Officials Describe Interference by Former Gonzales Aide

By Dan Eggen and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When Jeffrey A. Taylor, interim U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, wanted to hire a new career prosecutor last fall, he had to run the idea past Monica M. Goodling, then a 33-year-old aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

The candidate was Seth Adam Meinero, a Howard University law school graduate who had worked on civil rights cases at the Environmental Protection Agency and had served as a special assistant prosecutor in Taylor's office.

Goodling stalled the hiring, saying that Meinero was too "liberal" for the nonpolitical position, said according to two sources familiar with the dispute.

The tussle over Meinero, who was eventually hired at Taylor's insistence, led to a Justice Department investigation of whether Goodling improperly weighed political affiliation when reviewing applicants for rank-and-file prosecutor jobs, the sources said.

A 1999 graduate of Regent University law school in Virginia Beach with six months of prosecutorial experience, Goodling was among a small coterie of young aides to Gonzales who were remarkable for their inexperience and autonomy in deciding the fates of seasoned Justice Department lawyers, according to current and former officials who worked with the group.

She worked closely last year with D. Kyle Sampson, then the attorney general's chief of staff, sifting through lists of U.S. attorneys considered for removal, according to congressional interviews and Justice Department documents released to the public. Goodling also was central to the department's stumbling efforts to defend its handling of the firings of nine prosecutors, at times by attacking their reputations. She resigned in April.

Goodling is scheduled to testify today before the House Judiciary Committee about the firings, under an offer of immunity.

"All I ever wanted to do was serve this president, this administration, this department," Goodling tearfully told a senior Justice official shortly before she quit, according to a transcript of his interview released by the House committee last night.

Goodling's attorney, who has accused Democratic lawmakers of having already made up their minds about his client's role, did not return e-mail and telephone messages left at his office yesterday.

Goodling had been a divisive figure at the Justice Department since she arrived in early 2002, gaining a reputation for having a mercurial temperament and being prickly toward career employees, said numerous current and former officials who worked with her.

Goodling and Sampson "knew politics, not law," said Bruce Fein, a senior Justice official during the Reagan administration. "This extent [of] neophytes running the department is highly irregular."

Goodling started at Justice in a newly created position as senior counsel to the head of the public affairs office.

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