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Ex-Gonzales aide agrees to testify under oath

Story Highlights

• Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff, to answer Senate panel's questions
• Sampson to testify on firings of eight U.S. attorneys at 10 a.m. Thursday
• House, Senate committees have authorized subpoenas, not issued them
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff, has agreed to testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, his lawyer said in a letter to the committee chairman Friday.

"Mr. Sampson looks forward to answering the committee's questions," Bradford Berenson said in a two-paragraph letter. "We trust that his decision to do so will satisfy the need of the Congress to obtain information from him concerning the requested resignations of the United States attorneys."

Sampson, one of several officials who faced a possible subpoena to testify, will appear voluntarily before the committee at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Sampson resigned over the matter, which has sparked calls for Gonzales' resignation. The White House has said that Gonzales will testify before the committee, but a date for his testimony has not been set. (Watch why Rep. Tom Tancredo wants Gonzales gone Video)

The issue of subpoenas has created a standoff between Congress and the White House, which has offered to allow key officials to be interviewed privately -- not under oath and without transcripts -- on the matter of the fired attorneys.

But Democrats on the Senate and House Judiciary committees have demanded that the officials -- including top political adviser Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers -- testify in public and under oath. Both committees have authorized their chairmen to issue subpoenas, but neither has done so.

In nearly identical letters sent to current White House Counsel Fred Fielding Thursday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers put the ball back in the White House's court, saying the offer made was unacceptable but they were willing to entertain other proposals.

The White House held its ground, however, with spokeswoman Dana Perino accusing the chairmen of engaging in "a political fishing expedition."

The White House has said that if the committee chooses to issue the subpoenas, the president's offer will be "off the table."

Dick Armey, the Republican former House majority leader who now is chairman of the conservative activist "Freedom Works" organization in Washington, said Thursday that President Bush is on "thin ice" in claiming executive privilege.

He added that it is "hard for me to imagine that Karl Rove has any matters of information that are so important to the nation's security or its ability to conduct the business of our government that there's any reason he shouldn't testify."

At issue is whether at least seven U.S. attorneys in recent months were fired because of poor management and poor performance reviews, as the Justice Department has said, or if the dismissals were politically motivated.

In the eighth firing, a Justice Department official has acknowledged that the U.S. attorney in Arkansas was pushed out so he could be replaced by a Rove protege.

The president has the right to hire and fire U.S. attorneys at will. Another issue at the heart of the matter, however, is the administration's use of a provision in the Patriot Act that allowed for the appointment of new U.S. attorneys without confirmation by Congress.

The Senate this week voted to repeal that part of the Patriot Act.



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