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Majority of Republicans backed immunity for ex-Justice aide

The House Judiciary Committee approved an immunity-for-testimony deal today for a key former aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as I reported on washingtonpost.com earlier today.

It's the boldest move to date by either the House or Senate Judiciary committees, both of which are conducting parallel probes of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year. Monica M. Goodling, Gonzales's former counsel, could prove to be a key witness.

One of the more interesting things about the vote, however, was its bipartisan nature: 32-6.
More than half of the 17 Republicans on House Judiciary went along with the immunity deal. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the ranking Republican on Judiciary, summed up the feelings of most Republicans on the panel in a statement that warned of the "consequences" of immunity and the potential to "compromise DOJ's ability to do their job."

But Smith reluctantly agreed. "The public has a strong interest in knowing the truth and knowing it now, so I am willing to vote for immunity for Ms. Goodling," he said.

All six "nay" votes came from Republicans, led by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), the onetime chairman of the committee. Sensenbrenner objected on legal grounds, citing the legal perils experienced by federal prosecutors 20 years ago when they tried a criminal case against Oliver North for his role in the Iran-Contra affair but were stymied by a congressional immunity deal.

"Immunity can very easily be the get-out-of-jail card for someone who's committed a crime," Sensenbrenner said.
It's unclear what crimes Goodling would have committed, but some Democrats have questioned whether congressional testimony by top Justice aides in February and March constituted a violation of the criminal statute of knowingly making false statements to Congress. (Revelations in more than 4,000 pages of documents released in recent weeks contradicted some of the key points made in that testimony.)

Another leading voice in opposition to immunity was Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), the ranking member of the committee's Commercial and Administrative Law subcommittee, which has overseen the investigation. (Over the weekend, Capitol Briefing incorrectly identified Cannon as "chairman" of that panel, a reflexive mistake after 12 years of GOP rule. Please forgive me!)

Cannon today argued that there's not a single shred of evidence of wrongdoing by anyone at the Justice Department. He contended that the U.S. attorneys investigation -- including an 11-hour marathon interview Tuesday with William Moschella, principal assistant deputy attorney general -- was beginning to interfere with the probe of the mass murder at Virginia Tech University.

Here's a breakdown of the six Republicans who opposed giving immunity from prosecution to Goodling, based on panel seniority:

* Sensenbrenner (Wisc.)
* Cannon (Utah)
* Randy Forbes (Va.)
* Steve King (Iowa)
* Trent Franks (Ariz)
* Louis Gohmert (Texas)

By Paul Kane  |  April 25, 2007; 7:10 PM ET
 
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