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Deputy AG 'not fully candid,' ex-Justice aide testifies

Story Highlights

Monica Goodling disputes assertion she didn't brief Paul McNulty adequately
Goodling says she screened job applicants based on political ties
House Judiciary Committee grants Goodling immunity for testimony
Goodling: Involvement in U.S. attorneys' firings came after list drawn up
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A former Justice Department official said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty was "not fully candid" about the 2006 firings of U.S. attorneys and described an "uncomfortable" conversation with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the shake-up.

Monica Goodling, a former Gonzales aide and the Justice Department's White House liaison, also acknowledged Wednesday that she screened job applicants based on political ties -- something she said she regretted.

Goodling testified before the House Judiciary Committee under a grant of immunity after the controversy over the firings prompted her to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. (Watch the mystery woman revealed in her own words Video)

She took the Fifth after McNulty told senators that she had incompletely briefed him about the firings, which he had described as "performance-related" in February testimony.

Goodling, who resigned shortly afterward, said McNulty's accusations were false.

"Despite my and others' best effort, the deputy's public testimony was incomplete or inaccurate in a number of respects," she said.

She said McNulty "was not fully candid about his knowledge of White House involvement in the replacement decision," and did not disclose the White House's interest in replacing the U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Arkansas, with a former aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove.

McNulty rebuts Goodling's testimony

After Goodling's testimony, McNulty issued a statement saying he "testified truthfully" before the Senate panel "based on what I knew at the time."

"Miss Goodling's characterization of my testimony is wrong, and not supported by the extensive record of documents and testimony already provided to Congress," said McNulty, who has announced plans to resign this summer. (Watch Goodling contradict McNulty's testimony Video)

The description of the firings as "performance-related" provoked an outcry from the ex-prosecutors and triggered allegations of political influence over investigations and hiring in the Justice Department. The resulting controversy has Gonzales fighting for his job, although President Bush has continually expressed firm support for his longtime aide.

Goodling said Gonzales "laid out his general recollection" of the firings of several U.S. attorneys during a March meeting before she left. At the time, she was aware that she was likely to have to testify about the controversy, and "I didn't know if it was maybe appropriate for us to talk about that at that point."

She said Gonzales told her, "Let me tell you what I can remember," and "laid out his general recollection" of the process leading up to the firings -- that he believed they had all been dismissed for performance-based reasons.

"Then he asked me if he thought, if I had any reaction to his iteration," Goodling said.

"I just did not know if it was a conversation that we should be having, and so I just didn't say anything," she added.

Goodling said she did not believe the attorney general was trying to shape her testimony about the firings. But Rep. John Conyers, the Judiciary Committee's chairman, said Goodling's testimony showed that Gonzales "attempted to coach her as a witness" -- an allegation the Justice Department denied.

In a written statement Wednesday evening, Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Goodling requested the meeting to seek a transfer, and it took place before the department launched an internal probe of the firings.

"The attorney general has never attempted to influence or shape the testimony or public statements of any witness in this matter, including Ms. Goodling," Roehrkasse said. "The statements made by the attorney general during this meeting were intended only to comfort her in a very difficult period of her life, as Monica described today when she said, 'He was being kind.' "

No indication of illegality, Republicans say

The committee's Republican members said Goodling's testimony revealed no evidence of wrongdoing and reinforced Gonzales' contention that his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was the key official in the shake-up.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, dismissed her contradiction of McNulty's testimony as "a really small conflict" and said her acknowledgment that she checked up on the political affiliations of applicants for career prosecutorial jobs involved "a few cases where she asked inappropriate questions."

"Are we looking for violations by Monica Goodling, who's a relatively low-level Justice Department employee, or are we looking for corruption?" he asked. "This started out as corruption. Where's the corruption?"

Gonzales gave Goodling and Sampson wide authority over hiring and firing of political appointees in a March 2006 order. But she shed little light on the firings of at least eight prosecutors, who other Justice officials have said were chosen largely by Sampson.

Conyers said Goodling's testimony still left the central question about the firings unanswered.

"Although she was involved in preparing explanations for the firings to the Congress, she still doesn't know the real reasons for who was involved and who was put on the list," he said.

Goodling said that despite her post as the department's White House liaison, "I did not hold the keys to the kingdom as some have suggested."

Conyers said one of the aspects the committee is examining is whether Justice officials violated the Hatch Act, which protects federal employees from political coercion. Goodling did reveal she had screened applicants for Justice career posts based on political affiliation, but said she "tried to act in good faith."

"I do acknowledge I may have gone too far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions, and I may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions, and I regret those mistakes," she said.

She said she occasionally used Internet searches and databases such as Lexis-Nexis to determine the political affiliations of candidates, but "I actually was too busy to get around to doing it terribly often."

She said she would sometimes give other staffers resumes with instructions to check them out, "But, frankly, we had a lot of other things going on and it didn't often turn up anything and it wasn't very helpful most of the time, anyway."

Roehrkasse said Goodling's admission was "troubling." But he said the subject was being investigated by the department's inspector-general and the Office of Professional Responsibility, "and we cannot comment further."

Goodling testified that she didn't recall meeting with Rove or then-White House counsel Harriet Miers during her tenure, "and I'm certain that I never spoke to either of them about the hiring or firing of any U.S. attorney."

Rove and Miers have been accused of having a role in the dismissal process, but the White House has resisted calls for them to testify.



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