Goodling: Deputy was not ‘fully candid’
WASHINGTON ” The Justice Department’s former White House liaison denied Wednesday that she played a major role in the firings of U.S. attorneys last year and blamed Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty for misleading Congress.
McNulty’s explanation about the dismissals, on Feb. 6, “was incomplete or inaccurate in a number of respects,” Monica Goodling told a packed House Judiciary Committee inquiry into the firings.
She added: “I believe the deputy was not fully candid.”
McNulty and other Justice officials had no immediate comment.
Goodling, 33, quit the department last month and initially pleaded the Fifth Amendment on Wednesday. After being granted court-approved immunity, she read a statement and began answering question from committee members.
Justice Department documents show Goodling attended numerous meetings over a year’s time about the plans to fire the U.S. attorneys and corresponded with the White House and at least one of the ousted prosecutors before the dismissals were ordered.
The furor, in part, has threatened Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ own job as Democrats and even some Republicans have called on him to resign.
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the House committee’s senior Republican, noted the suspense surrounding Goodling’s testimony but said there has been little evidence so far that the firings were improper or politically motivated.
“The accusations don’t seem to have legs,” Smith said.
Goodling initially refused to answer committee chairman John Conyers’ first question ” about who drew up the list of prosecutors who were fired last year. Conyers responded by granting Goodling immunity, as approved earlier by the judge.
“You are obligated to answer each question completely and truthfully,” Conyers, D-Mich., replied sternly.
Goodling told the House committee that she and others at the Justice Department fully briefed McNulty, who is resigning later this year, about the circumstances before his Feb. 6 testimony in front of a Senate panel. Goodling also said that Kyle Sampson, who resigned in March as Gonzales’ chief of staff, compiled the list of prosecutors who were purged last year.
She said she never spoke to former White House counsel Harriet Miers or Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, about the firings. But she admitted to have considered applicants for jobs as career prosecutors based on their political loyalties ” a violation of federal law.
“I may have gone too far, and I may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions,” Goodling said. “And I regret those mistakes.”
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., hammered Goodling on her decisions to hire prosecutors who favored Republican priorities.
“Do you believe they were illegal or legal?” Scott asked.
“I don’t believe I intended to commit a crime,” Goodling, a lawyer, answered.
“Did you break the law? Is it against the law to take those considerations into account?” Scott said.
“I believe I crossed the line, but I didn’t mean to,” she responded.
Goodling sought to distance herself from the firings, and described herself as concerned that the Justice Department would publicly criticize the performance of the prosecutors who were ordered to resign.
“I don’t know if this is a route that I would have decided to go down if it were up to me,” she said.
It was the first time Goodling has spoken publicly about her role in the scandal that has resulted in pressure for Gonzales’ resignation. She entered the hearing room with two lawyers and flipped through her notes as a horde of photographers encircled her.
She was composed and sought to defend herself against the image painted by her foes as a controlling manager prone to emotional outbusts. “The person I read about on the Internet and in the newspaper is not me,” she told the House panel.
Of McNulty, Goodling said he “simply didn’t communicate all that he knew” during his Senate testimony, which focused on whether the prosecutors were fired for underperforming. “I’m not saying it was deliberate,” she added.
At that hearing, McNulty told senators at least one of the U.S. attorneys ” Bud Cummins in Little Rock, Ark. ” was ordered to make way for a Rove protege. That statement irked Gonzales, who maintains the firings were proper and rooted in the prosecutors’ lackluster performances.
But people close to McNulty and one of his top aides, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William Moschella, said both were furious to learn, after testifying in separate hearings, they believed they mislead Congress with incomplete information they were supplied about the firings.
Goodling also described Rove’s role in the firings as minimal. She said she believed Rove signed off on the list of prosecutors to resign in early December but added that “I can’t give you the whole White House story.”
The Justice documents, however, show that shortly after the 2004 elections, Rove questioned whether all 93 of the nation’s top federal prosecutors should be ordered to resign. He also helped coach Moschella’s planned testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Rove also was included in e-mail traffic about the firings between the White House and the department.