In today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Aberto Gonzales tried to claim that he never intended to take advantage of a Patriot Act provision that allows the administration to indefinitely name “interim” U.S. attorneys and avoid Senate confirmation.
But in a Dec. 19, 2006 e-mail, Gonzales’s then-chief of staff Kyle Sampson wrote an e-mail explaining the administration’s plan for installing Karl Rove’s protege Tim Griffin as U.S. attorney in Arkansas:
We should gum this to death. [A]sk the senators to give Tim a chance…then we can tell them we’ll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, evaluate the recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All of this should be done in “good faith,” of course.
Gonzales today said it was a plan he “never liked” and immediately “rejected” it. Watch it:
But at one point, Gonzales did like the plan. A timeline of events:
Sampson tells Gonzales about plan to appoint Griffin without Senate approval. Sampson testified that he told Gonzales about the plan to avoid Senate approval for Griffin in early December. At that time, Gonzales did not “specifically reject” the idea.
Gonzales promises Pryor that Griffin will face Senate approval. In a meeting with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK) on Dec. 15, Gonzales said that he “wanted to go through a Senate confirmation” for Griffin. When Pryor objected to Griffin’s nomination, Gonzales promised that Justice Department would “look for someone else” and asked Pryor to “give me names that we ought to consider.”
Sampson implements plan to avoid Senate approval on Griffin. Four days after the meeting between Gonzales and Pryor, Sampson sends out the e-mail recommending that they “gum this [Griffin's nomination] to death.”
Gonzales finally rejects Sampson’s plan. Sampson testified, “I don’t remember him specifically rejecting the idea until after he spoke with Senator Pryor in mid-December, and I don’t remember him specifically rejecting the idea until sometime in January. … [H]e did reject it after that e-mail.”
Therefore, Gonzales did not reject Sampson’s plan until after he met with Pryor and assured the senator that any U.S. attorney nominee would face Senate scrutiny. According to the Arkansas News Bureau, “Pryor said he still believes the attorney general lied to him by stating that he intended to seek Senate confirmation for Griffin.”
As Schumer noted, “I mean, you can’t have it both ways. If your chief of staff is implementing a major plan that contradicts what you just told the U.S. senator from that state, in my view, you shouldn’t be attorney general. And if, on the other hand, what you said to Senator Pryor contradicts the plan, you also shouldn’t be attorney general.”
Gonzales’s testimony today:
SCHUMER: We’ll get it to you.
As everyone here knows, Senator Pryor is one of the most temperate members of the Senate. He’s mild-mannered, and his words are all the more striking for that reason. He said, quote, The attorney general not only lied to me as a person but, when he lied to me, he lied to the Senate and he lied to the people I represent.
I spoke to Senator Pryor yesterday. He stands by those words.
Now, Kyle Sampson wrote that — wrote to Harriet Miers last September — that’s what he wrote — he wrote that they wanted to do this plan of getting around the Senate and appointing interim U.S. attorneys.
And he also told Congress that the White House never rejected the idea of evading the Senate confirmation in the Eastern District of Arkansas.
According to Kyle Sampson, you became aware of this idea or plan in early December of 2006. He told you about it; you did not reject it.
Then on December 19th, Kyle Sampson is promoting this astonishingly perverse plan. He’s going forward with it.
And this poster which we have here — and I’ll get you a copy of what it says — shows it. Sampson’s advice to the White House is, quote, We — we, meaning the department — should gum this to death, to run out the clock.
He lays out a specific plan for running out the clock: The Department of Justice should ask Arkansas senators to meet Tim Griffin, give him a chance; after that, the administration to pledge to desire a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney and so forth.
The plan was to use these tactics of delay so Griffin could stay in, without Senate confirmation, until the end of the president’s term.
But now, four days before Kyle Sampson sends that plan, you personally talked with Senator Pryor. Kyle Sampson testifies that he was in the room — you talked to him twice, he was in the room on one of those occasions — about Tim Griffin.
Kyle Sampson says you talked with Senator Pryor two times. He was in the room. And you said to Senator Pryor that you wanted to go through a Senate confirmation. This is in December.
SCHUMER: Well, what would you think if you’re in Senator Pryor’s shoes? There’s a plan to circumvent U.S. attorneys early in December. You go along with that.
GONZALES: I didn’t go along with it.
SCHUMER: On December 19th, a memo was sent to implement it. Yet, on December 15th, you’re on the phone with Senator Pryor saying oh, no, no, you’re going to get confirmation.
So, which is it? Again, did Kyle Sampson put out this memo completely on his own?
SCHUMER: And if he did — I mean, you can’t have it both ways. If your chief of staff is implementing a major plan that contradicts what you just told the U.S. senator from that state, in my view, you shouldn’t be attorney general.
And if, on the other hand, what you said to Senator Pryor contradicts the plan, you also shouldn’t be attorney general.
Can you explain what happened here?
SCHUMER: Because I am totally sympathetic with what Senator Pryor said.
GONZALES: Mr. Sampson also testified, 15 to 20 times, in various ways, that I either rejected this plan; I never liked this plan; I thought it was a bad idea; never considered it; would not have considered it.
SCHUMER: No, he said that you did know about it.
He told you about it.
GONZALES: … he said I either rejected it, didn’t like, thought it was a bad idea, wouldn’t consider, didn’t consider it.
SCHUMER: OK. Then he went ahead, when you didn’t like the plan, on December 19th?
GONZALES: Senator, I…
SCHUMER: That was later that you didn’t like the plan.
Kyle Sampson said in December you had no rejection of the plan. But let’s even assume you didn’t like it.
What are we to think, as U.S. senators? You don’t like a plan. Your chief of staff, the man in charge of everything, even though you are saying, Don’t do this plan, puts out something to go ahead and go forward.
Who’s running the department?
GONZALES: Senator, I wasn’t aware of this e-mail.
But, again, I want to be very, very clear about this. I never liked this plan.
SCHUMER: You never liked the plan, and your chief of staff four days after you assure Senator Pryor otherwise, puts out a detailed, step-by-step process on how to implement the plan.
Does that indicate someone who’s running the department?
GONZALES: Senator, Mr. Sampson has testified that this was a bad idea. And it was a bad idea. And it was never accepted not only by me, but he also testified as to the principals.
SCHUMER: Mr. Sampson said it was a bad idea in retrospect in February in March. In December, he was going full bore ahead with the plan, as the memo you’ve just been shown shows.
GONZALES: And he’s also testified, if we’re going to go on his testimony, that this is a plan I never liked, that I rejected it…
SCHUMER: No. That is not what he testified to, sir. Go look at the transcript. In December, he says, you did not reject the plan when he talked to you about it.
GONZALES: Sir, I don’t recall the exact time frame. But he also said that I never liked this idea. I didn’t consider it and wouldn’t consider it.
SCHUMER: I would just say, sir, that it defies credulity that your chief of staff four days after you tell somebody you’re going one way goes exactly the opposite way…
SCHUMER: … and says that you never rejected the plan when you say you did.
Sampson’s testimony on March 29, 2007:
SEN. SPECTER: You saw the attorney general on a daily basis?
MR. SAMPSON: Yes, I did.
SEN. SPECTER: Multiple times a day?
MR. SAMPSON: Yes, sir.
SEN. SPECTER: Talking with him about, discussing with him the plan to replace United States attorneys?
MR. SAMPSON: Yes. As I stated before, you know, I kept him generally apprised of –
SEN. SPECTER: Okay, so you were discussing plans to replace U.S. attorneys, but you never talked to him about utilizing the provisions of the Patriot Act to circumvent the Senate?
MR. SAMPSON: Oh, I think I did, but I don’t think he ever liked the idea very much.
SEN. SPECTER: Well, did he say, “I don’t like the idea”? Did he say, “I reject the idea?” Or did he just listen to you and go off in another direction?
MR. SAMPSON: I don’t remember him specifically rejecting the idea until after he spoke with Senator Pryor in mid-December, and I don’t remember him specifically rejecting the idea until sometime in January.
SEN. SPECTER: So that he was still considering the idea — he rejected it sometime in January, still considering in December, and we have these e-mails where it’s still very much on your mind and, as you say, to circumvent the Senate and what you concede is in bad faith, and it is being considered at least for one U.S. attorney, and you don’t have any recollection of Ms. Miers or the attorney general or anyone at that level of authority rejecting the idea?
MR. SAMPSON: I remember the attorney general rejecting the idea.
SEN. SPECTER: But not in December. You said in January.
MR. SAMPSON: I remember him rejecting it soon after he had a conversation with Senator Pryor. And let me –
SEN. SPECTER: Well, you just –
MR. SAMPSON: Let me just say –
SEN. SPECTER: You just said he rejected it in January, didn’t you?
MR. SAMPSON: I remember that he spoke with Senator Pryor –
SEN. SPECTER: Now wait a minute. I’m asking you, didn’t you just say he rejected it in January?
MR. SAMPSON: Senator, I’m not sure whether he rejected it in late December or in early January. I don’t know.
SEN. SPECTER: Well, did he — did he reject it after the December 19th e-mail, which is the critical day? That would be late December, if he rejected it after that e-mail.
MR. SAMPSON: I believe he did reject it after that e-mail.