Eight federal prosecutors were fired last year because they did not sufficiently support President Bush's priorities, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff says in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday to Congress.
"The distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial," said Kyle Sampson.
The aide, who quit because of the furor over the firings, is to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. A copy of his prepared remarks was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
"A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective ... is unsuccessful," Sampson said.
Democrats have described the firings as an "intimidation by purge" and a warning to remaining U.S. attorneys to fall in line with Bush's priorities. Political pressure, Democrats say, can skew the judgment of prosecutors when deciding whom to investigate and which indictments to pursue.
Sampson maintained that the standard is legitimate and strongly denied other allegations that some of the prosecutors were dismissed because they had gone after Republicans in corruption cases.
"To my knowledge, nothing of the sort occurred here," Sampson said. "As presidential appointees, U.S. attorneys serve at the 'pleasure of the president' and may be asked to resign for almost any reason, with no public or private explanation."