By Daniel Jackson
Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith has joined a small group of senators in calling for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in connection with the allegedly politically-motivated firings of eight U.S. Attorneys, adding yet another BYU connection to Washington”s most recent scandal.
Smith, a moderate Republican who graduated from BYU in 1976, issued the statement following the March 12 resignation of another BYU graduate, former Gonzales chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson, in connection with the scandal. Smith and Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire are the only Republicans who have joined a handful of Senate Democrats in calling for Gonzales to step down.
Sampson”s resignation came after subpoenaed government documents and communication indicated that Sampson had ranked the U.S. attorneys according to their loyalty to Bush administration initiatives and had played a central role in carrying out the firings of the eight federal prosecutors. In recent days, additional information has suggested the possible involvement of other key Bush administration figures, such as political adviser Karl Rove, White House counsel Harriet Miers and Gonzales.
The media and Senate Democrats have portrayed Sampson as a scapegoat in a scandal that reached above him; some have compared him to former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
“Kyle Sampson will not become the next Scooter Libby, the next fall guy,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., at a news conference on Tuesday. “Either Attorney General Gonzales knew what his chief of staff was doing – and that”s a pretty severe indictment – or he didn”t, which means he doesn”t have the foggiest idea of what”s going on in the Justice Department.”
Earl Fry, a long-time professor of political science at BYU, described Sampson as “a personal friend” who has been “a very good help to our students” who participate in the political science department”s Washington Seminar program.
“He”s a good man with a lot of integrity, and he”s caught up in a mess that”s in some ways political, pitting Republicans against Democrats,” Fry said. “He”s a good soldier who has fallen on his sword in order to protect his boss, the attorney general.”
Fry said he thought Sampson would probably join the private sector.
“He”s going through a rough patch, but he”s a fine public servant and he”ll get through this,” he said.
Sampson has worked for the Bush administration in several top positions since Bush”s inauguration in 2001. Before that, he worked with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Hatch was chairman. A spokesman for Hatch said the senator described Sampson as “a very talented, hardworking person” during his time at the committee.
“The senator was sorry to see him resign from such a prominent position,” spokesman Peter Carr said.
Carr said Hatch had no comment on whether Sampson was a scapegoat in the firings controversy.
Sampson graduated from BYU in 1993. He attended law school at the University of Chicago, returning to Utah to work at the prestigious Salt Lake City law firm of Parr Waddoups Gee and Brown. He left the private sector in 1999 to work with the Senate Judiciary Committee, and joined the administration of President George W. Bush following Bush”s inauguration in 2001.