In rapid succession, congressional committees Wednesday ramped up their investigations of the Bush administration by approving a subpoena for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and granting immunity to a former key aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
By 21-10, the House oversight committee voted to issue a subpoena to Rice to compel her story on the Bush administration's claim, now discredited, that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa.
"We note the committee's actions and will be consulting with the White House on this matter," State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey wrote in an e-mail message. "As I said earlier today, the Secretary has addressed this four-year old issue on many occasions and the subject already has been exhaustively investigated."
Moments earlier in the committee chamber next door, the House Judiciary Committee voted 32-6 to grant immunity to Monica Goodling, Gonzales' White House liaison, for her testimony on why the administration fired eight federal prosecutors. The panel also unanimously approved — but did not issue — a subpoena to compel her to appear.
Simultaneously across Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved — but did not issue — a subpoena on the prosecutors' matter to Sara Taylor, deputy to presidential adviser Karl Rove.
The House oversight committee also issued subpoenas for the Republican National Committee for testimony and documents about White House e-mails on RNC accounts that have apparently gone missing, in violation of the law.
In case Gonzales thought the worst had passed with his punishing testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the chairman and top Republican issued a new demand: Refresh the memory that Gonzales claimed had failed him 71 times during the seven-hour session.
"Provide the answers to the questions you could not recall last Thursday," Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, wrote to Gonzales on Wednesday.
Specter's letter underscored that Congress' march against the administration isn't driven solely by Democrats. Only six members of the House Judiciary Committee voted against immunity for Goodling — all Republicans. Several Republican lawmakers have lobbed harsh criticism at Gonzales in the two days since Mr. Bush issued a fresh statement of support for him.
"I'll be as vigilant as ever in overseeing the Justice Department and working with other senators both Republicans and Democrats for accountability from the attorney general and the department he leads," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Democrats say they want to force into the open the story of why the eight U.S. attorneys were fired and whether they were singled out to influence corruption cases. Republicans point out that Gonzales survived a brutal Senate hearing last week with President Bush's support and no evidence of wrongdoing in the prosecutors firings.
For his part, Gonzales tried to mend fences on Capitol Hill, meeting with a key critic, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who has complained that Gonzales was not truthful with him over the dismissal of Bud Cummins, the former U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark.
His outreach apparently didn't take.
"I reiterated with the attorney general, face-to-face, that I think he should resign," Pryor told reporters in a conference call after meeting with Gonzales in Washington. "I think it's the best thing for the Department of Justice and it's probably the best thing for him personally and the administration."
On the uranium issue, Rice's allies maintained that she has for years answered Congress' questions under oath, as well as media inquiries, about her knowledge of the veracity of Mr. Bush's claim about uranium.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said Rice was "giving us no choice but to proceed with a subpoena."
Even as he pressed ahead on Rice, Waxman postponed a vote on issuing a subpoena to former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card on the same issue, saying White House Counsel Fred Fielding had made a compromise proposal worth pursuing. Under it, the committee would first talk to the White House office of administration about Card's knowledge of the uranium claim.
On the prosecutor firings, the House Judiciary Committee approved two measures that would compel Goodling's testimony and grant her immunity from prosecution. The immunity grant only would take effect if Conyers signs and issues the subpoena to Goodling, he said.
Some Republicans cautioned that immunity has tied the hands of prosecutors in the past, notably during the Iran-Contra scandal. Admiral John Poindexter and Lt. Col. Oliver North were granted immunity and later had their convictions reversed when a judge ruled that they were based too much on immunized testimony.
"Think of the consequences to the integrity and reputation of this committee and this institution should we grant immunity and it's impossible to prosecute someone," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a former chairman of the panel.
At the Justice Department, spokesman Dean Boyd declined comment on the House panel's vote to give Goodling immunity. He said he would not speculate on whether giving her immunity could tie prosecutors' hands should evidence of criminal activity surface.
The investigation into the prosecutors' firings spawned another probe into whether White House aides conducted official business on the RNC e-mail account, then deleted the e-mails in violation of law requiring all presidential records to be preserved.