WASHINGTON – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief aide denies he purposefully withheld information from Justice Department officials who misled Congress about the firings of eight federal prosecutors.
Gonzales has acknowledged that his department mishandled the dismissals of the U.S. attorneys and did not tell Congress the whole story about the firings. The attorney general, who is under pressure to resign, has said he ultimately is to blame for the mistakes, but stands behind the firings, which Democrats allege were politically motivated.
Kyle Sampson, who quit last week as Gonzales' chief of staff, said in a statement from his lawyer that he did not step down "because he had misled anyone at the Justice Department or withheld information concerning the replacement of the U.S. attorneys.
"He resigned because, as chief of staff, he felt he had let the attorney general down in failing to appreciate the need for and organize a more effective response to the unfounded accusations that the replacements were improper," according to the statement from attorney Brad Berenson.
In one e-mail released last week by the department, Sampson said an across-the-board housecleaning of all U.S. attorneys "would certainly send ripples through the U.S. attorney community if we told folks they got one term only." Then, in a reference to the president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, the e-mail concluded that "if Karl thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I."
Department officials say Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and Associate Deputy Attorney General William E. Moschella were angry when they found out about Sampson's e-mail communications with the White House about the U.S. attorneys dating back to at least January 2005.
In the statement, Berenson said the White House and the department had discussed the subject since the 2004 election and that it was well-known to a number of other senior officials at the department, including some who helped prepare the agency's testimony to Congress.
"If this background was not called to Mr. McNulty or Mr. Moschella's attention, it was not because any of these individuals deliberately withheld it from them, but rather because no one focused on it at the time," Berenson said. "The focus of preparation efforts was on why the U.S. attorneys had been replaced, not how."