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After Goodling, Attention Shifts to White House

Congressional Democrats intend to shift their focus to the White House in the ongoing U.S. attorneys scandal after testimony on Wednesday by former Justice Department staffer Monica Goodling failed to yield new clues as to why nine federal prosecutors were ousted in 2006.

A former counsel to embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Justice Department liaison to the White House, Goodling testified before the House Judiciary Committee in a marathon hearing Wednesday that she was not a key player in putting prosecutors on the infamous hit list.

Goodling also stated that she never had a conversation with presidential adviser Karl Rove or ex-White House counsel Harriet Miers about the firings.

“I can’t give you the whole White House story,” she said.

But in testimony likely to increase the pressure on Gonzales to resign, Goodling recounted a late-March conversation with Gonzales that she said made her a “little uncomfortable.”

Before going on the leave that eventually led to her resignation, Goodling — who described herself as “distraught” following details of the scandal leaking — met with Gonzales to ask for a transfer. The attorney general said he would consider that, but went on to outline his recollections of how the firing process occurred. He then asked Goodling if she had any reaction to his recollection of events.

“I didn’t know that it was maybe appropriate for us to talk about that at this point,” said Goodling, who had been summoned to testify before Congress on March 8. “I just didn’t respond.”

Under questioning from Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), Goodling denied that she believed Gonzales was trying to shape her memory of events but did say she was uncomfortable with the conversation given the fact that both she and Gonzales were going to have to recount their version of events in some forum.

Goodling also took on outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who some lawmakers have claimed pointed to Goodling as responsible for his misleading version of events in a Feb. 6 Senate testimony that helped spark the scandal.

Goodling claimed McNulty was “not fully candid” in his account to lawmakers about extensive White House involvement in the firing process. She also said McNulty was aware of White House interest in hiring former Rove aide Tim Griffin to replace former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins III in the eastern district of Arkansas.

Goodling described how she accompanied McNulty to the Hill for his private Feb. 14 testimony with lawmakers and said she had adequately prepared him beforehand. She said that McNulty and acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling encouraged her not to accompany McNulty into the hearing because of concern that her presence as White House liaison would be misinterpreted by lawmakers.

But McNulty lashed back at Goodling on Wednesday, arguing that he testified “truthfully” on Feb. 6 “based on what I knew at that time.”

“Ms. Goodling’s characterization of my testimony is wrong and not supported by the extensive record of documents and testimony already provided to Congress,” McNulty said in a statement.

Dissatisfied with the lack of answers, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) vowed Wednesday to take the probe higher up the political food chain.

In a statement, Leahy pointed to the “mounting evidence” that the “White House was pulling the strings” in compiling the list of prosecutors dismissed.

“As Congress continues its oversight to pull back the curtain on the politicization of the Justice Department, it is abundantly clear that we must do all we can to get to the truth behind this matter and the role the White House played in it,” Leahy added.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has spearheaded the probe on behalf of Senate Democrats, said Goodling’s testimony “heightens” the need for Rove and Miers to testify.

“The fact that Ms. Goodling denies any involvement in putting together lists of who should be fired leads to only one conclusion — that it was someone in the White House,” Schumer commented.

Both the House and Senate Judiciary committees have taken the first step in issuing subpoenas for Rove and Miers to testify. But they cannot come to agreement with White House counsel Fred Fielding on the mechanics of such a plan.

Fielding has offered to permit the staffers to testify in a closed session, not under oath and without a transcript. This is unacceptable to Democrats, who wrote letters to Fielding in the last week insisting he negotiate. If the committees issue subpoenas for the aides’ testimony, the White House likely would claim executive privilege and a lengthy court battle could ensue.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also has voted to authorize subpoenas for Deputy White House counsel William Kelley, White House political director Sara Taylor and her deputy, Scott Jennings.

Goodling, 33, was the only current or former Justice staffer who asserted her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Thus, to compel her testimony, the committee voted to grant her limited immunity, which she testified under on Wednesday.

Describing herself as a “fairly quiet girl who tries to do the right thing,” Goodling did concede that she inappropriately used political criteria in hiring some civil service prosecutors at the department. She is under internal investigation at Justice for her role in those hirings.

“I know I crossed the line. I crossed the line of the civil service rules,” she admitted under questioning from Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). “But I didn’t mean to.”

Meanwhile, committee Republicans took offense at what they felt were derogatory comments about Goodling’s Christian faith and the law school from which she graduated — Regent University Law School in Virginia Beach, Va., which was founded by Pat Robertson.

“It’s not a good day” when someone’s Christian faith is raised, said Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.). “I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.”

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