Official uses Fifth Amendment rights

WASHINGTON – Monica Goodling, a senior Justice Department official involved in the firings of federal prosecutors, will refuse to answer questions at upcoming Senate hearings, citing Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, 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 the lawyer, John Dowd.

“One need look no further than the recent circumstances and proceedings involving Lewis Libby,” he said, a reference to the recent conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff in the CIA leak case.

The White House, meanwhile, continued to stand by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales despite new calls over the weekend for his resignation and documents that indicate he may have been more involved in the dismissals than he has previously acknowledged.

Democrats have accused the Justice Department and the White House of purging the prosecutors for political reasons. The Bush administration maintains the firings were not improper because U.S. attorneys are political appointees.

Goodling was Gonzales’ senior counsel and White House liaison until she took a leave of absence earlier this month. She was subpoenaed last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee along with several of Gonzales’ other top aides.

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

Gonzales’ truthfulness about the firings of seven prosecutors on Dec. 7 and another one months earlier also have been questioned.

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