Blog: Goodling statement points to White House involvement
A former Justice Department attorney suggested in a blog post that the prepared statement of Alberto Gonzales's ex-White House liaison implied White House involvement in the firing of eight US Attorneys for political reasons. Further examination of Monica Goodling's testimony may point to possible political interference or retaliation of which she was aware, or actions she was at least concerned with enough as to be careful to avoid perjuring herself.
"I am not aware, however, of anyone within the Department ever suggesting the replacement of these attorneys in order to interfere with a particular case, or in retaliation for prosecuting or refusing to prosecute a particular case, for political advantage," Goodling said in her prepared statement.
Legal blogger Marty Lederman highlighted the phrase 'within the Department' as suggesting that the White House may have sought to have Attorneys fired in order to intervene in politically-charged lawsuits in various federal districts.
"Keep in mind that this statement undoubtedly was written with Goodling's very careful attorney, John Dowd, over the course of several weeks, with meticulous attention to every detail. The addition of that qualifying phrase was not inadvertent -- there's a reason it was included," he said in a post at Balkinization, a blog produced by a group of attorneys and law professors.
Lederman, who teaches at Georgetown University and worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel from 1994 to 2002, also argued that top White House officials made the key decisions in the firing of the Attorneys.
"The real action was in the White House, and one cannot determine whether the removals were made for improper reasons unless one knows what [top White House political adviser Karl] Rove and [former White House counsel Harriet] Miers advised the President, and why they did so," he wrote.
Goodling maintained in her opening remarks that she had little involvement in the deliberations between White House and Justice Department officials relating to the removal of the US Attorneys, in spite of her position as 'White House Liaison.'
"Although I held the title of White House Liaison, I was not the primary White House contact for the development of the US Attorney replacement plan. I never attended a meeting of the White House Judicial Selection Committee," she said, adding that she never personally discussed the firings with Rove or Miers.
While Goodling appeared to be suggesting that the Committee meetings were the primary venue for discussions of the replacement of the US Attorneys, prior testimony by D. Kyle Sampson, the former Chief of Staff to the Attorney General, made it clear that the subject was discussed only informally, and not within the framework of the Judicial Selection Committee.
"I remember speaking with Harriet Miers and Bill Kelley about that. Sometimes this subject would come up after a Judicial Selection Committee meeting, which was a once-a-week meeting that happened in the Roosevelt Room," Sampson told Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in his March 29 appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He added, "The issue of replacing U.S. attorneys most frequently came up as sort of a pull-aside after a Judicial Selection meeting."
Sampson further explained that the committee meetings occurred on a weekly basis, and that the discussions of the US Attorneys occurred primarily "in Ms. Miers' office, or, sort of, just off to the side in the Roosevelt Room."
Goodling's testimony last week demonstrated her awareness of the White House political staff's concerns about some US Attorneys, and could explain why she was so cautious to note that she knew of no interference within the Justice Department, but did not rule it out within the White House.
In fact, the former White House aide made note in particular of her communications with the White House's political affairs office about replacing one US Attorney, David Iglesias of New Mexico.
"I also remember exchanging emails with Scott Jennings about meeting with two New Mexico lawyers regarding David Iglesias in June 2006," she said in her prepared remarks.
Goodling's explanation varied slightly during questioning before the committee.
"I did exchange e-mails with Scott Jennings about meeting with some lawyers from New Mexico. But I don't remember that Scott Jennings even told me what the subject of that meeting was supposed to be," she told Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).
However, her e-mail exchange with Jennings showed that she had been told that the meeting involved 'sensitive issues,' the Associated Press reported in May. Additionally, she did ultimately sit for a meeting with the two Attorneys.
The attorneys Goodling was referring to are Mickey Barnett and Pat Rogers, prominent Republican New Mexico attorneys who Gonzales aide Matthew Friedrich confirmed were seeking to have Iglesias removed with Rove's help.
"It was clear to me that they did not want [Iglesias] to be the US Attorney," Friedrich said in the interview transcript, which the House Judiciary Committee released on May 10. "They mentioned that they had communicated that with Senator [Pete] Domenici [R-NM] and they also mentioned Karl Rove."
Barnett and Rogers, according to the AP, expressed frustration with Iglesias in their meeting with Goodling because of "Iglesias' failure to return indictments in a 2004 voter registration case despite a nearly two-year investigation."