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Politics

Former aide says Gonzales wanted to discuss firings

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 24, 2007


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WASHINGTON - A former senior aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales leveled serious new accusations against him and other Justice Department officials Wednesday, including an "uncomfortable" attempt by Gonzales to review his account of the firings of a group of U.S. attorneys as Congress was intensifying its investigation of the issue.

Monica Goodling, Gonzales' former senior counselor and White House liaison, also told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that she "crossed the line" by using political criteria in hiring a wide array of career professionals at the Justice Department, including looking up political donations by some applicants.

In a daylong hearing that afforded her immunity from prosecution, Goodling minimized her role in the controversial firings of at least eight U.S. attorneys last year and joined a long line of Justice officials who say they were not responsible for adding names to the lists of those to be dismissed.

But Goodling's appearance also opened broad new avenues of inquiry for congressional Democrats, who think that Gonzales has presided over intensifying political meddling at the Justice Department. It also provided fresh evidence of the deepening rifts between current and former Justice officials, who have increasingly turned on one another since the prosecutor firings.

Goodling, 33, said that Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty was "not fully candid" with Congress about his knowledge of White House involvement in the firings. McNulty, who tendered his resignation last week, disputed that.

Under intensive questioning from Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., Goodling also described a meeting in mid March with Gonzales that began as a discussion of her future with the department but ended with talk about the U.S. attorney firings.

"Let me tell you what I can remember, " he said, according to her account.

"He laid out for me his general recollection ... of some of the process" of the firings, and then asked "if I had any reaction to his iteration, " Goodling said.

She said the conversation made her "a little uncomfortable" because she knew that she, Gonzales and others would be asked to testify before Congress.

"Do you think, Ms. Goodling, the attorney general was trying to shape your recollection?" Davis asked.

Goodling paused, then said, "I just did not know if it was a conversation we should be having and so I just didn't say anything."

She added that she believed Gonzales was trying "to be kind."

Gonzales told the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month that he had not discussed the details of the firings with other potential witnesses, "in order to preserve the integrity" of ongoing investigations by Congress and by the Justice Department.

Justice officials played down Goodling's account and noted in a statement that the meeting occurred before the start of an inquiry by the department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility.

"The attorney general has never attempted to influence or shape the testimony or public statements of any witness in this matter, including Ms. Goodling, " spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said. "The statements made by the attorney general during this meeting were intended only to comfort her in a very difficult period of her life."

Goodling alleged that McNulty provided Congress with "incomplete or inaccurate" testimony on several points in February despite being briefed about the issues beforehand. She also alleged that McNulty barred her from attending a closed-door Senate briefing because he feared that her presence would cause lawmakers to question whether the White House was involved in the firings.

"Despite my and others' best effort, the deputy's public testimony was incomplete or inaccurate in a number of respects, " Goodling said.

McNulty, who will step down later this summer, disputed the allegations in a statement: "I testified truthfully at the Feb. 6, 2007, hearing based on what I knew at that time. Ms. Goodling's characterization of my testimony is wrong and not supported by the extensive record of documents and testimony already provided to Congress."

McNulty and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William Moschella have told lawmakers that they did not receive adequate information from Goodling, who participated in briefings before they each testified.

Goodling's testimony about hiring practices amounts to a dramatic public admission that she and other Justice aides routinely used potentially illegal criteria in deciding whom to hire as career prosecutors, immigration judges and in other nonpolitical government jobs.

"I do acknowledge that I may have gone too far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions and may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions, " she testified. "I regret these mistakes."

"I don't think that I could have done it more than 50 times, but I don't know, " Goodling said.

House Republicans stood steadfastly behind Goodling, even as she repeatedly apologized for weighing political affiliation in hiring career professionals at Justice.

"There not only is no evidence of wrongdoing but there is no allegation of any wrongdoing on your part, " Rep. Steven King, R-Iowa, told her.

Fast Facts:

Monica Goodling

Age: 33

Position: Formerly the Justice Department's liaison with the White House. She resigned in April.

Education: Televangelist Pat Robertson's Regent University, law degree, 1999.

Other work: After law school and a stint during the 2000 election doing opposition research for the GOP, Goodling landed in the Justice Department's public affairs office. She spent six months at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Alexandria, Va., in a program that gives nonprosecutors a taste of the courtroom. In spring 2005, she became deputy director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, a Justice Department arm that provides support, personnel and policy guidance to prosecutors.

[Last modified May 24, 2007, 01:33:23]


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