Video: AG's aide contradicts testimony

By Producer
NBC News
updated 3/29/2007 8:15:49 PM ET 2007-03-30T00:15:49

D. Kyle Sampson, the former top aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday that he suggested removing prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who oversaw the CIA leak case involving White House staff, from his post.

Sampson said he made the recommendation during a White House meeting with Harriet Miers, former counsel to President Bush.

Sampson's statements on Thursday came amid controversy over U.S. attorneys who were fired without warning. His testimony for the first time put Gonzales at the heart of the firings amid ever-changing Justice Department accounts of how they were planned.

Sampson testified, "I said Patrick Fitzgerald could be added to this list." Video: Sampson says U.S. attorneys fired over priorities

He said that he discussed removing Fitzgerald at a meeting last year with Miers and her deputy, William Kelley. "I remember on one occasion in 2006 in discussing the removal of U.S. attorneys ... and I raised Pat Fitzgerald."  Sampson said that as soon as he raised Fitzgerald at the meeting he regretted it: "I knew that it was the wrong thing to do. I knew that it was inappropriate."

Fitzgerald served as special counsel in the trial over who revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, which ended in a perjury and obstruction conviction for Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Wilson is the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

When quizzed by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., how Miers and Kelly reacted to the suggestion that Fitzgerald be added to the list of U.S. attorneys slated to be fired, Sampson said, "They looked at me like I had said something totally inappropriate, and I had."

"Why did you say it?  Why did you recommend or at least suggest that he be removed as U.S. attorney?" Durbin asked.

Sampson said he wasn't sure, but he thought "it was maybe to get a reaction from them." He added that he "never seriously considered" putting Fitzgerald on a list and that Fitzgerald never appeared on any list.

Durbin asked Sampson why he had never given Fitzgerald a favorable evaluation, to which Sampson responded, "I don't remember rating Mr. Fitzgerald one way or the other."

Sampson said, "I didn't want to go anywhere near that" because of the sensitivity surrounding the leak trial.

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A spokesman for Fitzgerald in Chicago did not return phone calls.

Prosecutor who had ‘not distinguished’ himself
On a Justice Department chart sent to the White House in March 2005, Fitzgerald was ranked among the prosecutors who had "not distinguished themselves."

Fitzgerald was involved in the Plame case at that time.

The ranking placed Fitzgerald below "strong U.S. attorneys ... who exhibited loyalty" to the administration but above "weak U.S. attorneys who ... chafed against administration initiatives, etc.," according to Justice documents.

Documents indicate that the chart may have been one of the first steps in an effort to identify U.S. attorneys who should be removed. Two prosecutors who received the same ranking as Fitzgerald were later fired, documents show.

The Judiciary Committee has authorized subpoenas for presidential political adviser Karl Rove and other top White House staff linked to the firings. Bush wants his aides to be interviewed in private sessions and without being placed under oath.

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