Washington A top deputy to embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned abruptly Friday, two weeks after she said she'd invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than testify to congressional investigators who are probing the Bush administration's firing and hiring of eight federal prosecutors.
Monica Goodling was the senior counsel to Gonzales and the liaison between the Justice Department and the White House, which puts her in a position to answer questions about whether top administration officials hired and fired some federal prosecutors for partisan political reasons.
Her three-sentence resignation, effective today, came days after some senators wrote to the Justice Department asking how Goodling could remain on the job after she'd decided to assert her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said it was his understanding that the Justice Department had opened two internal inquiries into the hirings and firings, and that department employees must cooperate with such investigations. Senators argued that a witness who cooperates with an internal investigation couldn't then take the Fifth Amendment in a congressional inquiry into the same matter.
"This doesn't change our interest in her," said a senior Judiciary Committee aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of Goodling's resignation. "The committee still wants to know what she knew and when she knew it."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who's been leading the Senate inquiry into the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys last year, said in a news release that with three top officials now having resigned over the controversy, "Attorney General Gonzales' hold on the department gets more tenuous each day."
Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, and Michael Battle, former director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, already have resigned.
Adding to the turmoil, four top deputies in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota have resigned their leadership posts in an apparent protest of the leadership of Minnesota U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose, 34, who was appointed a year ago after serving as an assistant to Gonzales and his top deputy, Paul McNulty.
The situation in Minnesota "will send shock waves through the rank and file," said a former Justice Department lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he's in regular contact with federal prosecutors. "The terrible truth is, U.S. attorney's offices are demoralized. The morale throughout the country is as low as it has ever been."