House Panel May Give Monica Goodling Immunity
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The House Judiciary Committee could grant immunity for former Justice Department official Monica Goodling as early as tomorrow. She's a central figure in the unfolding scandal over the firing of eight federal prosecutors. Goodling has refused to answer questions from the committee, citing her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.
NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.
NINA TOTENBERG: Declaring that he hopes the committee will grant Goodling immunity as soon as possible, committee chairman John Conyers has scheduled the meeting tomorrow. But House rules require a two-thirds vote of the panel in order to grant a witness immunity, and that could be tricky if the Bush administration either publicly or privately opposes the measure.
The 33-year-old Goodling held a job title in the Justice Department that did not exist in previous administrations: liaison to the White House. And her name is all over the thousands of pages of e-mails that the department has released about the controversial firing of eight federal prosecutors. She's the only Justice Department official to have invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify, and congressional sources say the need for her testimony has become increasingly apparent as other officials have testified behind closed doors in recent days.
According to these sources, officials in the deputy attorney general's office testified that they only put one name on the firing list, that they did not supply other names though they did not object to others on the list. Michael Battle, who supervised all 93 U.S. attorneys, told the committee last week that he did not suggest any names. As one congressional source put it, that leads to the question, where did these names come from? Did they come from the White House? And Monica Goodling was the liaison to the White House.
President Bush has refused to allow his aides to testify under oath or with a transcript about their role in the firings. So the committee has been unable to question political guru Karl Rove, former counsel Harriet Miers, or their deputies, all of whose names appear on many of the e-mails to and from the Justice Department and White House. That leaves Goodling as the only available witness to provide some of the answers about the White House involvement. To grant her immunity, though, would require that four Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee approve. And unlike the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Republicans have not always followed the White House lead, Republicans on the House Committee have solidly supported the administration, at least so far.
Some, however, could balk at voting to block what could be key testimony in the firing scandal. More over, the Senate could grant immunity later. Senate sources said they first want to hear Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testimony later this week, and they want a proffer from Goodling's lawyer as to what her testimony would be before granting her even limited immunity from prosecution. Just what the White House position is remains to be seen. A spokesman said there would be no comment on the matter.
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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