WASHINGTON – Former Justice Department official Monica Goodling told lawmakers Wednesday she wanted to "set the record straight," blaming deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty for misleading Congress about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
Goodling, speaking out in public for the first time, denied playing a major role in the dismissals in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.
Goodling responded to allegations that she withheld information from McNulty in his Feb. 6 testimony to a Senate panel.
"I was surprised to learn that the deputy had blamed me for his incomplete or inaccurate information," Goodling said, adding that "I believe the deputy was not fully candid."
Goodling also dismissed allegations that she communicated with top White House officials about the firings.
“I did not hold the keys to the kingdom, as some have suggested,” Goodling said, adding that she did not attend meetings of White House judicial selection and never spoke to White House adviser Karl Rove or former White House counsel Harriet Miers.
Justice Department documents show Goodling helped Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former deputy, Kyle Sampson, plan the dismissals. Sampson produced the list of attorneys to replace, Goodling said.
Goodling told lawmakers that she considered applicants for jobs as career prosecutors based on their political loyalties, and she "crossed the line."
"I may have gone too far, and I may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions," Goodling said. "And I regret those mistakes."
Goodling, accompanied by three attorneys, agreed to come before the committee under limited immunity after taking the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying about her involvement. Goodling resigned last month as the Justice Department's White House liasion after five years at the department.
"The fact that we are granting limited immunity to Ms. Goodling for her testimony should not be taken as an indication that the committee believes that she is guilty of a crime," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Democrats want to know if the White House acted inappropriately in the decisions over who to fire. Conyers said Goodling's testimony is part of an investigation that "may well have information that will help us in our inquiry" into whether last year's firings were politically motivated.
“We want to hear from you today so that we can find out the truth, clear the air or take other appropriate steps,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.
"The accusations don't seem to have legs," Smith said.
Goodling's testimony comes as some Senate Democrats seek a no-confidence vote for Gonzales, who is under fire by lawmakers for his role in the firings. Several Democrats and Republicans have called for Gonzales to resign.
The documents, which contain transcripts of congressional interviews with former and current Justice employees, describe Goodling breaking down in the office of Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis on March 8 as the Democratic-controlled Congress made plans to call Justice Department officials to testify in the growing controversy.
"She proceeded for the next, it seemed like forever but it was probably only about 30 or 45 minutes, to bawl her eyes out and say, 'All I ever wanted to do was serve this president and this administration and this department,"' Margolis said of Goodling in his closed-door May 1 interview.
"I knew she must think everything was unraveling. And, you know, she was right about that," Margolis said.
Goodling is also at the center of an internal Justice Department inquiry into whether she considered whether prosecutors were Republicans before hiring them for career jobs, a violation of federal law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.