Monica Goodling has a problem. As senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Justice Department liaison to the White House, Goodling no longer seems to know what the truth is. She must also be increasingly unclear about who her superiors are. This didn’t used to be a problem for Goodling, now on indefinite leave from the DoJ. Everything was once very certain: Her boss’s truth was always the same as God’s truth. Her boss was always either God or one of His staffers.
This week, through counsel, Goodling again refused to testify about her role in the firings of several U.S. attorneys for what appear to be partisan reasons. Asserting her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, Goodling somehow felt she may be on the hook for criminal obstruction. But it was never clear whose truths she was protecting or even whose law seems to have tripped her up. She resigned abruptly Friday evening without explanation.
Goodling is an improbable character for a political scandal. She’s the mirror opposite of that other Monica—the silly, saucy minx who felled Bill Clinton. A 1995 graduate of an evangelical Christian school, Messiah College, and a 1999 graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University School of Law (this seems to be her Web page), Goodling’s chief claim to professional fame appears to have been loyalty to the president and to the process of reshaping the Justice Department in his image (and thus, His image). A former career official there told the Washington Post that Goodling “forced many very talented, career people out of main Justice so she could replace them with junior people that were either loyal to the administration or would score her some points.” And as she rose at Justice, according to a former classmate, Goodling “developed a very positive reputation for people coming from Christian schools into Washington looking for employment in government.”
Start digging, and Goodling also looks to be the Forrest Gump of no comments: Here she is in 1997, fielding calls from reporters to Regent’s School of Government admissions office. Asked whether non-Christians were admitted, she explained that “we admit all students without discrimination. We are a Christian institution; it is assumed that everyone in the classes are Christians.” Here, in 2004, she’s answering phones at the Justice Department about whether then-Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement knew about the abuses at Abu Ghraib when he told the Supreme Court that the United States does not torture. Said Goodling, in lieu of taking the Fifth: “We wouldn’t have any comment.” (Jenny Martinez, who argued against Clement that day at the court, suggested to Salon’s Tim Grieve: “When Mr. Clement said to the court that we wouldn’t engage in that kind of behavior, either he was deliberately misleading the court or he was completely out of the loop.” Sound familiar?)
Goodling is only one of 150 graduates of Regent University currently serving in this administration, as Regent’s Web site proclaims proudly, a huge number for a 29-year-old school. Regent estimates that “approximately one out of every six Regent alumni is employed in some form of government work.” And that’s precisely what its founder desired. The school’s motto is “Christian Leadership To Change the World,” and the world seems to be changing apace. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft teaches at Regent, and graduates have achieved senior positions in the Bush administration. The express goal is not only to tear down the wall between church and state in America (a “lie of the left,” according to Robertson) but also to enmesh the two.
The law school’s dean, Jeffrey A. Brauch, urges in his “vision” statement that students reflect upon “the critical role the Christian faith should play in our legal system.” Jason Eige (’99), senior assistant to Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, puts it pithily in the alumni newsletter, Regent Remark: “Your Résumé Is God’s Instrument.”
This legal worldview meshed perfectly with that of former Attorney General John Ashcroft—a devout Pentecostal who forbade use of the word “pride,” as well as the phrase “no higher calling than public service,” on documents bearing his signature. (He also snatched the last bit of fun out of his press conferences when he covered up the bared breasts of the DoJ statue the ”Spirit of Justice“). No surprise that, as he launched a transformation of the Justice Department, the Goodlings looked good to him.
One of Ashcroft’s most profound changes was to the Civil Rights Division, launched in 1957 to file cases on behalf of African-Americans and women. Under Ashcroft, career lawyers were systematically fired or forced out and replaced by members of conservative or Christian groups or folks with no civil rights experience. In the five years after 2001, the civil rights division brought no voting cases on behalf of African-Americans. It brought one employment case on behalf of an African-American. Instead, the division took up the “civil rights” abuses of reverse discrimination—claims of voter fraud or discrimination against Christians. On Feb. 20, Gonzales announced a new initiative called the First Freedom Project to carry out “even greater enforcement of religious rights for all Americans.” In his view, the fight for a student’s right to read a Bible at school is as urgent a civil rights problem as the right to vote.
We may agree or disagree on that proposition, but it certainly explains how Goodling came to confuse working to advance Gonzales’ agenda with working to advance God’s. But while God may well want more prayer in the public schools, it’s not clear He wanted David Iglesias fired on a pretext. In an excellent 2005 article about Regent in the American Prospect Online, Christopher Hayes points out that more than two-thirds of the students at Regent identified as Republicans, and only 9 percent identified as Democrats. As he concludes, “what students are taught at a place like Regent, or even Calvin and Wheaton, is to live out a Christ-centered existence in all facets of their lives. But what they learn is to become Republicans.”
Is there anything wrong with legal scholarship from a Christian perspective? Not that I see. Is there anything wrong with a Bush administration that disproportionately uses graduates from such Christian law schools to fill its staffing needs? Not that I see. It’s a shorthand, not better or worse than cherry-picking the Federalist Society or the bar association. I can’t even get exercised over the fact that Gonzales, Rove, and Miers had their baby lawyers making critical staffing decisions for them. The baby lawyers had extremely clear marching orders.
No, the real concern here is that Goodling and her ilk somehow began to conflate God’s work with the president’s. Probably not a lesson she learned in law school. The dream of Regent and its counterparts, like Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, is to redress perceived wrongs to Christians, to reclaim the public square, and reassert Christian political authority. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was, in the end, only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power. And Goodling was left holding the earthly bag.
At the end of the day, Goodling and the other young foot soldiers for God may simply have run afoul of the first rule of politics, codified in Psalm 146: “Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals in whom there is no help.”
A version of this article also appears in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post.