Ex-Gonzales Aide Tells of 'Uncomfortable' Meeting With Former Boss

A former top aide to the attorney general testifies before a House panel.

February 10, 2009, 7:45 AM

May 23, 2007 — -- 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.

The Department of Justice is made up of high-level political appointees such as the U.S. attorneys as well as career lawyers and staffers who serve regardless of the administration.

Goodling has been under investigation by the department for grilling potential career employees for their political affiliations, which is a potential violation of federal law. She sought and was granted immunity from a federal court for Wednesday's testimony.

Asked by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., if she violated civil service laws Goodling said, "I don't believe I intended to commit a crime."

She said, "In every case I tried to act in good faith and for the purpose of ensuring that the department was staffed by well-qualified individuals who were supportive of the attorney general's views, priorities and goals."

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

During the afternoon session she also provided more testimony that she used political criteria to hire some immigration judges and line attorneys at the department.

Goodling said that she even looked at the political donations of some potential hires.

Asked who gave her the authority to look at this, Goodling said, "Kyle Sampson," Gonzales' former chief of staff.

In her soft-spoken testimony, Goodling also pushed back at allegations by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty that she failed to properly brief him and caused him to mislead Congress in his own testimony about the limited role of the White House in the firing of the U.S. attorneys.

After McNulty's testimony, several e-mails were released documenting that the White House had participated in an analysis of which U.S. attorneys should be fired.

McNulty has since announced his own resignation from the department, effective at the end of summer.

Goodling said that while McNulty has blamed her for failing to accurately brief him on the role of the White House, he in fact "was not fully candid about his knowledge" of the White House's involvement in the replacement decision.

The former White House liaison for the Justice Department said she was "surprised to learn that the deputy had blamed me for the incomplete or inaccurate information he provided to the Senate."

She also accused McNulty of having "some knowledge" of the White House's interest in selecting Tim Griffin as the interim U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Arkansas.

Griffin, a former aide to top White House political adviser Karl Rove replaced Bud Cummins of Arkansas, the first of the eight U.S. attorneys to be fired last year.

McNulty told the Senate Judiciary Committee in February he did not have knowledge of how Griffin came to be recommended for the U.S. attorney post.

During a break in the hearing McNulty released his own statement, saying that he testified truthfully at his Feb. 6 hearing and that "Ms. Goodling's characterization of my testimony is wrong and not supported by the extensive record of documents and testimony already provided to Congress."

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called Goodling's testimony an "important and necessary step" to "help us get to the bottom" of the controversy.

Goodling, however, told Congress that she did not hold the "keys to the kingdom" of understanding the controversy and said she never, in her role as the liaison to the White House, had a conversation with either top White House political adviser Karl Rove or then-White House counsel Harriet Miers about the firings.

She testified that she did not know why some of the names had been placed on the list and was unaware of anyone within the department "ever suggesting" that replacing the eight U.S. attorneys was in retaliation for the prosecutors refusing to prosecute a particular case for political advantage.

While some accounts have cast Goodling as a political operative in the department, Goodling described herself as a "fairly quiet girl" who "tried to do the right thing."

Goodling told the committee that while she served in the executive office of U.S. attorneys and on Gonzales' staff she reviewed hundreds of job applications for political appointees and career officials.

The hearing began amid a flurry of cameras clicking. Surrounded by her lawyers, Goodling was subjected to a 17-minute spray of cameras before the testimony actually got under way. Goodling spent nearly eight hours on the hill testifying and waiting for the hearing to resume after breaks for lunch and votes.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., called the focus on the controversy "a fishing expedition," saying that so far, "we have found there ain't no fish in the water."

ABC's Jack Date and Theresa Cook contributed to this report.

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