Will Justice probe block Gonzales aide's testimony?

The Justice Department creates for itself an Oliver North problem.

Published May 3, 2007 1:22PM (EDT)

Maybe we're growing way too cynical -- watching Alberto Gonzales testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee can do that to you -- but does it strike anyone else that the fact that the Justice Department's decision to investigate Monica Goodling could interfere with the House Judiciary Committee's plan to force her to testify may be something other than a coincidence?

As the Washington Post reports this morning, Justice is looking into allegations that Goodling "illegally took party affiliation into account in hiring career federal prosecutors." As we noted last month, a group of Justice Department employees have charged, in a letter to Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, that Gonzales' aides have been "politicizing" the "non-political ranks of Justice employees" by refusing to hire young lawyers whose résumés show involvement with "liberal" judges or causes. The Post says that the Justice Department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility are now investigating Goodling's role based on a referral from Alexandria, Va., U.S. attorney Chuck Rosenberg, who was working as Gonzales' temporary chief of staff after Kyle Sampson resigned earlier this year.

Now, if there's evidence that Goodling was checking the GOP bona fides of candidates for jobs that are supposed to be nonpolitical, she ought to be under investigation for it. But isn't it interesting that, just as Goodling's attorney is saying that she's willing to testify about last year's prosecutor purge in exchange for an offer of immunity from Conyers' committee, the Justice Department reveals the existence of an investigation that could set up an Oliver North problem and prevent her testimony? With Goodling under criminal investigation, Gonzales' people at Justice now have a basis for telling the Judiciary Committee, and the federal judge who would have to approve any immunity deal, that granting immunity to Goodling to testify before Congress would jeopardize any hope of prosecuting Goodling criminally -- just like Congress' grant of immunity to North ended up undoing his criminal conviction in the Iran-Contra affair. It's all so ... convenient.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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