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Here Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) questions Kyle Sampson about whether it ever occurred to him when he was making the list of U.S. attorneys whether there would be a "perception problem" with firing U.S. attorneys in the middle of important investigations. Sampson says no.

Two big things came out of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) questioning of Kyle Sampson.

The first was a glowing letter about Lam that Feinstein presented from the Director of Field Operations for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. Lam was supposedly fired, remember, because she performed poorly on immigration prosecutions. You can read the letter here.

The second was the revelation that after the FBI bureau chief in San Diego complained to the press about Lam's firing, Samspon called FBI headquarters to complain.

Here it is. Kyle Sampson explains (away) what a "loyal Bushie" is.

Here Kyle Sampson says that he did have the idea to use the Patiot Act provision to avoid Senate confirmation for the administration's U.S. attorney picks, but that the Attorney General and White House counsel nixed it.

Here you go. Sen. Arlen Specter asks Sampson about why he wrote on May 11th that the "real problem" we have "now" is with Carol Lam. Sampson dodged at first, but then said that the "real problem" referred to her "office's prosecution of immigration cases." Nothing to do with Lam's search warrant of CIA Executive Director Dusty Foggo.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Kyle Sampson is set to begin. I'll be providing running updates on the testimony to this post below the fold.

We'll also be providing clips of the testimony as it goes forward.

The hearing is being broadcast through the committee's website and also on C-Span3. Those watching at home are invited to weign in with a comment.

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So what, exactly, will Democrats be grilling Kyle Sampson about, starting in a couple minutes?

U.S. News has a general rundown which is a good start, but there a few key things to look for, a couple of which they touch on.

1) Sampson claims that the firings were the result of a broad, "consensus based" process. So let's hear the reasons, however subjective or unscientific they were. How was it, for example, that the Justice Department's second most senior official wrote two days before the firings that he was getting "a little skittish" about firing U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden?

2) On May 11, 2006, Sampson emailed deputy White House counsel William Kelley: "The real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires." It was sent the day after Carol Lam had notifed the DoJ that she intended to serve search warrants to Foggo. It'll be interesting to hear Sampson explain that away.

3) Sampson repeatedly advocated for using the Patiot Act provision to circumvent Senate confirmation for Timothy Griffin, Karl Rove's former aide. Senators will want to hear about that, and why Alberto Gonzales and other DoJ officials told Congress that they did indeed plan to seek Senate confirmation.

4) How did Sampson know that Griffin's appointment was "important" to Karl Rove? And why did he tell Congress that Rove had no role in Griffin's appointment?

5) What was Rove's role in the firings in general? How often did he communicate with Rove, who is reportedly deeply involved in the appointment process, about the firings?

6) Why did he rate Patrick Fitzgerald as an "undistinguished" U.S. attorney?

7) Before he left, then Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who managed the U.S. attorneys, made up his own list of incompetent U.S. attorneys. It was completely different from Sampson's final list, save one -- the only one who indisputably had real performance issues. Why the difference?

There's more, to be sure. Are there other questions you're listening for answers to? Let us know in the comments.

Email Shows Rove's Role in Fate of Prosecutors "Almost every Wednesday afternoon, advisers to President Bush gather to strategize about putting his stamp on the federal courts and the United States attorneys’ offices. The group meets in the Roosevelt Room and includes aides to the White House counsel, the chief of staff, the attorney general and Karl Rove, who also sometimes attends himself. Each of them signs off on every nomination." (NY Times)

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Well, it's finally time to hear from Kyle Sampson. You can read his opening statement for this morning's hearing here (pdf).

Josh already gave a good introduction to the central aspect of Sampson's testimony, his assertion that there's nothing wrong with "political" motivations for the firings. It's an idea Sampson most succinctly formulates here:

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 important to effective leadership of the office, is unsuccessful.

The key question, of course, is how some of these U.S. attorneys managed to "alienate" Washington. Sampson denies that any of them were removed for "improper" reasons, which he defines in a lawyerly cadence as to "interfere or influence the investigation or prosecution of a particular case for political or partisan advantage."

So why were these eight U.S. attorneys removed? How did the department establish which prosecutors were "unsuccessful?" The "process was not scientific," Sampson admits. "But neither was the process random or aribitrary." It was a "consensus-based process based on input from senior Justice Department officials." But how they arrived at that consensus, nobody knows.

For instance, here's what Sampson is expected to say about U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias, via The Washington Post:

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Sampson will describe the firing as the culmination of a series of complaints about Iglesias that hinged in part on three phone calls from [Sen. Pete] Domenici (R-NM) to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in 2005 and 2006 and another to Gonzales's deputy last October. Iglesias was not added to the list of prosecutors to be fired until fall.

How did those complaints lead to that consensus-based decision? And what precisely were the complaints about? It'll be interesting to hear Sampson tell the "benign story" that he says this is.

But there's more. Sampson will also give a rather unflattering portrait of his boss, Alberto Gonzales. Here's how this morning's New York Times paints that portion of his testimony:

... over time, friends and former colleagues say, Mr. Sampson noticed what three people who worked with the attorney general separately called a pattern of “imprecision” in Mr. Gonzales’s public statements.

...friends said Mr. Sampson could not defend the accuracy of all of Mr. Gonzales’s statements in the case like his insistence that he had no personal involvement in planning the removals or selecting prosecutors.

Justice Department records show that Mr. Gonzales discussed the removals at a meeting on Nov. 27, 2006.

Mr. Gonzales “is not a litigator, and he is not an accomplished public speaker,” said a friend of Mr. Sampson who also worked with Mr. Gonzales, known as Judge Gonzales because he was on the Texas Supreme Court. “When the judge says, ‘I wasn’t involved,’ he means something specific. If you teased it out, you would figure out what it was he meant. But in the political world where you only get one shot, it comes across as misleading.”

Your attorney general: a lawyer who even his closest advisors admit is imprecise with language.

Earlier, I flagged an email in today's document dump that showed Kyle Sampson preparing to run his letter to Congress by the White House.

The letter stated, "The Department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint [Karl Rove's former aide Timothy] Griffin" to serve as US Attorney. Sampson told fellow Justice Department officials that "because this letter mentions Rove and alludes to Harriet, I'd like to send it to the [White House Counsel's Office] for their review..."

That claim -- that Rove and Miers had no role -- is one Sampson's own earlier emails show to be false.*

In an email Sampson wrote in December to one Christopher Oprison, associate counsel to the President, Sampson told Oprison that Griffin's appointment was "important to Harriet, Karl, etc."

In other words, back in December, Sampson told Oprison of Karl Rove's and Harriet Miers' role in Griffin's hiring.*

So Sampson knew of Rove's and Miers's role in Griffin's hiring. He told a lawyer in the White House Counsel's Office of their role in December. And in February he wants the same White House Counsel's Office to sign off on a letter to Congress claiming Rove and Miers had no such role.

So did Sampson send the letter to the Counsel's Office for sign off?

Yes, he did.

And the new document dump shows that the response from the Counsel's Office came from none other than Chris Oprison. In this February 23rd email from Sampson to Oprison, Sampson explicitly acknowledges Oprison's signing off on Counsel's behalf on the false statements contained in the letter.

(ed.note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the February 23rd letter as being from Oprison to Sampson rather than vice versa. -- jmm)

*Update: Although the letter to Congress states that "the Department is not aware of anyone lobbying for Mr. Griffin's appointment," Justice Department aides had already told Democrats that Harriet Miers did have a role in recommending Griffin. The key statement in the February 23 letter, therefore, has to do with the denial of Rove's involvement.