So -- the day we'd been waiting for has come and gone. The major points are clear by now:
1) Goodling, as directly as she could, accused
the deputy attorney general of perjuring himself in testimony to Congress.
2) She said that, in their last conversation, the attorney general had tried
to check his recollection of the firing process with her. This was after Congress had requested to interview her, leading to the conclusion that Gonzales was trying to shape her recollection. For his part, Gonzales, through his spokesman, says
he was only trying to "comfort her in a very difficult period of her life."
3) She admitted to breaking the law
by applying a political litmus test to non-political career positions at the Justice Department, including assistant U.S. attorneys -- that litmus test even included checking applicants' political contributions. She couldn't say
just how many times she'd done this, and it was unclear who, if anyone, had told her to do this.
4) Even though she described herself as having a major role in the firing process, she knew remarkably little about it. In fact, she gave the inescapable impression
that those involved in the process avoided talking about the reasons for the firings -- or, at least, with the exception of the now-famous brainstorming sessions that took place after Congress started asking questions, reasons certainly were not volunteered. When Goodling herself asked
in a meeting who'd put U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias on the firing list (this was in February), a voice said "that's been addressed." She says she can't remember who said that.
With the exception of the meeting with Gonzales, Goodling unloaded all of this in her first minutes of testimony. And as Dahlia Lithwick points out
in her column today, the hearing was largely characterized after that by what was left unsaid:
In that first few hours, Goodling manages to give committee Democrats both too much and too little to wrap their heads around. She testifies that former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty gave false and misleading testimony to the Senate with regard to the U.S. attorney purge. She took the Fifth, she says, because of McNulty's inaccurate testimony, plus the "ambiguous environment" of the hearings, and not because of any crime of her own. She testifies that her role as White House liaison has been overblown. She had little contact with the White House (or Karl Rove or Harriet Miers) about the names on the list of U.S. attorneys who were fired but concedes that the White House was extensively involved ("several departments signed off") in the process. She talks about the "final decisionmakers" without ever quite naming them. She puts her former bosses Kyle Sampson, McNulty, and Gonzales in the room as the arbiters of the "list." But almost nobody sees fit to ask follow-up questions about how the list was made, what criteria were used, and what exactly the White House did to play along. Nobody asks why she cried when she quit, what she made of those e-mails, or much of anything at all about Alberto Gonzales.
Finally, Goodling takes complete blame for having "crossed the line"âeven the legal line, i.e., the civil-service rulesâby asking "political questions of applicants for career positions." In response to a question from Bobby Scott, D-Va., she adds, "But I didn't mean to." Oh. Well then, that's OK....
Democrats who might have pursued the leads she floated about the White House role in the firings stop asking these questions once Goodling fails to implicate Rove. They are so blindsided by her admission of injecting politics into her own hiring practices that they forget to ask who else at the DoJ might have directed her to do so, or done so themselves.
The Democrats have five more days to ask follow-up questions of Goodling. There's still plenty of ground to cover.