Today’s Chance of a Gonzales Departure: 80 percent
(Previously: 75 percent)
Last week, Gonzales’ DoJ team showed cracks when fired aide Kyle Sampson agreed to testify before Congress. Now the team is breaking into many icebergs. And they’re beginning to ram into each other. Loyalty is gone, and even if no one directly implicates Gonzales in wrongdoing, the cumulative chaos may sink him. We’re moving the meter to 80.
On iceberg No. 1: Monica Goodling, the White House liaison to the DoJ, now on extended leave, is taking the Fifth rather than testify before Congress. In his letter to the Senate judiciary committee, Goodling’s lawyer alludes to the ultimate fall guy of the moment, Scooter Libby, and suggests that his client is at risk of self-incrimination because the “hostile and questionable environment” of the committee is “legally perilous” for her. The lawyer also says that a DoJ official (presumably Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty) blames Goodling for failing to “inform him of certain pertinent facts” before he testified to Congress last month.
The idea seems to be that Goodling, a 33-year-old graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University School of Law, could say something to Congress that’s at odds with what McNulty or other DoJ-ers will say and thus expose herself to future charges if a future court doesn’t believe her version. This is spin. You can’t take the Fifth because of some hypothetical future risk of perjury or obstruction of justice or making false statements to Congress or the crime of concealing information from Congress “by any trick, scheme or device.” (Here’s the statute; Goodling’s lawyer doesn’t cite another basis for criminal liability, and we haven’t turned up anything else in the day’s research.) If you could take the Fifth for maybe-someday exposure, then a witness at a criminal trial who had nothing to do with the crime at issue could refuse to testify based entirely on her claim that a prosecutor might subsequently allege that her testimony was untruthful. You also can’t take the Fifth because you think your questioners are hostile, points out Neil Kinkopf, a professor at Georgia State University College of Law and a Clinton-era DoJ official.
On iceberg No. 2: Apparently the famously hapless Harriet Miers has her defenders. Someone with e-mails to leak has turned on McNulty and blamed him for igniting the whole scandal by calling the U.S. attorney firings performance-related. According to “an unreleased internal White House e-mail described to ABC News,” the former White House counsel told McNulty to stick to the line that the administration would not talk about personnel issues. Thus, it’s all his fault for ignoring her advice and he’s on his own to deal with the consequences.
On iceberg No. 3: Kyle Sampson still plans to testify before the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday. What he will reportedly say is that Gonzales knew what was in the works with the firings beforehand—contrary to the AG’s assertions that he was a hands-off CEO. Sampson has decided to “trust the Congress and the process,” his lawyer says. Good idea. They can’t do him worse than his former bosses.
On iceberg No. 4: Paul McNulty, undoubtedly hurling curses at Goodling, Miers, Sampson, and anyone else he has ever worked with.
My, my. We are reminded of that apocryphal story of the four college students who party all weekend on a road trip and then tell their chemistry professor they couldn’t take the test that Monday because their car got a flat tire on the way back, preventing them from studying. The professor puts them all in a room and gives them a test that consists of a single question: which tire?
Sampson, Goodling, Miers, and McNulty are each naming a different tire today. And the test is all very public.
Meanwhile, on iceberg No. 5, Gonzales tried desperately to stay afloat last night in an interview with Pete Williams on NBC. “What I’m saying is, during the process there may have been other conversations about, specifically about, the performance of US attorneys,” Gonzales said. “But I wasn’t involved in the deliberations as to whether or not a particular United States attorney should or should not be asked to resign.” This kind of almost incomprehensible parsing and hedging is a good sign, if any more are needed, that pretty soon Gonzales will have to surrender himself to the deep.
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