Under investigation: Alberto Gonzales

Did the attorney general attempt to influence the recollections of Monica Goodling?

By Tim Grieve

Published June 14, 2007 7:35PM (EDT)

When Alberto Gonzales appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on May 10, 2007, he said he didn't know as much about the U.S. attorney purge as he might because he had gone out of his way not to compare notes with others at the Justice Department. "It has been frustrating to me to not be able to ask these kinds of questions," he told Rep. Robert Wexler. "But I want to respect the integrity of this investigation, and the investigations going on within the department. If we all came up here ... and had the same testimony about events that occurred over two years, you would look at that with great suspicion. You would wonder ... 'Have you guys talked to each other about facts?'"

We didn't have to wonder for long. When Monica Goodling testified before the committee on May 23, 2007, she said that Gonzales had, in fact, talked with her about her recollections of events surrounding the purge. Did Goodling think that Gonzales was trying to shape Goodling's recollections and future testimony? "No," she said, "I just didn't know if this was a conversation that we should be having."

It looks like that Regent University education was good for something: As the Washington Post reports, the officials running an internal Justice Department probe into the purge are now investigating whether Gonzales "sought to influence the testimony of a departing senior aide during a March meeting in Gonzales' office."

That would be the conversation Gonzales had with Goodling in mid-March -- which is to say, after the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility had begun its investigation into the purge. If Justice Department investigators conclude that Gonzales tried to influence what Goodling would tell them, such a finding would, the Post says, "represent a serious legal threat " to the attorney general. As the Post notes, Justice Department inspector general Glenn Fine has the authority to "refer matters for criminal prosecution."

Of course, there's also the related question of whether Gonzales lied to Congress -- a criminal offense in and of itself -- when he said that he hadn't compared notes with his Justice Department colleagues. If Goodling is telling the truth, we already know the answer to that one.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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