Leahy, Senate Panel to Subpoena Bush Officials

The Sampson Subpoena

Below is the subpoena form issued for Kyle Sampson. He resigned this week as the attorney general's chief of staff, amid charges that he hid the extent of the White House's involvement in the dismissals from Congress. Leahy says he'd prefer to keep the form blank: He'd rather that witnesses testify voluntarily.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to give Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) the power to subpoena 11 current and former Bush administration officials regarding the recent firing of eight U.S. attorneys. The senators will decide in a week whether to let Leahy subpoena top White House officials, too.

As a result of the vote, Leahy can compel testimony from some of the powerful Justice Department staffers who may have played a key role in the firings — including Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Sampson authored many of the controversial e-mails released this week between the Justice Department and White House. That e-mail correspondence contradicts sworn testimony that Gonzales and his subordinates gave on Capitol Hill.

Sampson resigned Monday. Though a subpoena form has been issued in his name, it remains blank. Leahy said he would prefer not to fill it in. He'd rather have the witnesses testify voluntarily.

"But I want people to know, if I do not get cooperation, I will subpoena," Leahy said. "We will have testimony under oath before this committee. We'll have the chance for both Republicans and Democrats to ask questions. And we'll find out what happened."

The Justice Department called the subpoenas unnecessarily political.

Spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, "We have clearly communicated to the Congress our willingness to make available, voluntarily, department employees whom the Congress wishes to interview privately and in public hearings. We are disappointed that some members of the Judiciary Committee chose to disregard these facts."

After the committee voted to approve subpoena authority for the Justice Department officials, the only question was whether Leahy would get the same authority for top White House officials: Political adviser Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Miers' deputy, William Kelley. Using a rule that lets a party delay such action for a week, ranking Republican Arlen Specter (D-PA) urged the committee to proceed with caution.

"Let's give them a chance to respond before we get tough," Specter said.

Specter said subpoenas suggest guilt, and he'd rather not make that judgment yet. Leahy said the White House subpoenas will be the first order of business when the committee meets next week.

As Congress discusses subpoenas, the White House is trying to figure out whether it will voluntarily let Rove and others testify. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said that he saw encouraging signs in a Wednesday night meeting with new White House counsel Fred Fielding.

"He expressed the desire to be as cooperative as the Justice Department is being, which would be great," Schumer said of his meeting with Fielding. "He said he'd have to talk to his higher-ups, and he mentioned the president explicitly, to get the OK to do that. And he said we'll have an answer Friday."

These negotiations are taking place as Attorney General Gonzales fights to keep his job. On Thursday, Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire became the first Republican to join his Democratic colleagues in calling for President Bush to fire his old friend.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said in response to Sununu's remarks, "We're disappointed, obviously."

Timeline: Behind the Firing of Eight U.S. Attorneys

The E-Mail Trail

In response to congressional inquiries, the Department of Justice released a series of internal communications — including e-mails with White House staff — that preceded the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at a March 13 news conference.

At a March 13 news conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admits that "mistakes were made" in the Justice Department's handling of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In Depth

The Bush administration fired seven U.S. attorneys on a single day last December. After Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress in January, they began hearings into whether those dismissals — as well as an earlier one, in June 2006 — were politically motivated. Political furor has ensued. Follow events so far:

Late December 2004: White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Justice Department official Kyle Sampson discuss replacing some or all of the country's 93 U.S. attorneys.

Jan. 9, 2005: Sampson e-mails Deputy White House Counsel David Leitch to suggest dismissing 15 percent to 20 percent of all U.S. attorneys, including those who are not "loyal Bushies." Sampson writes, "If Karl [Rove, the president's political adviser] thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I."

February 2005: Harriet Miers, who has replaced Gonzales as White House counsel, suggests that all 93 U.S. attorneys be replaced.

Feb. 14, 2005: Gonzales is sworn in as attorney general of the United States.

March 2, 2005: Sampson e-mails Miers a chart, categorizing U.S. attorneys into one of three groups based on whether they have "produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General."

Sept. 23, 2005: Sampson becomes chief of staff to the attorney general

Jan. 9, 2006: Sampson e-mails Miers to suggest replacing "a limited number of U.S. Attorneys."

March 9, 2006: President Bush signs the USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization into law. One provision allows the attorney general to appoint replacement U.S. attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation.

May 11, 2006: Sampson e-mails White House official William Kelley: "Please call me at your convenience to discuss ... the real problem we have right now with [San Diego U.S. Attorney] Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day after her 4-year term expires."

The Los Angeles Times reports that Lam's corruption investigation of Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham has expanded to include another Republican congressman from California, Jerry Lewis.

June 2006: The Justice Department dismisses H.E. "Bud" Cummins III of Arkansas. His replacement, J. Timothy Griffin, is a former aide to Karl Rove.

Sept. 13, 2006: Sampson writes an e-mail to Miers, urging the administration to circumvent Congress in appointing replacement U.S. attorneys: "I strongly recommend that, as a matter of administration policy, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG [attorney general] to make USA [U.S. attorney] appointments ... we can give far less deference to home-state Senators and thereby get (1) our preferred person appointed and (2) do it far faster and more efficiently, at less political cost to the White House."

Fall 2006: President Bush meets with Gonzales and relays general complaints about U.S. attorneys' performance, without naming specific prosecutors.

October 2006: Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) each call U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to ask about a federal corruption probe into some New Mexico Democrats.

The Justice Department adds Iglesias to a list of U.S. attorneys slated for dismissal.

Nov. 15, 2006: Sampson e-mails Miers, copying Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty on the message. Sampson writes, "I am concerned that to execute this plan [firing seven U.S. attorneys simultaneously] properly, we must all be on the same page and be steeled to withstand any political upheaval that might result. If we start caving to complaining U.S. attorneys or Senators, then we shouldn't do it — it'll be more trouble than it's worth."

Nov. 27, 2006: Gonzales attends an hourlong meeting to discuss the upcoming U.S. attorney dismissals.

Dec. 2, 2006: Sampson e-mails Justice official Michael Elston: "Still waiting for green light from White House [to fire U.S. attorneys]."

Dec. 7, 2006: The Justice Department dismisses seven U.S. attorneys: Daniel Bogden of Nevada, Paul Charlton of Arizona, Margaret Chiara of Michigan, David Iglesias of New Mexico, Carol Lam of San Diego, John McKay of Seattle, and Kevin Ryan of San Francisco.

Jan. 11, 2007: Three senators propose legislation to restore Senate authority to oversee U.S. attorney appointments.

Jan. 18, 2007: Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee: "I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney position for political reasons, or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing, serious investigation." (Hear Gonzales' testimony.)

Feb. 6, 2007: McNulty testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee: "In every single case where a United States attorney position is vacant, the administration is committed to filling that position with the United States attorney who is confirmed by the Senate." (Hear NcNulty's testimony.)

Feb. 23, 2007: Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling sends several members of Congress a letter saying, in part, "The [Justice] Department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin."

March 6, 2007: Former U.S. attorneys testify before Congress. Some say they believe they were fired for political reasons.

March 9, 2007: Gonzales says he will not fight congressional proposals to undo the PATRIOT Act provision that gave him more authority to appoint replacement U.S. attorneys.

March 12, 2007: Justice Department officials say Sampson did not tell people at the agency about the extent of his communications with the White House. Sampson resigns as the attorney general's chief of staff.

March 13, 2007: The Justice Department sends documents to Capitol Hill detailing the correspondence between White House and Justice Department officials over the U.S. attorneys issue. Gonzales insists that he will not resign amid calls for his ouster. He cancels travel plans and holds a news conference to say, "Mistakes were made." He adds, "I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood." (Hear Gonzales apologize.)

March 14, 2007: President Bush says at a news conference in Mexico, "I do have confidence in Attorney General Al Gonzales." Mr. Bush says the firings were mishandled, and he's not happy about it. He says, "Al was right: Mistakes were made. And he's going to go up to Capitol Hill to correct them."

March 15, 2007: The Senate Judiciary Committee grants Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) authority to subpoena five Justice Department officials and six fired U.S. attorneys.

March 16, 2007: Sampson releases a statement through his lawyer saying that he did not resign because he failed to tell Justice officials the extent of his communications with the White House. Instead, he says, he resigned because he did not "organize a more effective political response" to the dismissals.

March 19, 2007: The Justice Department sends Congress 3,000 pages of documents related to the U.S. attorney dismissals.

March 20, 2007: White House counsel Fred Fielding offers to make White House officials available to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees for private interviews without an oath or transcript. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy responds, "I don't accept his offer."

March 26, 2007: The Justice Department's White House liaison and senior counselor to Gonzales, Monica Goodling, says she will invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to respond to questions from Congress about the U.S. attorney dismissals.

March 28, 2007: The Justice Department says its Feb. 23, 2007, letter to Congress denying Rove's involvement in the U.S. attorney dismissals is "contradicted by Department documents."

March 29, 2007: Sampson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In response to questions about several of the attorney general's statements about the U.S. attorney dismissals, Sampson says, "I don't think it's entirely accurate."

April 6, 2007: Goodling resigns from the Justice Department.

April 10, 2007: The House Judiciary Committee subpoenas Justice Department documents related to the U.S. attorney dismissals.

Gonzales appoints Kevin O'Connor, U.S. attorney for Connecticut, as his chief of staff.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.