Saturday, April 07, 2007

Second Gonzales aide resigns over US attorney flap

Second Gonzales aide resigns over US attorney flap

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales abruptly resigned on Friday in another twist in the controversy surrounding the Justice Department's firing of eight U.S. prosecutors.

The aide, Monica Goodling, is the second adviser to Gonzales to depart as criticism mounts in Congress over the department's handling of the dismissals, which Democrats have said were politically motivated.

Goodling had invoked her constitutional right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify before a Senate panel investigating the firings last year of the prosecutors.

She resigned in a brief letter submitted to Gonzales, whose resignation has been demanded by Democrats who charge the U.S. attorney firings were political motivated, an allegation the Bush administration denies.

"We can confirm her resignation," said an aide to Goodling's lawyer John Dowd, of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. His office would not release her resignation letter.

In a separate letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling said Goodling's resignation would be effective April 7.

Goodling, 33, has been a counselor to Gonzales and the department's White House liaison and was involved in the firings. She had been on personal leave from the department for several weeks.

Democrats, who took power in Congress in January, allege the prosecutors were fired in part because Republicans viewed them as not pursuing corruption allegations against Democrats strongly enough. They and some Republicans want Gonzales, who is close to U.S. President George W. Bush, to resign.

It was not immediately clear whether Goodling's resignation would have an impact the Senate investigation. Gonzales is scheduled to testify on April 17.

Hertling, in his letter, referred the matter to Goodling's attorney. But he added that "the attorney general and deputy attorney general have already taken steps to ensure that no actual or apparent conflict of interest would arise with respect to Ms. Goodling or related matters."

A spokeswoman for the Senate Judiciary Committee could not be immediately reached.

Committee member Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has been leading the effort to get Gonzales to quit, said Goodling had no choice but to resign.

"Attorney General Gonzales' hold on the department gets more tenuous each day," Schumer said in a statement.

In March, Kyle Sampson resigned as chief of staff to Gonzales after acknowledging that he did not tell other department officials sooner about his dealings with the White House over the firings.

Gonzales has said that he was not involved in the firings, but Sampson testified in March that Gonzales was wrong.