Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Will Congress Grant Goodling Immunity in the U.S. Attorneys Firing Probe?

The House Judiciary Committee has a meeting scheduled for April 18 to consider whether to grant immunity to Monica Goodling, a former senior adviser to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who asserted her Fifth  Amendment privilege and refused to testify about the process that led to the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys.  According to a statement on the Committee website (here):

Meeting to consider: A resolution authorizing the Chairman to issue a subpoena to Monica Goodling for testimony and related documents at a hearing before the Committee regarding the circumstances surrounding recent terminations of U.S. Attorneys, representations to Congress regarding those circumstances, and related matters. A resolution directing the House General Counsel to apply to a United States district court for an order immunizing from use in prosecutions the testimony of, and related information provided by, Monica Goodling under compulsion at proceedings before or ancillary to the Committee regarding the circumstances surrounding recent terminations of U.S. Attorneys, representations to Congress regarding those circumstances, and related matters. Approval of assignment to subcommittee vacancies.

Giving a witness immunity is always risky if the Committee has not received a proffer from Goodling's attorney about what she plans to say.  In the common parlance of prosecutors, that involves buying a "pig in a poke" -- a bucolic way of saying that you don't know what you're getting in exchange for the immunity grant, which makes it very difficult to prosecute the witness at a later date (think Ollie North).  Goodling was a key player in the decision to terminate the eight U.S. Attorneys along with former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson, who did not invoke the Fifth Amendment and has provided information to Congress about the process.

A request for immunity requires a two-thirds vote by the Committee, and an interesting question is whether a sufficient number of Republican members will vote in favor of it.  The Committee rules require a 2/3 vote for the resolution, and there are 21 Democrats and 16 Republicans, so four Republicans would have to vote in favor to approve the immunity.  The White House has already blocked two senior aides who appear to be involved in the firing decision, Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, from testifying to this point.  While a claim of executive privilege could not block obtaining testimony from Goodling, her assertion of the Fifth Amendment is the functional equivalent and keeps her from testifying about interactions with the White House on the issue.  The Judiciary Committee has been privately interviewing a number of Department of Justice officials about the firings, but Goodling's role as Gonzales' liaison with the White House makes her a linchpin in the investigation of possible political interference with ongoing prosecutions.  If Goodling does not talk, and Rove and Miers will not testify, then the investigation could hit a dead end.  Each day seemingly brings a new development, and with Attorney General Gonzales scheduled to testify on April 19, look for things to get even more interesting. (ph)

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