Kyle Sampson, Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff, voluntarily testifies today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. NBC's Ken Strickland says that Sampson may hold the keys to two critical questions in the fired prosecutors controversy: 1) what and when did Gonzales and the White House know about to plan to dismiss the US attorneys; and 2) were the firings politically motivated?
NBC's Pete Williams has a copy of Sampson's prepared remarks. In them, Sampson says none of the fired US attorneys was replaced "for an improper reason," and says that includes any "effort to interfere with or influence the investigation or prosecution of a particular case for political or partisan advantage." Sampson adds that he compiled the list of those to be fired by asking senior political and career officials at the Justice Department about who should be moved out. As for judging their performance, he says politics counted in one sense: He believed that a US attorney should be a good leader, work well with local federal agents, and follow department policy. For that reason, he says, "the distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a US attorney ... is largely artificial."
Sampson will also say that the Justice Department "badly mishandled" its response to questions about what happened "through an unfortunate combination of poor judgments, poor word choices, and poor communication," for which he blames himself. Finally, his prepared testimony shows a tone his internal e-mails did not -- of respect for the US attorneys who were fired, calling them "good people who served our country honorably."
Not only does Gonzales have problem garnering support from congressional Republicans, he's struggling with rank-and-file Justice Department folks, including current US attorneys. The New York Times writes that some of these attorneys leveled complaints at Gonzales earlier this week during a meeting in Chicago organized by -- wait for it -- Patrick Fitzgerald (or "Peter" Fitzgerald, as Rove likes to call him).
Another New York Times article reports on emails that tie "M.C." Karl Rove -- fresh off of his rap performance at last night's Radio-TV Correspondents' dinner -- even closer to the controversial US attorney firings in Arkansas and New Mexico.