By Dan Eggen and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Lawmakers approved new subpoenas yesterday for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials, part of an expanding legal battle between the Democratically controlled Congress and the administration over topics such as the firings of eight U.S. attorneys and flawed justifications for the war in Iraq.
The subpoena to Rice seeks to force her testimony about the claim that Iraq sought to import uranium from Niger for its nuclear weapons program. President Bush offered that as a key rationale for the war in his 2003 State of the Union address. It was approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, along party lines, 21 to 10.
The same panel also issued two subpoenas to the Republican National Committee for testimony and documents related to political presentations at the General Services Administration and the use of RNC e-mail accounts by White House aides, including presidential adviser Karl Rove.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 32 to 6 to grant limited immunity from prosecution to Monica M. Goodling, the former senior counselor and White House liaison for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. She has invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to answer questions about her role in the prosecutor firings. The panel also authorized, but did not issue, a subpoena that would compel her to testify.
And finally in the Senate, the Judiciary Committee authorized a subpoena for Rove deputy Sara Taylor, whose name has appeared among thousands of pages of e-mails and other documents released by the Justice Department in the U.S. attorney firings.
The five subpoenas and related votes, approved over the course of two hours yesterday morning, provided fresh evidence of the remarkable change since Democrats took control of Congress in January. Congressional committees have approved or issued more than two dozen subpoenas, most of them related to the U.S. attorney firings.
"A subpoena is not a request; it's a demand for information," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House oversight committee that issued the bulk of yesterday's subpoenas. "They ought to understand it's no longer a request, it's no longer an option."
The White House signaled that it would continue to resist efforts to secure testimony from Rice, Rove and other aides. Spokesman Tony Fratto said that in Taylor's case, the committee should reconsider an earlier offer from the White House, which would allow aides to be interviewed without a transcript and not under oath.
The demand for Rice's testimony would put a spotlight on her role as national security adviser in promoting discredited administration claims that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
"There was one person in the White House who had primary responsibility to get the intelligence about Iraq right -- and that was Secretary Rice, who was then President Bush's national security adviser," Waxman said. "The American public was misled about the threat posed by Iraq, and this committee is going to do its part to find out why."
Rice was flying to Oslo for a meeting with NATO foreign ministers as the committee voted to issue the subpoena. "There is no need for Secretary Rice's testimony," Fratto said, "since the subjects about which the chairman says he wants to ask her have already been exhaustively investigated and addressed on the public record, including by Secretary Rice herself in connection with her confirmation as secretary of state."
He added, "There is a long-standing policy that senior advisers to the president, including the national security adviser, do not testimony before Congress."
A Democratic committee aide rejected that assertion, providing a lengthy list of White House aides, including chiefs of staffs, senior advisers and counsels, who provided testimony to the GOP-run committee during the Clinton administration. He said that if Rice defied the subpoena, the committee and then the full House could vote to find her in contempt before she could litigate a claim of executive privilege. The political costs of such a fight would be too great for Rice or the White House, he said.
Most of yesterday's subpoenas were linked at least tangentially to the U.S. attorney firings, which have sparked an uproar in Congress that has nearly cost Gonzales his job.
In his continuing bid to mend fences on Capitol Hill, Gonzales paid a visit yesterday to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who angrily took the Senate floor last month to say that the attorney general had lied to him about the removal of a U.S. attorney in Arkansas. Pryor said after the meeting that he told Gonzales it would be best for the Justice Department if he resigned.
Gonzales will appear again May 10 before the House Judiciary Committee, the panel announced yesterday. The committee's investigators hope that by that time, they will have secured an interview with Goodling.
"Ms. Goodling appears to be a key witness for us, as to any possible undue influence or improper interference, and as to any internal discussions as to how forthcoming to be to Congress," said Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).
Fratto and a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the grant of immunity to Goodling, who resigned her post earlier this month.
The office of Goodling's attorney, John Dowd, said he declined to comment.
More than half the Republicans on the House Judiciary panel voted to grant Goodling immunity. While he warned that the vote could have serious consequences, Rep. Lamar Smith (Tex.), the committee's ranking Republican, said "the public has a strong interest in knowing the truth in this situation and knowing it now."
Under the deal -- known in legal parlance as "limited-use immunity" -- Goodling could not be prosecuted for anything she truthfully tells Congress. Some Democrats have questioned whether prior testimony to Congress by some senior Justice officials, such as Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, amounted to knowingly making false statements to Congress.
McNulty has acknowledged several misstatements in February testimony, blaming it on poor preparation by Goodling and other aides.
Staff writers Michael Abramowitz and Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.