"The distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial," Kyle Sampson told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective ... is unsuccessful."
Democrats on the panel immediately rejected the concept of mixing politics with federal law enforcement. They accusing the Bush administration of cronyism and trying to circumvent the Senate confirmation process by installing favored GOP allies in plum jobs as U.S. attorneys.
"It corrodes the public's trust in our system of Justice. It's wrong," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy. "When anybody tries a backdoor way to get around the Senate's constitutional duty and obligation of advise and consent, it does not sit well."
After being sworn, Sampson, who quit earlier this month amid the furor, disputed Democratic charges that the firings were a purge by intimidation and a warning to the remaining prosecutors to fall in line. Nor, he said, were the prosecutors dismissed to interfere with corruption investigations.
"To my knowledge, nothing of the sort occurred here," Sampson told the committee.