Goodling Cites Politicized Decisions at Justice

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Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's former White House liaison, tells a House panel that she and her Justice colleagues played politics with hiring decisions and that the White House was deeply involved in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

By her own account, Monica Goodling was not a very significant figure in the Justice Department. She was, though, in a sensitive spot. She served as the liaison between the Justice Department and the White House. She did that job until she was forced to leave amid a scandal over the firing of U.S. attorneys, which is why so many people yesterday followed her testimony before Congress, which was immune from prosecution. In the end, she did not say much about the White House, but she had a lot to say about her former bosses at the Justice Department.

Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG: Monica Goodling said she simply couldn't give the committee the keys to the kingdom, as she put it. She was sufficiently low down in the food chain, she said, that she didn't know the White House story. When it came to the top officers at the Justice Department, though, Goodling's testimony was slashing. Prodded by Congressman Artur Davis, she revealed that in March of this year, with the U.S. attorney firing scandal in full flower, she went to see Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about a transfer in position.

Representative ARTUR DAVIS (Democrat, Alabama): Was there any part of that conversation that made you uncomfortable?

Ms. MONICA GOODLING (Former Justice Department Employee): Yes.

TOTENBERG: Goodling said that Gonzales wanted to talk not about the transfer but about the facts of the firing.

Ms. GOODLING: He then proceeded to say let me tell you what I can remember and he laid out for me his general recollection of some of the process regarding the replacement of the U.S. attorneys. And then he asked me if I had any reaction to his iteration.

Rep. DAVIS: Do you think, Ms. Goodling, the attorney general was trying to shape your recollection?

Ms. GOODLING: No, I think he was just asking if I...

Rep. DAVIS: But it made you uncomfortable.

Ms. GOODLING: I just did not know if it was a conversation that we should be having and so I just didn't say anything.

TOTENBERG: Congressman Davis then read Goodling and Gonzales' recent testimony in which the attorney general said, quote, "I have not gone back and spoken to others in the department in order to protect the integrity of this investigation."

Rep. DAVIS: Is that testimony sworn under oath by Attorney General Gonzales fully accurate?

Ms. GOODLING: I don't know what period he's referencing.

Rep. DAVIS: Did you know you might be a fact witness to that point, Ms. Goodling?

Ms. GOODLING: Yes.

Rep. DAVIS: Had there been substantial news coverage, Ms. Goodling, about the eventuality of your being a fact witness?

MS. GOODLING: Yes.

Rep. DAVIS: Do you believe the attorney general knew you were going to be a fact witness?

MS. GOODLING: I think he knew it was likely at that point.

TOTENBERG: Turning to the number two man in the department, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, Goodling had this to say as his testimony that she had not informed him about the White House role in the U.S. attorney firings.

MS. GOODLING: The allegation is false. I did not withhold information from the deputy.

TOTENBERG: Goodling said she had known that McNulty and Gonzales had both given inaccurate testimony, but she conceded that she did not inform the Judiciary Committee or the Justice Department officials themselves.

MS. GOODLING: And I think we went through a period of time that we basically thought that it was over and I think, you know, I think I just moved on to the next thing. I just forgot it, I guess.

TOTENBERG: Goodling called herself a, quote, "quiet girl" whose only objective at Justice was to find the best qualified people to serve in top Justice Department jobs, including U.S. attorney jobs. But she acknowledged that she had asked improper political questions and used illegal political criteria in filling some career positions. She said that in filling immigration judge positions and positions on the Bureau of Immigration Appeals, she had considered party affiliation, may have asked some applicants how they voted and did on occasion check to see what political groups or candidates applicants donated money to.

That stopped, she said, when the Civil Service Board indicated it was illegal. But she said she continued to seek such information about career lawyers being detailed to the offices of top Justice Department officials and some individuals seeking career positions in U.S. attorney offices. That prompted this exchange with Congressman Bobby Scott.

Representative BOBBY SCOTT (Democrat, Virginia): Was that legal?

Ms. GOODLING: Sir, I'm not able to answer that question. I know I crossed the line.

Rep. SCOTT: What line? Legal?

Ms. GOODLING: I crossed the line of the civil service rules.

Rep. SCOTT: Rules, laws - you crossed the line of civil service laws, is that right?

Ms. GOODLING: I believe I crossed the lines, but I didn't mean to.

TOTENBERG: Republicans once again played defense yesterday. They praised Goodling, saying she had demonstrated why she'd been hired. They pointed out that U.S. attorneys are political appointees, and several spent time decrying the behavior of Democrat John Murtha on earmarks, a subject totally unrelated to the hearing. Said Congressman James Sensenbrenner, it seems to me that with this fishing expedition, ain't no fish in the waters.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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