I spent a substantial portion of the evening listening to Monica Goodling’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee from earlier today. Goodling was a Justice Department employee who served as liaison with the White House. She was involved in the process which led to the dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys. Initially, she invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify. She testified today under a limited grant of immunity.
If the Democrats hoped that Goodling would assist them in their quest to oust or discredit Alberto Gonzales, I believe they will be disappointed. The portion of her testimony I heard did not advance the case against the Attorney General. I should add, though, that press accounts have her testifying about a conversation with Gonzales in which she felt uncomfortable. I’ll provide an update if there is anything of significance there.
Goodling’s testimony centered around two points. First, she said that testimony given by former Deputy Attorney General McNulty was incomplete and not entirely accurate. McNulty has stated that Goodling didn’t adequately brief him prior to his initial testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the U.S. attorneys. Today, Goodling countered that she briefed him more thoroughly than he later acknowledged to the Committee, and that in his initial testimony he left out relevant information she had provided him. Goodling’s testimony can be fairly interpreted to mean that McNulty misled the Committee on the issue of White House involvement in the firing of the U.S. attorneys.
I will not opine on the credibility of McNulty and Goodling (a client of my law firm) in this matter. Neither is with the Justice Department any longer. (See correction below)
Goodling also testified that she “crossed the line” at times by taking political affiliation into accont during the process of filling career jobs at the Justice Department. She denied that she did this on anyone’s orders. Rather, in Goodling’s telling, her own eagerness to hire people she thought would enthusiastically carry out the administration’s priorities caused her to cross the line.
Anyone who has spent time in government, or who works in Washington and follows these matters, knows that this sort of thing happens under both Democratic and Republican administrations. However, the practice is improper and one can hope (though not expect) that Goodling will serve as an object lesson to folks who work in this and future administrations.
In any event, nothing in the first two hours or so of Goodling’s testimony provides any basis for concluding that improper considerations entered the picture when it came to the discharge of the U.S. attorneys. Unless something dramatic occurred at the back end, the Democratic case against Gonzales, Karl Rove and whomever else they are after is no stronger tonight than it was yesterday.
JOHN adds: It strikes me that this episode can be viewed in the context of the federal bureaucracy’s war against the Bush administration, which we have written about many times. In the federal agencies generally, liberals/Democrats vastly outnumber conservatives/Republicans. This is no surprise; the Democrats are the party of government. But the result can be devastating to Republican administrations, as Democrats embedded within the bureaucracy sometimes try to frustrate the administration’s goals and policies. In the Bush administration, we’ve seen this especially in the CIA and the State Department. I don’t know whether the same phenomenon has been a problem at the Department of Justice or not, although the sweetheart treatment accorded Sandy Berger by DOJ certainly raises questions. In any event, it is easy to understand why someone in Monica Goodling’s position would want to hire some Republicans in order to remedy, in small part, this historic disproportion.
CORRECTION by Paul: I understand that Paul McNulty is still at the Justice Department. He has announced his resignation and will leave soon.
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