Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Conyers Says Goodling Not On Solid Ground Invoking Blanket Fifth

House Democrats on Tuesday requested a private interview with an aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales who has asserted her constitutional right not to testify at a public hearing about the dismissals of United States attorneys.

Representative John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sought the interview in a letter to a lawyer for the aide, Monica Goodling, who is on leave as the Justice Department's liaison to the White House.

Ms. Goodling helped coordinate the dismissals with the White House. Her lawyer, John M. Dowd, informed House and Senate panels last week that she would not testify, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Mr. Conyers's letter said that House lawyers wanted to question Ms. Goodling to evaluate the legality of her refusal to testify. It said she could not assert the privilege as a blanket justification not to appear.

"We are concerned that several of the asserted grounds for refusing to testify do not satisfy the well established bases for a proper invocation of the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination," the letter said. "The Fifth Amendment privilege, under longstanding Supreme Court precedents, does not provide a reason to fail to appear to testify; the privilege must be invoked by the witness on a question-by-question basis."

The letter was also signed by Representative Linda T. Sanchez, a California Democrat who is the chairwoman of the subcommittee conducting the inquiry.

A key Justice Department official who helped orchestrate the ouster of eight U.S. attorneys last year has again rebuffed requests to talk to congressional investigators about her role in the dismissals, with her lawyer saying Tuesday that she would not even agree to an informal interview with Capitol Hill Democrats.

Monica M. Goodling, who is on leave from her job as special counsel to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, rejected the House Judiciary Committee's request that she appear before panel investigators for a closed-door session about her involvement in the decisions to remove the federal prosecutors. ...

In a related development, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent a letter to Gonzales asking how he planned to deal with Goodling's decision to invoke her 5th Amendment rights. He had agreed to allow his top aides to be questioned about the firings.

"Who do we talk to at the Department of Justice?" the senators asked. "The office of the attorney general appears to be hopelessly conflicted."

The Justice Department had no immediate response.

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