Grand Inquisitress Monica Goodling, Juris Doctor, formerly of the U. S. Department of Justice, defeated the House Judiciary Committee yesterday in a test of wills. Slim, blonde, sharp-featured, she must have been a dreaded presence in the days when she haunted the nation’s federal prosecutors. This young lawyer, graduate of one of the least prestigious law schools in America, seems to have had considerable power over the nation’s 93 U.S. Attorneys, and to have exercised it brutally and capriciously, as she neglected to admit to the committee, which is investigating the dismissals of nine federal prosecutors.
Goodling began her testimony by invoking her constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. In response, the committee gave her a court-ordered grant of immunity from prosecution, and she commenced to speak. She may never enjoy the fruits of that dispensation, however, which evaporates when a witness stops telling the truth. Whenever she was challenged to acknowledge her own lawlessness, her memory conveniently failed her. She did contradict statements made under oath by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, and she was generous in her criticism of Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ former chief of staff, but, beyond her reliance on the Fifth Amendment, she never uttered a self-incriminating word.
Goodling came up through the Republican party. Before her assignment to the department of political prosecutions, formerly known as the Department of Justice, Goodling was a “researcher” at the Republican National Committee. A researcher is somebody who digs up dirt to hurl at opposing candidates. In her latest job as a government lawyer, she applied her mudslinging skills to the selection of new prosecutors and to the destruction of targeted old ones.
There was more speechmaking than interrogation by the members of the committee. Piecing together Goodling’s answers to the few coherent questions that were put to her, you get the impression she applied partisan tests to political appointees and civil service lawyers alike. She was intimately involved in the hiring process in U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the country. She seems to have been screening candidates for prosecutors’ jobs, even though she had only a few months experience as a prosecutor and even though the decision to hire or not to hire was the responsibility of the invidividual U.S. Attorneys. She questioned candidates face-to-face in some instances, and she researched each one exhaustively to probe his or her politics. In one case, she blocked the appointment of a lawyer looking for a job with the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. The guy finally got hired, despite Goodling’s misgivings about his politics.
She remembered that she asked candidates for non-civil-service jobs about their political preferences, but she didn’t remember whether she recalled whether she had any recollection of asking such questions of candidates for non-political positions. She didn’t deny she did that, but she didn’t admit it either. It’s probably no coincidence that more than 100 graduates of her law school now work as U. S. government lawyers. One member of the committee almost challenged Goodling to say she acted illegally, but he ran out of time. She did admit she “crossed the line,” but she wouldn’t say what that line was.
She acknowledged that Gonzales testified “inaccurately” when he said he didn’t take part in the selection of U.S. Attorneys for separation, and she was similarly critical of McNulty, who had blamed her in sworn testimony for withholding information from him about the firings. This seemed to satisfy the members of the committee, who were so blinded by her flowing golden tresses that they couldn’t bring themselves to press her on her own culpability.
She denied that she played any part in compiling the list of prosecutors to be fired, a list that may have run to 30 or more names at one point, but she knew what was going on, because she was the person charged with digging up dirt on the people who were targeted. She had “no knowledge” of whether prosecutorial judgments entered into the decisions to get rid of the nine who were told to quit after the 2006 election. Her testimony suggested that her role became particularly important when McNulty and Gonzales were challenged a couple of months after the firings to justify them. “Performance-related,” they agreed, citing bits and pieces of gossip Goodling had collected.
She was careful to distinguish herself as a devout Christian. She testified that she chose Christian education (her law school, Regent, was founded a few years ago by TV evangelist Pat Robertson) because of the opportunities for service. As a federal prosecutor. For an obscene salary. At age 34. Apparently, her status as a profoundly spiritual person exempted her from the obligations of an earthly oath to tell the truth, because her testimony, at least with regard to her own culpability, was about as convincing as her hair color. She wasn’t able to count the number of lawyers whose reputations she soiled from her perch as a mudslinger and inquisitor.
She attracted a large contingent of photographers, as blondes so often do. Her career as a lawyer may be over, but we can probably look forward to seeing Goodling’s long white face on cable news before long.