Gonzales Aide Goodling Resigns
April 6, 2007

(CBS) WASHINGTON A top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales abruptly quit Friday, almost two weeks after telling Congress she would not testify about her role in the firings of federal prosecutors.

Monica M. Goodling, the Justice Department's liaison to the White House, gave no reason for her resignation. Since she was at the center of the firings, Goodling's refusal to testify has intensified questions about whether the U.S. attorney dismissals were proper and heightened the furor that threatens Gonzales' own job.

"It has been an honor to have served at the Justice Department for the past five years," Goodling wrote Gonzales, advising him of her resignation effective Saturday.

"May God bless you richly as you continue your service to America," Goodling added.

The Justice Department confirmed the resignation in a letter to two Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee investigating the firings. Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty had removed themselves from any personnel decisions related to Goodling, according to the letter from Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Hertling.

Their recusals were designed to "ensure that no actual or apparent conflict of interest would arise with respect to Ms. Goodling or related matters," Hertling wrote.

Goodling's resignation came less than two weeks before Gonzales' own planned testimony to the Senate, which may determine his fate as attorney general. Several Republican lawmakers have joined Democrats in calling for his resignation or dismissal over the firings and other blunders at the Justice Department.

Justice Department documents show Goodling attended numerous meetings over a year's time about the plans to fire the U.S. attorneys and corresponded with the White House and at least one of the ousted prosecutors before the dismissals were ordered.

She was involved in an April 6, 2006, phone call between the Justice Department and Sen. Pete Domenici (news, bio, voting record), R-N.M., who had complained to the Bush administration and the president about David Iglesias, then the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque. Domenici wanted Iglesias to aggressively pursue a corruption probe against Democrats before the 2006 elections.

Additionally, Goodling was among aides who on Feb. 5 helped McNulty prepare his testimony for a Senate hearing the next day — during which he may have given Congress incomplete or otherwise misleading information about the circumstances of the firings.

Last month, House and Senate panels investigating the ousters signaled they would subpoena Goodling and four other senior Justice officials to testify. But Goodling, who took an indefinite personal leave from the department, balked.

In letters responding to the congressional inquiries, her attorney, John Dowd, said testifying would amount to a perjury trap for Goodling. He likened her potential legal jeopardy in testifying during a Democratic-led investigation to that of I. Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted last month in the CIA leak case.

Dowd also accused Democrats of trying to intimidate her in a fashion reminiscent of the notorious Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Dowd declined to comment Friday except to confirm Goodling's resignation.

But Democrats said Goodling's resignation would not end their pursuit of her testimony.

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., "remains committed to questioning Monica Goodling, especially with this new development," said spokeswoman Melanie Roussell. "Her involvement and general knowledge of what happened makes her a valuable piece to this puzzle."

Goodling's resignation is the third by a Justice Department official who helped plan and coordinate the dismissals of the prosecutors, an effort that began shortly after President Bush won re-election in 2004.

Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, resigned under fire March 12 for orchestrating the firings. Additionally, Mike Battle, the former director of the department's executive office of U.S. attorneys, announced several weeks ago that he was leaving to join a private law firm. Battle's resignation has not been linked directly to the controversy, although he helped notify some of the U.S. attorneys that they would be asked to leave.

"While Monica Goodling had no choice but to resign, this is the third Justice Department official involved in the U.S attorney firings who has stepped down," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who was among the first senators to question the firings and the first to call for Gonzales' resignation.

"Attorney General Gonzales' hold on the department gets more tenuous each day," Schumer said in a written statement.

Gonzales is also under fire for the FBI's improper and in some cases illegal prying into Americans' personal information during terror and spy probes.

Goodling's mother, Cindy Fitt of Osceola Mills, Pa., said the resignation had been anticipated. "She told me I'm to say 'no comment' for everything," the mother said in a brief telephone interview.

(© 2007 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report. )

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