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In a four-page letter today, the lawyer for Justice Department official Monica Goodling again rebuffed Democrats' efforts to hear her testify.

Responding to a letter from House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) yesterday, Goodling's lawyer John Dowd pulled no punches, at one point even comparing Conyers to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, "who infamously labeled those who asserted their constitutional right to remain silent before his committee 'Fifth Amendment Communists.'"

In his letter yesterday, Conyers had hinted that Goodling might be called before his committee to invoke the Fifth publicly if she did not meet privately to explain her decision. He also challenged Goodling's basis for invoking the Fifth, writing that "several of the asserted grounds for refusing to testify do not satisfy the well-established bases for a proper invocation of the Fifth Amendment against self- incrimination."

Dowd's letter essentially repeated the argument in his earlier letter that Goodling would not appear because the Democrats had already "reached conclusions" about the matter. The Fifth is meant to protect "the innocent, who might otherwise be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances," Dowd wrote.

But he went even further. Goodling was also invoking the Fifth, he wrote, because Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty had told Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that he provided false testimony to Congress because Goodling and others kept information from him. That would implicate Goodling in a crime -- and that's reason enough for her to invoke the Fifth. But Dowd didn't stop there, taking the opportunity to assert Goodling's innocence:

Mr. McNulty's allegation that Ms. Goodling and others caused him to give inaccurate testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee is a sufficient predicate for Ms. Goodling's invocation of her Fifth Amendment privilege, regardless of whether Mr. McNulty's allegation is factually correct -- which it is not. [my emphasis]

You can read the whole letter here.

The House's chief sleuth, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), continues to press the administration and the Republican National Committee.

Today, in a letter to the RNC's chairman, he asked for emails "that relate to the use of federal agencies and federal resources for partisan political purposes."

It's just the latest move in Waxman's investigation into the use of RNC email addresses by White House personnel, a practice that some charge violates the Presidential Records Act. Last week, Waxman asked the RNC not to destroy any such emails and asked White House counsel Fred Fielding what the administration's email policies were.

Today, Waxman's letter seeks any communications by White House personnel concerning political presentations at government agencies. A hearing last week revealed that Karl Rove's deputy Scott Jennings had given a PowerPoint presentation on Republican political prospects at the General Services Administration. He organized the briefing using a address -- the domain belongs to the RNC. Jennings used the same address when corresponding with Justice Department official Kyle Sampson about the U.S. attorney firings.

Waxman wants to know where else Jennings or others' in Rove's office gave such presentations -- a potential violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits using government resources for political ends -- and wants any emails that might be related.

The full letter is below.

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Just a reminder, you might say.

Over the past month, the U.S. attorneys scandal has focused resolutely on Alberto Gonzales, other senior Justice Department officials, and the White House. But remember that early on, much of the focus was on Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM). Weeks before Election Day, both called then-U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias to squeeze him on his office's corruption investigation of a state Democrat. Iglesias charged that he was fired because he hadn't brought an indictment before the election.

As The Hill reports this morning, Domenici and Wilson are still very much on the hook. Kyle Sampson couldn't even recall the alleged "performance" reason behind Iglesias' firing during his testimony last week. And the only possible reason Sampson offered for his firing -- that he'd failed to indict certain voter fraud cases -- amounts to the same allegation: that Iglesias was fired for not indicting more Democrats.

From The Hill:

“[Iglesias’s] dismissal from the Justice Department — that is the one clear-cut example of a dismissal that appears to be based almost entirely on political motivation and political interference,” [Gerry Hebert, the executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and a 21-year veteran of the Justice Department] said....

“Pete Domenici needs to be placed under oath and asked whether he talked to Bush or Gonzales or Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, and what he said,” Hebert said.

In the piece, a former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer also raises the prospect of having a public hearing with Domenici.

Exclusive: The Secret War Against Iran "A Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News. US officials say the relationship is arranged so that the US provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or "finding" as well as congressional oversight." (ABC's The Blotter)

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The conservative view of the U.S. attorneys scandal, courtesy of The Washington Times:

House Republicans don't believe that the Justice Department did anything illegal by firing eight federal prosecutors last year, but they also don't believe that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is telling the truth about why the attorneys were dismissed.

Several House Republicans are scoffing at Justice Department assertions that a principal reason for several of the dismissals was that the lawyers were not aggressively prosecuting immigration violations.

"It stretches anybody's credibility to suggest that this administration would have retaliated against U.S. attorneys for not enforcing immigration laws," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, told The Washington Times. "This administration itself is so lax in its attitude towards immigration laws and controlling the border."

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, said he didn't think immigration cases had "a single thing to do with" the firings....

An aide to House Republican leadership agreed that the Justice Department's explanation for the firings is hard to believe.

"I don't think Republicans buy that," said the aide.

So Democrats and Republicans might part in their interpretations of why the administration has been lying about why they fired these U.S. attorneys (Democrats: to cover something up, Republicans: it's not clear why, but they didn't do anything wrong), but at least there's a bipartisan consensus that Gonzales and other Justice Department officials lied to Congress. Who knew that Gonzales could forge such unity?

It's a busy day for Monica Goodling's lawyer.

House Democrats asked again today to question Monica Goodling, the Justice Department official who has pled the Fifth. Goodling notified the House Judiciary Committee last week that, as she had with regard to a potential Senate committee hearing, she planned to invoke the Fifth rather than participate in interviews with House committee staff -- as seven other Justice Department offiicals have been and will be doing over the coming week.

But in the letter today from committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and subcommittee Chair Linda Sanchez (D-CA), they wrote that Democrats weren't convinced that Goodling was invoking the Fifth for valid reasons. Goodling's lawyer John Dowd had cited earlier comments by Democrats to show that they had "reached conclusions" about the matter under investigation.

Conyers and Sanchez aren't buying it. "The fact that a few Senators and Members of the House have expressed publicly their doubts about the credibility of the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General in their representations to Congress about the U.S. Attorneys' termination does not in any way excuse your client from answering questions honestly and to the best of her ability," they wrote.

Conyers and Sanchez ask that Goodling appear next week to to be interviewed by committee staff and discuss the justification of her invocation of the Fifth. One assumes that a response from her prodigious lawyer will soon be forthcoming.

The full letter is below.

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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.

While Alberto Gonzales is busy prepping for his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in two weeks, here's a tough line of questioning that he can expect.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) has publicly accused Gonzales of lying to him in a conversation late last year about the appointment of Tim Griffin to be the U.S. Attorney in Little Rock. Gonzales, Pryor says, promised him that the administration would submit Griffin for Senate confirmation, while privately plotting to string Pryor along for the remainder of Bush's term, because Gonzales knew Griffin's chances at confirmation were hopeless. It was a strategy that his chief of staff Kyle Sampson outlined in a lengthy email only a couple of days after Pryor's conversation with Gonzales: armed with the newly won legal authority to indefinitely appoint U.S. attorneys, the administration didn't need its nominees approved by the Senate, so they could just "run out the clock." "I think we should gum this to death," Sampson wrote, and after rattling off a list of stalling tactics, added: "All of this should be done in 'good faith,' of course."

When Sampson testified last week, he only strengthened Pryor's accusation that Gonzales had been stringing him along, lying to him as part of the strategy to keep Griffin in office until the end of Bush's term.

Under questioning by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Sampson admitted that he'd touted the "bad idea" of using the Patriot Act provision to circumvent the Senate. When Specter asked him whether he'd talked about it wtih Gonzales, Sampson answered, " I think I did, but I don't think he ever liked the idea very much." Sampson, oddly enough, couldn't describe just how Gonzales expressed this dislike during their conversations. But he did say, "I don't remember him specifically rejecting the idea until after he spoke with Senator Pryor in mid-December."

Let that sink in. Gonzales and Sampson had conversations about circumventing the Senate to install a former aide of Karl Rove as the U.S. attorney in Arkansas. Gonzales didn't reject the idea. And when it finally came time to implement the strategy when Griffin was appointed, Gonzales seemed to be reading from Kyle Sampson's playbook.

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Gonzales Preps for Showdown with Senate "His job on the line, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales shelved plans for a family vacation and began prepping Monday for a showdown with senators over the firings of federal prosecutors. An appearance next week in front of a Senate panel that oversees Justice Department spending is shaping up as a trial run for Gonzales' scheduled April 17 testimony to a separate Senate committee investigating the eight dismissals." (Associated Press)

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And another one of Gale Norton's former colleagues falls. This time, it's Italia Federici, the founder of a conservative environmental group that served as Jack Abramoff's gateway to the Interior Department.

Legal Times reports that Federici received a target letter from investigators in January. Target letters are frequently a warning of an indictment.

Federici's ex-boyfriend, Steven Griles, formerly the #2 at the Interior Department, also received a target letter in January. And he pled guilty last month to lying to Congressional investigators about his relationship with Federici and Abramoff.

Federici ran a nonprofit called the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), a conservative think tank, which she founded with Gale Norton, who became Bush's Secretary of the Interior. As a result, Federici was well connected in the Interior Department. So she and Abramoff had a deal. Abramoff's clients pumped $500,000 into her organization; in return, she ensured that people inside the department knew about his tribal clients' needs.

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