Opening Statements

House Judiciary Committee Hearing on U.S. Attorney Firings

CQ Transcripts Wire
Wednesday, May 23, 2007; 11:27 AM

REP. JOHN CONYERS JR., D-MICH. CHAIRMAN: Good morning, Madam Witness, and to the members of the committee.

Today, the House Judiciary Committee continues its investigation into the controversy surrounding the United States attorneys and related matters.

Our sole witness today is Ms. Monica Goodling, who served as senior counsel to the attorney general and White House liaison until she resigned on April 7th, 2007.

As the members know, two months ago Ms. Goodling informed us that she would assert her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself if she was called to testify.

As a result of that assertion, this committee, after careful consideration, authorized, by a vote of 32-6, a grant of immunity to Ms. Goodling, which we have secured from the chief judge of the United States District Court for the District -- the D.C. District.

The committee also authorized a subpoena to compel her testimony, as well as the production of documents.

Now, these are steps that I did not take likely, but only after consultation with the ranking member, Lamar Smith, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle with the Justice Department.

I believe that this is an important and necessary step to help us get to the bottom of the U.S. attorney matter and other concerns regarding possible improperly politicalization of the Justice Department.

As the White House liaison and one of the attorney general's most trusted advisers, Ms. Goodling may well have information that will help us in our inquiry.

Let me observe that the fact that we are granting limited immunity to Ms. Goodling for her testimony should not be taken as any indication that the committee believes that she is guilty of a crime. Nor does the fact that she is testifying today mean that she necessarily has a greater role than some of the other individuals involved in the firing whom we have already interviewed or who have testified.

CONYERS: She is before us today in a public hearing simply because we have no other means of obtaining her testimony in a timely manner.

We appreciate your cooperation.

I would hope that the fact of her testimony would encourage others to come forward and cooperate with our inquiry. And that includes personnel in the White House itself, whose role in these firings appear to grow more central every day, every time another Department of Justice official denies recommending putting any particular prosecutor on the firing list.

The issues we are examining -- which include possible obstruction of justice, misleading the Congress, violations of the Hatch Act -- are obviously serious. If we cannot trust the Department of Justice to fairly and impartially enforce our nation's laws, if we cannot trust the testimony of our most senior officials in the administration, if it appears that the U.S. attorneys are merely pawns in a game of politics, then we will have suffered the loss of one of our nation's most fundamental principles, the rule of law.

And I would now recognize our ranking minority member -- whom I commend for the cooperation that has existed between all of us on this committee -- the distinguished gentleman from Texas, Lamar Smith, the ranking minority member.


Ms. Goodling, welcome. You are apparently the last witness we're going to hear from who's worked within the Department of Justice.

And let me say at the outset, I know this is not an easy process for you to go through, and I know you've never had to endure anything like this hearing before, which I think makes us all particularly appreciate of your being here. And thank you for being here.

Mr. Chairman, we, our staff, the public and the media have pored over reams of documents, heard from nearly 20 witnesses, issued a plethora of subpoenas and taken the extraordinary step of immunizing your testimony.

The Senate has received and examined evidence as well.

For some time, many have been on the edges of their seats, waiting for the moment in which you, Ms. Goodling, as the department's former White House liaison, might link the U.S. attorney dismissals to any appropriate action by Karl Rove or Harriet Miers.

I understand that the majority staff already has learned that you never had any contact with Mr. Rove or Ms. Miers. I do not share their disappointment.

When this investigation began, the department defended its actions on the ground that the dismissed U.S. attorneys served at the pleasure of the president.

When pressed, the department volunteered that the dismissals were mainly performance-related.

When examined, the evidence of performance problems was in some cases well-documented, and in other cases not.

SMITH: The questions about the differing degrees of proof as to whether this or that U.S. attorney really was dismissed for performance reasons have helped fuel the speculation.

With regard to the dismissals, the right interpretation may just be that the dismissals were in fact for performance reasons or, in one case, to offer an opportunity to another qualified candidate.

Finally, with regard to this investigation itself, we and our investigators see ever more clearly that the accusations of wrongdoing in these eight U.S. attorney dismissals don't seem to have legs.

But we won't stop. Instead, some try to graft on new legs, whether with regard to other U.S. attorneys, or with hearings in which we hear about the attorney general's activities as White House counsel or with new allegations against you, Ms. Goodling.

We want to hear from you today so that we can find out the truth, clear the air or take other appropriate steps.

We have not reached any final conclusion. And we should not until we know all of the relevant facts.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll yield back.

CONYERS: I thank the gentleman.

And without objection, all other members' opening statements will be included in the record.

We'll now hear from Ms. Monica Goodling.

Ms. Goodling served in a variety of capacities in the Department of Justice, beginning in the Office of Public Affairs, then for a short period in the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of Virginia, then in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and most recently in the Office of the Attorney General, where she was senior counsel to the attorney general and White House liaison.

She received her law degree from Regent University School of Law in 1999.

CONYERS: Ms. Goodling is accompanied by counsel. And we would please ask that he introduce himself for the record.

JOHN DOWD: Mr. Dowd.

CONYERS: Good morning, Mr. Dowd.

DOWD: Mr. John Dowd and Jeff King and Jim Sherry, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld, on behalf of Ms. Goodling.

CONYERS: Thank you very much. We'll welcome -- we welcome you and are happy that you are here.

And under our House rules, Ms. Goodling is entitled to have counsel present for the purpose of advising her as to her constitutional rights.

And we thank you very much, sir.

I want to make sure you understand that your authorized role is to advise Ms. Goodling, and more specifically to advise her as to her constitutional rights. And with that understanding, we have furnished you with your own copy, counsel, of the notebook that we have given Ms. Goodling containing a number of documents that she may be questioned about today, to facilitate you and her memory and cooperation.

Have you received those documents?

Thank you.

And have you received them, Ms. Goodling?

GOODLING: Yes, thank you.

CONYERS: The documents are tabbed to make it easier to locate them if and when there is any necessity to use them.

We have also provided copies of the notebook to our friends up here for the same purpose.

REP. DAN LUNGREN, R-CALIF.: Mr. Chairman, point of personal privilege.

CONYERS: What is it?

LUNGREN: You just referred to some documents. We don't have them at our place here.

CONYERS: We gave a number of them...

LUNGREN: Are those the ones that were just given to us beforehand that...



CONYERS: Yes, sir. They're being copied now, Mr. Lungren.

One housekeeping matter before we proceed.

Ms. Goodling, our subpoena requires that you furnish us documents in your possession, custody or control relating to matters we're investigating. And although we have mentioned this to your counsel, we believe the committee is entitled to receive the documents without delay.

We understand from counsel that you wish to confer with your former employer, the Department of Justice, before they're released to us. And we will work with you to give you a reasonable time to take care of that, reserving the right to take further action if necessary.

Oh, you do have them? Thank you. Thank you very much, Counsel Dowd.

Ms. Goodling, given -- yes, sir?

DOWD (?): We're already corresponded and communicated about the balance of them with both you and the Department of Justice.

CONYERS: Exactly.

DOWD (?): Thank you, sir.

CONYERS: I thank you, sir.

Ms. Goodling, given the gravity of the issue we're discussing today and your role in the hearing, and to help ensure that there's no misunderstanding about your obligation here, we would ask that you be sworn in before we proceed.

Would you kindly raise your right hand? If you would please stand and raise your right.

Do you solemnly swear or affirm under penalty of perjury that the testimony you are about to provide the committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?


CONYERS: Thank you.

Ms. Goodling, let us begin.

I will ask you, who made the recommendations to place the list -- place on the list of the United States attorneys to be fired each of the nine U.S. attorneys who were in fact terminated in 2006?

GOODLING: Upon the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer the question, based upon my Fifth Amendment right not to be a witness against myself, and my Sixth Amendment right to rely on my counsel's advice.

CONYERS: Ms. Goodling, I am hereby communicating to you an order signed by Chief Judge Hogan of the United States District Court for the D.C. District.

The clerk is bringing to you now a certified copy of the order to you. And we've made a copy for your counsel. And without objection, the order will be placed in the record.

The order provides, in substance, that you may not refuse, on the basis of your Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, to provide testimony or other information to this committee under compulsion.

The order also provides that testimony or other information obtained from you under compulsion pursuant to the order may not be used against you in any criminal proceeding, nor may information derived from what you provide us under compulsion be used against you as long as the testimony and other information you provide us is truthful.

As I am sure your counsel has no doubt advised you, you are obligated to answer each question completely and truthfully. And failure to do so could subject you to prosecution for perjury or for giving false statements to Congress.

So I want to be careful about how you answer each question.

CONYERS: And if you occasionally need to confer with your counsel, Mr. Dowd, before answering a question, we will be happy to accommodate you in that regard. And if a member has that happen, the clock will be suspended so that our time won't be running while she might be conferring with her counsel.

With that said, Ms. Goodling, pursuant to the order you now have in front of you, I direct you to answer the questions that will be put to you regarding our investigation as I have just described it.

This, Ms. Goodling, completes the procedure for conferring use immunity on you pursuant to the order.

Now, before we begin questioning, Ms. Goodling, I appreciate that you have a statement in writing that you would like to make. And we welcome it at this time. And we will include your statement in the record, and invite you to begin whenever you would like.

I ask the clerk to distribute copies of Ms. Goodling's written statement to every member of the Judiciary Committee.

You may proceed whenever you'd like.

GOODLING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Good morning, Chairman Conyers...

CONYERS: Pull the mike up just a little closer to you, please.

Nice loud voice.

GOODLING: Good morning, Chairman Conyers, Ranking Member Smith and members of the committee. Thank you for allowing me to make this statement.

With the committee's permission, I would like to submit lengthier written remarks to be entered into the record.

CONYERS: Without objection, so ordered.

GOODLING: My written remarks will address four topics that I expect will be of interest to the committee.

GOODLING: First, I wish to set the record straight regarding what I understood to be the deputy attorney general's allegation to Senator Schumer that I withheld information from him prior to his public and private testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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

To the contrary, I worked diligently to compile and provide the deputy with dozens of pages of statistics and other information that I thought he was likely to need, based on the questions that were being asked at that time.

Despite my and others' best effort, the deputy's public testimony was incomplete or inaccurate in a number of respects.

As explained in more detail in my written remarks, I believe the deputy was not fully candid about his knowledge of White House involvement in the replacement decision, failed to disclose that he had some knowledge of the White House's interest in selecting Tim Griffin as the interim U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Arkansas, inaccurately described the department's internal assessment of the Parsky commission, and failed to disclose that he had some knowledge of allegations that Tim Griffin had been involved in vote- cadging during his work on the president's 2004 campaign.

After the deputy's public testimony, I continued to work to assemble information that the deputy had promised to provide in a future, private session.

On February 14th, 2007, the deputy attended a private briefing with the Senate Judiciary Committee. That afternoon I rode with him to the Senate building, intending to observe the session and support the deputy by providing any information that I had.

GOODLING: However, a few minutes before the private Senate briefing was to take place, the deputy made clear to me that he did not think I should attend. The deputy suggested that if someone recognized me as the White House liaison, the members would be more likely to ask questions about the White House.

As a result of that conversation, I waited outside the room while the deputy briefed the Senate committee.

During a break, Richard Hurtling told me the briefing was not going well, and recommended that I return to the department immediately. Like the deputy, Mr. Hurtling suggested it could complicate matters if I was recognized as the White House liaison. As a result, I returned to the department in a taxi.

In light of these events, I was surprised to learn that the deputy had blamed me for his incomplete or inaccurate information.

Second, I wish to clarify my role as White House liaison.

Despite that title, I did not hold the keys to the kingdom, as some have suggested. I was not the primary White House contact for purposes of the development or approval of the U.S. attorney replacement plan.

I have never attended a meeting of the White House Judicial Selection Committee. The attorney general and Kyle Sampson attended those meetings.

To the best of my recollection, I've never had a conversation with Karl Rove or Harriet Miers while I served at the Department of Justice. And I'm certain that I never spoke to either of them about the hiring or firing of any U.S. attorney.

Although I did have discussions with certain members of their staffs regarding specific aspects of the replacement plan, I never recommended to them that a specific U.S. attorney be added to or removed from Mr. Sampson's list. And I do not recall that they ever communicated any such recommendation to me.

Third, I wish to address my role in selecting U.S. attorneys for replacement.

I first learned that others more senior to me were discussing the possibility of replacing some U.S. attorneys at some point in mid- 2005. And I believe I first saw a list of candidates for replacement in January 2006, when Mr. Sampson showed me a draft memorandum he was preparing for Harriet Miers.

GOODLING: At that time, I recommended that two of the U.S. attorneys Mr. Sampson had listed be retained in office and that certain other U.S. attorneys be considered for replacement.

Paul Charlton and Daniel Bodgen were two of the U.S. attorneys that I recommended considering for replacement. However, it appears from the documents produced to Congress by the department that Mr. Sampson did not initially accept that recommendation. Mr. Bogden and Mr. Charlton did not appear on iterations of the list sent to the White House in January, April or May, and first appeared on the list in September 2006, presumably for reasons unrelated to my initial recommendation.

Although I'm prepared to tell the committee what I know about the eight replaced U.S. attorneys, the truth is that I do not know why Kevin Ryan, John McKay, Carol Lam, Paul Charlton, Daniel Bogden, David Iglesias and Margaret Chiara were asked to resign in December of 2006.

I can describe what I and others discussed as the reasons for their removal, but I just can't guarantee that these reasons are the same as those contemplated by the final decision-makers who requested these resignations.

However, I'm not aware of anybody within the department ever suggesting the replacement of these U.S. attorneys to interfere with a particular case or in retaliation for prosecuting or refusing to prosecute any particular case for political advantage.

Fourth, I wish to clarify my role in career hiring at the department.

During my five years at the department, I believe that I interviewed hundreds of job applicants, and the vast majority of these were applicants for political appointee positions. But some were applicants for certain categories of career positions.

Specifically, I interviewed candidates who were to be detailed into confidential policy-making positions and attorney general appointments, such as immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeal. I also interviewed requests for waivers of hiring freezes imposed on districts with an outgoing U.S. attorney or interim or acting U.S. attorney.

In every case I tried to act in good faith and for the purpose of ensuring that the department was staffed by well-qualified individuals who were supportive of the attorney general's views, priorities and goals.

GOODLING: Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that I may have gone too far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions, and I may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions. And I regret those mistakes.

In conclusion, I'd like to give the committee a little better sense of who I am, because the person that I read about on the Internet and in the newspaper is not me.

At heart, I'm a fairly quiet person. I try to do the right thing, and I try to treat people kindly along the way. I always knew that I wanted to grow up and do something to serve or help other people. I went to public schools growing up, but I chose Christian universities in part because of the value that they place on service.

I've seen in my life what violent crime can do to its victims. And I knew that at some point I wanted to do my part to seek justice on their behalf. And that's why I've loved the Department of Justice, particularly my time as a prosecutor.

For the five years that I spent there, I worked as hard as I could at whatever task that was put before me. And I hope that's the reason that I was promoted five times during my time at the department.

I considered the people that I worked with to be my family. And I care about them deeply.

I have no desire to say anything negative about anyone that I worked with, including the leadership team or the U.S. attorneys who are the subject of my testimony. But I'm here to be a fact witness to what I heard, saw, did or know, and I'll do that to the best of my recollection.

Thank you for allowing me the time to make this statement. I'm prepared to answer your questions.

CONYERS: And I thank you for your statement.

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