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Counselor to Gonzales abruptly resigns

Story Highlights

• Monica Goodling, counselor to attorney general, submits resignation
• Gonzales aide took part in e-mail exchanges on firing of U.S. attorneys
• Goodling had invoked 5th Amendment to avoid testifying to Congress
• Democrat Schumer says Gonzales' grip on Justice Department slipping
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Justice Department official Monica Goodling resigned her position as counselor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Friday afternoon.

Goodling had invoked the Fifth Amendment, which protects witnesses from self-incrimination, in refusing to testify before Congress regarding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Goodling was among the senior Justice Department officials who participated in meetings and e-mail exchanges about the planned dismissals. She went on paid leave as the controversy grew. (Interactive: Key events in the U.S. attorneys firings)

In a brief letter to Gonzales, Goodling gave no reason for her resignation but said it would be effective Saturday.

"I am hereby submitting my resignation to the Office of the Attorney General, effective April 7, 2007. It has been an honor to have served at the Department of Justice for the past five years," Goodling wrote. (Watch why Goodling took the Fifth Video)

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

The resignation came abruptly, just as the Justice Department was closing for the Easter weekend.

There was no warning. Officials had said hours earlier that Goodling remained on paid leave of absence from the department.

The Justice Department said Friday it would have no comment on Goodling's decision to resign. However, it did acknowledge her resignation in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, resigned March 13.

"Attorney General Gonzales' hold on the department gets more tenuous each day," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-New York. (Watch a "Situation Room" debate on the impact of the resignation Video)

Seven of the federal prosecutors were removed in December, and one was discharged earlier. Gonzales signed off on all the firings.

Though all 93 U.S. attorneys political appointees serve at the pleasure of the president, the Justice Department's initial description of the firings as "performance-related" triggered allegations of improper political influence on pending cases and calls for Gonzales to resign.

Sampson told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that Gonzales' statements that he was not involved in the firings until late in the process are "inaccurate."

Sampson told lawmakers he and Gonzales began discussing the subject as early as January 9, 2005, a month before Gonzales took office and while he was still White House counsel. Sampson said the two had several discussions on the matter over the next two years.

Gonzales maintains his involvement was minimal

Gonzales has said, however, that the two didn't discuss the issue until he took office in February 2005. And he has said he was never involved in selecting the attorneys to be fired.

"After I became attorney general, I asked Kyle Sampson to coordinate an effort within the department to evaluate the performance of the United States attorneys to see where changes may be appropriate," Gonzales said last week. "I don't recall being involved in deliberations involving the question of whether or not a U.S. attorney should be asked to resign."

"At the end of the day, I know what I did and I know that the motivations for the decisions that I made were not based upon improper reasons, but I think it's important for the American people to be satisfied as well," Gonzales said.

He said he has directed the Justice Department to release 3,000 pages of documents and has urged employees to testify before Congress if appropriate.

On Friday, however, three top Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said they were not satisfied with the "selective production and unilateral redaction decisions" of documents the department has turned over to Congress related to the firings.

In a letter to Gonzales, the committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, along with Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said Gonzales has not provided any legal basis for the redactions or for the withholding of documents altogether, and warned that the committee will issue subpoenas if required to get the material.

Not only Democrats have criticized Gonzales. Some Republicans, while stopping short of calling for the attorney general's resignation, have said the matter was mishandled.

"It's an old story in Washington," Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has said. "What was done wasn't really so bad, but handling it improperly and not leveling is very bad. And Attorney General Gonzales has his work cut out for him."

Gonzales' fate ultimately lies with President Bush, and the president has continued to support him.

The attorney general is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17.

The House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, said last week it had reached an agreement with the Justice Department for seven department officials to be interviewed by the committee behind closed doors.

One of those officials was to be Goodling, but her attorney told lawmakers she intended to invoke the Fifth Amendment in those interviews. Some lawmakers questioned Goodling's reasons for taking the Fifth and whether it was being done properly.

CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said he had little direct involvement in planning the firings.



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