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Originally published May 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 23, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Guarding the gates for Gonzales

When Jeffrey Taylor, interim U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, wanted to hire a new career prosecutor last fall, he had to run...

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- When Jeffrey Taylor, interim U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, wanted to hire a new career prosecutor last fall, he had to run the idea past Monica Goodling, then a 33-year-old aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The candidate was Seth Adam Meinero, a Howard University law-school graduate who had worked on civil-rights cases at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and had served as a special assistant prosecutor in Taylor's office.

Goodling stalled the hiring, saying that Meinero was too "liberal" for the nonpolitical position, said two sources familiar with the dispute.

The tussle over Meinero, who was eventually hired at Taylor's insistence, led to a Justice Department investigation of whether Goodling improperly weighed political affiliation when reviewing applicants for rank-and-file prosecutor jobs, the sources said.

A 1999 graduate of Regent University law school in Virginia Beach with six months of prosecutorial experience, Goodling was among a small coterie of young aides to Gonzales who were remarkable for their inexperience and autonomy in deciding the fates of seasoned Justice Department lawyers, according to current and former officials who worked with the group.

She worked closely last year with D. Kyle Sampson, then the attorney general's chief of staff, sifting through lists of U.S. attorneys considered for removal, according to congressional interviews and Justice Department documents released to the public. Goodling also was central to the department's stumbling efforts to defend its handling of the firings of nine prosecutors, at times by attacking their reputations. She resigned in April.

Goodling is scheduled to testify today before the House Judiciary Committee about the firings, under an offer of immunity.

Also Tuesday, Congress approved legislation that would curb President Bush's power to appoint prosecutors indefinitely.

The 306-114 vote gave the House's blessing to the Senate-passed bill, readying it for Bush's expected signature. It will close a loophole that Democrats say could have permitted the White House to reward GOP loyalists with plum jobs as U.S. attorneys.

Congress renewed the Patriot Act last year with a new provision that allowed the president to appoint U.S. attorneys for an indefinite amount of time, thus avoiding Senate confirmation. Democrats say the White House tried to use that provision to fire troublesome prosecutors and replace them with loyalists.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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