By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
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."
To her detractors, Goodling was an enforcer of political loyalty who was not squeamish about firings -- of interns or of senior officials.
"She forced many very talented, career people out of main Justice so she could replace them with junior people that were either loyal to the administration or would score her some points," said a former career Justice official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
Until this latest controversy, Goodling worked in such obscurity that newspapers did not have pictures of her. Regent University, where she attended law school, would not allow The Washington Post to use a picture of her that appeared on an alumni Web site.
Goodling majored in communications at Messiah College, a Christian school in Grantham, Pa., that does not have co-ed dorms or allow alcohol on campus. Her political science professor, Dean Curry, recalls her as a "bright, responsible young woman" who was student body president and "was very serious about politics."
Goodling enrolled in law school at American University but transferred to Regent, founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson in Virginia Beach.
Goodling and her lawyer declined to comment for this article, and classmates said they did not recall the reasons for her transfer. But "the curriculum at Regent is different from other law schools. There is an attempt by professors to integrate biblical principles into areas of the law," said Dugan Kelley, who worked with Goodling on Regent's moot court.
After earning a joint degree in law and public policy in 1999, she worked as a researcher for the Republican National Committee on the Bush campaign, then moved to the Justice Department's press office. She spent six months with the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of Virginia. A friend and former department co-worker, Susan Richmond Johnson, said Goodling was also an amateur photographer and world-class baker of desserts, but had little time for a social life because she was "the first to arrive at the Justice Department in the morning and the last to leave at night."
"She is very motivated by her faith," Johnson added. "She doesn't wear her faith on her sleeve, but she lives a very faithful life."
Greg Wilhelm, a Regent law school classmate, said Goodling also "developed a very positive reputation for people coming from Christian schools into Washington looking for employment in government, always ready to offer encouragement and be a sounding board."
Staff researcher Rena Kirsch contributed to this report.