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Loyal to the White House, Not the Rule of Law | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Loyal to the White House, Not the Rule of Law

Regent University School of Law graduate Monica Goodling, whose meteoric rise to the highest levels of the Department of Justice puther in a position to aid and abet a program of politicizingprosecutions by US Attorneys, opened her testimony before the HouseJudiciary Committee Wednesday by invoking her Fifth Amendment right torefuse to make statements that might incriminate her. Committee ChairJohn Conyers, D-Michigan, then delivered to Goodling a grant ofimmunity that allowed her to do something that is rare indeed for Bushadministration true believers: Tell the truth, the whole truth andnothing but the truth.

Goodling was right to be concerned about incriminating herself. Underquestioning from Democratic committee members, the former politicalcommissar for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeatedly admitted to"crossing the line" that separates legal and illegal activities byfederal officials. In so doing she offered another powerful insightinto the way in which the Bush administration, to which Goodling saysshe was unquestioningly loyal, has replaced the rule of law withpolitical calculations.

Whether Goodling met the "truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth"mandate remains open to question. Like her former boss, she sufferedfrom convenient memory loss at times regarding critical questions. ButGoodling's "I don't recalls" came far less frequently than those ofGonzales. And she was willing to take a good deal more responsibilityfor what went awry in the Department of Justice than has the man whoremains, tenuously, in charge of the agency.

Goodling opened her testimony with a declaration that she had "nodesire" to speak negatively about those she worked with in the Bushadministration. She then proceeded to point fingers of blame atmembers of what she described as her DOJ "family," including those whohad revealed details of her role in the scandal over the hiring andfiring of US Attorneys for political reasons.

Goodling went on to:

• confirm that former DOJ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson had compiled alist of US Attorneys who would be fired -- apparently for beinginsufficiently partisan in their inquiries and prosecutions -- and thatGonzales had been aware of the list and involved in meetings about it,

• place White House political czar Karl Rove in a room where thefirings were discussed,

• acknowledge that, as early as 2OO5, there was talk about forcingUS Attorneys out to make way for White House favorites and

• explain how US Attorneys were "rewarded" for helping to promoteand defend the Patriot Act, at a time when that law was under attack asan assault on basic liberties.

The former White House liaison for the DOJ told the committee she neverattended meetings with top White House aides involving the areas forwhich she was responsible. At several turns, Goodling portrayed herselfas a strangely disconnected and powerless underling who was left out ofmeetings, told to stay in the shadows, sent away from importantsessions in taxis and otherwise neglected, dismissed and overlooked.Yes, she may have had the title of Director of Public Affairs, but,"no," Goodling told the committee, she was "not a decision-maker."Rather, she at one point presented herself as a sort of departmentalcheerleader who would send out e-mails to political appointees asking"Hey, who wants to go up to the White House...?"

But the woman who earned her law degree from a school that teachescourses on how lawyers in positions of authority can use their power toidentify and punish "sins," confirmed the crisis in the Bushadministration's Justice Department, and the manner in which sheperpetuated it.

"I do acknowledge that I may have gone too far in asking politicalquestions of applicants for career positions, and may have takeninappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions,"Goodling told the committee early in her testimony. She said she made"snap judgments" to block qualified applicants because they wereDemocrats or "liberal." Only under intense questioning from committee members LindaSanchez, D-California, and Jerry Nadler, D-New York, did she offer thedetails and perspective that made it clear her so-called "mistakes"were part of a deliberate and ongoing pattern of politicization of thehiring process at the nation's chief law-enforcement agency.

Goodling, a former opposition researcher for the Republican NationalCommittee, explicitly admitted to applying political and ideologicallitmus tests when interviewing applicants for key federal positions.

Even when Republican committee members attempted to diminish thesignificance of her admissions -- or, in the case of Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, to repeatedly interrupt legitimate lines of questioning -- Goodling continued to acknowledge that she had "crossed lines" of right and wrong.

Later, Goodling said that, despite invoking the Fifth, she did notbelieve she had violated any laws. In fact, the Hatch Act and a host ofother civil service laws and federal rules make it clear that theaggressive politicization of federal agencies is illegal. Underquestioning from Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott, Goodling admitted asmuch -- albeit, grudgingly.

Noting that the former Justice Department aide has acknowledged makingpersonnel decisions based on political considerations, Scott asked, "Doyou believe that it was legal or illegal for you to take thosepolitical considerations into account?"

Goodling stumbled several times before admitting, "The best I can sayis that I know I took political considerations into account."

"Do you believe they were illegal or legal?" asked Scott.

"I don't believe I intended to commit a crime," she answered,confirming that Regent University graduates are indeed trained to speakin a lawyerly manner.

Scott pressed: "Did you break the law? Is it against the law to takethose considerations into account?"

"I believe I crossed the lines," Goodling replied, "but I didn't meanto."

By "crossed the lines," Scott asked, did she mean that she had violatedfederal civil service laws?

Goodling responded: "I crossed the line of the civil service rules."

Scott clarified that those "rules" are, in fact, "laws."

The congressman got to the point of the inquiry into US Attorneyhiring and firing issues when he said that it appeared that in AlbertoGonzales' Department of Justice "the culture of loyalty to theadministration was more important than loyalty to the rule of law."

Nothing in Monica Goodling's testimony contradicted that impression.----------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' latest book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. Reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

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