- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A high-ranking Justice Department official yesterday told Congress she will refuse to testify about her involvement in the firings of eight federal prosecutors, citing a “perilous environment in which to testify.”

“I have been advised I should invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination,” Monica M. Goodling, legal counsel to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, said in a sworn statement sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had subpoenaed her.

John M. Dowd, Miss Goodling’s attorney, said members of Congress who are investigating the firings of eight U.S. attorneys have decided that she and other Justice officials are guilty of wrongdoing.

“The potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real,” said Mr. Dowd, who called the congressional hearings into the firings “politically charged.”

Mr. Dowd is a Washington lawyer with years of experience advising people called to testify before Congress. He represented an Air Force colonel involved in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, called Miss Goodling’s decision “disappointing.”

“The American people are left to wonder what conduct is at the base of Ms. Goodling’s concern that she may incriminate herself in connection with criminal charges if she appears before the Committee under oath,” Mr. Leahy said in a statement.

Mr. Gonzales’ former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, will testify under oath Thursday about his role in the matter.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called it “unfortunate that a public servant no longer feels comfortable that they will be treated fairly in testimony in front of Congress.”

She said the administration has urged Justice officials to testify, but “we must respect the constitutional rights of the people involved and the decision of those individuals and their counsel to protect those rights.”

Miss Goodling, 33, was a Justice Department liaison to the White House during a nearly two-year process of targeting which U.S. attorneys to fire. She was one of several Justice officials who tried to keep journalists’ attention away from the firings.

In a Feb. 16 e-mail to Michael Elston, chief of staff to deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, Miss Goodling warned that reporters were asking about the dismissal of Margaret Chiara as U.S. attorney for Michigan’s Western District.

“Looks like someone is trying to out Chiara, and it may break soon,” she wrote.

Miss Goodling remains “actively employed” by the Justice Department, Mr. Dowd said, but she is reported to have taken a leave of absence.

Congress is locked in a face-off with the White House over attempts to get testimony from top Bush administration officials about the firings.

White House spokesman Tony Snow has rebuffed calls for concessions from the administration on political figures such as Bush adviser Karl Rove by stating that most information can be gained from Justice Department officials.

“Here’s a decision made at the Department of Justice. Any documents, any deliberations, any key players, they’re available,” Mr. Snow said Friday.

The White House also has said it is under no obligation to make top officials available and has said its offer to allow private meetings with Mr. Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers is “highly unusual, if not unprecedented.”

Last night, the House overwhelmingly passed on a 329-78 vote a measure that would remove the attorney general’s power to appoint interim U.S. attorneys, which Congress has said he used to circumvent the normal confirmation process for federal prosecutors.

The attorney general’s appointment power was added to the law last year as part of the renewal of the USA Patriot Act. The Senate passed a similar measure last week, also with enough votes to override a presidential veto, though none has been threatened.

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