For perhaps the first time in history, a Justice Department official has invoked the Fifth Amendment -- and remains in her position at the Department. In a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today, Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and committtee member Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked what the Justice Department was going to do about it.
The first order of business, they said, was to figure out who to talk to at the Justice Department about Goodling. Ordinarily, they wrote, they would ask the Department about how to proceed, so as not to interfere with a possible criminal investigation. But "the office of the Attorney General appears to be hopelessly conflicted," they wrote. So who's it going to be?
The senators also want to know whether Goodling will be cooperating with the internal Justice Department investigation of the firings, given that career Department employees are required to cooperate with such investigations.
Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington Law School who's handled a number of high-profile clients in his career, said that Goodling, having invoked the Fifth with regard to Congress' investigation, is in a bind.
"It's a very clever question, because if she does not invoke the Fifth [for the internal Justice Department investigation], then she obviously has a fundamental contradiction in her legal position. She would basically be saying that despite having a high-ranking position in the Justice Department, she will not cooperate with a coequal branch... Congress has oversight responsibiilty over the Justice Department, over Monica Goodling. It would be an obvious contradiction with her job description."
Maybe that's why this has never happened before. "I believe she might be the first sitting Justice Department official in history to invoke the Fifth." Normally, he said, "the price of invoking the Fifth in this context would have been to end her career in government service."
And yet Goodling, though on indefinite (and voluntary) leave, remains on the Justice Department's payroll.