Gonzales' Ex-Deputy to Testify on Attorney Firings

So far, Kyle Sampson is the only person who has resigned over the scandal surrounding eight fired U.S. attorneys. The former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is scheduled to testify Thursday morning on Capitol Hill.

The hearing will be an unfortunate homecoming for Sampson. He used to work for the Senate Judiciary Committee, when his home state senator, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), was the chairman. Last week, Hatch fondly referred to his former staffer as "young Kyle Sampson."

"I will resent anybody who tries to hurt the man, because he was in a tough position, and frankly I think handled it pretty well under the circumstances, even though there are things I disagree with," Hatch said.

In addition to being Gonzales' chief of staff, Sampson also worked for the attorney general when he was White House counsel in President George W. Bush's first term.

Having spent years working for Gonzales, Sampson knew how much detail his boss liked to get. It's an issue raised by e-mails by Sampson that the Justice Department released earlier this month — and one the Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to question Sampson about.

For instance, Gonzales assured the committee earlier this year that he wanted every new U.S. attorney to be confirmed by the Senate — at the same time Sampson suggested avoiding Senate confirmation for the new U.S. attorney in Arkansas.

In another example from the e-mails, when Gonzales said he would never fire a U.S. attorney for a political reason, did he know that his chief of staff had consulted White House political adviser Karl Rove on the firings?

Gonzales announced Sampson's resignation March 20, the day the e-mails were released.

"The charge for the chief of staff here was to drive this process. And the mistake that occurred here was that information that he had was not shared with individuals in the department, who were then going to be providing information and testimony to the Congress," Gonzales said.

But Sampson said that was not the reason for his resignation. According to a statement from his lawyer, "Kyle did not resign because he had misled anyone at the Justice Department or withheld information concerning the replacement of the U.S. Attorneys."

Instead, according to the statement, he felt he had let the attorney general down in failing to organize a more effective political response to the crisis.

Former prosecutor Andrew McBride served more than one Republican attorney general, and he finds it hard to believe that a decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys could have been made without the close involvement of the attorney general and other top Department of Justice officials.

"The delegation of the firing of Senate-confirmed United States attorneys to the chief of staff, if it's true that he really made the decisions, is somewhat unusual in terms of the process at the Department of Justice," McBride said.

Those who know Sampson predict that he will not try to undermine his former boss when he testifies on Capitol Hill. Noel Francisco met Sampson at the University of Chicago's law school. They clerked for judges on the same appeals court, and they worked together at the White House and the Justice Department.

Francisco says he thinks that Sampson will do his best to explain what happened.

"My sense is that Kyle believes what actually happened is perfectly consistent with what the attorney general has been saying throughout," Francisco said.

Everybody who discussed Sampson for this story used the same word to describe him: loyal. It's a word that has gotten a bad rap in the media lately, says Helgi Walker, a former colleague of Sampson's in the White House counsel's office, even though it is actually a very good quality.

"Loyalty is being kind and good in return to the people who are kind and good to you in many ways, and loyalty does not mean blind fealty or doing anything unethical or inappropriate and certainly not unlawful," Walker said.

Sampson himself used the word in one e-mail, in which he referred to prosecutors who should not be fired as "loyal Bushies."

Sampson's friends also describe him as devoted to his family and his faith. He holds a prominent position in the Mormon church as bishop of his ward.

Last year, Sampson tried to return to Utah where he grew up. He lobbied to be made U.S. attorney there. In the end, his former boss intervened. At Sen. Orrin Hatch's request, President Bush nominated someone else for the job.

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