The House Judiciary Committee is set to vote on whether to grant Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former counsel immunity from prosecution and force her to testify about the firings of eight federal prosecutors.
"I am hopeful we can approve immunity so that we can schedule her to testify as soon as possible and begin to clear up the many inconsistencies and gaps surrounding this matter," Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said in a statement Tuesday.
A two-thirds vote of the panel is required to approve the resolution, which would direct the House counsel to apply to U.S. District Court for a grant of immunity for Monica Goodling, Conyers' statement said.
Goodling's lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Goodling, Gonzales former counsel and liaison to the White House, has refused to testify under her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. She and her lawyer have suggested that congressional Democrats may have set up a perjury trap.
The announcement shows Democrats are eager to press ahead with their probe of whether the Bush administration ousted the federal prosecutors in an effort to influence corruption investigations in ways that would help Republicans.
No evidence has surfaced to support a charge of wrongdoing, but the uproar over Gonzales' conflicting responses has jeopardized his job.
Gonzales and Bush roles questioned
For his part, Gonzales was directing his FBI to assist in the Virginia Tech investigation. The tragic development gave him a chance for a different kind of visibility, in contrast to recent weeks in which he virtually disappeared from public view to prepare for his testimony.
"I'm sure that he will want to be dealing with the matters of the shooting," Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in announcing the postponement. He said Gonzales and the panel's senior Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, agreed that the delay was appropriate.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday that Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, told the Senate panel's investigators during an interview Sunday that the attorney general and Bush had a conversation in October in which the president mentioned concerns about David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in New Mexico who was later fired.
Gonzales related the conversation to Sampson just last month, Schumer said.
Bush told reporters last month that he recalled having a conversation last fall with Gonzales about complaints from senators about prosecutors, "but I never brought up a specific case or gave him specific instructions."
"As recently as March 26 the attorney general told NBC News that he did not remember a conversation with the president," Schumer said. "But only three weeks earlier, according to Sampson, he did specifically remember such a conversation."
Iglesias has maintained that he was fired after Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, both R-N.M., complained that he was not moving aggressively enough to bring indictments before November's election in an alleged kickback scheme involving New Mexico Democrats.
Domenici and Wilson have acknowledged talking with Iglesias by phone weeks before the election but have denied trying to put any pressure on him.
The White House has pushed for Gonzales to testify as soon as possible, and the long-scheduled hearing is widely viewed as the attorney general's last chance to quiet a controversy that has prompted calls in both parties for his resignation.
In prepared testimony for the hearing, Gonzales said he has "nothing to hide."