Gonzales Aide Won't Answer Senate Queries

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Tuesday, March 13, 2007. AP

Monica Goodling, a key Justice Department official involved in the firings of U.S. prosecutors, will invoke a constitutional privilege against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions at upcoming congressional hearings, her lawyer said Monday.

"The potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real," said her lawyer, John Dowd.

He said that members of the House of Representatives and Senate Judiciary committees seem already to have made up their minds that wrongdoing has occurred in the firings and objected to the political overtones of the congressional investigation.

Goodling, who was senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the top U.S. law enforcement official, and White House liaison until she took a leave of absence earlier this month, was subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee along with several of the attorney general's other top aides.

The White House won't budge from its initial offer of making top aides available for interviews, but not in a public hearing, and not under oath, CBS News' Susan Roberts reports.

"If the Congress wants to choose confrontation over a resolution, that is their choice," said Dana Perino, a White House deputy spokesperson.

There have been questions about whether Goodling and others misinformed Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty about the firings just before he testified before the Senate committee in February.

Dowd said that a senior Justice Department official had told a member of the Senate committee that he was misled by Goodling and others before testifying.

Hovering over the matter is the specter of I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff convicted of lying to a grand jury about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. The potential for taking a fall over the department's bungled response "is very real," Dowd said.

"One need look no further than the recent circumstances and proceedings involving Lewis Libby," the lawyer said.

The White House stood by Alberto Gonzales on Monday, even as support for the embattled attorney general erodes on Capitol Hill amid new questions about his honesty.

But as one Republican senator puts it, Gonzales is on the "do-not-resuscitate" list, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod. It's only Mr. Bush who's keeping him on life support.

Three key Republican senators sharply questioned his truthfulness over the firings last fall of eight federal prosecutors. Two more Democrats on Sunday joined the list of lawmakers calling for Gonzales' ouster.

Lawmakers want to know whether Gonzales actually changed his story about the dismissals and whether he allowed his aides to say the prosecutors were fired for performance reasons, if in fact the reasons were purely political, Roberts reports.

At issue is Gonzales' March 13 denial that he participated in discussions or saw any documents about the firings, despite documents that show he attended a Nov. 27 meeting with senior aides on the topic, where he approved a detailed plan to carry out the dismissals.

Perino said Gonzales "might be accused of being imprecise in what he was saying," but maintained that the attorney general was not closely involved in the firings.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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