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Justice aide who took the Fifth to testify in attorney firings

Story Highlights

Monica Goodling is only key official who has not yet testified in attorney firings
Justice attorney talks of comforting sobbing Goodling when controversy began
• Goodling was involved in crucial decisions over attorneys
• She rose in Justice Department after volunteering for 2000 Bush campaign
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(CNN) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former White House liaison is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, speaking out for the first time on her role in the controversial U.S. attorney firings.

Monica Goodling, who served as Gonzales' senior counsel, is the only key official who has not yet testified about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Her lawyers initially kept her from testifying, saying she would cite her Fifth Amendment right to protection from self-incrimination, but she will now be granted immunity.

The Justice Department, under Gonzales, has said the attorney firings were due to poor job performance. Critics charge the attorneys were fired for political reasons.

Bush reiterated his support for Gonzales Tuesday. (Watch Bush call attack on the AG 'political theater' Video)

Transcripts released late Tuesday revealed Goodling sobbed uncontrollably at great length when the controversy began to swirl around her in March.

In a previously undisclosed House Judiciary Committee interview, a veteran career Justice Department attorney testified Goodling had come to his office and couldn't stop crying.

"She proceeded for the next, it seemed like forever, but it was probably only about 30 or 45 minutes, to bawl her eyes out and say, 'All I ever wanted to do was serve this president and this administration and this department,' " Associate Deputy Attorney David Margolis said.

"My goal was to try to calm her, so I gave her some advice to calm her -- calm her down, which didn't work," Margolis said.

"I tried to make her laugh, which didn't work, and to give her some personal advice, which she didn't take," Margolis said.

Goodling in the middle

He said Goodling didn't say what role she had played in the U.S. attorney firings or offer any specifics during the March 8 meeting.

"She was apparently involved in crucial discussions over a two-year period with senior White House aides, and with other senior Justice officials, in which the termination list was developed, refined, and finalized," Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who heads the House Judiciary Committee, said during a hearing April 25.

Goodling, who resigned from her job last month, has also drawn scrutiny because she is one of the aides Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty blames for failing to properly brief him before his February appearance before Congress, according to her lawyer and Conyers.

In that February 6 appearance, McNulty said all but one of the eight U.S. attorneys who were fired last year were fired for performance reasons. Prosecutors and their supporters disputed that statement, saying the firings were perhaps politically motivated.

Congressional investigators hope Goodling can shed light on some of the lingering questions surrounding the firings: What role did key White House officials play in determining which U.S. attorneys would be fired? Did they push for specific names to be added or removed? How was the list of the prosecutors developed? Were the firings at all prompted by a desire to interfere with investigations of members of Congress, as some Democrats have alleged?

Gonzales has denied any of the firings were done for improper reasons.

John Dowd, Goodling's attorney, says his client will testify truthfully and will answer the questions to the best of her ability.

'We have a senator prob'

Goodling was one of a handful of aides at a key November 27, 2006, meeting in which the firings were discussed. Numerous e-mails to and from her are among the internal Justice Department documents related to the controversy that have been released.

In many of them she discussed the resignation of Little Rock U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins -- who was pushed out to make room for Tim Griffin, a former associate of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove -- and the criticism that ensued.

In an e-mail Goodling wrote August 18, 2006, to then-Justice Department Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson, she said, "We have a senator prob, so while wh is intent on nominating, scott [Scott Jennings, deputy White House political director] thinks we may have a confirmation issue."

Separately, e-mails showed she agreed to a request from Jennings to meet with some New Mexico Republican activists who were upset with the U.S. attorney there, David Iglesias, who was later added to the list of those to be fired.

Members of the committee are likely to press Goodling on why Iglesias was fired. His name was added late in the process and only after several members of Congress, including Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, complained about his job performance and his failure to bring a public corruption indictment before the 2006 election.

This month the Justice Department announced Goodling is the focus of an internal investigation looking into allegations she may have considered political affiliation during the hiring of career prosecutors, which is illegal.

Justice Department headquarters can become involved in the hiring process for an office where there is an interim U.S. attorney serving.

In a toughly worded retort to the Justice Department's public announcement of the investigation, Goodling's lawyers wrote that it came "in the midst of Congress' ongoing investigation into the department's affairs" and said "the timing of your release smacks of retribution and intimidation."

Goodling, who is in her early 30s, graduated from Messiah College and received her law degree in 1999 from Regent University, both of which describe themselves as Christian-based schools.

She rose in prominence in the Justice Department after volunteering in the 2000 Bush presidential campaign.

Some former colleagues described her as hard-working, but others said she alienated U.S. attorneys and others with an abrasive style.

Goodling worked in the Justice Department's press office and the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys before moving into the Office of Attorney General as senior counsel and White House liaison.

Gonzales gave her and Sampson wide authority over hiring and firing of political appointees in a March 2006 order.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' job is on the line as one of the few aides with knowledge of the controversial U.S. attorney firings prepares to testify Wednesday.



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