Employment of Kyle D. Sampson reflects poorly on Hunton & Williams, LLP, No.3


Updated March 10, 2009 to reflect Mr. Sampson’s leave of absence from Hunton & Williams.

Cross-posted at the Oxdown Gazette, Firedoglake‘s new diary blog.

My third e-mail to Ms. Field:

Andrea Bear Field
DC Office Managing Partner
Hunton & Williams

cc: Kyle D. Sampson , Partner
Hunton & Williams

Dear Ms. Field,

On behalf of The Grievance Project, I would appreciate Hunton & Williams‘s response to the following items:

1. The most recent United States Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of the Inspector General report, An Investigation into the Removal of Nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006, which describes* additional allegations of unethical conduct by Hunton & Williams partner Kyle D. Sampson.

Professor Marty Lederman succinctly summarizes this matter at Balkinization:

The basic thrust of the Report, as I understand it, is that Kyle Sampson was acting in cahoots with the White House Counsel’s Office to fire disfavored U.S. Attorneys — at least some for possibly impermissible reasons — and that AG Gonzales and others at DOJ therefore left the entire project up to Sampson, stepping in merely to rubberstamp whatever decisions he reached in accord with the Counsel’s Office.

Is this type of conduct typical at Hunton & Williams? If not, why does Hunton & Williams continue to condone and encourage this type of conduct through its partnership with Mr. Sampson?

2. The appointment of Nora Dannehy as Special Prosecutor to review this matter, including your partner’s apparently central involvement in this scandal.

Update: The Wall Street Journal’s Dan Slater has published a profile of Ms. Dannehy. (h/t emptywheel)

3. Like the previous report, An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General, this most recent report again confirms my opinion that Mr. Sampson committed numerous violations of the rules of professional conduct of both Utah and D.C that raise a substantial question as to his honesty, trustworthiness and fitness to practice law. Has Hunton & Williams reviewed whether Mr. Sampson’s conduct violated the Utah and D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct? If so, what was the conclusion of that review? If not, why not?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

E.M./The Grievance Project

*Section C of the DOJ OPR/OIG report:

As discussed above, Sampson was the person most responsible for creating the removal plan, selecting the U.S. Attorneys to be removed, and implementing the plan. Yet, after the controversy over the removals erupted, Sampson attempted to downplay his role, describing himself as the “aggregator” and denying responsibility for placing several of the U.S. Attorneys on the list.

We concluded that from start to finish Sampson mishandled the removal process. And, as discussed above, he inappropriately advocated bypassing the Senate confirmation process for replacing U.S. Attorneys through a strategy of “gum[ming] this to death” and “run[ning] out the clock” while appearing to act in good faith.

We were also troubled by Sampson’s claims that he did not recall the reasons for many of the removals or who had recommended that certain U.S. Attorneys be removed. For example, while Sampson said he did not place Iglesias on the list at the request of the White House, his recollection on this issue was varying and vague. We question why Sampson could not recall the precise reason why he placed Iglesias on the removal list, given the relatively short passage of time since the incident, and the fact that Iglesias’s name alone was added, for the first time, to the November 2006 list. Moreover, other misleading after-the-fact explanations for why Iglesias was placed on the list caused us to further doubt the candor of Sampson’s explanations. In the end, we question whether Sampson provided us the full story about Iglesias’s placement on the list, as well as the reasons for other U.S. Attorney removals.

As discussed in the sections that follow, we also concluded that Sampson made various misleading statements about the U.S. Attorney removals to the White House, Congress, and other Department officials.

1. Misleading Statements to the White House

Sampson’s misleading statements about the U.S. Attorney removals began as the selection process was unfolding. He misrepresented to the White House how the selections occurred. In an e-mail to Harriet Miers in January 2006 forwarding a list of names to the White House, Sampson wrote, “I list
these folks based on my review” of the EARS evaluations, and “my interviews with officials in the Office of the Attorney General, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, and the Criminal Division.” Sampson thus created the general impression that the EARS evaluations and his “interviews” of senior Department officials, including officials in the Criminal Division, formed the basis of his identification of specific U.S. Attorneys for removal.

However, Sampson admitted to us that he did not remember speaking to anyone in the Criminal Division about the performance of U.S. Attorneys, except “only in the most general terms.” He also acknowledged that he never reviewed any EARS evaluations. He told us that it would have been better if he had stated in the e-mail to Miers that it was based on his understanding of somebody else’s understanding of the reviews of the offices. [Footnote] 202[.] We believe that Sampson’s misleading statements to Miers gave the impression that the Department had engaged in a far more systematic and structured evaluation process to determine which U.S. Attorneys should be removed.

2. Misleading Statements to Congress

Sampson similarly misled congressional staff in his January 12, 2007, briefing that the removals were based on EARS evaluations. At this meeting, Sampson and Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs Richard Hertling briefed staff for Senators Patrick Leahy and Dianne Feinstein about the removals. Sampson told the Senators’ staffs that the Department had been engaged in a process to identify underperforming U.S. Attorneys and that the process included a review of the EARS evaluations. The two staff members for the Senators told us that Sampson initially explained that the terminations were based on the EARS evaluations, but backtracked when Feinstein’s counsel pressed him for copies. According to both staff members, Sampson then explained that some of the removals were based on EARS evaluations, and some on other factors such as caseloads and responsiveness to Department policy initiatives.

According to Hertling, who said he knew little about the controversy at the time, Sampson attempted to impress upon the congressional staff that the removals were the result of a process the Department undertook to identify U.S. Attorneys who were the “weakest performers,” and that the process included a review of EARS evaluations. Hertling told us that one of the things that stuck in his mind was Sampson’s “specific reference” to EARS evaluations as a basis for identifying these particular U.S. Attorneys for termination.

However, Sampson claimed to us that he mentioned the EARS evaluations only in connection with Ryan’s removal. He said that he doubted he would have suggested that the other removals were based on the EARS evaluations because “that wouldn’t have been accurate.” Yet, based upon the recollection of the other witnesses at the briefing, including Hertling, we believe that Sampson misled the congressional staff that EARS evaluations played a more significant role in the Department’s decision-making process than they actually did.

Second, Sampson included misleading statements in the Department’s response to a February 8, 2007, letter from several Senators asking for information about the circumstances of Cummins’s resignation and Griffin’s appointment. Sampson, who drafted the response and circulated it in the Department and the White House for comment, had the final sign-off on the language in the response.

The response, which was sent on February 23, 2007, contained three misleading statements. The first was the statement that “it was well-known, as early as December 2004, that Mr. Cummins intended to leave . . . .” As we noted in Chapter Five, we found evidence that in drafting the response Sampson discovered a small news item in a free weekly Arkansas tabloid reporting that Cummins might begin exploring career options before the expiration of President Bush’s second term. However, Cummins told us he did not intend to resign at that time and was not looking for other employment. We also found no evidence that anyone at the Department was aware of the article until February 2007.

The second misleading statement in the Department’s response was that “the decision to have Mr. Griffin replace Mr. Cummins was first contemplated in spring or summer of 2006 [and] the final decision to appoint Mr. Griffin . . . was made on or about December 15 . . .” This statement is directly contradicted by the January 9, 2006, e-mail Sampson sent to Miers in which Griffin is listed as a replacement for Cummins. The second part of the statement, that the final decision to appoint Griffin was made around December 15, is also misleading. As noted in Chapter Five, Sampson informed Goodling on August 18, 2006, that the Attorney General would appoint Griffin Interim U.S. Attorney following Griffin’s return to the Department.

The third misleading statement in the Department’s response was that “The Department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin.” This statement is contradicted by Sampson’s e-mail on December 19, 2006, to Associate White House Counsel Christopher Oprison in which Sampson wrote, “I’m not 100 percent sure that Tim was the guy on which to test drive this authority, but know that getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.” While Sampson later explained this e-mail by stating that he “assumed” but did not know that Rove was involved in the decision to appoint Griffin, we found this explanation unpersuasive and belied by the evidence.

3. Misleading Department Officials

Sampson also misled Department officials and allowed them to mislead others about several aspects of the U.S. Attorney removals.

First, in mid-December 2006 after media reports began questioning the circumstances of Griffin’s appointment, Sampson drafted talking points for the Department’s Office of Public Affairs to use to respond to media inquiries. In these talking points, Sampson wrote that “Griffin was appointed Interim U.S. Attorney because of the timing of Cummins’s resignation.”

In fact, as Sampson knew, Cummins had been removed so that Griffin could take his place. The Department’s talking points left the misleading impression that Griffin was appointed as Interim U.S. Attorney because of the unexpected timing of Cummins’s resignation, when in fact Cummins was told to resign to create a position for Griffin.

Second and more important, Sampson’s failure to disclose what he knew about the White House’s involvement in the removals caused McNulty and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William Moschella to provide inaccurate testimony to Congress. Both McNulty and Moschella testified that based on what they knew at the time, the White House was not involved in the removals until October 2006 and at that point became involved only to sign off on the process.

Sampson was present at staff preparation sessions before both McNulty’s and Moschella’s congressional testimony where the group discussed what they should say in their testimony. Several other participants told us that the question about the White House’s involvement was raised during at least one of McNulty’s preparation sessions, and McNulty indicated that he would tell Congress that the White House was involved to sign off on the process because U.S. Attorneys are Presidential appointments. This was a misleading statement about the extent and timing of the White House’s role, which Sampson knew. However, Sampson did not correct McNulty’s mistaken belief or inform him of the full extent of the White House’s involvement.

Consequently, in a closed briefing session on February 14, 2007, McNulty told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the U.S. Attorney removal process began within the Department in September or October of 2006, and that the Department sent a list to the White House Counsel’s office in October and asked if they objected to the names. Similarly, Moschella testified incorrectly before a House Judiciary Subcommittee on March 6, 2007, based on what he had learned during the preparation sessions and from McNulty’s testimony, that the process to remove the U.S. Attorneys began in early October 2006 and that the White House eventually became involved in the removals, but only to sign off on the proposal because the U.S. Attorneys were Presidential appointees.

When we interviewed Sampson, he rationalized his not correcting the misimpression left at the preparation sessions by arguing that there were two separate phases of the process – the earlier “thinking” phase and the later “action” phase, and he said he was focused on the later action phase during the preparation sessions. We found Sampson’s testimony on this point not credible. Sampson sent three separate lists of U.S. Attorneys for removal to the White House for consideration before the fall of 2006. We believe that Sampson should have been more forthcoming at the preparation sessions about the White House’s involvement to ensure that McNulty and Moschella were aware of the facts and did not mislead Congress. Sampson’s failure to do so resulted in inaccurate and misleading testimony about a critical aspect of the controversy.

We concluded that Sampson engaged in misconduct by making misleading statements and failing to disclose important information to the White House, members of Congress, congressional staff, and Department officials concerning the reasons for the removals of the U.S. Attorneys and the extent of White House involvement in the removal process.

[Footnote] 202[:] However, even that would have been inaccurate because, as we noted in each of the U.S. Attorney chapters, with the exception of Ryan’s March 2006 EARS evaluation (which had not yet taken place), each of the EARS evaluations of the removed U.S. Attorneys was largely positive.

Report, pp. 346-351.

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One Response

  1. A warm TGP welcome is in order for Hunton & Williams:

    148.170.254.117 (Hunton & Williams)
    Virginia, Richmond, United States, 0 returning visit
    April 3rd 2009 08:23:58 AM
    grievanceproject.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/employment-of-d-kyle-sampson-reflects-poorly-on-hunton-williams-llp-no3/

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