- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’ chief of staff will defend the firings of eight U.S. attorneys in his testimony before a Senate panel today, one day after the White House condemned House Democrats for hiring private lawyers to help them investigate the Bush administration on the matter.

“If they are going to spend $25,000 a month to hire a private law firm in Washington, D.C., it’s only further evidence of what their intentions are,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “I think it’s to investigate, not legislate.”

The Washington Times first reported yesterday that House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. had drawn up a contract with D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, for $25,000 a month over nine months, in his probe of the eight fired federal prosecutors. But Democrats responded yesterday that congressional Republicans often hired private attorneys too during their 12 years in charge.

Mr. Conyers, however, told The Times in a statement that “over the last twelve years under Republican control, House Committees entered into consultant contracts more than 40 times at a cost of more than $1.6 million.”

Meanwhile yesterday, the prepared testimony of top Gonzales aide D. Kyle Sampson, who resigned over the firings and is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, was leaked to several news organizations.

In his prepared remarks, Mr. Sampson defends the firings as related to President Bush’s law-enforcement priorities and thus appropriate because the president determines the executive branch’s goals, and he called the events “benign rather than sinister.”

“The distinction between ‘political’ and ‘performance-related’ reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial,” he said. “A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective … is unsuccessful.”

Mr. Sampson said that while each of the ousted attorneys was a “wonderful lawyer,” they all served at the pleasure of the president and that to his knowledge none was ousted for “an improper reason.”

He also flatly denied Democrats’ charges that attorneys were removed for investigating Republicans too much or Democrats too little.

“To my knowledge, nothing of the sort occurred here,” he said.

But Democrats continued their attack yesterday, and Mr. Conyers defended the private-attorney hirings because it does not “cost the taxpayers any additional funds.”

“The budget of the Judiciary Committee is set by a vote of every Member of the House, and this contract comes out of those funds,” Mr. Conyers said.

House Republicans shot back that Mr. Conyers’ calculations were based on committee contracts for work that paid staff could not already do.

“No idea where he got that data, but it definitely includes service contracts that are wholly unrelated to the issue at hand,” said an aide to the House Republican leadership.

Also yesterday, the Justice Department acknowledged more inaccurate statements to Congress about the fired prosecutors, this time about presidential adviser Karl Rove’s involvement in the firings.

Justice sent a letter to Mr. Conyers and released 204 more pages of documents that appeared to show Mr. Sampson preparing public talking points for Justice Department officials that contradicted his prior statements in internal e-mails.

Mr. Sampson has been blamed by Mr. Gonzales for inaccurate congressional testimony by top Justice officials.

In his prepared testimony, Mr. Sampson calls the firings “properly made, but poorly explained” and takes upon himself the blame for poor communication between the White House and Congress.

“For my part, in allowing what should have been a routine process of assuring the Congress that nothing untoward occurred to become an ugly, undignified spectacle, I want to apologize,” Mr. Sampson states.

However, the only revelation in the latest document dump from the Justice Department is that on Feb. 8, Mr. Sampson drew up a response to a letter sent that same day to Mr. Gonzales by Democratic Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Patty Murray, of Washington.

The Democrats’ letter asked why H.E. “Bud” Cummins III, the former U.S. attorney for Arkansas’ Eastern District, had been dismissed and replaced with J. Timothy Griffin, who had worked with Mr. Rove in the past. Mr. Sampson, in drafting what then became a Feb. 23 letter in response, wrote, “I am not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the Attorney General’s decision to appoint Griffin,” a point which appears in the final letter to the senators.

However, on Dec. 19, 2006, Mr. Sampson wrote an e-mail to Mr. Gonzales’ chief counsel, Monica Goodling, in which he said: “Getting [Griffin] appointed was important to Harriet [Myers], Karl, etc.”

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