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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.

From the AP:

Eight federal prosecutors were fired last year because they did not sufficiently support President Bush's priorities, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff says in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday to Congress.

"The distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial," said Kyle Sampson.

The aide, who quit because of the furor over the firings, is to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. A copy of his prepared remarks was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

"A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective ... is unsuccessful," Sampson said.

This is gonna be fun.

Another crucial detail from the documents just released: the White House is also complicit.

On February 22, Kyle Sampson wrote, "Because this letter mentions Rove and alludes to Harriet, I'd like to send it to [the White House Counsel's Office] today for their review, with an eye on getting it out tomorrow." The letter was sent the next day.

The mention of Rove, of course, was that he wasn't involved in the appointment of his former aide as U.S. attorney, something shown to be false by the Justice Department emails.

Reacting to the released documents, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said:

“The plot continues to thicken. It seems the Justice Department rarely acted without the knowledge and approval of the White House. In effect, the White House was involved in denying its own involvement. This makes the need for Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and others in the White House to testify under oath, with transcripts even greater.”

The Justice Department turned over yet more documents to Congress today -- documents which seem to show that Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson was responsible for misleading Congress about Karl Rove's role in replacing a U.S. attorney.

On February 23, acting Assistant Attorney General wrote Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other senators in response to questions about the appointment of Timothy Griffin, a former aide to Rove. In the letter, Hertling stated "The Department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin."

But emails subsequently released by the Justice Department showed that wasn't the case. Last December, for example, Sampson wrote in an email that Griffin's appointment was "important to Harriet, Karl, etc." Other emails showed that Rove's deputy had been intimately involved in the effort to get Griffin installed as the U.S. Attorney in Eastern Arkansas.

In a letter accompanying documents sent to Congress today, Hertling admits that the assertion in his letter isn't true, adding, "We sincerely regret any inaccuracy." And to answer questions about who was responsible for that inaccuracy, he accompanied his letter with 202 pages documents "reflecting the preparation and transmittal of the February 23 letter."

Among the documents is a February 8th email from Kyle Sampson providing what ultimately, with a few small revisions, comprised Hertling's letter. And in that email Sampson wrote that Hertling should say, "I am not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the Attorney General's decision to appoint Griffin."

Now, Hertling might not have known of Rove's role in Griffin's selection, but Sampson sure did.

You can bet that Sampson will be questioned about this during the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning.

Update: Those documents are now online.

In a letter (pdf) to White House counsel Fred Fielding today, the chairmen from the House and Senate judiciary committees sought to renew negotiations over the testimony of Karl Rove and other White House officials.

"[W]e have not heard from you" since last week, the two write. They then lay out the terms for proceeding.

The White House's offer of testimony behind closed doors, with no transcript or oath is still a non-starter, they say. But there is something else "worth pursuing" in the meantime: the White House could hand over records of communications between White House officials and members of Congress, as Fielding has already offered. The White House has said that it willl not hand over "internal" emails, a stand to which Democrats object. But that shouldn't totally stop the flow of material, they say: "Recognizing we have a dispute over those documents should not delay the Committees receiving the other documents that you indicate you are willing to provide." So let's see those third party emails.

The chairmen close by telling Fielding that they want to see more than just correspondence from White House email addresses -- since people in the White House seem to frequently use RNC-provided email addresses instead:

"we trust that you will be collecting and producing emails and documents from all email accounts, addresses and domains and that you are not artificially limiting your production to the official White House email and document retention system."

Don't miss this.

Here's a clip from this morning's House government reform committee hearing, investigating General Services Administration Chief Lurita Doan.

In this clip, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) grills her on a PowerPoint presentation (pdf) given by Karl Rove's deputy Scott Jennings to GSA personnel in January. The slides (13 pages) detailed which seats were "House Targets" and which "Senate Targets", which states were "Republican Offense," and which "Republican Defense." After the presentation, Doan reportedly asked other employees how the agency could help "our candidates." The GSA, remember, is the government's procurement agency, in charge of almost $60 billion each year. All of this seems like a clear violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits using federal resources to aid political parties.

Doan doesn't have a good answer for Braley's questions, stuttering out "I don't recall"s and something about how the meeting was a "brown bag lunch" for the purpose of “team building.” You should "ask Mr. Jennings," she says.

More at Thinkprogress and The Gavel.

Sam Fox, the administration's pick to be the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, has withdrawn his bid.

Why? Things weren't going his way. From the AP:

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and other Democrats are raising concerns about Fox's nomination to be ambassador to Belgium because of a $50,000 contribution Fox made in 2004 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth....

With a vote on Fox expected Wednesday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry's Vietnam crew mates on Tuesday sent a letter urging committee members to oppose Fox's nomination. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

“In our judgment, those who finance smears and lies of combat veterans don't deserve to represent America on the world stage,” said the letter signed by James Rassman and 10 other Vietnam Swift Boat veterans who served with Kerry.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said Tuesday he opposes the nomination because Fox “refused to apologize for his behavior” during his confirmation hearing last month.

From U.S. News:

...just a week after E-mails in the U.S. attorneys case became a main focus of congressional Democrats probing the firings, several aides said that they stopped using the White House system except for purely professional correspondence.

"We just got a bit lazy," said one aide. "We knew E-mails could be subpoenaed. We saw that with the Clintons but I don't think anybody saw that we were doing anything wrong."