Key Gonzalez aide quits post at Justice

Goodling has refused to assist in firings probe

April 07, 2007|By Richard A. Serrano | Richard A. Serrano,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- A high-ranking Department of Justice official who repeatedly refused to cooperate with congressional Democrats investigating the firings of eight federal prosecutors resigned yesterday, the third close adviser to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to step down since the furor over the dismissals erupted.

Monica M. Goodling, senior counsel to Gonzales and the Justice Department's liaison to the White House, left with words of encouragement to her embattled boss, who many Democrats believe should lose his job.

"May God bless you richly as you continue your service to America," she wrote in her resignation letter.

Linked to decisions

Goodling, 33, found herself at the center of the controversy because she coordinated the wishes of the White House with the Justice Department's decision to fire the U.S. attorneys.

In a series of recently released e-mails, she was directly linked to decisions about who would be let go and how the administration would handle any repercussions.

For weeks, she has rebuffed demands from Senate and House Democrats to either testify under oath or submit to interviews about her role in the firings.

She said she would not answer any questions and instead would invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Last night, Democrats vowed to continue their efforts to have her appear before Senate and House committees investigating the degree to which politics played a role in the terminations of the prosecutors.

"Her involvement and general knowledge of what happened makes her a valuable piece to this puzzle," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat and a Judiciary Committee member who has helped lead the Senate's investigation, said that with Goodling's departure, Gonzales' "hold on the department gets more tenuous each day."

Standing firm

But Gonzales, who has served Bush in various capacities since the president was elected governor of Texas in 1994, has said he has no plans to step down.

White House officials have said that the president continues to have confidence in him.

Gonzales is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this month. How well he parries tough questioning expected from both Democrats and Republicans could determine whether he keeps his job.

The attorney general has insisted that he had limited knowledge of, and played little role in, the firings, but some accounts have raised questions about his involvement.

D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff, resigned last month after becoming the target of much of the criticism about whether the firings were justified and how they were handled.

Michael Battle, the supervisor in Washington for the 93 U.S. attorneys stationed across the country, also stepped down, though he has asserted that his departure was not related to the questions about the dismissals.

Goodling, in her resignation, did not give a reason for leaving.

More resignations

Earlier yesterday, three lawyers in the U.S. attorney's office in Minneapolis resigned their management posts.

U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose confirmed that John Marti, a first assistant U.S. attorney, Erika Mozangue, head of the office's civil division, and James Lackner, who heads the office's criminal division, have decided to "go back to the line to be full-time prosecutors."

She did not say why the three stepped down and indicated that she would have no further public comment. "We have work to do," her statement said.

John Kelly, deputy director of the Justice Department's executive office of U.S. attorneys, visited Minneapolis on Thursday to try to resolve the situation, according to two aides in Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The prosecutors stepped down after Kelly's visit.

The Justice aides said it is not uncommon for the office, which oversees all 94 U.S. attorneys' districts nationwide, to make such visits to handle personnel issues.

Richard A. Serrano writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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