Friday, June 15, 2007

Justice Department investigates possible Gonzales wrongdoing

The controversy over the firing of U. S. attorneys took on a new wrinkle with the revelation that the Justice Department's own investigation into the matter is looking into whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales improperly tried to influence former aide Monica Goodling:

The Justice Department officials, in a letter released yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, said their inquiry into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys includes an examination of a meeting Gonzales held in mid-March with his then-aide Monica M. Goodling, who testified last month that the attorney general's comments during the session made her feel "a little uncomfortable."

The topic of discussion at the meeting was what had happened in the months leading up to firings of the U.S. attorneys, and Gonzales recounted his recollection of events before asking for her reaction, according to Goodling's congressional testimony in May. She said Gonzales's comments discomfited her because both Congress and the Justice Department had already launched investigations of the dismissals.

The announcement that Gonzales's conduct would be examined came from Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and H. Marshall Jarrett, counsel of the Office of Professional Responsibility. "This is to confirm that the scope of our investigation does include this matter," Fine and Jarrett said in a letter to Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman and ranking minority member, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a column in today's Washington Post, Dan Froomkin points out this extended investigation into the firings could have been avoided if the Bush Administration had simply provided the reason or reasons for the firings right from the beginning:

If Bush wants this media drama to go away -- and if there is, in fact, an innocent explanation for the firings -- then it's in his best interest to come clean, in public, and sooner rather than later. Why wait for a congressional hearing?

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