(D. Kyle “Don’t Call Me Ralph” Sampson)

The award for Strangest Lede to an Article Concerning a Soon-To-Testify Department of Justice Official: is there a more prestigious prize in all of journalism? It’s a rhetorical question, the answer is no. And furthermore, if you were honing your article comparing former Alberto Gonzales Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson to a reuben sandwich or riding mower or whatever, you can stop. Sdrihar Pappu of the Washington Post has this one wrapped up, as of yesterday’s piece on K-Samp, who testifies today before the Senate on his role in the forced resignations of eight insufficiently loyal United States Attorneys. Or six insufficiently loyal ones and two actually incompetent ones. Anyway, my point:

Walking into the FBI gym for a basketball game in 2003 or 2004 to play against John Ashcroft and his boys, you would have found it easy to dismiss the former attorney general’s point guard, D. Kyle Sampson. He was, and, well, still is, short and balding and chubby, looking like a smaller Karl Rove. But then at tip-off you would have discovered that Sampson was not a throwaway player or fill-in but a guy with legitimate skills. In a blur he’d take over the game as the best one-guards do: firing no-look passes to open teammates (including Ashcroft, the team’s forward), passing the ball behind his back, breaking through a crowd for a layup and taking terribly accurate jump shots that left you and any of the other people he played against–FBI agents, U.S. attorneys, other members of the Justice Department–deflated and quite frankly stunned.

“He’s deceptively quick,” said former Justice public affairs director Mark Corallo. “I say deceptively because he has this baby face. But he can do it all, though.” Tomorrow Sampson, 37, appears voluntarily and under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee. As chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales until his resignation March 12, Sampson was the man in charge of the axing of eight federal prosecutors who were perceived as not being with the program the administration wished to prosecute. His testimony could be pivotal as lawmakers probe the depth of involvement in the sacking by Gonzales and the White House.

The best guards are extensions of their coaches — putting into form what had been plays drawn up on the sideline. While acknowledging that “mistakes were made,” Gonzales has maintained that he left matters to Sampson when it came to the firings. “I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on,” he said. “That’s basically what I knew as the attorney general.”

Documents suggest otherwise.

Whatever the reasons for firing these attorneys — they were not what White House Counsel Harriet Miers termed “loyal Bushies,” they were unwilling to prosecute wholly false voter fraud cases — there is a lesson in the first few paragraphs of that article: if you’re a United States Attorney, and Isiah Thomas (or Gonzales, or Miers, or the senior Senator from New Mexico) warns you not to go in the lane, you can expect to take a hard foul.