Monica Goodling, a former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, told Congress today she felt "a little uncomfortable" when Gonzales attempted to talk to her about the controversy regarding the department's decision to fire several U.S. attorneys at a time when Congress had already started to investigate the matter.
Goodling said that just before she took a leave of absence in March -- as the controversy was swirling -- she met with Gonzales to tell him that she wanted to be reassigned from his office and he proceeded to launch into the discussion.
She said she remembered thinking that it would not be right to discuss the issue with Gonzales, because they both might someday be asked extensively about their roles in the firings.
Indeed, when Gonzales was eventually called to testify on April 19, he told the Senate that he hadn't spoken with others about the investigation because he didn't want to impede any investigation.
He said, "I haven't talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven't wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations."
Goodling's testimony about the meeting seems to put Gonzales' congressional testimony in doubt.
Goodling said that she did not think that the attorney general was trying to shape her recollection, but she added, "I just did not know if it was a conversation we should be having."
Late Wednesday evening, the Justice Department issued a statement responding to Goodling's testimony. "The Attorney General has never attempted to influence or shape the testimony or public statements of any witness in this matter, including Ms. Goodling. The statements made by the Attorney General during this meeting were intended only to comfort her in a very difficult period of her life as Monica described today when she said, 'He was being kind.' The meeting was requested by Ms. Goodling to ask for a transfer within the Department and occurred before the U.S. Attorney resignations matter was referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility which is jointly investigating this matter with the Office of Inspector General," the statement read.
Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., asked Goodling, "Do you believe the attorney general knew you were going to be a fact witness?"
Goodling responded, "I think he knew it was likely at that point. Actually, he had told me that they were having conversations to see if I would need to be a witness."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is investigating the matter in the Senate, released a statement after the hearing saying, "At the very least, the attorney general may have misled the Senate Judiciary Committee. At worst, he may have tried to influence Ms. Goodling's testimony."
Goodling, who ultimately resigned from the Justice Department in April, said she believed that Gonzales was incorrect when he said he had never seen a list of prosecutors who were going to be fired. She said, "I do believe he did see the list."
Goodling also testified on Wednesday that she may have gone "too far" and inadvertently "crossed the line" in asking political questions of applicants for nonpolitical jobs at the Department of Justice. Goodling testified that she acted in good faith but that she "may have taken inappropriate considerations into account" when reviewing applications for career positions.