Former Gonzales Aide to Be Granted Immunity, Will Likely Testify

After a relatively quiet couple of weeks, it appears that the scandal surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the controversial firings of a group of U.S. attorneys is about to heat up again. Yesterday, the Department of Justice cleared the way for the testimony of former Justice official Monica Goodling after allowing Congress to grant her immunity.

Because the DOJ’s Inspector General Glenn Fine and the head of its Office of Professional Responsibility, H. Marshall Jarrett, are both pursuing their own joint internal investigation, it was unclear whether or not they’d agree to grant Goodling immunity. However, in a letter to Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Fine and Jarrett indicated that they understood “the Committee’s interest in obtaining Ms. Goodling’s testimony.” Said Conyers: “I believe obtaining her testimony will be a critical step in our efforts to get to the truth about the circumstances surrounding the U.S. attorney firings and possible politicization in the department’s prosecutorial function.”

The timing of this most recent announcement is probably not coincidental. Gonzales himself is slated to testify before the Committee this Thursday. With Goodling now likely to testify later this month, the tenor of Gonzales’ testimony may be affected since he knows that one of his top former aides one with immunity, no less will be following him to the stand.

Goodling’s testimony is seen as crucial to the ongoing investigation about whether the firings of the federal prosecutors were politically motivated. Goodling served as Gonzales’ senior counsel and liaison to the White House, and she is believed to have been instrumental in helping to carry out the terminations. Therefore, she should have much insight into the role that both Gonzales and White House officials played in the firing plan. There is also growing evidence that Goodling and Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ chief of staff, may have used political affiliation as a criterion for deciding whom to hire as career prosecutors, a practice that violates federal law.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee was also active on Monday, requesting the “cooperation” of Bradley J. Schlozman, a current DOJ official who was an interim U.S. attorney in Missouri. Schlozman is at the center of a controversy surrounding voter-fraud cases in Missouri.

The lawmakers are concerned that Schlozman’s predecessor as U.S. attorney in the DOJ’s Kansas City office, Todd Graves, may have been forced out of his job for refusing to endorse a voter-fraud suit that was brought by Schlozman himself against the state. Four months later, Graves resigned and was replaced by Schlozman. (Schlozman’s original suit was dismissed.) Schlozman then proceeded to file a voter-registration-fraud lawsuit against a liberal group a mere five days before last November’s elections. Congress is wondering whether these indictments were politically motivated.

Last week, Jim Comey, deputy attorney general from 2003 to 2005, voiced his support for all but one of the eight fired U.S. attorneys, praising their records and indicating that their performances were not seen as deficient within the DOJ. His testimony directly contradicts earlier statements made by Gonzales and other DOJ officials, who’d claimed that the attorneys were fired for being “weak managers.”

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