Friday, April 06, 2007

Gonzales aide quits over US attorneys flap

Gonzales aide quits over US attorneys flap
By Andrew Ward in Atlanta and Brooke Masters in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 6 2007 23:40 | Last updated: April 7 2007 00:21

A third US justice department official has resigned amid a mounting controversy over the firing of eight federal prosecutors, increasing pressure on Alberto Gonzales, the embattled US attorney general.

Monica Goodling, the latest official to quit, was senior counsel to Mr Gonzales and the main liaison between the department of justice and the White House, making her a key target of Democratic lawmakers seeking to prove the sackings were politically motivated.

The resignation came two weeks after Ms Goodling told Congress she would not testify about her role in the firings, asserting her constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination.

Her departure leaves Mr Gonzales, a close ally and confidant of President George W. Bush, looking increasingly exposed, as he prepares to testify to Congress about the controversy in less than two weeks.

Mr Bush has so far stood by Mr Gonzales, who was his general counsel while serving as governor of Texas, but Ms Goodling’s departure immediately intensified Democratic calls for Mr Gonzales to go.

“Attorney general Gonzales’s hold on the department gets more tenuous each day,” said Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senator leading the inquiry into the firings.

The other justice department officials to have resigned are Kyle Sampson, Mr Gonzales’s former chief of staff, and Mike Battle, former head of the executive office of US attorneys.

Ms Goodling gave no reason for her resignation in a three-sentence letter, in which she told Mr Gonzales: “May God bless you richly as you continue your service to America.”

A spokesman for John Conyers, chairman of the House judiciary committee, said the Democrats would continue the bid to question Ms Goodling.

“Her involvement and general knowledge of what happened makes her a valuable piece to this puzzle,” he said.

The Bush administration says it is the president’s right to appoint and remove all 93 US federal attorneys.

But Democratic senators believe the firings are the thin end of a wedge that includes politically motivated removal of attorneys who were either investigating corruption allegations involving Republicans or else failing to be zealous in the investigation of Republican claims of alleged voter fraud orchestrated by Democrats.

In testimony to the Senate judiciary committee last month, Mr Sampson contradicted Mr Gonzales’ claim that he was not directly involved in the firings.

“I don’t think the attorney general’s statement that he was not involved in any discussions about US attorney removals was accurate,” he said. “The attorney general was aware of this process from the beginning in early 2005.”

Mr Gonzales has long been a target of Democrats because of his close ties to Mr Bush and his role in the controversial wiretapping of US citizens as part of anti-terrorist surveillance.


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