The Mouse That Roared
Monica Goodling was at the center of the prosecutor purge and still has no clue.
Chalk up another one to the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Goodling's candor, in the end, doesn't go all that far. She doesn't know how New Mexico's David Iglesias made it onto the purge list. She has "no knowledge" of whether anyone was added to the list to gain partisan advantage. She says, "I can't give you the whole White House story" about Tim Griffin's appointment to replace U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins in Arkansas. She offers an almost cabalistic explanation for Gonzales' secret order transferring broad hiring and firing authority to Kyle Sampson and herself. (It was formalizing an arrangement that existed informally and actually giving new authority to the deputy attorney general, and thus needed to be kept secret from him.) Throughout, she paints this sort of sweet picture of herself as the Justice Department's Julie McCoy—arranging "morale boosting" field trips and worrying about averting badmouthing of the fired U.S. attorneys. In her opening statement, Goodling describes the DoJ as "family," and she seems weirdly proud of her prom-committee outlook, wherein promoting those who are "enthusiastic about priorities" and creating a "leadership team" that's "on the same page in terms of philosophy" is just the natural thing to do in federal law enforcement.
Goodling tells Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., that the reason former Deputy Attorney General James Comey could rave about the same prosecutors fired for incompetence by Sampson was that it wasn't unusual "for one person to have one experience of one U.S. attorney and for someone else to have another." And isn't that the point? Get enough of that anonymous "senior leadership" together and someone can supply a convincing pretext to fire someone who was on the hit list? Indeed, Goodling herself added to the list. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., accidentally gets her to admit that she may have supplied some excuses for getting rid of Nevada's Dan Bogden (a Patriot Act case "got messy").
At the very end of the afternoon, as Goodling looks like she may actually skate right past the committee, Adam Schiff, D-Calif., launches a brutal line of questions about whether it might be grounds for firing a U.S. attorney if he, say, was an absentee landlord, who, say, removed someone during a corruption investigation, who, say, decreased office morale and, um, showed an excess of fealty. It dawns on Goodling what's coming: Schiff has the attorney general in mind. "That wouldn't be my decision to make," she says of Gonzales. "He was a good man. I thought he tried hard." He tried hard? Well, that's what counts.
Artur Davis, D-Ala., gets Goodling to dredge up at least one bad memory about Gonzales. On her last full week on the job, Goodling went to the AG "paralyzed, distraught, and wanting a transfer." He wanted to compare memories of how the purge list was compiled. This made Goodling "uncomfortable" because it seemed "inappropriate" to talk about. He didn't feel all that bad about it, but she did. But then she goes back to explaining that whether the U.S. attorneys were fired to "allow others to serve" or for performance-based reasons, or for anything else, it just doesn't matter, because they all serve at the pleasure of the president. Indeed, since no two advisers can agree on who's doing a good job and who's doing a bad one, anyone's post-hoc excuse for a firing becomes equally valid. No wrong done. No wrong really can be done. It's a pretty story, really; and today Goodling tells it, well, almost prettily.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Photograph of Monica Goodling by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.