Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, caught up in the brewing Department of Justice U.S. attorney controversy, defended the decision to fire the eight U.S. attorneys late last year, though not the way it was handled. He maintained that the administration's decision to ask for their resignations is a "benign rather than sinister story."
In a prepared written statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he will testify Thursday, Sampson said the decisions by senior Department of Justice officials were "properly made but poorly explained."
Sampson said that after the 2004 election, the White House inquired about the prospect of replacing all 93 U.S. attorneys. He wrote, "I believed, as did others, that less sweeping changes were more appropriate."
He said the decision was a "collective judgment" of a number of senior department officials who undertook an "internal process" to decide which U.S. attorneys should be asked to resign.
When controversy erupted and Congress began to ask questions about the U.S. attorneys Sampson admitted the department's response was mishandled through an "unfortunate combination of poor judgments, poor word choices and poor communication." He offered an apology to the U.S. attorneys for what became an "ugly, undignified spectacle."
He said he resigned for mistakes made "honestly and in good faith." He wrote, "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 the matter from anyone."
He wrote that while "others in the department knew what I knew about the origins and timing of this enterprise," none of them spoke up on those subjects while preparing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Sampson said the briefers were not trying to "hide this history" but instead focus on "other subjects -- principally, on why each of the U.S. attorneys had been replaced, whether there had 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 went on to say, "The distinction between 'political' and performance-related' reasons for removing a United Sates attorney is, in my view, largely artificial."
While never mentioning whether he discussed the matter with the attorney general, Sampson said those he consulted included "not only senior political appointees such as the deputy attorney general but also senior career lawyers." He said he developed and maintained a list that reflected the aggregation of views of these and other department officials and provided the information to the White House "when requested."