A top aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales abruptly quit yesterday, almost two weeks after telling Congress she would not testify about her role in the firings of federal prosecutors.
Monica M. Goodling, the Justice Department’s liaison to the White House, gave no reason for her resignation. Because she was at the center of the firings, Miss Goodling’s refusal to testify has intensified questions about whether the U.S. attorney dismissals were proper and heightened the furor that threatens Mr. Gonzales’ own job.
“It has been an honor to have served at the Justice Department for the past five years,” Miss Goodling wrote the attorney general, advising him of her resignation effective today.
“May God bless you richly as you continue your service to America,” she added.
The Justice Department confirmed the resignation in a letter to two Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee investigating the firings. Mr. Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty had removed themselves from any personnel decisions related to Miss Goodling, according to the letter from Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Hertling.
Their recusals were designed to “ensure that no actual or apparent conflict of interest would arise with respect to Ms. Goodling or related matters,” Mr. Hertling wrote.
Miss Goodling’s resignation came less than two weeks before Mr. Gonzales’ planned testimony to the Senate, which may determine his fate as attorney general. Several Republican lawmakers have joined Democrats in calling for his resignation or dismissal over the firings.
Justice Department documents show Miss Goodling attended numerous meetings over a year’s time about the plans to fire the U.S. attorneys and corresponded with the White House and at least one of the ousted prosecutors before the dismissals were ordered.
Additionally, she was among aides who on Feb. 5 helped Mr. McNulty prepare his testimony for a Senate hearing the next day — during which he may have given lawmakers incomplete or otherwise misleading information about the circumstances of the firings.
Last month, House and Senate panels investigating the ousters signaled they would subpoena Miss Goodling and four other senior Justice officials to testify. But Miss Goodling, who took an indefinite personal leave from the department at the time, balked.
In letters responding to the congressional inquiries, her attorney, John Dowd, said testifying would amount to a perjury trap for Miss Goodling.
Mr. Dowd declined to comment yesterday except to confirm Miss Goodling’s resignation.
But Democrats said her resignation would not end their pursuit of her testimony.
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, “remains committed to questioning Monica Goodling, especially with this new development,” spokeswoman Melanie Roussell said. “Her involvement and general knowledge of what happened makes her a valuable piece to this puzzle.”
Miss Goodling’s mother, Cindy Fitt of Osceola Mills, Pa., said the resignation had been anticipated. “She told me I’m to say ‘no comment’ for everything,” the mother said in a brief telephone interview.