With Friends Like These, Gonzales Doesn't Need More Enemies

So far to me the most memorable moment of D. Kyle Sampson's testimony today before the Senate Judiciary Committee wasn't his stark and damning statement that his former boss, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was far more involved in the U.S. Attorney scandal than the latter has so far acknowledged.

Instead, my moment of zen in all of this came later, during the afternoon, when Sampson testified that he briefly suggested to his bosses that they fire Patrick J. Fitzgerald, then the special prosecutor in the CIA Leak case and still one of the best federal prosecutors in the nation. Sampson was asked: Why did you make that suggestion? And he responded: Because i wanted to get a reaction from high-ranking officials, including then-White House counsel Harriet Miers. I immediately regretted the comment, Sampson told the legislators, but, really, this is what passed for leadership and policy at the Justice Department during the period in question.

The problem for Sampson, and his former superiors at the Justice Department and the White House, is that even if you are willing to suspend all your suspicions and cynicism about their motives in firing eight U.S. Attorneys last year, and then their ham-handed efforts to explain their tactics, you still are left with overwhelming evidence of bureaucratic incompetence and confusion. These people were in the process of doing something extraordinary-- firing so many federal prosecutors at once in the middle of a term based upon a political litmus test-- and yet they were still unable (see, you don't have to even say "unwilling") to do so in a logical and coherent way that would withstand the test of law and history and politics.

Sampson today may be earnest and even on occasion honest. But he is painting a devastating picture of a Justice Department and White House that decided first what was to be done and then tried to figure out a way to justify it. When you work backwards like that, you usually get in big trouble. And little Sampson has said during his first few hours of testimony suggests otherwise. His words to the senators make it even more likely that the Attorney General will have to leave his post, sooner rather than later.

By Andrew Cohen |  March 29, 2007; 3:29 PM ET agag
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Gonzales, in Chicago to promote an internet safety initiative earlier this week, cut short his responses to questions without saying a single word in support of the man next to him, Patrick Fitzgerald. Would it have been too much to have cleared the air by telling the cameras that Fitzgerald is among the best? Apparently so. The omission did not go unnoticed among the rank and file AUSAs who are the real Justice Department.

Posted by: ExAUSA | March 29, 2007 04:59 PM

Interfering in an ongoing investigation by removing the lead investigator is obstruction of justice whether it is done by a hit man, Karl Rove, the Attorney General or a senator. Word has it that Monica Goodling was in on Domenici`s phone call to David Iglesias. Time for some `thruthiness` and then appoint a Special Prosecutor who can`t be fired for competence, something sadly lacking in the White House these days...

Posted by: braultrl | March 29, 2007 05:03 PM

Sen. Hatch clearly is a skilled lawyer--or must have been at some point in his career.

However, all of his arguments boil down to: "Yes, I know the White House has not documented its reasoning, or been forthcoming, or straight in its answers, but here are some reasons that they COULD have used. Don't these strike you as good reasons that they could have used? Sure I don't know if these were the reasons, and we have no evidence from the administration's emails that these were the reasons, but I like them. I find them persuasive. Won't you believe me that these are good reasons the White House could have used if they had actually used them?"

Posted by: JP2 | March 29, 2007 05:12 PM

Wouldn't it seem plausible that a tidal wave of conviction appeals are going to roar onto shore?

Posted by: On the plantation | March 29, 2007 08:21 PM

Why isn't anyone talking about how the Republican found an ancient rule that they used to shut the hearing down?!? I found that shocking. I think they needed time to further prep Sampson for his takedown of Gonzales in protection of Karl Rove and George Bush. Some of the questions were causing him to sweat.

Posted by: Gardenia | March 29, 2007 08:23 PM

Would someone explain to me why David Iglesias was fired? Sampson went from wanting to promote him and naming him as "a loyal Bushie" to putting him on the hit list and he can't remember why. Apparently, someone said something negative about Iglesias but Sampson has no files and no documentation to support his task of firing US attorneys. Did I hear correctly that Iglesias was fired for not pursuing voter fraud cases when the DOJ was so happy with his work on this subject that they asked him to do seminars for other USA's?

Posted by: ClayAllison | March 29, 2007 08:29 PM

Gardenia, when the Committee returned to the hearing room I seem to recall that Leahy mentioned that he had spent the break talking to Sampson and his lawyer--so I don't think that was it.

However, if I'm not mistaken, Sen. Grassley did not bother to resume his line of questioning. I'd have to look at the transcript--but it strikes me that someone may not have liked Grassley's line of questioning. Just speculation.

Clay, why was Iglesias fired? I don't think anyone knows yet. Sampson was vague on this point. Sen Schumer's final line of questioning seemed to suggest the possibility that it wasn't "voter fraud" cases, but that the decision occurred around the time that Reps Wilson and Sen Domenici were contacting Iglesias about his failure to bring charges against a Democratic official before the Nov. 7th election. Definitely a lot of unanswered questions here.

Posted by: JP2 | March 29, 2007 08:50 PM

It is a little mindblowing that Sampson proposed firing Fitzgerald. It goes to show the mindset of the group he worked within that it entered his mind, much less came out of his mouth. It is quite clear that these folks either don't care for or don't understand ethics issues. They also don't care about their service to their country or the reputation of the department they serve. It was always about the politics and their personal fortunes. Surely we can do better.

Posted by: julie kreutzer | March 29, 2007 10:02 PM

Senators Cornyn and Hatch sure proved today that they are "Loyal Bushies" no matter what the evidence seemed to suggest.
Can either of them be nominated for those vacated attorney positions? It is apparent that they do not care about carrying out their elected roles of providing oversight.
That might allow for the election of Senators who care more about the electorate instead of protecting their party.

Posted by: Annie Norton | March 29, 2007 10:25 PM

I used to practise law. All of the lawyers that I know made thorough notes on everything and kept them in the appropriate file. My clients, the judges and the opposing attorneys expected me to remember what had happened, why it had happened, when it had happened and what I had done about it. A lawyer who does not keep notes is a rare commodity. He/she is also a fool. I have come to expect incompetence and dishonesty as part of the Bush culture. However, it does not mean that I will be duped. Bit by bit the trail will be uncovered. It takes time. As a lawyer I did not tell lies. Witnesses who claim amnesia are suspected by lawyers of being liars. If you keep at a witness who cannot give a court insight into his role then his story will unravel. The honourable thing for these guys is to work out what happened, go back to the Senate and give valueable testimony.

Posted by: Robert James | March 30, 2007 05:39 AM

As Gomer Pyle used to say surprise surprise.Incompetent in every area of governing.Would any dept in this administration stand the scrutiny of an investigation.These people broke with precedence you give capable people the top jobs and your buddies an ambassadorship to Trinidad.The only qualification for a top job in this administration was being a Bushie.It appears that being a Bushie means having an IQ that we used to call moron.I guess the President likes to have equals around him.

Posted by: THOMAS BILLIS | March 30, 2007 05:58 AM

Sen. Hatch and political stench have been bedmates since the Thomas Clarence hearings. Sen Hatch is simply a republican hack with no regard for the senate or the american public well being.

Posted by: domga | March 30, 2007 07:09 AM

Orrin Hatch is a pretty unsavoury character: he reeks of hypocrisy. The Republican tired to derail the rhythm of the hearings by calling for votes on the bill before the Senate using a procedure that is not invoked as often as they want to suggest. Unfortunately, I for one was only convinced that these ploys served a nefarious purpose.

Now Cornyn is a case: really. This guy was a judge. WEhat is the reputation of the Texas judicial system : with judges like Cornyn???

Posted by: Alan | March 30, 2007 08:10 AM

I live in Iowa. I am 60 years old. This mess stinks.

Posted by: Thomas Simon | March 30, 2007 08:38 AM

-----
"Would someone explain to me why David Iglesias was fired?"
-----

A question that has many folks in NM scratching their heads - Iglesias made quite an impression here by his dogged and effective prosecution of a (Democratic) state treasure on bribery charges. Prior to his being fired, the only complaints heard here about him were from local Democrats who thought his obvious Republican leanings had led him to be unfairly aggressive in that case.

Rumor has it that the Bush administration was convinced that there had to be a link between NM Democratic party officials and some cases of alleged voter fraud. When Iglesias' investigation was unable to uncover any evidence of such a link, he was apparently fired for being unable to make reality conform to Bush Administration demands.

Posted by: CJ in Albuquerque | March 30, 2007 09:13 AM

One thing is pretty clear about this administration and our Federal Governement:

Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling are just a couple examples of the "young punk" syndrome. Our citizens deserve more than over-priviledged type A personality, "wet-behind the ears" and very inexperienced personnel placed in extremely high administrative posts.

Furthermore their immaturity enables manipulative unethical characters like Karl Rove, who knows these people are willing to stab anyone in the back just to secure the next rung on the ladder, the ability to use them like a power-tool.

The only answer to solving this ever-growing problem is to MINIMIZE the number of political appointed personnel in the Federal government (to an absolute least number possible).

Even in Iraq, there was a requirement in this new government to have significant experience in the government agency that the candidate was seeking.

Let's be real about this. Eliminate all the political appointed positions. They are unnecessary and contribute to the corruption we are experiencing.

Posted by: David21001 | March 30, 2007 05:14 PM

Bush knows he'll get caught and then they'll fix the system just when Bush is about to step down, just like with the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program. The damage to America will already have been done and law enforcement won't have the tools to reverse Bush's criminality.

Posted by: Throbbing Boehner | March 31, 2007 06:21 AM

Funny -- for me the most revealing moment came when Sampson pointed out that only USA's whose terms had expired were considered for replacement. A obvious and important fact that has been reported nowhere.

Posted by: Mark_0454 | March 31, 2007 07:51 AM

Actually, Gonzales is an american hero. Kyle Sampson is merely trying to get off without anyone touching him by putting the blame on Gonzales. Gonzales said he was not involved, and that's good enough for me. When will all you liberals stop trying to defame the Bush administration?

Posted by: askew | March 31, 2007 09:40 AM

What is it with men who use an initial as their first name? D. Kyle Sampson? Does it make them feel more important?

Posted by: wondering | March 31, 2007 09:43 AM

Just wanted to get a reaction from Harriet Meiers? That's got to be one of the stupidest (or is it *most stupid?*) statements from a government official--high or low--I've ever read. This is what you get when your only *values* in selecting staff in a Culture of Obedience are loyalty and cronyism. Gonzo is doing a heckovajob. Right.

Posted by: cody mccall | March 31, 2007 10:39 AM

D. Kyle Sampson said it. The difference between performance and political loyalty is, in the Bushie mind, zero! If you're loyal, you're doing a good job! You can't make this stuff up. Its one thing if Gonzales can't remember anything but it's even worse when his implementer Sampson, keeps no notes, no phone records, nothing that says why a US attorney goes from the A-list the sh*t list. Maybe because the US attorney is prosecuting the home team? How did these bozos get to be in charge?? They have so screwed thing up in this country, it will take years to fix.

Posted by: thebob.bob | April 3, 2007 05:03 PM

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