As we noted Thursday, former Alberto Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson drafted a letter to Congress in February of this year in which he said that the Justice Department was "not aware" of Karl Rove having played "any role in the decision to appoint" his friend Tim Griffin as a replacement for Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummings -- despite the fact that, just two months earlier, Sampson had written an e-mail message to the White House in which he said that he knew that "getting [Griffin] appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc."
How do you square the two? Well, this is how Sampson tried as he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday:
Sampson: I participated in the drafting of that letter. I drafted the first draft. And at the time I drafted that letter, I was not aware of Karl Rove having expressed an interest in Tim Griffin being appointed. I remember thinking at the time: "I'm not even sure Mr. Rove is in support of Mr. Griffin being appointed."
And when I drafted that letter, I was focused on the attorney general's interim appointment of Mr. Griffin, which had happened in mid-December. And I knew that the attorney general had independently determined whether to appoint Mr. Griffin ... But I remember, at the time that I worked on the drafting of that, I was not aware and I did not remember then and I don't remember now whether Mr. Rove actually was interested in Mr. Griffin being appointed. I circulated the letter widely to make sure it was accurate. And no one disabused me of that idea.
Sen. Ted. Kennedy: Well, you remember the December 19th letter from yourself to the White House, where you [said] that "getting him appointed," referring to Griffin, "was important to Harriet and Karl." That's what you wrote.
Sampson: That e-mail was based on an assumption.
Sampson: I knew that [Rove deputies] Sara Taylor and Scott Jennings had expressed interest in promoting Mr. Griffin for appointment to be U.S. attorney. And I assumed, because they reported to Karl Rove, that he was interested in that. But later, in February, when I participated in the drafting of that letter, I did not remember then ever having talked to Mr. Rove about it. I don't remember now ever having talked to Mr. Rove about it.
I'm not sure whether Mr. Rove was supportive of Mr. Griffin's appointment.
Kennedy: Well, what I'm getting at is that you did mention that -- in your first e-mail, that this was important to Karl, et cetera, and then in the general letter that was circulated to the White House, that aspect was dropped and the White House effectively approved a letter. And today the Justice Department has admitted that the letter was inaccurate in asserting that the department was not aware of Karl Rove. That's the sequence as I see it. Is that about what you understand?
Sampson: To the best of my knowledge, Senator, I don't remember Karl Rove ever talking to me, in person or on the phone. I don't remember anyone telling me that Mr. Rove was interested in Mr. Griffin being appointed. And that was my understanding at the time I participated in the drafting of that letter.
Kennedy: OK. Well, then, do you know why you would mention it in your e-mail where you said that "it was important to Harriet and Karl," if there was no reason? Do you know -- have any idea why you would write that?
Sampson: As I said, that was based on an assumption. I know it was important to Sara Taylor and to Scott Jennings, both of whom reported to Mr. Rove.
Kennedy: All right. Now we have the situation where the Justice Department has admitted that the [Feb.] 23rd letter was inaccurate. So now you agree -- do you agree with that?
Sampson: I'm not aware that the Department of Justice has admitted that. It would be useful to me, if they've done so, if I could see where that is.
Kennedy: Yes. Well, it just is in the wire story -- Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling said that statements made to Democratic lawmakers appear to be contradicted by department documents included in our production. Then it said the February 23rd letter, which was written by Sampson, signed by Hertling, emphatically stated the department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin. Also said the Department of Justice is not aware of any lobbying effort. And is now saying that that's inaccurate.
Sampson: Again ... before I could comment on that, I'd need to see the department's letter. I can tell you that at the time I drafted that letter I was not aware of Karl Rove being interested in Mr. Griffin's appointment. And as I sit here today, I don't remember if that's true. I, obviously, assumed that in December when I wrote that e-mail. But I think that the e-mail is based on an assumption, and to the best of my knowledge the letter was based on the facts as I understood them at the time.