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Inside Politics

Former Gonzales aide gets immunity

Story Highlights

• A former Justice Department aide granted immunity in attorney firings probe
• Monica Goodling had refused to testify before Congress about the firings
• Senate panel granted authority to subpoena White House's political director
• Rep. Rahm Emanuel slammed administration for firings, other controversies
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A House panel granted immunity Wednesday to a former Justice Department aide in its probe of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, while senators authorized a subpoena for the White House's political director.

Monica Goodling, a former aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, had invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refused to testify before Congress about the firings.

The Justice Department released documents that show Goodling was involved in discussions about which prosecutors would be fired. Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Michigan, said the committee "exhausted all reasonable efforts to obtain Ms. Goodling's critical information" short of offering immunity.

The panel also voted to subpoena Goodling in connection with the probe.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 32-6 to authorize the grant of immunity to Goodling, who resigned earlier this month.

Nine of the committee's 17 Republicans joined Democrats in backing immunity.

Conyers said the committee is following an appropriate process.

"Where it goes from there I am totally unprepared to say," he said. "We may come back and say you were right, but we also may not."

The White House is resisting congressional demands for sworn testimony from presidential aides, insisting it will let them be questioned only in private and without a transcript.

The controversy surrounding the firings centers on the Justice Department's initial characterization of the dismissals of U.S. attorneys as "performance-related," which provoked an outcry from the ousted prosecutors and triggered allegations of political influence on federal investigations.

Gonzales said he knew little about the discussions concerning the firings, but testimony from his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, as well as documents released by the Justice Department, have shown that officials in the White House political office were involved in the shakeup.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain said Wednesday he was disappointed in the performance of Gonzales, and believes it would be in President Bush's best interests for Gonzales to step aside.

"I think that out of loyalty to the president that that would probably be the best thing that he could do," McCain said in an interview with CNN's "Larry King Live."

Senate grants authority to subpoena

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday granted authority to subpoena White House Political Director Sara Taylor.

The committee's chairman, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, said he and the committee's ranking Republican, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, had asked Taylor two weeks ago to testify voluntarily but received no response.

The possibility of a subpoena, Leahy said, "may focus their attention."

Taylor works closely with Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, and both the Senate and House Judiciary committees want to learn more about Rove's involvement in the firing decisions. But Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said the White House would have the same objections to Taylor's testimony as it would for other top aides.

Leading Democrat blasts White House administration

A leading House Democrat and veteran of the Clinton administration's political arm, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, said the firings -- in addition to other controversies --show the Bush administration has turned the federal government into "a stepchild of the Republican Party," using it to advance GOP goals.

In a speech to the Brookings Institution on Wednesday the Illinois congressman said the U.S. attorneys controversy is just the latest in a series of administration blunders, ranging from the reconstruction of Iraq and the response to Hurricane Katrina to the poor conditions for outpatient solders at the Army's Walter Reed hospital.

"There is a common denominator: Instead of promoting solutions to our nation's broad challenges, the Bush administration used all the levers of power to promote their party and its narrow interests," he said.

Perino shot back that Emanuel's speech was "one that you would consider reading in the National Inquirer rather than at a prestigious American think-tank like the Brookings Institute" and dismissed his accusations as "grand conspiracy theories."

CNN's Kevin Bohn and Carol Cratty contributed to this report.


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