HIDDEN EMAILS….Back in February, Kyle Sampson drafted a letter (for acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling’s signature) stating that Karl Rove had no role in appointing Timothy Griffin as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. A few weeks later Sampson wrote another letter admitting that this wasn’t true: Rove had indeed been interested in getting his friend Griffin the job.

But was this solely a misrepresentation on Sampson’s part? Or did the White House sign off on it? Murray Waas says he’s gotten hold of some email messages indicating that the White House was indeed involved in the deception:

The withheld e-mails show that Sampson’s draft was forwarded for review to Chris Oprison, an associate White House counsel, who approved the language saying that Justice was not aware of Rove having played any role in supporting Griffin. But an earlier e-mail from Sampson to Oprison that has already been made public indicates that the two men discussed Rove and then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers as being at the forefront of Griffin’s nomination.

….Oprison, in turn, consulted with White House Counsel Fred Fielding and Deputy White House Counsel Bill Kelley in approving the draft of the letter, according to White House records.

Waas says something similar happened with a letter stating that DOJ didn’t intend to use the Patriot Act to install Griffin without Senate approval. According to a “senior executive branch official,” another withheld email message shows that Oprison and others signed off on that letter as well:

In drafting the letter, Sampson consulted with Sara Taylor, the White House political director and an aide to Rove….The senior executive branch official who read the e-mail said it was significant because Taylor signed off on the letter despite the fact that Taylor, Oprison, and other White House officials knew that the administration had indeed considered using the PATRIOT Act to make Griffin a U.S. attorney.

The story is long and complicated, the precise content of the emails is a little hazy, and it’s hard to say exactly how damaging these specific revelations are. However, the broader fact that DOJ is withholding emails about Purgegate is unquestionably important:

Two senior administration officials told National Journal they were frustrated with decisions by Gonzales not to release some of the documents held by the Justice Department. One of the officials charged that “Gonzales is doing this to save his own neck,” at the expense of the administration. The same official said that senior aides to Gonzales have been refusing to turn over many relevant documents to Congress, and that the attorney general’s top aides have been selectively leaking portions of them to the media to portray themselves in a favorable light.

More to come, no doubt.