Libby, Doan, and Sampson: Systemic Firewalls?

The key to understanding Kyle Sampson’s testimony yesterday is this:

For all the nonsense being written in the MSM about his “dramatic” appearance contradicting – or “challenging” as the WaPo’s Dan Egger has it – Gonzo’s pathetic attempt to pretend he knew nothing about all this attorney-firing business, the plain fact is that Sampson gave the Committee absolutely nothing it didn’t already have. Every opportunity he had to expand the Committee’s knowledge about the process – who said what, when they said it, who they said it to, etc – Sampson rejected with the litany we have come to know so well from all the Bushies:

“I don’t know.”

“I can’t remember.”

“It wasn’t my job.”

Dana Milbank is much closer to the truth of it when he points out:

Sampson seemed content to fall on his sword rather than naming names when he was questioned about the prosecutor mess. Only the red felt on the witness table concealed the blood. “I could have and should have helped to prevent this,” Sampson offered. “I let the attorney general and the department down. . . . I failed to organize a more effective response. . . . It was a failure on my part. . . . I will hold myself responsible. . . . I wish we could do it all over again.”

The witness fessed up to an expanding list of sins. He admitted that the Justice Department was trying to circumvent the Senate confirmation process. He confessed that he proposed firing Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the Valerie Plame leak case. “I regretted it,” he explained. “I knew that it was the wrong thing to do.”

But this blood-letting was severely confined, a pin-prick rather than a deep incision. Sampson knew what the Committee had (though he often pretended he didn’t) and what he had to give them if he wanted to avoid perjury prosecution, so he gave it to them. But he also clearly knew what they didn’t have and what he therefore didn’t have to give them, so he didn’t.

  • He consistently protected Karl Rove, insisting that he couldn’t draw an inference from the fact that Rove’s office was deeply involved in guiding the process Sampson was supposed to be in charge of, that Rove himself knew about it. So if Rove’s Executive Asst was asking questions, making suggestions, and demanding progress reports, that doesn’t prove Karl knew about it? Sure. Right.
  • He offered excuse after excuse for Gonzo’s false statements, doing his level best to minimize the obvious conclusion: Gonzales lied.
  • He refused to admit, though he must have known, that Gonzales was more than aware of the process, he was involved in it. The Committee had no documentary evidence of that, so Kyle “couldn’t remember” or “didn’t know” or “didn’t think so”.

The net result of yesterday’s hearing was merely that Sampson confirmed what the Committee already knew and protected himself from further disclosures by invoking the standard Bushie Memory-Loss Defense. His claim that Gonzales was out of the loop is disingenuous at best and perjurious at worst, but the Committee may never be able to prove it.

First, because there is a reason the Bush/Rove/Cheney crowd demands loyalty: it’s a shield.

What we’ve seen from Libby, Doan, and Sampson – and from every other underling who’s been caught in any of the scandals currently busting open – is a hard-core belief that their main job is to act as a firewall between Congressional or legal inquiries and their principles. In each case, even in the midst of their denials of wrong-doing (at least of deliberate wrong-doing), they have insisted that the people they’re supposed to report to or be supervised by were unaware of what they were doing, effectively blocking the stairs leading to the next level.

  • Libby may go to jail because he refused to testify truthfully about Rove and Cheney, and even destroyed all the evidence leading to them.
  • Doan protected herself a lot less efficiently than Sampson but still persisted in pushing the story that she never spoke to Karl Rove and that the fact that his political second-in-command was the one who gave the briefing doesn’t mean that Karl suggested it or told her to go, which he almost certainly did.
  • Sampson – who apparently learned something from Libby’s experience (or had better legal advice) – gave the Judiciary Committee the absolute minimum and used his faulty memory as an excuse to claim ignorance of everything else.

To the Bushies, “loyalty” means “protect your principals at any cost”. We have – and will continue to have – loyal Imperial subjects taking the blame for the Emperor even as they try to duck it, a high-wire dance that will inevitably mean rolling heads at the lower levels, though many of them (Doan is a good example) haven’t yet figured that out. What they will do when it becomes clear to them that they could go to jail – as Doan is beginning to understand she might – for breaking the law is anybody’s guess. Libby so far has stood fast. Doan, however, looks like she would crumble if she’s actually charged with violations of the Hatch Act.

Second, there are indications that documentary evidence may prove difficult or even impossible to find. I offer this little tidbit:

In an unrelated story, an Interior Dept official has been charged by Inspector General Earl E. Devaney with inappropriately – and possibly illegally – altering scientific findings for political or personal reasons.

A senior Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has repeatedly altered scientific field reports to minimize protections for imperiled species and disclosed confidential information to private groups seeking to affect policy decisions, the department’s inspector general concluded.

The investigator’s report on Julie A. MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks — which was triggered by an anonymous complaint from a Fish and Wildlife Service employee and expanded in October after a Washington Post article about MacDonald — said she frequently sought to reshape the agency’s scientific reports in an effort to ease the impact of agency decisions on private landowners.

Nothing new there: Bushie SOP. But here’s the bit I found instructive:

In another incident described in the report, MacDonald argued with Hall over the Kootenai River sturgeon, a fish in Montana and Idaho that needs a certain level of river flow in order to spawn. Field biologists determined that the sturgeon’s needed flow level ranged between 2.3 and 5.9 cubic feet per second, but MacDonald instructed them to cite only the 5.9 figure, which would have aided dam operators. After Hall demanded she put the request in writing, the report noted, “she ultimately relented and they kept the 2.3 to 5.9 range.”(emphasis added)

Sampson testified yesterday that he never kept a file on the prosecutor-firing process – an unbelievable act for a lawyer trained to document everything. Libby’s first act on learning that a special prosecutor not in the Bush pocket had been assigned to investigate the Plame leak was to destroy documents leading to Rove and Cheney, but it seems that the modus operandi of other Bushies may have been to have no documents to destroy. Faced with having to put her demand in writing, MacDonald went into full retreat.

Add to that the evidence in both hearings that WH operatives were using RNC email accounts for all communications on legally dubious subjects, and a suspicion that Bush Administration officials have put into place a systematic mechanism for hiding questionable activities by principals Rove and Cheney is inescapable.

(Parenthetically, where have all these fire-breathing IGs been for the last 6 years?)

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