Sampson Resigns, Gonzales Under Pressure
As the details of the process by which eight out of the 93 US attorneys were fired emerge, calls have begun on Capitol Hill for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Kyle Sampson has now resigned as Gonzales' chief of staff. Sampson had been directly responsible for the program under which the Justice Department determined to fire the eight U.S. attorneys.
The firings were initiated at the request of former White House Counsel Harriet Miers who wanted to follow the same procedure used in the Clinton administration and fire all 93 of the U.S. attorneys, but Sampson objected: it would create too much upheaval and discontinuity and problems with ongoing prosecutions. Ordinarily, all U.S. Attorneys submit letters of resignation after each presidential election and are then either rehired or let go at the discretion of the Attorney General. Instead Sampson rated attorneys on how well they followed administration policy and how effective they were at their jobs, and ultimately identified the eight who were fired. According to latest reports, one of the key issues was how aggressively the attorneys were pursuing allegations of election fraud in cases where close elections had significant irregularities which went uninvestigated. The rating system was independent of normal performance evaluations, and has been criticized for being primarily political in nature.
The White House consulted closely on the firings, and there was some concern raised by Sampson that there might be political repercussions if legislators from the states where the attorneys were working raised objections. Partisan political outcry has been strong from Democrats on Capitol Hill, with Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator John Conyers convening a hearing last week to question those involved, including the fired attorneys. After the hearings Conyers commented, "Today, we received strong evidence that the firing of these U.S. Attorneys was politically motivated, and we clearly need to follow up on these developments with further investigations."
Some Democrats have called for the resignation of Attorney General Gonzales, but he has clearly indicated that he regrets the abrupt character of the firings, but does not believe that anything took place which was outside of the scope of normal Justice Department practices, maintaining that the attorneys fired were fired for cause, in most of the cases because they did not follow specific directives to pursue administration initiatives on gun crime, election fraud, drug enforcement and other issues.