Transcript

Kyle Sampson's Opening Statement to Senate Judiciary Committee

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Courtesy CQ Transcripts Wire
Thursday, March 29, 2007; 11:19 AM

Sampson's remarks as delivered at the hearing. Here are his prepared remarks.

SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

As you know, I've come here voluntarily to answer your questions.

I've been a public servant for the past eight years. During the past several years, I've served Attorney General Gonzales in a staff position culminating in my service to him as his chief of staff.

In that role, I was responsible for organizing and managing the process by which certain U.S. attorneys were asked to resign. From that vantage point, I believe I was well-positioned to observe and understand what happened in this matter.

I can't pretend to know or remember every fact that may be of relevance, but I am pleased to share with the committee today those that I do know and those that I do remember.

After the 2004 election, the White House inquired about the prospect of replacing all 93 U.S. attorneys with new appointees. I believed, as did others, that less sweeping changes were more appropriate. The Department of Justice then began to look at replacing a limited number of U.S. attorneys in districts where, for a variety of reasons, the department thought change would be beneficial.

Reasonable and honest people can differ, and, in fact, did in various stages in the process, on whether particular individuals should be asked to resign. But the decision to ask them to do so was the result of an internal process that aggregated the considered collective judgment of a number of senior Justice Department officials.

I would be the first to concede that this process was not scientific, nor was it extensively documented. That is the nature of presidential personnel decisions.

But neither was the process random or arbitrary. Instead, it was a consensus-based process based on input from Justice Department officials who were in the best position to develop informed decisions about U.S. attorney performance.

SAMPSON: When I speak about U.S. attorney performance it is critical to understand the performance for a Senate-confirmed presidential appointee is very different than -- it's a very different thing than performance for a civil servant or a private sector employee.

Presidential appointees are judged not only on their professional skills, but also their management abilities, their relationships with law enforcement and other governmental leaders, and their support for the priorities of the president and the attorney general.

A United States attorney may be a highly skilled lawyer and a wonderful person, as I believe all of the individuals who were asked to resign are, but if he or she is judged to be lacking in any of these respects, then he or she may be considered for replacement.

The distinction between political- and performance-related reasons for removing a U.S. attorney is, in my view, largely artificial. A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective, either because he or she has alienated the leadership of the department in Washington or cannot work constructively with law enforcement or other governmental constituencies in the district, is unsuccessful.

With these standards for evaluating U.S. attorneys in mind, I coordinated the process of identifying U.S. attorneys that might be considered for replacement. I received input from a number of officials at the Department of Justice who were in a position to form considered judgments about the U.S. attorneys.

These included not only senior political appointees, such as the deputy attorney general, but also senior career lawyers, such as David Margolis, a man who served justice for more than 40 years under presidents of both parties and who probably knows more about United States attorneys than any person alive.

I developed and maintained a list that reflected the aggregation of views of these department officials over a period of almost two years. I provided that information to the White House when requested and reviewed it with and circulated it to others at the Department of Justice for comment.

By and large, the process operated by consensus. When any official I consulted felt that an individual name should be removed from the list, it generally was.

Although consideration of possible changes had begun in early 2005, the process of actually finalizing a list of U.S. attorneys who might be asked to resign and acting on that list did not begin until last fall.

In the end, eight total U.S. attorneys were selected for replacement: Bud Cummins in mid-2006 and the other seven in a group in early December of 2006.

With the exception of Bud Cummins, none of the U.S. attorneys was asked to resign in favor of a particular individual who had already been identified to take the vacant spot. Nor, to my knowledge, was any U.S. attorney asked to resign for an improper reason. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and may be asked to resign for almost any reason with no public or private explanation.

The limited category of improper reasons includes an effort to interfere with or influence the investigation or prosecution of a particular case for political or partisan advantage. To my knowledge, nothing of the sort occurred here.

Instead, based on everything I've seen and heard, I believe that each replaced U.S. attorney was selected for legitimate reasons falling well within the president's broad discretion and relating to his or her performance in office, at least as performance is properly understood in the context of Senate-confirmed political appointees.

SAMPSON: Nonetheless, when members of Congress began to raise questions about these removals, I believe the department's response was badly mishandled. It was mishandled through an unfortunate combination of poor judgments, poor word choices and poor communication in preparation for the department's testimony before Congress.

For my part in allowing this to happen, I want to apologize to my former DOJ colleagues, especially the U.S. attorneys who were asked to resign.

What started as a good-faith attempt to carry out the department's management responsibilities and exercise the president's appointment authority has unfortunately resulted in confusion, misunderstanding and embarrassment.

This should not have happened.

The U.S. attorneys who were replaced are good people. Each served our country honorably, and I was privileged to serve at the Justice Department with them.

As the attorney general's chief of staff, I could have and should have helped to prevent this. In failing to do so, I let the attorney general and the department down.

For that reason, I offered the attorney general my resignation. I was not asked to resign. I simply felt honor-bound to accept my share of blame for this problem and to hold myself accountable.

Contrary to some suggestions I've seen in the press, I was not motivated to resign by any belief on my part that I withheld information from department witnesses or intentionally misled either those witnesses or the Congress.

The mistakes I made here were made honestly and in good faith. 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 this matter from anyone. I always carried out my responsibilities in an open and collaborative manner.

Others in the department knew what I knew about the origins and timing of this enterprise. None of us spoke up on those subjects during the process of preparing Mr. McNulty and Mr. Moschella to testify, not because there was some effort to hide this history, but because the focus of our preparation sessions was on other subjects; principally, why each of the U.S. attorneys had been replaced, whether there has 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: As I see it, the truth of this affair is this: The decisions to seek the resignation of a handful of U.S. attorneys were properly made, but poorly explained. This is a benign, rather than sinister, story. And I know that some may be disposed not to accept it, but it's the truth as I observed it and experienced it.

And, Mr. Chairman, if I may just add, eight years ago I moved my wife and children here to Washington because I was interested in public service. And I came to work here for this committee first, for then-Chairman Hatch. And it was an honor for me to do that. And really, through serendipity I've had opportunities for other public service in the government.

And I believe in public service, and in all of my work in public service I've made every effort to operate openly and forthrightly and with integrity.

SEN. LEAHY: Mr. Sampson, I don't mean to cut you off, and we have given you extra time, as you know.

We have now what I believe is a final vote. Then I am going to turn the gavel over to Senator Kohl, while I go and vote. I will come back.

If you wish to add to the part that is cut out, certainly I'll give you the time. Thank you.

SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

KOHL: Mr. Sampson, finish your statement.

SAMPSON: Mr. Chairman -- thank you, Mr. Chairman.

All I had to say -- all I wanted to conclude in saying is that I've come up here to testify voluntarily today because I believe in public service, and because I believe in the goodness of our political process.

I appreciated Senator Schumer saying this was not a gotcha. And I came here today because this episode has been personally devastating to me and my family.

SAMPSON: And it's my hope that I can come up here today, share with you the information that this committee and that the Congress wants and, frankly, put this behind me and my family.

And with that, I'm happy to answer any questions any senator may have.

KOHL: We will hold further proceedings until the chairman returns.

SAMPSON: Thank you.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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