Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's senior counselor yesterday refused to testify in the Senate about her involvement in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Monica M. Goodling, who has taken an indefinite leave of absence, said in a sworn affidavit to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she will "decline to answer any and all questions" about the firings because she faces "a perilous environment in which to testify."
Goodling, who was also Justice's liaison to the White House, and her lawyers alleged that Democratic lawmakers have already concluded that improper motives were at play in Justice's dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys last year. Goodling also pointed to indications that Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty blames her and others for not fully briefing him, leading to inaccurate testimony to Congress.
Ms. Goodling has every right to exercise her fifth amendment right not to implicate herself and if she is charged her refusal to testify should not be held against her. But the reasoning she and her attorneys has put forth to justify this decision stinks. The Fifth Amendment protects witnesses from being forced to incriminate themselves. . It does not say you get a free pass if the people asking the questions believe a crime was committed or if someone else blames you for causing them to commit a possible crime.
Ms. Goodling is saving her own skin, nothing more. That is her right. Legally, we can, will, and should not hold that against her. Politically, it can, will, and should be used as a sign that someone in the Justice department believes their actions in this affair are at least potentially criminal.
It is also the right of the Senate and House committees to haul her in under the bright lights so she can plead the fifth on national television.
Her boss still hasn't got his story straight either. Maybe her last act as Counselor should be to tell Alberto to plead the Fifth.