WASHINGTON—Frustrated with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' incomplete explanation of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, members of two congressional committees demanded that Gonzales submit to more questions about his handling of the ousters.
The development came as a House of Representatives committee voted Wednesday to grant immunity to a former top aide to Gonzales to compel her testimony. Monica Goodling, the aide, had said she would invoke her constitutional right not to testify for fear of incriminating herself.
Gonzales has struggled to repair his credibility as Democrats and Republicans continue to hammer him for his conflicting statements about the Justice Department's targeting of prosecutors.
Although Gonzales spent weeks preparing for testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he couldn't answer a litany of questions about a plan to target top prosecutors who'd fallen out of favor with the administration. In recent days, several Democrats and Republicans have called for Gonzales' resignation, although President Bush has reaffirmed his support for his top law enforcement official. Gonzales has said he won't resign.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee's ranking Republican, urged Gonzales in a letter Wednesday to provide more information related to his knowledge and involvement in the firings.
"By some counts you failed to answer more than 100 questions," the senators wrote. "As a result, the committee's efforts to learn the truth of why and how these dismissals took place, and the role you and other department and White House officials had in them, has been hampered."
Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., announced that Gonzales will be appearing before his committee on May 10 to testify about the firings.
Several of the fired prosecutors were involved in public corruption cases prompting speculation that they were fired shortly after the 2006 congressional elections because they either went after Republicans too aggressively or didn't indict Democrats. In his Senate testimony, Gonzales denied the charges, yet he continued to offer contradictory and vague reasons for the firings.
On Wednesday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., raised new questions about whether the firing of former Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton was connected to an investigation of a Republican.
The Wall Street Journal reported in its Wednesday editions that federal investigators in Arizona had faced delays in securing the Justice Department's approval of an investigation into a land deal that would have benefited a friend of Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz.
Meanwhile, Renzi's chief of staff admitted contacting Charlton's office to inquire about media reports regarding the investigation shortly before the 2006 congressional elections. Although Charlton disclosed the contact as required under Justice Department rules, Justice officials apparently didn't disclose it as part of the recent congressional investigation. So far, they've turned over more than 6,000 internal documents.
A Justice Department spokesman denied that officials interfered with any public corruption case for partisan reasons. "To the contrary, under the leadership of Attorney General Gonzales, the Justice Department has aggressively combated public corruption at all levels," said spokesman Dean Boyd.
Boyd also defended Gonzales' testimony: "It is not surprising that the attorney general could not recall every conversation that he has had."
The request by Leahy and Specter is being reviewed, Boyd said. The senators gave Gonzales a week to respond.
House Democrats believe Goodling, who served as a Justice Department liaison to the White House, may provide the answers that Gonzales didn't, such as whether the White House—in particular presidential aide Karl Rove—was more deeply involved in the firings.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 32-6 to grant Goodling immunity and approved a subpoena for her in a unanimous vote.
Goodling's lawyer, John M. Dowd, told House members in a letter Wednesday that his client would wait for a federal court to sign off on the order before responding. He declined further comment.