Goodling to invoke Fifth Amendment right not to testify in firings scandal

Lawyers for Monica Goodling, the Justice Department’s White House liaison, told senators yesterday that she would invoke her Fifth Amendment right to testify before the Judiciary Committee in its probe of the U.S. attorney firings scandal, citing what they described as the political nature of the investigation.

Goodling’s counselors at Akin Gump, John Dowd and Jeffrey King, sent a letter to Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) explaining their advice to Goodling, arguing that the committee’s process “is politically charged and lacks fundamental fairness.” Dowd and King also alleged that a senior Justice official told Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that he inadvertently lied to the Judiciary panel after being improperly briefed by Goodling and other aides.

“The hostile and questionable environment that has been created by the members of the Judiciary Committee in the present proceedings, including the accusations by Department of Justice officials to members of the committee about Ms. Goodling, is at best ambiguous; more accurately the environment can be described as perilous for Ms. Goodling,” Dowd and King wrote.

Goodling currently is on leave from Justice, where she also served as a counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Her lawyers pointed to GOP rebuttals of Schumer’s dual role as Democratic campaigns chief and subcommittee chairman in charge of the U.S. attorneys inquiry, quoting verbatim from Schumer’s and Leahy’s comments about the Justice Department’s level of cooperation.

“The potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real,” Dowd and King continued. “One need look no further than the recent circumstances and proceedings involving Lewis Libby.”

The Justice official who allegedly pointed a finger at Goodling and other aides is either Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty or Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, the only two officials to testify so far.

“We are disappointed that we won’t hear Ms. Goodling’s testimony at the Judiciary Committee hearing, particularly given her two roles as senior member of [Gonzales’s] team and liaison to the White House,” Schumer said in a statement.

Leahy also issued a statement on Goodling’s intentions, noting that “the American people are left to wonder what conduct is at the base of Ms. Goodling’s concern that she may incriminate herself in connection with criminal charges if she appears before the committee under oath.”

Dowd sent an immediate response to Leahy late yesterday, first reported by the blog TPM Muckraker, accusing Leahy of “ignor[ing] the very basis on which Ms. Goodling has asserted her constitutional right” and observing, “the Fifth Amendment protects innocent persons…”

Despite the conflagration with Goodling’s lawyers, resigned Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson still plans to testify Thursday, according to a statement issued by his lawyer.

“Kyle plans to testify fully, truthfully and publicly,” said Bradford Berenson of Sidley Austin. “Hearings in a highly politicized environment like this can sometimes be a game of ‘gotcha,’ but Kyle has decided to trust the Congress and the process.”