The Corner

John Conyers: The Coming Battle Over the Fifth

House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers has just sent a letter to John Dowd, the lawyer for Justice Department official Monica Goodling, questioning Goodling’s basis for taking the Fifth in future questioning by the House and Senate judiciary committees.  Conyers requests that Goodling “voluntarily appear to be interviewed by our staff in the next week and to discuss the justification for her apparent decision to invoke her Fifth Amendment privilege to questions relating to her role in the termination of several United States Attorneys and the Department’s response to requests by the Congress for information relating to the terminations.”

Going on, Conyers makes it clear that he intends to question Goodling’s right to take the Fifth and, failing that, to call her before the committee to do it in person, repeatedly:

We have reviewed Ms. Goodling’s declaration and the letters you sent to us and Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and we are concerned 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. In addition, of course, the Fifth Amendment privilege, under long-standing Supreme Court precedents, does not provide a reason to fail to appear to testify; the privilege must be invoked by the witness on a question-by-question basis.

In response, attorney Dowd has just given a statement to National Review Online that suggests Goodling does not intend to go along with Conyers’ request:

I think our earlier letter suffices and is very complete.  Threats of public humiliation for exercising her Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights are not well taken and are frowned upon by the courts and the bar committee on ethics.  Subjecting a person to public obloquy and humiliation makes the exercise of her basic rights more expensive.  In a free country, every citizen should have the liberty to exercise their rights without threats or coercion.

Byron York is a former White House correspondent for National Review.

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