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 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.
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.
Joint letter issued for Gonzales
And 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. And several Republican lawmakers have lobbed harsh criticism at Gonzales in the two days since 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.
Wednesday's actions indicate that Democrats plan to increase their oversight of an administration that operated for six years under Republican congressional control.
Political influence at question in firings
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 Wednesday to mend fences on Capitol Hill. He met 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.
But 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."