Wash. Post's Cohen's flat assertion that Goodling is “no criminal” undermined by her own lawyer's letter

In his April 10 column, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen stated as fact that former Justice Department White House liaison Monica Goodling, who recently invoked her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in the investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, is “no criminal -- but what could happen to her surely is.” Cohen further claimed that “Goodling's problem is probably not what she's done but what she might do,” adding that if she testifies before Congress, “she will produce a record -- a transcript -- that can be used against her.” But even Goodling's own attorney -- unlike Cohen -- acknowledged that Goodling has been accused of actions that may be illegal and that her testimony could be used against her in the context of those allegations. Cohen ignored the allegation by deputy attorney general Paul J. McNulty that Goodling and others caused him to give inaccurate testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee by failing to inform him of relevant facts. If this allegation is true, Goodling could be prosecuted, as her own attorney has observed.

From an April 4 letter from John Dowd, Goodling's attorney, to House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law chairwoman Linda Sánchez (D-CA):

As explained in our March 30 letter, we advised Ms. Goodling to assert her Fifth Amendment Right after learning that Deputy Attorney General McNulty had privately told Senator Schumer that Mr. McNulty had not been entirely candid in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and had blamed Ms. Goodling and others for failing to inform him of pertinent facts prior to his testimony. Mr. McNulty's allegations that Ms. Goodling and others caused him to give inaccurate testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee is a sufficient predicate for Ms. Goodling's invocation of her Fifth Amendment privilege, regardless of whether Mr. McNulty's allegation is factually correct -- which it is not.

Federal law (18 U.S.C. 1001) provides: “whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully -- (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) explained the possible criminal conduct in the context of D. Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who has also been accused of falsifying statements to Congress:

Federal law provides that if Sampson knew that he was causing DOJ officials to make inaccurate statements to Congress, he can be prosecuted for the federal crime of lying to Congress even though he did not personally make any statements to Congress. The Special Prosecutor should investigate not only Mr. Sampson's conduct but whether anyone else was involved in formulating the incomplete and erroneous congressional testimony or whether the officials who testified were aware that they were providing imperfect information to Congress.

In order to defend Goodling's decision not to “testify in today's political environment,” Cohen also included misinformation about the conviction of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby for perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice arising out of the investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. He wrote that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “not only knew early on who the leaker was but also that no law had been violated.” As Media Matters for America has noted, Fitzgerald has alleged that Libby's obstruction prevented him -- and the grand jury -- from determining whether the alleged leak violated federal law. Media Matters has documented previous misinformation about the Libby case from Cohen (here and here).