House panel gives Gonzales aide immunity
WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee voted Wednesday to grant immunity to Monica Goodling, a key aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. She had refused to testify, invoking her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
The 32-6 vote by the House Judiciary Committee surpassed the 2/3 majority required to grant a witness immunity from prosecution. A separate vote to authorize a subpoena for Goodling passed by voice vote.
Democrats said the votes were necessary tools to force into the open the story of why the prosecutors were fired and whether they were singled out to influence corruption cases.
The votes instruct a House lawyer to seek an immunity grant from a federal court. The grant would not take effect unless Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., chooses to issue Goodling a subpoena compelling her to testify, Conyers said.
Goodling and her lawyer have invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, saying they believe Democrats have set a perjury trap for her. Conyers said Wednesday he hopes Goodling changes her mind and voluntarily tells the committee her story.
"I do not propose this step lightly," Conyers told the panel. "If we learn something new in the course of our investigation ... we can always stop the process s before the court issues an order."
Congressional Democrats investigating the Bush administration set rapid-fire votes in three committees Wednesday on subpoenas.
"If we are stonewalled then we can't hesitate to call on the powers available to us," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
Those powers include the threat of subpoenas to prod the administration into answering questions on a raft of issues, including the firings of eight U.S. attorneys and President Bush's suggestion, now discredited, that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa.
Chief among the targets is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose aides have insisted she has answered questions repeatedly before Congress and in the media about Bush's statement on uranium.
"We have hit a brick wall with the secretary of state," Waxman announced Wednesday. Rice, he said, "is giving us no choice but to proceed with a subpoena."
He postponed a vote on issuing a subpoena to former White House chief of staff Andrew Card on the same issue, saying White House Counsel Fred Fielding had make a compromise proposal worth pursuing.
Still, Republicans dismissed the subpoenas as political fishing expeditions by zealous majority Democrats eager to assert their newly won oversight power.
Rep. Tom Davis of Virgina, top Republican on Waxman's committee, called the Rice subpoena duplicative and evidence of a witchhunt. Though the uranium claim was false, Rice already has explained that she believed it to be true at the time.
Waxman's questions to her "have been asked and answered," Davis said.
"Subpoenaing Secretary Rice has more to do with political theater than legitimate oversight goals," said House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The barrage of subpoenas is an example of the Democrats' newfound power and the plethora of White House business from which they have to choose after six years of a Republican majority that did virtually no executive branch oversight.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.