Internal DOJ Investigation a Surprise to Ex-Gonzales Aide

The Justice Department's former White House liaison is the subject of an internal investigation for her role in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year and allegations that she inappropriately questioned candidates up for attorney jobs with the department.

On Wednesday, the department also disclosed that Monica Goodling was the subject of an internal investigation for questioning assistant U.S. attorneys about their political affiliation and opinions on political issues, a possible violation of federal law and longstanding DOJ practice.

Goodling's attorney, John Dowd, fired off a letter to the Justice Department Thursday, criticizing the department for "lack of professional courtesy," claiming he and his client only learned of the internal investigation after the Justice Department issued a press release on the matter the day before.

The timing of the move, said Dowd, "smacks of retribution and intimidation."

"What disturbs us most is that the department chose to make its announcement about Ms. Goodling in the midst of Congress's ongoing investigation into the department's ongoing affairs, and less than two weeks after the House Judiciary Committee passed a resolution authorizing the House General Counsel to apply for an order of immunity for Ms. Goodling," Dowd stated.

The House committee approved an immunity deal for Goodling after she notified Congress that she would invoke her Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify about her activity as a Justice Department official.

Goodling, who also served as counselor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was also closely involved in developing the controversial plan to fire the U.S. attorneys — a move that has been a political headache for the department.

Gonzales' interim chief of staff, Chuck Rosenberg, requested that the inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility — internal watchdog groups for department lawyers — review the allegations.

Rosenberg made the request several weeks ago when he was temporarily asked to serve as Gonzales' chief of staff. The former occupant of that position, Kyle Sampson, resigned amid the fired attorneys controversy. Rosenberg has since returned to his position as the U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Virginia.

The disclosure that Goodling was the subject of the joint investigation and might have broken the law is the most recent development in the ongoing U.S. attorneys controversy.

In the statement that Goodling's attorney decried, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said, "The attorney general's interim chief of staff asked the Office of Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate an allegation that former DOJ employee Monica Goodling reviewed assistant U.S. attorney applicants for offices that were headed by interim or acting U.S. attorneys and may have taken prohibited considerations into account during such review. Whether or not the allegation is true is currently the subject of the ongoing OIG/OPR investigation."

Goodling resigned her post last month.

Assistant U.S. attorneys, typically hired by the U.S. attorney in charge of a district, handle the majority of the department's prosecutions and cases.

"Justice Department policy and federal law prohibit the department from considering political affiliation, among other things, in deciding to hire or not hire an individual applying for a career position at the department, including the position of assistant U.S. attorney," Boyd said.

The fired attorneys scandal, which has resulted in numerous members of Congress calling for Attorney General Gonzales to resign, has boiled over as more details have come out about the firings.

After hearing about Goodling's involvement of hiring career line attorneys at the Justice Department, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said, "If true, these allegations would show an unprecedented insertion of politics into U.S. attorneys offices, even at the entry level, which has always been non-political."

Schumer is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which, along with its counterpart, the House Judiciary Committee, continues to investigate why the eight U.S. attorneys were fired.

At least three of the eight prosecutors who were fired were conducting ongoing public corruption investigations. In documents recently released by the House Judiciary Committee, the fired U.S. attorneys detail their individual cases.

The former U.S. attorney in Seattle, John McKay, described an August 2006 meeting he had at the White House, saying, "I was aware that the White House counsel's office had heard or believed that I had 'mishandled' the 2004 governor's election in Washington state by not seeking indictments for election fraud, voter fraud or other federal crimes."

McKay also wrote, "This meeting lasted approximately 45 minutes, and began with Mr. Kelley asking me why 'Republicans in the state of Washington' were upset with me."

Six of the eight fired U.S. attorneys have testified before Congress, and statements released Wednesday supplemented their original testimony.

The additional information provides more detail on those attorneys' interactions with officials at Justice Department headquarters. Former San Diego U.S. attorney Carol Lam told the committee, "I called DAG [Deputy Attorney General Paul] McNulty to inquire why I was being asked to resign. He responded that he wanted some time to think about how to answer that question because he didn't want to give me an answer 'that would lead' me down the wrong route ... Mr. McNulty never responded to my question."

The documents from the former U.S. attorneys also flesh out allegations that Mike Elston, a top aide to McNulty — the second-highest ranking Justice Department official — threatened the former prosecutors before their congressional testimony.

"Their reaction was fairly uniform and it was that they were offended and viewed the statements made by Elston as a threat. One remarked, 'What's next? A horse head in the bed?' I think we all viewed the 'threat' to be that they would speak publicly about that which they had already spoken privately with senators," wrote ousted Arkansas U.S. attorney Bud Cummins.

Paul Charlton, former U.S. attorney in Arizona, echoed Cummins' statement. "I received a call from Mike Elston, chief of staff to the DAG [Deputy Attorney General]. In that conversation I believe that Elston was offering me a quie pro quo aggreement: my silence in exchange for the attorney general's."

Former Nevada U.S. attorney Daniel Bogden noted in his answers to the committee, "I am unable to determine any clear justification or reason for the request that I step down as United States attorney. Further, the testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and some of the disclosed information from the interviews of several Justice Department officials, including the testimony of Kyle Sampson before the Senate Judiciary Committee, have offered no reasonable, believable explanation for the request and only offered a number of contradictions."

Bogden added, "[It was] explained to me words to the effect that the administration had a short two-year window of opportunity to put an individual into my United States attorney's position in order to have the experience of serving as United States attorney, have that title and experience on his or her resume so the Republican party would have more future candidates for the federal bench and future political position."

ABC News' Jack Date and Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.