My Way News - Gonzales Aide to Invoke Fifth AmendmentWASHINGTON (AP) - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' liaison with the White House will refuse to answer questions at upcoming Senate hearings about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, citing her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, her lawyer said Monday.
"I have decided to follow my lawyer's advice and respectfully invoke my constitutional right," Monica Goodling, Gonzales' counsel and White House liaison, said in a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The revelation complicated the outlook for Gonzales, who is traveling out of town this week even as he fights to keep his job.
In an interview with NBC News, Gonzales said Monday he was "really pained" by Republicans and Democrats alike who widely say the attorney general has lost his credibility.
Asked why he would want to remain as attorney general amid so many calls for his ouster, Gonzales said he's been asking himself lately whether it's appropriate for him to stay in his job.
But, he said, "at the end of the day, it's not about Alberto Gonzales. It's about this great Department of Justice that does so many wonderful things for the American people."
Nonetheless, the news was not good for Gonzales.
The House voted 329-78 to strip the attorney general of his power to indefinitely appoint federal prosecutors, approving a bill similar to one passed in the Senate. President Bush, who is standing by Gonzales, has signaled that he will not veto the legislation.
Meanwhile, another Republican added his criticism to the growing chorus.
"His word is tarnished," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, said of Gonzales.
Goodling's statement contradicted her boss' promise to allow his top aides to testify before Congress, voluntarily and under oath.
John Dowd, Goodling's lawyer, suggested in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that the Democrat-led panel has laid what amounts to a perjury trap for his client.
Goodling, one of several aides involved in the firings of federal prosecutors, will refuse to answer senators' questions.
"The potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real," Dowd said. Goodling was key to the Justice Department's political response to the growing controversy. She took a leave of absence last week.
"One need look no further than the recent circumstances and proceedings involving Lewis Libby," Dowd said, a reference to the recent conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff in the CIA leak case.
Leahy swiftly cast doubt about Goodling's motives.
"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," said Leahy.
Dowd shot back in a second letter that Leahy's comments were a good illustration of why testifying was "perilous" for his client.
"It is the politically charged environment created by the members of the committee ... that has created the ambiguous and perilous environment in which even innocent witnesses would be well advised not to testify," Dowd wrote.
Democrats allege the firings were a purge of those deemed by the Justice Department not to be "loyal Bushies" - and a political warning to other prosecutors to fall in line with the administration. Gonzales has denied that.
The news of Goodling's refusal to testify toughened an already daunting week for Gonzales, who retains Bush's support, apparently on condition that he patch things up with Congress. There was little sign of that happening.
Republicans over the weekend lobbed new criticism at Gonzales and more Democrats called for his resignation. Gonzales, meanwhile, was in Denver on Monday, leading a round-table discussion on curbing child sex abuse. He was expected to remain out of town most of the week.
But Goodling's announcement appeared to be an unforeseen piece of bad news for Gonzales' agency, which had no immediate comment.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is leading the Senate's investigation into the firings, said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty told him he was misled by other Justice Department aides before he testified to Schumer's panel on Feb. 6.
A day earlier, Goodling was among those who helped McNulty prepare his testimony. Schumer has said McNulty may have given Congress incomplete or otherwise misleading information about the circumstances of the firings.
A little more than two weeks before that, Goodling helped organize the response to senators asking whether the firings were politically motivated, e-mails show. Specifically, she wanted to show that one of the fired prosecutors, Carol Lam of California, had been the subject of complaints by members of Congress.
On Jan. 18, 2007, Goodling sent an e-mail to three Justice staffers saying, "I hear there is a letter from (Sen. Dianne) Feinstein on Carol Lam a year or two ago."
"I need it ASAP," Goodling wrote.
She was later sent two letters, from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., dated Oct. 13, 2005, and 19 House members, on Oct. 20, 2005, which both complained that Lam was too lax in prosecuting criminal illegal immigrants.
Additionally, Goodling was involved in an April 6, 2006, phone call between the Justice Department and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who had complained to the Bush administration and the president about David Iglesias, then the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque. Domenici had wanted Iglesias to push more aggressively on a corruption probe against Democrats before the 2006 elections.
Iglesias told Congress earlier this month that he rejected what he believed to be pressure from Domenici to rush indictments that would have hurt Democrats in the November elections.
Gonzales' truthfulness about the firings of seven prosecutors on Dec. 7 and another one months earlier also has been questioned. At a March 13 news conference, Gonzales denied that he participated in discussions or saw any documents about the firings, despite documents that show he attended a Nov. 27 meeting with senior aides on the topic, where he approved a detailed plan to carry out the dismissals.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Monday that Gonzales "might be accused of being imprecise in what he was saying," but maintained that the attorney general was not closely involved in the firings.
"I understand the concern. I understand that people might think that there are inconsistencies," Perino said. "But as I read it, I think that he has been consistent."
Gonzales is not scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee until April 17 - three weeks away.
The Bush admin is starting to make the Nixon White House look like Romper Room.
'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin
"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross." --Sinclair Lewis
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