Judge Gives Immunity to Gonzales Aide
Saturday, May 12, 2007
A federal judge yesterday paved the way for a former aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to testify in Congress about the firings of U.S. attorneys, granting her limited immunity from prosecution so she can tell the House Judiciary Committee what she knows.
Under the order from Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, Monica M. Goodling "may not refuse to testify, and may not refuse to provide other information" if asked by Congress.
The ruling allows Goodling's testimony on the dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys last year, which has sparked a furor in Congress over senior Justice officials' shifting explanations for the firings.
The committee extended the offer of immunity after Goodling refused to testify or answer questions from congressional investigators, invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because of allegations that she may have played a role in providing false information to Congress.
"Monica Goodling is a critical witness to this ongoing investigation," House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said in a statement.
Committee staffers and Goodling's attorney, John Dowd, have held only informal talks about her testimony, according to aides on Capitol Hill. Those talks are expected to intensify next week, with the committee's goal to have Goodling testify before the House breaks for a week-long Memorial Day recess on May 25.
Dowd declined to comment yesterday, but he has said that Goodling would cooperate if ordered to testify under the immunity grant.
With both the House and Senate appropriations committees canceling Gonzales's annual appearances on budget matters, the attorney general is not expected to testify on Capitol Hill in the near future. Conyers said Thursday that after Goodling's testimony, he would confer with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) to determine how to proceed with their confrontation with the administration over obtaining White House documents and testimony from aides to President Bush.
Hogan's order says that "no testimony or other information compelled under this order . . . may be used against" Goodling, except for prosecutions for perjury or giving a false statement.
Goodling resigned last month as Gonzales's senior counselor and White House liaison. She is also the subject of a Justice Department investigation into whether she violated federal law or department policies by considering political affiliation in the hiring of career prosecutors in some districts.
Also yesterday, four Senate Democrats said they would introduce a bill Monday to strip a provision from the USA Patriot Act that allows U.S. attorneys to avoid residency requirements in their districts while they also hold full-time positions at Justice Department headquarters.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced plans to introduce the bill after The Washington Post reported that Justice officials had the measure inserted into the Patriot Act reauthorization bill on the same day in late 2005 that Gonzales was reassuring a federal judge that Montana U.S. Attorney William W. Mercer had not violated federal law by spending most of his time in Washington.
Mercer has simultaneously served as the state's federal prosecutor and as a top adviser to Gonzales for the past two years.