Justice Aide Won't Talk to House Panel

The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 4, 2007; 9:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- A senior Justice Department aide refused Wednesday to submit to a private interview with a House committee investigating the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Her lawyers accused Democrats of behaving like the notorious Sen. Joseph McCarthy to intimidate her.

Lawyers for Monica Goodling, who has said she would assert her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid appearing at congressional hearings, told the House Judiciary Committee she would neither testify publicly nor submit to private questioning about the firings.

Goodling was senior counsel to embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and was the department's White House liaison before she took a leave last month amid the uproar over the prosecutors' ousters. A Senate panel has authorized a subpoena for her, but none has been issued.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., asked Tuesday that Goodling submit to a closed-door interview on the matter, saying she had nothing to fear if she told the truth.

In a Wednesday letter responding to that request, her lawyers said her decision not to testify "can in no way be interpreted to suggest that Ms. Goodling herself participated in any criminal activity."

Conyers' and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's "recent suggestions to the contrary are unfortunately reminiscent of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who infamously labeled those who asserted their constitutional right to remain silent before his committee 'Fifth Amendment Communists,'" wrote the lawyers, John Dowd and Jeffrey King.

A spokesman for Conyers' panel said in a written statement that the chairman had hoped offering Goodling a private interview could spare her a public appearance.

"It is unfortunate that Mr. Dowd has injected such bizarre and overheated rhetoric into a good faith exchange about whether Ms. Goodling would voluntarily agree to be interviewed behind closed doors by the committee," the statement said.

"It is also disappointing, in light of earlier pledges of cooperation, that the Justice Department stands idly by while a staff member, still on its payroll, refuses to cooperate with Congress," the spokesman added.

Leahy, D-Vt., had no immediate response to the letter.

Meanwhile, Gonzales was hunkered down at the Justice Department, preparing for two Senate hearings over the next two weeks that could determine whether he survives calls for his ouster from both Democrats and Republicans.

Goodling's lawyers warned Conyers against compelling their client to appear at a public hearing knowing of her intention to invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions.

"(I)t would be difficult to imagine a more fundamental abrogation of this committee's duty to uphold the Constitution than to punish those who seek its protection," the letter said.

Her lawyers have said congressional attempts to get Goodling to testify are a perjury trap for her. They cite charges that Goodling misled Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty before he testified to Congress about the ousters, causing him to give an incomplete and possibly inaccurate account.


Associated Press Writer Lara Jakes Jordan contributed to this report.

On the Net:

House Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.house.gov/

Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov/

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