The Justice Department said today it will not stand in the way of the House Judiciary Committee providing immunity to Monica Goodling, a former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in exchange for her testimony.
But before Goodling, who has asserted her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, can be compelled to testify, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) must first file for immunity in court, a process that a Judiciary Committee spokesman said would take about a week. The committee has not yet filed for such immunity.
In a May 7 letter to Conyers, two Justice officials conducting an internal investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys in 2006 said they would not object to Congress granting Goodling immunity.
“After balancing the significant Congressional and public interest against the impact of the Committee’s actions on our ongoing investigation, we will not raise an objection or seek a deferral,” wrote DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine and H. Marshall Jarrett, the counsel for the Office of Professional Responsibility.
The inspector general and the OPR are probing whether Gonzales or his top aides behaved improperly in firing the federal prosecutors last year. Last week, the two offices opened a new investigation into whether Goodling made hiring decisions for lower-level prosecutors based on political affiliation.
Goodling, who stepped down as the scandal unfolded, appears to have played a key role in the firings as former counsel to Gonzales and White House liaison.
Her attorney, John Dowd, wrote an angry May 3 letter to Fine and Jarrett arguing that Justice had no legal authority to obstruct Congress offering immunity to his client by establishing a parallel investigation. Dowd charged that the timing of the probe “smacks of retribution and intimidation.”
Conyers and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has been leading the Senate investigation, welcomed the news.
“I believe obtaining her testimony will be a critical step in our efforts to get to the truth,” Conyers said.
Added Schumer: “It’s good that the Justice Department didn’t object to Goodling’s testimony, but this investigation was going to proceed with or without their approval, which is not legally necessary.”