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Monica Goodling day on Capitol Hill

It's Monica Goodling day here in the House Judiciary Committee!

She's the former counsel and White House liaison for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the 33-year-old ex-Justice Department aide who refused to testify in the congressional investigations into the firings of U.S. attorneys in 2006. A central figure in the e-mails and documents released so far by Justice, Goodling's testimony today comes after reaching a deal for limited use immunity in which she can't be prosecuted for anything she tells the committee about what happened.

"We have no other means of obtaining her testimony in a timely manner," Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) said in his opening statement, intermittently hyping her potential testimony and downplaying its possible smoking-gun levels.

Democrats - and the media, let's be honest - are hoping Goodling will answer many of the unanswered questions so far in this scandal. And the media have turned out in droves here in 2141 Rayburn, the same hearing room which less than two weeks ago saw roughly half as many TV cameras and still photographers show up for Gonzales's own testimony.

Moments after Goodling took her seat at the witness table, around 10:15 a.m., about 10 TV cameras and a multitude of still photographers pounced upon her, setting up five to 10 feet away, treating this former staffer as if she knew who was on the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza. All the while, her seasoned white-collar, criminal-defense attorney, John Dowd, patiently stood next to her for about 10 minutes, a fatherly figure whose clients have included Major League Baseball as its top investigator of Pete Rose in the gambling investigation which led to the should-be Hall of Famer's ouster from the game.

The media turnout was so overwhelming Conyers took the first four minutes of the hearing to clear out the well in between the front row of the committee dais and Goodling at the witness table, where dozens of photographers had assembled sitting Indian-style like a bunch of kindergartners awaiting the big news of the day.

Finally, at 10:41 a.m., Conyers got to ask her a question - who was responsible for putting the names of the nine fired prosecutors on the firing list - and at that moment Goodling pleaded her Fifth Amendment rights "not to be a witness against myself." Conyers then went through the legal kabuki dance of formally granting her the immunity deal, which was worked out between the committee and a federal judge. The Justice Department did not attempt to block the deal. And the question-and-answer session is off and running.

Check back at Capitol Briefing for frequent updates throughout the day.

By Paul Kane  |  May 23, 2007; 11:01 AM ET
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