Lt. Col. Oliver North was convicted in 1989 in a felony prosecution for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, but his conviction was ultimately reversed -- not because he wasn't guilty but because federal appellate judges believed that the jury that heard North's case had been tainted by testimony he had been compelled to give before Congress.
Could it happen again with Karl Rove or any other Bush administration officials implicated in the Valerie Plame case? New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg seems to think so, and he's taking preemptive measures to stop it. In a letter obtained by Raw Story, Lautenberg tells the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees that it's right for Congress to investigate the Plame case, but that the committees should act carefully to avoid accidentally -- and it would surely be an accident, right? -- interfering with any criminal prosecutions.
"As you know, Congress has the power to grant immunity to witnesses who appear before its committees," Lautenberg writes. "However we must be mindful of the warning delivered by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh at the end of his seven-year investigation into the Iran-Contra affair. His investigation was hampered, and the convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter overturned on appeal, due to immunity granted by Congress in exchange for testimony before Iran-Contra committees. Walsh advised that Congress should think carefully before granting immunity, and be cognizant that 'if it wants to compel testimony by granting immunity, it has to realize that the odds are very strong that its going to kill any resulting criminal prosecution.'
"While I applaud your Committees efforts to investigate the Plame affair, I urge you to not provide an opportunity for any wrongdoers to escape culpability for criminal actions that may have put our national security at risk."