TAKING THE FIFTH
Bush Loyalist Rose Quickly at Justice
Friday, March 30, 2007
When a college intern in the Justice Department whined that all he was doing was filing and answering phones, Monica M. Goodling took him aside. If he wanted to do "substantive work," she told him, he was going to have to prove himself first.
The intern walked out of the office in a huff, and when he returned an hour later, Goodling took him aside again. "You're fired," she said.
"Some people in the office thought: 'Wow! That was tough,' " said Mark Corallo, her former boss in Justice's Office of Public Affairs, who recalled the incident. "But I thought, 'Good for her.' "
Part of a generation of young religious conservatives who swept into the federal government after the election of President Bush in 2000, Goodling displayed unblinking devotion to the administration and expected others to do the same. When she started at Justice, "no job was too small for her," and as she moved rapidly up the ranks, none "was too large," Corallo said.
"She was the embodiment of a hardworking young conservative who believed strongly in the president and his mission," said David Ayres, former chief of staff to Bush's first attorney general, John D. Ashcroft.
This week, Goodling, 33, became the most prominent federal official to invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before Congress since Lt. Col. Oliver L. North refused to answer questions -- until he received immunity -- during the 1986 Iran-contra hearings.
Goodling, now on an indefinite leave, most recently served as senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and as Justice's liaison to the White House. Her name appears on several e-mails about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are eager to ask her about those dismissals.
Explaining why she invoked her right against self-incrimination, her lawyer, John M. Dowd, called the investigation "hostile" and said that some committee members "have already reached conclusions."
At yesterday's Judiciary hearing, senators questioned why she was still employed at Justice. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a former U.S. attorney, noted that the department encourages corporations to fire employees who refuse to cooperate with government investigations.
"I'm a little surprised that she's still there after taking the Fifth," he said.
To her supporters, Goodling's only mistake -- if she made one at all -- was not anticipating the political peril before the 2006 midterm elections.
"The young conservatives who came off the campaign and were new to town with this administration, they've never seen lean times," said a veteran Republican political appointee who declined to be quoted by name saying anything critical of Goodling. "They had no appreciation for what would happen after the Democrats took control and how tough it would be."