is described in your e- mail? What "right now" made something different about the immigration thing?
SAMPSON: What I remember was going on at that time was there was a robust debate going on in the Congress about comprehensive immigration reform, and a robust debate going on within the administration about how the administration could show that we were doing everything we could with regard to securing the border. I remember...
WHITEHOUSE: So the problem was not so much a change in her conduct, as with outside atmospherics that affected your view of the importance of the immigration issue?
SAMPSON: I remember the attorney general felt some exposure because the department was being criticized soundly for not doing enough to enforce the border. And there was a debate going on in the administration about how to show that the administration was doing more to enforce the border. And at that very time there was discussion between the department and the White House about the notion of militarizing the border. And in fact, on May 15 the president announced that he was going to send National Guard troops to the border.
I remember also that -- I believe at around that time, I think even on May 11 there was a meeting that had been scheduled to meet with House Republicans who had expressed concern about border enforcement, with either the attorney general or the deputy attorney general.
SAMPSON: I don't know that that meeting ever happened. But I remember, at the time, there was real discussion, in the senior management offices of the Department of Justice, about how we could fix that problem, how we could get some immigration deliverables.
And I remember, at our senior management meeting, some time in the weeks before that, there was a specific discussion about the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego.
And Bill Mercer, who, I think, at the time, was the principal associate deputy attorney general, came to the meeting and had pulled a bunch of statistics from the sentencing commission, comparing the offices along the Southwest border, and was adamant about Carol Lam and that office's failure to understand what was going on politically and reorient resources to bring more border enforcement, notwithstanding the fact that she had been the recipient of a lot of criticism from members of Congress.
And there was a view expressed, at the time, that Ms. Lam just had her own independent views about what kind of cases she wanted that office to work on, and had not pushed her office to follow the attorney general's priorities with regard to immigration. And also, in the background of that, was with gun cases.
WHITEHOUSE: May I ask one last question?
WHITEHOUSE: I know my time is over. And it's really more of an observation than a question. Because you've left the department, so there's no point quarreling with you about it.
But with respect to this question of U.S. attorney independence, I just want to point out that it's my very distinct and very deeply held conviction that the independence of the U.S. attorneys, collectively, from the Department of Justice, to a reasonable degree, is an asset in the administration of justice in this country.
And the way that I have seen this handled is highly destructive of that asset. That's my two cents worth.
SCHUMER: Thank you -- worth more than two cents, Senator.
OK, we're beginning the third round. We only have three of us here. I know Senator Specter is returning. We're going to do 10- minute rounds.
But I'll tailor it, because Senator Feinstein has to leave at five, to make sure she gets her third 10 minutes in.
OK, Mr. Sampson, I want to talk a little bit about, now, replacements. You had said, in your written testimony today, quote, "With the exception of Bud Cummins, none of the U.S. attorneys was asked to resign in favor of a particular individual who had already been identified to take the vacant spot."
The statement, however, is inconsistent with your views, expressed in e-mail exchanges that took place as far back as last fall.
In an e-mail on September 13 -- this is OAG-34 -- didn't you write, to Harriet Miers, that you were, quote, "only" -- and underline "only" -- "in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed."
SCHUMER: "It will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and don't have replacements ready to roll immediately." Those are your words.
Is that correct?
SAMPSON: It would be useful to me if I could see that document, Senator.
SCHUMER: It's an e-mail of September 13th, 2006.
OK, so here's all I want to ask you -- you don't have to study the document to -- it is your document, though, right? You recognize it?
SAMPSON: Yes, the...
SAMPSON: The middle e-mail on the e-mail chain is mine.
OK. Here's what I want to ask you. Did you or did you not have in mind specific replacements for the dismissed U.S. attorneys before they were asked to resign on December 7th, 2006?
SAMPSON: I personally did not. On December 7th, I did not have in mind any replacements for any of the seven who were asked to resign.
SCHUMER: Did anyone around you, that you were aware of?
SAMPSON: I don't remember anyone having anyone in mind.
SCHUMER: Really? You're sure?
SAMPSON: Yes. In fact I remember, Senator, as we were finalizing the list, I remember saying: Not knowing who will be the replacement, do we still want to go forward with asking these seven to resign?
SCHUMER: Now, the department admitted that you replaced Bud Cummins to give a chance to Tim Griffin, right?
SAMPSON: Tim Griffin was...
SCHUMER: Was before; that was not December 7th.
SAMPSON: That's right, that was before. And the White House had expressed interest in Mr. Griffin having the opportunity to be appointed.
SCHUMER: And you were aware that that was the case?
And isn't it a fact that the reason given by Associate Attorney General Bill Mercer to Dan Bogden and Paul Charlton that they were being fired is because they had a better replacement for them?
SAMPSON: I was not a party to that conversation. I did prepare talking points for Mr. Mercer to use if he was contacted by any of the U.S. attorneys who had been asked to resign.
SCHUMER: Well they claim, each of them claims that was the reason given. You have no reason to doubt that?
SAMPSON: I don't know one way or the other.
So here we have -- and was there a pool of identified possibilities for some spots? A group that might be one of these six, one of these four, one of these two?
SAMPSON: To my knowledge, not as of December 7th; I did not have any pool of replacement candidates in mind.
SCHUMER: OK. And did you identify replacements for any of the -- OK, this is really the same question that you've answered. OK.
Now, you mentioned before that there were some people you recommended be removed who weren't. Can you give us those names?
SAMPSON: I think I didn't recommend that they be removed. As the list was developed, people came on the list and went off the list. And what I remember...
SCHUMER: Right. Right. Well give me the couple of names of people who were on the list and then removed from the list and the reason why.
SAMPSON: I guess I would hesitate to do that in this open setting -- name additional U.S. attorneys who we considered removing from the list. If you insist, I will do that.
SCHUMER: I will insist. I understand the sensitivity, but this is serious stuff.
SAMPSON: I understand.
SCHUMER: And the...
SPECTER: Well let us -- Mr. Chairman, if I might interject. May we have a clarification of precisely what Mr. Sampson has been asked and what he's about to testify to?
SCHUMER: Yes. What he's been asked is names who were on the list at one point but then removed from the list. I think that's very important to know.
SPECTER: These are people on the list to be asked to resign...
SAMPSON: Some of whom are current United States attorneys.
SCHUMER: Yes. Thank you.
SPECTER: I think that's fair.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Ranking Member.
Go ahead, Mr. Sampson.
SAMPSON: At one point in time, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina was on a tentative preliminary list that I had.
SCHUMER: Who was that?
SAMPSON: Her name is Anna Mills Wagoner.
SCHUMER: Why was she removed?
SAMPSON: A suggestion was made by Ms. Goodling that she be removed. It's in one of the e-mails, and says that she recommends that the U.S. attorney in the Western District of North Carolina be removed. That was a misprint. It was really the Middle District or North Carolina.
And Ms. Goodling suggested that she be removed because Ms. Goodling was aware that Ms. Wagoner had a good PSN program and had done some good work in preparing and organizing a gang conference.
That's to the best of my recollection.
SCHUMER: Any others?
SAMPSON: After October 17th, I recall that four additional U.S. attorneys were added to the list, including David Iglesias. But, ultimately, three of those came off.
SCHUMER: And who were they?
SAMPSON: Those were all redacted in one of the documents. And I think I remember who the three are. I have not had the opportunity to review unredacted documents.
So I hesitate, again, to name these, because I to the best of my recollection...
SCHUMER: Well here's what I'd like you to do: Name them. And if you go back and look at the documents or whatever else in terms of your recollection, you are incorrect, you can notify the committee and we'll change the record.
SPECTER: Well, Mr. Chairman, may I suggest that if the witness knows the identity, as I've already agreed, fine; but if he doesn't know them, if he's speculating or his recollection is hazy, you're going to be identifying people who are inappropriately...
SCHUMER: Let's do this...
SAMPSON: ... my concerns, Mr. Chairman.
SCHUMER: I understand that. Why don't we ask you to go look and see if you have the document.
SAMPSON: I have the document in its redacted form. And so I think I know who those three were, but I'm not 100 percent...
SCHUMER: Why don't you go try to figure out who they are. And I would ask you in a couple of days in writing to submit names that you're sure of, in addition. Would you be willing to do that?
SAMPSON: I could do that. Yes, I can do that. Yes, sir.
SCHUMER: Thank you. OK.
For any of these people who might have been replaced or weren't, were there any people being groomed for those jobs?
SAMPSON: To the best of my recollection, no. If I'm correct about the ones I'm thinking about, the answer is no.
SCHUMER: OK. And did Harriet Miers agree with you that it would be counterproductive to fire attorneys unless you had replacements in mind?
SAMPSON: I don't remember her views one way or the other.
SCHUMER: All right.
The thing I just find terribly befuddling about all of this -- worse than befuddling, confounding -- is this is such serious stuff, to fire U.S. attorneys, do it the way you did it, and there's so little of a system, so little recollection by you, the center of it all; no real file; no knowledge of who was part of the system of rejecting it.
It's a pretty severe indictment of the Justice Department in which you served even if everything you're saying is true, because when you do something like this, there ought to be a careful system. And there doesn't seem to be. It seems sort of ad hoc. It seems that records weren't kept. It seems that the story keeps changing. It's terribly confounding.
But you don't have to -- I'm just making that comment myself.
Here's something else I'd like to ask you. When we talked earlier, you said that the department -- including you -- had, quote, "mishandled the preparation for Mr. McNulty's testimony." That's your quote. And the Department of Justice acknowledged that Mr. McNulty's testimony was incomplete, correct?
SAMPSON: I don't know that.
SAMPSON: I think I left the department and am not aware what they've acknowledged or not acknowledged.
SCHUMER: They have.
Mr. McNulty testified for this committee on February 6th. You watched his testimony, did you not?
SAMPSON: I did not watch his testimony.
SCHUMER: So you're not familiar with his testimony at all?
SAMPSON: I remember reviewing portions of the transcript of his testimony later, in preparing congressional correspondence.
SAMPSON: But I didn't watch his testimony. And I didn't review the entirety of his transcript. And I only reviewed parts of it later.
SCHUMER: When you reviewed parts of it, and when you heard, read about what happened in the newspaper -- secondhand accounts -- didn't you realize that his testimony was incomplete?
SAMPSON: I didn't realize it.
SCHUMER: You didn't?
SAMPSON: I didn't at the time.
SCHUMER: Can you explain that?
SAMPSON: I didn't focus on it. The deputy attorney general came back to the department and reported that he felt things had gone well, that he had been able to give the committee some information and promised to come up and give the committee more information about the specific reasons that these U.S. attorneys were asked to resign.
And I didn't focus on -- I didn't review his transcript, and I didn't focus on his testimony. I was busy with other things, and I didn't focus on it until much later.
SCHUMER: How about when it sort of came out in the newspapers that his testimony was incomplete? That he felt -- I think there was a story a week or so later in Newsweek or one of the -- I don't remember where it was. But there were stories out that -- that created quite a buzz, that he felt that he didn't give straightforward testimony and that he'd been ill-prepared for the meeting by you and others.
SAMPSON: Senator, I never intended to mislead Mr. McNulty or the committee, or Mr. Moschella. I did the -- my level best in the preparation to inform them of everything I knew. We failed collectively to gather all the documents and go back and look at the history...
SCHUMER: I'm not -- that's not the line of my questioning here. It's a little different.
SAMPSON: I'm sorry.
SCHUMER: It's OK.
When did you realize that the -- his testimony was incomplete?
SAMPSON: Senator, I'm not...
SCHUMER: Well, you realize it now because you stated that.
SAMPSON: I obviously, you know, realize that -- I realized on Friday morning, March 9, that there was some concern. The attorney general the day before had come up and met with you and with Senator Specter and with Senator Feinstein, and agreed to make all of his -- five of his staff people available. And that day agreed, essentially, that we would make -- the department would make all of the relevant documents available.
And at that time I went back and pulled a few of my documents and spoke with Mr. McNulty and Mr. Moschella about them. And there was concern but, you know, I knew that I had done my best to prepare them at the time. Our failure was one in failing to organize a good preparation and communication failures.
SCHUMER: That seems to be endemic in -- in this -- in this area, all the way through. OK.
What I was trying to get at is, when you learned it, did you try and correct the record?
SAMPSON: The first time that that idea ever crossed my mind was on Friday, March 9. And I offered my resignation to the attorney general that day.
SCHUMER: So your solution was to resign? OK, well...
SAMPSON: Senator, if I may, my -- what I recommended, at the time, was that the department step back and pull all of the documents and do what it could to provide a response to the Congress. And I offered my...
SCHUMER: I'm not being critical of you resigning for that reason. I'm just drawing a conclusion.
OK, one last -- let me see here. I want to make sure Senator Feinstein -- Senator Specter, would you mind if I have one little -- before I go to another, but Senator Feinstein has to leave by five o'clock.
Could we call on her next?
SCHUMER: Thank you.
So I'm just going to go over this last little...
SPECTER: She's not going to take between now and five, though, is she?
SCHUMER: No, she only needs 10 minutes, but she'd go past the 10 minutes if you went and then -- if I finish this little section and you went and then she went.
SPECTER: That's agreeable.
SCHUMER: Thank you.
OK. Are you aware of whether anyone at DOJ who has -- whether anyone at DOJ has asked applicants for career positions, not political positions, line positions -- questions about any of the following: their support for the president?
SAMPSON: I'm not aware of that.
SCHUMER: How they voted in any election?
SAMPSON: I don't remember. I did not participate in career hires. And I'm not aware of people doing that.
SCHUMER: You're not aware -- that's my question: Were you aware of anyone doing that?
SAMPSON: Let me be precise. I don't remember ever being aware of anything like that.
SCHUMER: OK -- whether they were registered Democrats or Republicans?
SAMPSON: I don't remember being aware of anything like that.
SCHUMER: OK -- and what their political leanings were?
SAMPSON: I don't remember anything -- I don't remember anything like that.
SCHUMER: OK. So you have no knowledge if such questions were ever asked of line-level assistant U.S. attorney applicants?
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't have any recollection of anything like that. I was not -- did not participate in the hiring of assistant U.S. attorneys.
SCHUMER: Would it be appropriate to ask such questions?
SAMPSON: I understand that assistant U.S. attorneys are career employees, and so it would not be appropriate.
SCHUMER: Thank you.
Let me just ask you a couple more on this. Did you know whether Ms. Goodling or anyone else asked such questions?
Well, let's ask -- Ms. Goodling -- so you have no knowledge that Ms. Goodling asked such questions of such people?
SAMPSON: Of career...
SCHUMER: Career, correct.
SAMPSON: ... applicants -- I don't remember any questions like that, that she would ask.
SCHUMER: OK. Senator Feinstein?
FEINSTEIN: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I'd like to place in the record a letter of August 23, signed by William Moschella, which defends Carol Lam's immigration record, pointing out that she has devoted substantial resources to investigating and prosecuting border corruption cases which pose a serious threat to both national security and continuing immigration violations.
And it goes on, and essentially answers the questions that I had asked, by saying that the office had made great strides.
So I would ask that that letter go into the record. Mr. Chairman?
SCHUMER: Without objection. I apologize.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much.
Mr. Sampson, did you or anyone else in your office call Carol Lam and tell her that you were concerned about her immigration record?
SAMPSON: I did not. And I don't remember anyone in my office doing that.
FEINSTEIN: Well, we've asked her that question, and no one did. And I want the record to reflect that as well.
FEINSTEIN: I also want to -- and this, Mr. Chairman, is the caliber of U.S. attorney that just got peremptorily fired.
The Arellano-Felix cartel, are you aware of that cartel?
SAMPSON: Generally. I've heard the name. I understand...
FEINSTEIN: It is one of the most vicious drug cartels on the planet. And as of December 19th, Ms. Lam announced an indictment against the younger brother, Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix, and Manuel Arturo Villareal-Heredia with racketeering, drug trafficking, money laundering.
But I want you to listen to what the indictment also charges: Arellano and/or Villareal with specific violent acts, including but not limited to the murder of Fernando Gutierrez (ph) in 1996; the kidnapping of individuals in January '02 and the spring of '04 and in January '05; the murder of Deputy Police Chief Hugo Gabriel Corono Vargas (ph) in Tijuana in '05; the murder of Jorge Beldao Cerrone (ph) in Tijuana in February of '05; the kidnapping, murder and beheading of three Rosarito police officers and one civilian in June '06.
I can tell you that this drug cartel has been the scourge of the southern border. The arrests were made. The indictment has been issued. I've just learned the judge has delayed the prosecution over death penalty issues.
But this was a key and critical case that in my view -- and this is just my view -- is worth virtually solid gold to get these people out of commission. They are vicious and they are unrelenting.
So it's rather hard for me, knowing some of these cases that she was involved in, when no one spoke to her about immigration, for you to be here and tell us that the reason that she was terminated was because of an immigration record that as of August of 2006 your department was ardently defending.
And I must go back to the problem we have with Carol Lam right now. The day before you wrote that e-mail, she noticed the department that two search warrants were issued. When a U.S. attorney notices the department, how does she do that, or how does he do that?
SAMPSON: Senator, as I testified before, I don't remember receiving any notice of that myself. There is a system where United States attorneys may submit an urgent report. I believe it goes to the executive office of the U.S. attorney.
FEINSTEIN: And I believe that's what she did. She submitted an urgent report. And you're saying you knew nothing about it and no one told you about it.
SAMPSON: I don't remember ever hearing about those searches at that time. I received...
FEINSTEIN: You're under oath. No one told you about those searches?
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't remember ever hearing about those searches, and I certainly didn't associate in my mind the idea of asking Carol Lam to resign with the fact that she was -- her office was doing an investigation of Mr. Foggo and Mr. Wilkes.
SAMPSON: Her -- that office's investigation and prosecution of Duke Cunningham was a good thing. And any investigations that carried on from that conviction were viewed in the department as a good thing. No one at the department had a brief to carry for Duke Cunningham. When I said in that e-mail -- I referenced a problem that we have with Carol Lam -- I was referencing immigration enforcement.
FEINSTEIN: You were. And yet you didn't ever, as the chief of staff to the attorney general of the United States, pick up the phone and call her and say, "We have a problem with your record," nor did anyone else in the department?
SAMPSON: Senator, I recall that I suggested that that be done. That -- I recall that in the spring, around that time, the attorney general had asked the deputy attorney general's office -- the deputy attorney general and his office -- to work on the -- improving the immigration numbers and getting some immigration enforcement deliverables out of that office.
And I remember that he specifically tasked the deputy attorney general to do that. And I remember asking, "Has anyone called Carol Lam?" And I think that my words were "woodshedded Carol Lam" about immigration enforcement.
FEINSTEIN: And what was the answer?
SAMPSON: My recollection, the answer was that the deputy's office had not done that.
FEINSTEIN: That's correct.
So if this -- I mean, this is a woman that was handling big, big cases. The biggest -- some of the biggest cases in the United States. And you've got a problem with her. And you're adding her to the list. And it's immigration. And no one picks up the phone to call her and say, "We want you to know we have this problem."
Gun cases. Mr. Comey talked to her, then said he was satisfied with what she had done. But immigration, which is the major issue that you are firing someone on, and no one gave her any notice. We have asked her.
SAMPSON: I don't have anything to add. I'm not suggesting that someone did give her notice. I think we did not give -- no one, to my knowledge, talked to Carol Lam about the concerns that were had in the leadership of the department about her office's immigration enforcement.
FEINSTEIN: Was any consideration given to the cases that she had brought, or was in the process of bringing, of which the Arellano- Felix cartel was at the top of the list in terms of major cases? Or the Foggo -- Mr. Foggo was number three at the CIA. This is a big deal when a search warrant goes out.
SAMPSON: Senator, all I can tell you is what I know.
SAMPSON: I was the aggregator of information that came in. And it came in from the deputy attorney general, who was a former U.S. attorney and had served with Carol Lam. It came in from the principal associate deputy attorney general, Bill Mercer, who was a U.S. attorney and had served with Carol Lam. It came in from David Margolis...
FEINSTEIN: I'm sorry, what came in?
SAMPSON: Information about concerns about U.S. attorneys, including Carol Lam. I trusted the information that came in.
FEINSTEIN: I would appreciate it if you would provide the committee with that information. You said it came in. I trust it came in, in writing. We would like to have that information.
SAMPSON: Senator, let me be clear. As I said in my opening statement, the process was not scientific and it wasn't well documented.
I compiled a list, based on information that came in from folks in the department who would have reason to make an informed judgment about the performance of U.S. attorneys, including former U.S. attorneys who were then serving as the deputy attorney general and the acting associate attorney general, including the career -- senior career official in the department, David Margolis, including the director of EOUSA.
And this information that came into me, I aggregated into a list and compiled in a list. But it was not scientific and it was not well-documented.
FEINSTEIN: And it was not filed?
I mean, you see, the credibility of this thing diminishes. You are the chief of staff to the attorney general. This is unprecedented. You are aggregating, by your own words. You are the one that put the cases together.
You effectively selected those who were going to go to the attorney general for his approval for dismissal. And there is no file?
SAMPSON: Senator, I didn't decide those. It was based on a consensus decision of senior Department of Justice officials.
FEINSTEIN: Well, then who did decide?
Give us the deciders' names.
SAMPSON: The attorney general is the one that decided. He's the one that made the final decision that we would proceed and go ahead and do this, and that these were the U.S. attorneys who would be asked to resign.
He's the attorney general. I was a staff person.
FEINSTEIN: Yes, but you brought this information to him, and he signed off on it. Is that not correct?
SAMPSON: I did bring it to him, along with the deputy attorney general and others in the department. I was the keeper of the list, absolutely.
FEINSTEIN: But the list had no documentation. Is that correct?
SAMPSON: The documents that the department has provided to the committee, I think, show some of the reasons. But there's no documentation for the specific list. I think that's accurate.
SCHUMER: Senator Feinstein, can we...
FEINSTEIN: Yes. I thank you very much. I appreciate it.
SCHUMER: Senator Specter?
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Senator Specter. I appreciate your courtesy.
SPECTER: You're entirely welcome, Senator Feinstein.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
SPECTER: On the issue about the appointment of Mr. Fitzgerald to be special counsel on the Libby matter, I think it ought to be noted that, while Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed in his capacity as an employee of the Department of Justice, by virtue of being United States attorney, that he could have been appointed under the regulations. 28 Code of Federal Regulations, Section 600.3 says that special counsel shall be selected from outside the United States government, so that terminating him as U.S. attorney would not necessarily have terminated him as the special counsel.
He could have been appointed to carry on the duties in that capacity. I just want to clarify that the alternative procedure here -- and there's no suggestion...
SAMPSON: Senator, to my knowledge...
SAMPSON: I'm sorry. To my knowledge...
SPECTER: There's no question pending for you, Mr. Sampson. You'd be well advised not to answer when you don't have to.
SAMPSON: Thank you.
SPECTER: You might be well advised not to answer when you have to...
SAMPSON: Thank you, sir.
SPECTER: ... not when you don't have to.
We heard what you said about your thought of termination, but there's no suggestion that there was a serious consideration to terminating him, asking him to resign.
But I just want to have the record straight on the alternative procedure.
SPECTER: I'm very much concerned, Mr. Sampson, about this issue of circumventing the United States Senate, and I'm concerned about it for a couple of reasons.
And one reason is that senators traditionally have had substantial influence on who the United States attorney is, and there has to be a blue slip signed if it's somebody not in the party, as Senator Durbin commented about signing the blue slip for Mr. Fitzpatrick.
And if you're the same party, the White House looks to senators of the party to make recommendations up to the president under the Constitution, but to make recommendations.
And I'm very much concerned about what happened with the provision of the Patriots (sic) Act, and it was there for three months and nobody knew about it. But when I see a picture unfolding that there was a conscious effort by the Department of Justice to utilize that provision to circumvent the Senate, then I'm really intensely interested in it and, frankly, feel sort of victimized by it, especially when you say that the process was used in bad faith.
Now, there's another e-mail. There are a lot of e-mails to go into. It may be that Senator Schumer will run out of questions before I run out of e-mails. Who knows?
SCHUMER: We shall see.
SPECTER: Who knows how long C-SPAN3 can carry this? Who knows if anybody is watching C-SPAN3? We may be boosting the ratings of FOX with all of this talk.
But there is an e-mail dated November 15 from you to Harriet Miers, whom we talked about before. And you enclosed in it your, quote, "plan for replacing certain United States attorneys."
And you have in this plan a reference to, "We will work with you to make sure there is a smooth transition but intend to have a new acting or interim U.S. attorney in place by the end of the year." Well, the acting U.S. attorney would be under the Vacancies Act, but the interim U.S. attorney would be under the Patriot Act.
And then on step four, you have, quote, "evaluation and selection of interim candidates during November-December 2006. The Department of Justice in consultation with the Office of the Counsel to the president" -- that's Ms. Miers, of course -- "evaluates and selects candidates for attorney general appointment or candidates who may become acting U.S. attorneys for operation of law to serve upon the resignation of above listed U.S. attorneys."
Now, it is true that you have, on step five, the selection, nomination and appointment of U.S. attorneys in the regular course, but we already know from your e-mail and from your admission that you wanted to run out the clock and run out the balance of the president's term.
But the question I have for you here, doesn't your e-mail of November 15 to Ms. Miers and specifying her role in the evaluation and selection of interim candidates raise a pretty clear inference that it was more than just a staff recommendation, that there had been, at a minimum, acquiesce in this process to use the Patriot Act to circumvent the Senate.
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't remember it that way. The e-mail that I sent on December 19 was with regard to Griffin only.
SPECTER: I'm on the e-mail of November 15, which references your plan for replacing certain U.S. attorneys where you talk about interim attorneys. And this e-mail goes to Ms. Miers, White House counsel, and you're talking about her role.
SAMPSON: I guess it would be helpful to me if I could look at that document as you question me about it.
SPECTER: Well, here it comes.
SAMPSON: Thank you.
SPECTER: Mr. Chairman, I'd ask that the clock be stopped.
SCHUMER: Clock is stopped.
SPECTER: This may be the most refreshing and appreciated moment of this entire proceeding.
SCHUMER: Enjoy it while it lasts.
Clock now resumes.
SPECTER: No, no. He's reading the document. Stop the clock. You're not going to run out the clock like they're doing, are you?
SAMPSON: Senator, no, I just...
SCHUMER: ... Specter, I've let you go beyond the 10 minutes (inaudible) before, and I'll do it again. So don't worry.
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't remember...
SPECTER: I don't want largess. I want the clock stopped.
SAMPSON: I don't remember serious consideration ever being given to what I've described as a bad idea by staff to use the attorney general -- to have the attorney general appoint interim United States attorneys and then not consult with the Senate over a candidate who then can be nominated and confirmed.
SPECTER: Well, what happened...
SAMPSON: I don't think that was ever adopted...
SPECTER: What happened -- what happened as a result of your submitting that e-mail with the plan to her with reference to interim attorneys under the Patriot Act and her role in it? She said nothing? She didn't at least say, "Don't do this, I'm opposed to it"? If she accepts that and acts nothing, doesn't that raise an inference of agreement?
SPECTER: Isn't that sort of analogous to an adoptive admission?
SAMPSON: As I read the document, and as I -- when I drafted this document, it was not -- I don't remember it being in my mind that the administration would not then work with senators to identify candidates for nomination in these seven districts. I mean, I...
SPECTER: Now, Mr. Sampson, that's what your other e-mails talk about, your other e-mails talk about running out the clock, and in bad faith consulting with senators, interviewing them and running out the clock. You -- you had that not only in your mind but in the e-mails, that you were not going to utilize the confirmation process in the Senate. Didn't you?
SAMPSON: Senator, that e-mail was with regard to the Eastern District of Arkansas.
SAMPSON: I don't know what more I can say about this, Senator, except to say that I did have that idea, and I did recommend it. But it was not adopted by the attorney general. And it was not adopted or rejected by Ms. Miers, to my recollection.
SPECTER: OK, so you're saying that after she got that e-mail and got the plan which talked about interim attorneys which would circumvent the confirmation by the Senate and her role in it, that she just stood by and let you proceed as you chose?
SAMPSON: I don't read this document as suggesting interim appointments that circumvent the Senate. To the contrary, step five sets forth the regular -- followed the regular process of consulting with senators to identify candidates who would be nominated...
SPECTER: Yes, it does, and I've said step five did. But you have step four on interim appointments which the Patriot Act to circumvent the Senate. And you had already utilized that, at least in Arkansas.
SPECTER: Let me move to another -- you want to say something further?
SAMPSON: If I may, the plan as I understood it then and as I understood it now, contemplated asking seven U.S. attorneys to resign, and to ask them to resign, you know, by January 31. It says by its terms, ask them to resign by January 31. In our discussions within the senior leadership of the department, the view was to ask them to resign by January 31, but then work with them and extend time and ensure that there was a smooth transition.
Whenever a U.S. attorney resigns, someone has to be appointed interim U.S. attorney. The first assistant can automatically become acting U.S. attorney under the Vacancies Act, or the attorney general can appoint someone. And after the Patriot Act amendments, that's the only other option is to use the attorney general's appointment authority to appoint an interim U.S. attorney.
And my recollection is, with regard to these seven who resigned, some of them, the first assistant became the acting U.S. attorney, and in other cases, the attorney general appointed an interim United States attorney.
And, in my view, that's not -- the idea of the attorney general appointing an interim U.S. attorney, and the idea of the administration being committed to have a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney are not mutually exclusive so long as the administration is committed to working with senators to identify a candidate for nomination.
SPECTER: Well, would you agree, Mr. Sampson, that -- and this is stated (ph) in the record -- where you have a request by the Department of Justice for this new procedure under the Patriot Act, and you have the plan set forth allowing for the interim attorneys, and you have, at least as to Arkansas which raises the inference that it could be beyond Arkansas, to run out the clock, that that was what you wanted to do, that the Department of Justice had it in mind at the outset to get this law changed and then to use it for replacing U.S. attorneys who had asked to resign and use the shenanigans or bad faith, as you yourself characterized it, to run out the clock and have all of these U.S. attorneys serve the balance of the president's term without Senate involvement or Senate confirmation?
Isn't that inference pretty apparent?
SAMPSON: Senator, as I testified before, this was considered at the staff level.
SAMPSON: It was a bad idea that was recommended by staff, including me, and it wasn't adopted by the principals. And I'm not aware of it ever being seriously considered by the attorney general, at least.
SPECTER: Was the modification in the Patriot Act a bad idea too, to circumvent the U.S. Senate?
SAMPSON: I can understand why that would raise a question for a United States senator. I think, at the time, it was on the heels of a controversy in the district of South Dakota about a court appointment and an attorney general appointment, and so I think it was well- intentioned at the time. But I really don't remember. I didn't participate in that to the best of my recollection.
SPECTER: Well, that's all very interesting, but was it a bad idea?
SAMPSON: In hindsight, it seems like a bad idea.
SPECTER: Thank you.
SCHUMER: Senator Hatch?
HATCH: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate that and I just want to start by saying that you've served well here in the Senate, and I think in the executive branch. You've made some mistakes, but that's true of all of us. We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect, but you've owned up to them, and to the point of resigning which I didn't think you particularly had to do, between you and me.
You've owned up to these mistakes all day long through this intensive hearing. If you're as tired as I am from this, I wouldn't blame you. I commend you for your sense of accountability that made you resign on your own, and I think anybody with brains has to respect that.
And, you know, I want to thank you for being as forthright and candid as you've been. You're doing your best to be honest and forthright with us and I think you ought to give you credit for that.
Now, we're supposedly trying to get the truth here. That means going with the evidence. There is substantial evidence dating back to at least 2003 about Carol Lam's performance. Now, I happen to think she's fine lawyer, just like you have said here. I happened to think she did a pretty good job in many respects.
But I have to tell you, there is no evidence regarding interfering with any case -- not one shred of evidence. You know, that's the evidence here today. There is no evidence of interfering with any particular case.
Now, it may not be enough for certain senators but that's the evidence for the decision that was the administration's to make. You know, if you look at it, I can see why the administration might want to have somebody else. She's had the opportunity. She's an excellent person. She's going to be able to do well in the private sector, no question, or public sector if she wants to go into state government.
But the fact of the matter is that there were performance problems that this particular administration wanted to clear up and take care of. And you can't ignore the facts here. You know, from the Sentencing Commission data, only 20 defendants have been sentences for firearms offenses in the southern district of California in the past two years. This is a big issue to this administration.
It's always accused of supporting gun rights and so forth. Well, one of the reasons we believed we've brought crime down is because we have gone after the misuse of guns. Well, there were 29 defendants who have been sentenced for firearms offenses in the past two years. Only 88 have been sentences for firearms offenses in the last five years.
HATCH: That's under 18 USC Sections 922 and 924.
Now, let me just give you a contrast, for the same period, between 2000 and 2006. The Southern District of Texas, in retrospect, got 946 --just one district; the Western District, 894; the District of Arizona, 897; the District of New Mexico, 437.
You know, I just don't think he should be pilloried because the administration decided it was time to make a change there.
Now, I think the administration mishandled it. They should have just said, flat-out, you served well; we appreciate you; but now we want to give somebody else a chance.
Had they done that, it would have been a lot better for everybody concerned; the same thing with Mr. Iglesias.
You know, I don't think anybody here wants to run the guy down, from a standpoint of being a good lawyer or a decent U.S. attorney. But to be honest with you, there were reasons, performance reasons, that were legitimate reasons.
On immigration cases -- look, I looked at, and contrasted her with some of the people in Texas. She had, maybe, a thousand immigration cases, to 4,000.
That may not be totally accurate, but it was at least 2-1, in Texas. These were important issues. Immigration smuggling was one of the administration's major, major concerns -- and especially in the Southern District of California, especially there.
Well, now, let me ask you this. Did Carol Lam have a legal right to hold onto this position -- you know, if the president exercised his right to remove her, for any reason other than the two bad reasons that we've all admitted the president should not do, or neither should you or anybody else in the Justice Department?
SAMPSON: My understanding is U.S. attorneys are political appointees. And so they don't have tenure protections.
HATCH: But she had no right to hold onto the job. Now, she might have wanted to. As you've heard, senators on this committee have been U.S. attorneys, who say it's the best job they've ever had, including the Senate.
And frankly, I don't blame anybody for wanting to hold onto it. But I also don't blame the president for wanting to give some other people an opportunity, especially if some of the performance wasn't up to what they really wanted them to do.
She was doing a lot of other good things. There's no question about it. She's an excellent lawyer. She did an excellent job. She did a lot of good things.
But I saw the letters from -- I think there were, like, 20 members of Congress who were concerned about the lack of prosecution in these areas.
And of course, I saw Senator Feinstein's letter. Now, she's saying, well, she corrected that. Well, I don't think that's necessarily the evidence, either.
Now, these positions serve at the pleasure of the president.
How important were gun prosecutions to this administration?
SAMPSON: Project Safe Neighborhoods was the president's signature domestic policy initiative, at least in the law enforcement area, during the first term.
And I recall that -- I recall General Ashcroft frequently touting the successes that the department had had in that area.
SAMPSON: The department, to my recollection, had increased gun prosecutions by 70 percent as of, you know, 2004, 2005. And so they were very important.
HATCH: Well, how important were immigration smuggling cases, and especially in southern California district?
SAMPSON: They were very important, Senator, especially as the administration was trying to persuade the Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
And one of the criticisms was that it should be enforcement only, that the focus should be on sealing the border before considering the question of the 6 million or 8 million or 10 million illegal immigrants that were in the country.
And so border enforcement was very important as a way to assist the administration in promoting comprehensive immigration reform.
HATCH: So if you look through the president's eyes, these are matters of great concern to the president and to this administration.
SAMPSON: Yes. In the spring of 2006, when the immigration bill was being debated, I remember a robust discussion in the executive branch about the things that could be done to help get that legislation through, the things that could be done to more effectively prosecute illegal immigration on the southwest border.
HATCH: Well, and you did a very good job of explaining why performance is of broader significance than our friends who are criticizing have allowed here and that the political side of it was interpreted more narrowly, just to the cases where there was an ongoing investigation or a case (inaudible). And, you know, I don't know how anybody can really disagree with that.
Now, let me ask you another question. When the Washington Post article appeared I called the attorney general and said, "What about this?" And he said, "Yes, I had a general knowledge about what was going on, but I didn't have the specific knowledge because I hadn't concentrated on that." And he relied on you and others. And there were plenty of others working on this at the Department of Justice.
Is that a fair appraisal of the way he feels? Well, at least to the knowledge that you have of it.
SAMPSON: Yes, I can only speak to what I know. And I feel like I kept him generally aware of the process.
HATCH: Generally aware.
SAMPSON: I briefed -- I spoke with him every day. I talked to him about the things that I was doing and the conversations I was having.
I don't remember sharing any paper with him on it, but I remember that we generally talked about it.
HATCH: He admits that. But do you understand why he feels like he didn't know all the specifics about this?
SAMPSON: I think he -- well, look, I don't want to speculate to what he thinks. I can only tell you what I think, which is that I believe I kept him generally aware. And then, as the process came to a decision point, that he approved the idea of going forward and asking...
HATCH: In the end, he did. But did he understand all these nuances that you've been questioned about today?
SAMPSON: To the best of my knowledge, he understood some of them, and others he didn't have as much understanding on.
HATCH: Well, that's my point. So for us to hang the man in the press and everywhere else for not understanding every aspect of this that it's taken you all day long to explain seems to me is wrong. Would you agree with that?
SAMPSON: I wouldn't want to do -- I don't know...
HATCH: Giving you a chance here.
HATCH: You don't have to -- you don't have to answer that question. I understand.
SAMPSON: I only -- I want to come and testify what I know.
SAMPSON: And I think the attorney general's a good man who's doing his level best to -- to do his best.
HATCH: Did he have any intention, to your knowledge, or did he indicate any intention of doing wrong -- wrongful acts here?
SAMPSON: Not to my knowledge.
HATCH: Or of hurting anybody?
SAMPSON: No, not that I recall.
HATCH: Or of smearing any of these eight U.S. attorneys?
SAMPSON: To the contrary, he was concerned about that. He felt that the department's position should be to not talk about the reasons they were asked to resign that related to their -- to their -- to the way they were doing their jobs.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Senator Hatch.
OK, we're on round four here. I want to talk a little bit about David Iglesias.
First, just a specific question, and then we'll get into more detail. You mentioned earlier, I believe, that the attorney general talked to you about Karl Rove relaying complaints about Mr. Iglesias, correct?
SAMPSON: I remember him doing that. But I don't remember when.
SCHUMER: That was my question, when.
Do you have some idea? Can we get a year?
SAMPSON: I think it was in the fall of 2006, in the run-up to the midterm elections.
Because I believe that he was -- Karl Rove was called a few times on it. Or the attorney general himself was called on it as well, right?
SAMPSON: I remember learning from the attorney general that Mr. Rove had complained to the attorney general about U.S. attorneys in three districts. And the substance of the complaint was that they weren't aggressively pursuing voter fraud cases.
SCHUMER: And you think, with Mr. Iglesias, it's likely to be the fall of '06?
SAMPSON: I think so.
SAMPSON: But I don't remember specifically.
SCHUMER: All right, let's go through Iglesias a little bit. Because this one is one of the most befuddling of all. And none of the explanations really add up right now.
Now you say you don't know a lot, including who put his name on the list at the late date, which is a mystery that we have to figure out. That's at the core of this whole -- this whole investigation.
But here I just want to go over some facts. On March 1, Brian Roehrkasse, the Justice Department spokesperson, said, quote, "There is a lengthy record from which to evaluate Iglesias's performance as manager, and we made our decision not to extend his service based on performance-related concerns." So I want to examine that lengthy record.
Jim Comey, the former deputy attorney general who directly supervised Iglesias, said, quote, "He was one of our finest, and someone I had a lot of confidence in as deputy attorney general." Isn't that correct?
SAMPSON: I don't know if Mr. Comey said that or not.
SCHUMER: It's in the Washington Post of March 1, 2007.
On 29 April, 2004, you yourself named Iglesias for a candidate for a promotion to head the executive office of U.S. attorneys, did you not?
SAMPSON: I -- I believe that I had him on the list of possible candidates who...
SCHUMER: Here's how you described him. It's in a memo. Let me refresh your memory.
You described him as a "diverse up-and-comer, solid." Is that wrong?
SAMPSON: I believe that I believed that at the time that I wrote the memo.
SCHUMER: Yes. OK. Yes.
November of 2005, Iglesias received an excellent office evaluation, which stated that he was, quote, "was experienced in legal management and community relations work, and was respected by the judiciary, agencies and staff. The U.S. attorney's office had a well- conceived strategic plan that complied with department priorities and reflected the needs of the district."
Isn't that right?
SAMPSON: I -- I don't remember that. I don't know that I knew that.
SCHUMER: It's not wrong, is it? You have no reason to doubt it. I'm telling you it's in the office evaluation.
SAMPSON: I don't have any reason to doubt it.
And as recently as 2006 he received a letter from Michael Battle recognizing, quote, "his exemplary leadership in the department's priority programs."
Is there any reason to doubt that?
SAMPSON: I don't -- I don't know one way or the other. I don't have any reason to doubt it.
SCHUMER: So we have a lengthy record. So let's try to delve into how Mr. Iglesias ended up on the hit list.
On March 2, 2005, you yourself recommended that he be one of the people who should be retained, correct?
SAMPSON: I think that's correct.
SCHUMER: Yes. In your March 2005 list, his name is in bold, meaning that he's in the category "recommend retaining strong U.S. attorneys who have produced well, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general."
And, in fact, when you sent lists of attorneys to consider pushing out to Harriet Miers on September 13 and to Michael Elston on October 17, Mr. Iglesias did not appear on this list in either of its reiterations, is that right?
SAMPSON: I think that's right.
SCHUMER: OK. In fact, he doesn't appear on the hit list until November 15, 2006. And I want to ask you questions about why that is so. And let me be clear: None of us is passing judgment in any way on the people who might have made complaints about David Iglesias. Our focus is on the department, on you and others in the department, how they dealt with those complaints, OK?
OK, can you tell us on what date Mr. Iglesias was added to the list of names of U.S. attorneys to be fired?
SAMPSON: I don't remember the specific date.
SCHUMER: Approximate time.
SAMPSON: I remember sometime before November 7 I had discussions with others at the Department of Justice about U.S. attorneys who we might consider adding to the list. And those resulted in four additional names being added, including Iglesias'.
I remember speaking to -- at some point prior to this, I remember in my mind, in the best of my memory, knowing that Bill Mercer, who had previously served as the principle associate deputy attorney general was a fellow U.S. attorney of Mr. Iglesias, had expressed negative views about Mr. Iglesias.
He had served with Mr. Iglesias on the attorney general's advisory committee and recommended that he not be reappointed, recommending that he be replaced as chair of the Border Committee.
SCHUMER: When was that?
SAMPSON: That would have been in 2005.
SCHUMER: 2005, and you had a recollection of that...
SAMPSON: I did, and I knew generally...
SCHUMER: ... but it didn't stop your from or didn't cause you to put him on the list in October or September of 2006, correct?
SAMPSON: That's right.
SCHUMER: And yet he ended up on -- so it must have been something that happened between October 17 and November 15 of 2006 that made Mr. Iglesias be added to the list. I'm not saying something you did, but something must have happened that made this change, right?
SAMPSON: If I may share just two points...
SAMPSON: ... I also remember that at some point, Mr. David Margolis, the associate deputy attorney general, had indicated to me that his -- some negative views about Mr. Iglesias, that he wasn't a strong manager, that he delegated a lot to his first assistant.
And so I knew, in my mind, those two criticisms from Mr. Mercer and Mr. Margolis.
SCHUMER: Any just approximate idea of when Mr. Margolis made those suggestions to you?
SAMPSON: I don't remember.
SCHUMER: Were they before October 17 of 2006?
SAMPSON: I think so to the best of my memory. I...
SCHUMER: Before, so...
SAMPSON: Yes, I think.
SCHUMER: ... it didn't cause you to add him to the list that you gave to -- I guess it was Mr. Elston. Was it before September 13 of 2006?
SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically when I heard those criticism from Mr. Margolis. I think that what happened is that after...
SCHUMER: But wait. I just want to -- I'm sorry to interrupt you. I just want to get a date set here or a time. Was it in 2006? Was it fairly recent? I mean, that's not hard to answer.
SAMPSON: I don't remember. I don't think it was that recent.
SCHUMER: No, so it could have been a while back.
SCHUMER: So the question remains, why those comments by Mr. Margolis, by all reports a respected member of the Justice Department, didn't trigger Mr. Iglesias' name on the list of September and October 2006 but did put him on the list of November?
There must have been something else. Is there anything else you can recall that happened in the interim that -- not that you did but that somebody told you, somebody mentioned?
SAMPSON: As best as I can remember, sitting here today -- and I've thought back about this -- sometime in late October, those in the senior management of the department, the deputy attorney general, his chief of staff, myself, Monica Goodling, went back and looked at the list to see if there anyone else who should be added. And four U.S. attorneys were added including Mr. Iglesias. And three ultimately came off. We've talked about that.
SCHUMER: Who were the people at this discussion? You said Monica Goodling?
SAMPSON: I don't remember it being one discussion. It was general.
SCHUMER: Who were the people involved in the general discussions?
SAMPSON: The deputy attorney general, his chief of staff, Monica Goodling.
SCHUMER: Anyone else?
SAMPSON: I don't remember if Bill Mercer was involved in that time or previously.
SCHUMER: Got it.
SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically if David Margolis was involved that time or previously. They had been folks who had been consulted previously on the issue.
SCHUMER: I'm going to ask you a few more questions. Did you have any communication with any member of Congress or Republican Party official in New Mexico -- or any Republican Party official -- in October of 2006 about Mr. Iglesias?
SAMPSON: I didn't.
SCHUMER: To you knowledge, did Attorney General Gonzales have any communication with any of those groups in October of 2006.
SAMPSON: Not to my knowledge.
SCHUMER: Not to your knowledge. OK.
To your knowledge, did Karl Rove have any communication with any member of Congress or Republican Party official in October 2006 about Iglesias?
SAMPSON: I don't know.
SCHUMER: And you wouldn't know -- you would have no recollection if any of those people, members of Congress, Republican Party officials, Attorney General Gonzales, Karl Rove had any discussions with any other members of the group? You didn't hear anything to that effect?
SAMPSON: Not that I remember.
SAMPSON: And, Senator, in reviewing the documents, I understand that Monica Goodling met with some New Mexico Republican, but I don't remember anything more than that.
SCHUMER: And it was at about that time?
SAMPSON: I don't remember.
SCHUMER: OK, well, we'll check the documents.
SAMPSON: I think it's in the documents. I did not remember that until reviewing that document.
SCHUMER: OK, so do you have any reason to disbelieve the view -- because if you look at all the facts, it's kind of logical that the only reason Mr. Iglesias was put on the list and removed was called from members of Congress in 2006 of October. Do you have any reason to doubt that?
SAMPSON: I'm sorry. Can you say it again?
SCHUMER: Any reason to doubt that the reason Mr. Iglesias was put on the list and removed -- and then eventually removed were calls from members of Congress in October 2006. Do you have reasons to doubt that?
SAMPSON: I just don't know. I don't remember. As I testified before, I remember after he was on the list having a conversation with the deputy attorney general, and the deputy attorney general suggested that Senator Domenici wouldn't have any concern about us asking David Iglesias to resign because he was dissatisfied with him.
SCHUMER: Right. In fact, you write to Ms. Goodling that the "White House wants" -- and you have a name redacted -- "for New Mexico U.S. attorney, but Domenici is not so sure.
SCHUMER: "Domenici is going to send over some names tomorrow." No, that was a little bit later, right?
SAMPSON: I don't remember. It'll be helpful if I could see that document.
SCHUMER: It's OAG 125. I'll keep -- I'm not going to stop the clock. I'm going to keep asking questions while you look at that document, and then we'll come back to it.
OK. Let's go through some of these so-called performance problems Mr. Iglesias allegedly had.
One of the complaints made against him was lack of aggressiveness in indicting election fraud cases. In fact, even the president passed along complaints of this nature. We know that. That's in the record. President said so.
Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, said, according to The Washington Post, that President Bush told Attorney General Gonzales about such complaints and specifically cited New Mexico as one of the three states where the complaints had arisen.
You were aware of such complaints about Mr. Iglesias, were you not?
SAMPSON: I don't remember the attorney general telling me about...
SCHUMER: I didn't ask that. I just asked if you were aware of complaints about Mr. Iglesias on voter fraud -- on voter fraud cases.
SAMPSON: Yes. At the time I was aware that the attorney general -- the attorney general informed me that he had received a complaint from Karl Rove about U.S. attorneys in three districts, as I've testified already.
SCHUMER: On voter fraud?
SAMPSON: And the substance of his complaint was voter fraud...
SCHUMER: Right. Not doing enough.
SAMPSON: ... and their failure to aggressively...
SAMPSON: ... pursue it.
SCHUMER: Now, you are aware that Mr. Iglesias was one of two U.S. attorneys invited to teach a voting integrity symposium in October of 2005 sponsored by the Justice Department's Public Integrity and Civil Rights session (ph) and attended by 100 prosecutors from around the country, right?
SAMPSON: I didn't know that.
SCHUMER: OK. Well, if he was so bad at voter fraud, why would he be one of two chosen to do this?
SAMPSON: I don't know.
SCHUMER: I don't either. It's a good question, I think.
FBI Director Mueller testified on Tuesday that he was not consulted on the U.S. attorneys' firing, and he wasn't aware of any election fraud case since 2001 that he thought should have resulted in an indictment but did not.
Did you or anyone else at Justice consult with the FBI to evaluate any of these complaints about voter fraud, not pursuing voter fraud cases?
SAMPSON: I didn't, and I'm not -- I don't remember doing that, and I don't remember anyone else...
SCHUMER: This goes to a more general question. When you heard complaints about these U.S. attorneys, the ones who were fired, Iglesias included, did you ever check?
SCHUMER: Did you ever ask them?
According to them, in most cases, not, although I believe, early on, Ms. Lam was talked to about immigration cases.
Did you ever do independent research?
SAMPSON: I don't remember ever doing any. I didn't do any.
SCHUMER: OK, so these folks were fired without any independent checking -- just, sort of, complaints out of nowhere?
We don't know who they came from. You've not been able to identify the people. We don't have a file. And they are fired. Isn't that -- doesn't that trouble you?
SAMPSON: Senator, the process, as I described it, was -- my role was aggregating information that came in from senior leaders in the department. And I just relied on that information. It came in from David Margolis and Paul McNulty and Bill Mercer...
SCHUMER: Name me a senior leader who made a specific complaint about a U.S. attorney, and then what you did when you got it.
SAMPSON: I remember the deputy attorney general asking me to add Kevin Ryan to the list.
SAMPSON: I remember concerns being...
SCHUMER: And did you go check and see if the -- what the deputy attorney general had heard about Kevin Ryan might be true?
SAMPSON: I did not. I relied on the deputy attorney general.
SCHUMER: So, in other words, someone brought up a name, brought up a complaint, and they were just put on the list?
SAMPSON: They were put on a list that was then circulated among the senior leadership of the department and approved, and ultimately brought to the attorney general and approved.
SCHUMER: And "approved" meant no one said, "Take the name off"?
SCHUMER: OK. So there was very little research that went behind this, after somebody in the department put the name on a list?
SAMPSON: The "somebody" in the department were the senior leaders of the department, who oversaw the work of the United States attorneys, the deputy attorney general, the deputy...
SCHUMER: I understand who the somebodies were.
SAMPSON: And I relied on that information.
SCHUMER: My good friend and colleague here is importuning me on. I'm just going to try to be as quick as I can here, because I don't want to hold him up...
SPECTER: Wait a minute. I'm importuning you off.
SCHUMER: Off -- exactly.
Well, on and then off. But we have no real written documentation of any problem with election fraud prosecutions by Mr. Iglesias, correct?
You're not aware of any written documentation?
SAMPSON: I'm not aware of any.
SCHUMER: OK. There was a complaint he was an absentee landlord, but he was in the National Guard. We've been through that in previous discussions and hearings, so I'm not going to ask you to respond to that.
Now, on border enforcement, which was the third complaint, we heard about the rankings of the borders, of the border states.
Isn't it true that, of the five border districts, New Mexico ranked second in immigration cases handled, per AUSA, per year, in 2004?
SAMPSON: I don't know, Senator. But I don't have any reason to doubt that.
SCHUMER: OK. So he was an absentee. We have no written documentation of voter fraud. He did a good job on immigration. And I'll just introduce into the record, for the sake of time, all the other things that can be said positive about him, doing border.
SPECTER: Are you asking for unanimous consent?
SCHUMER: I am asking for unanimous consent.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Ranking Member.
Here's the conclusion I reach. Iglesias began as one of our finest, was considered for promotions, was trained to -- was selected to train others in election fraud, had one of the best border records, and yet was fired for not doing a good enough job, all of a sudden, between October and November of 2006, on facts that were never checked on.
Do you still think David Iglesias deserved to be fired?
SAMPSON: Senator, looking back on all of this, you know, I wish that we could do it over again.
SCHUMER: So are you saying you think he shouldn't have been fired?
SAMPSON: Senator, I don't know. That was a decision that was made. In hindsight -- in hindsight, I wish that the department hadn't gone down this road at all. And I regret my role in it. And that's one of the reasons I resigned.
SCHUMER: So if the choice were up to you -- just thinking back on that fateful December 7 -- would you now, knowing what you know now, have put David Iglesias on a list? Choice solely up to you that he should be fired.
SAMPSON: In hindsight, sitting here today?
SAMPSON: I don't -- I would not.
SCHUMER: Thank you.
Just one final point before I turn the final line of questioning over to my good colleague, Senator Specter -- who may go as long as he wishes, given that he has reminded me every minute that I have gone over each minute.
You -- one of the things you stated is, you were not aware of people being fired because they would or would not prosecute specific cases. And no one's said anything that contradicts that you were not aware of them. That would come from other witnesses, if that proves to be the case.
But it is -- I just want the record to show that it's certainly possible that people were fired for political reasons and you didn't know about them. Somebody in the White House political section, A, calls up somebody in Justice, B, and says, "We want to fire U.S. Attorney C for political reasons, but come up with another reason and tell Sampson to put him on the list."
That would be possible. I'm not saying it happened. But it certainly would be possible, right?
SAMPSON: Senator, that would be possible. I'm not aware of that being the motivating factor. And I can only speak...
SCHUMER: I understand.
SAMPSON: ... to what I'm aware of.
SCHUMER: The only...
SAMPSON: I don't -- I don't know what other people were aware of.
SCHUMER: The only point I'm making is your lack of awareness doesn't prove that it didn't happen, correct?
SCHUMER: Thank you.
SPECTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Schumer and I had an arrangement where he would go for 10 minutes and I would go for five, and we would terminate. And I'd like unanimous consent to enter this document...
SCHUMER: Read it.
SPECTER: ... in the record where I pointed out when he was three and a half minutes over time and I struck that out and put four and a half minutes. Struck that out, five and a half minutes. Struck that out, six and a half minutes. I gave him (inaudible) of seven and a half -- put it eight and a half minutes, nine and a half minutes. So I'd like this in the record.
SCHUMER: Without objection, and with pride.
SPECTER: Mr. Sampson, I had a few more questions in mind.
We have now passed the violation of the Eighth Amendment, prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. But your questioning has been cruel but usual in Hart 216.
I think you summed it up very well when you said that by hindsight, the department went down the wrong road. And I think that is a pretty good summation.
Again, I thank you for coming in because you come in voluntarily, and you've been asked a lot of difficult questions. And I think your responses have been well within the ambit of being reasonable.
SPECTER: We look for your recollection. It's not easy to do. We look for inferences, and you have held you ground on those matters. I started off on two issues. One was the candor the attorney general and whether he was candid in the March 13 news conference saying that he was not involved in, quote, "discussions," contrasted with the e- mails.
And we will hear from him, and I do believe that Attorney General Gonzales has a record of public service as a Supreme Court justice in Texas and as White House counsel and attorney general now for more than two years, and it entitled to his day in court, so to speak. We ought to hear from him and ought not to make judgments until we do hear from him.
I'm very much concerned about what was done with the Patriot Act provision to circumvent the Senate, and I say that out of the Senate's prerogatives contrasted with the prerogatives of the executive, and also with what happened on the provision being inserted into the Patriot Act where its questionableness comes into sharp focus on the way it was used.
But we have gone into these matters in very, very substantial detail and as usual in Washington, it is not really what was done because the president had the right to terminate the U.S. attorneys. I think the better judgment would have been not to characterize them or found fault with them, but simply to have said we stand on the president's standing to do what he has been done.
Had that been done, I don't think the U.S. attorneys would have come forward to complain, and I think their complaints were well- justified once their professional careers were an issue.
And as I said at an earlier hearing, I thought the attorney general was wrong when he said that the reputation of the department was more important than the reputation of the individuals. These clouds will last a lifetime, a professional lifetime, for them, whereas the Department of Justice will survive. It will survive.
And I think a good lesson has been learned not from what was done, but from failure to be candid and the failure to respond in a -- you don't have to be wise or judicious, just sensible.
But, again, you have been a stalwart witness and it's been a long day for you, and we thank you for coming in.
SAMPSON: Thank you.
SCHUMER: And I'm going to use Senator Specter's remaining 37 seconds, which he stayed within the limit of.
I want to thank you as well. It's been a long day. I think I speak on behalf of everyone on this committee. We appreciate your coming before the committee voluntarily. We appreciate your doing your best to answer a whole lot of questions and going through a long day and appreciate your being here.
The record will remain open for one week where members may submit written questions to you, Mr. Sampson, and we will recess upon -- the chairman asked me to say we would recess in consultation with the chairman to see if anybody felt a strong need to ask you to come back again, which I hope, for your sake, doesn't happen.
With that, we are recessed.
Mar 29, 2007 19:26 ET .EOF
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