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House Panel Vote Postponed on Immunity For Gonzales Aide

Monica Goodling, once Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' White House liaison, would be granted immunity from prosecution and forced to testify under a plan being considered by a House panel probing the firings of federal prosecutors.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said Tuesday that Goodling, who has refused to testify, has much to contribute to the investigation.

"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," said Conyers, D-Mich.

"She's at the nexus of the relationship between the White House and the Justice Department," added Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Conyers had scheduled a committee vote Wednesday on granting Goodling immunity but agreed late Tuesday to a request from the panel's Republicans to postpone it a week, said a committee spokeswoman. A two-thirds majority vote on the committee would be required to grant her immunity. The panel has 22 Democrats and 17 Republicans.

Republicans didn't appear eager Tuesday to go along. Committee member Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said the immunity offer was "merely meant to fan the flames of speculation and grab headlines." Goodling's attorney, John Dowd, declined to comment on the offer.

Goodling quit her job as senior counsel to Gonzales and the Justice Department's liaison with the White House amid the mushrooming furor over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, then refused to testify before House and Senate committees, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. She and her lawyer have said any testimony could amount to a perjury trap.

Democrats question whether the administration singled out some of those fired in an effort to interfere with corruption cases in ways that might help Republicans.

No evidence has surfaced to support allegations of wrongdoing, but Gonzales' shifting explanations have led to calls for his resignation and thrown his department into turmoil. His long-awaited testimony on the matter was postponed from Tuesday to Thursday this week because of the Virginia Tech killings.

In the interim, Democrats have kept up the pressure. Conyers' committee announced this week that they want to talk to Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh.

Her name came up during a private interview by House and Senate investigators with Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' one-time chief of staff. Sampson told the investigators over the weekend that Buchanan was one of the senior Justice Department officials he consulted on which U.S. attorneys should be asked to resign, according to a senior Democratic aide who has seen a transcript of the interview. The aide requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. At the time, Buchanan was also serving as director of the office that oversees U.S. attorneys.

Buchanan refused to comment.

The Senate, meanwhile, passed a resolution Tuesday evening removing Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., from a Senate ethics committee inquiry involving former federal prosecutor David Iglesias of New Mexico. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, will replace Salazar in the investigation.

The ethics committee opened a preliminary inquiry after Iglesias said last month that Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., had called him in October to ask about the status of a pending political corruption investigation. Iglesias said he took the call from Domenici and another by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., to be pressure to rush indictments in the case, which could have helped Republicans in the 2006 election. Domenici and Wilson have denied pressuring Iglesias.

Salazar said in a statement that he asked to be recused from the investigation because of his friendship with former New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who was Wilson's Democratic opponent in November.

Also Tuesday, Emmet Flood, special counsel to the president, asked a lawyer for the Republican National Committee to withhold any e-mails sought by Conyers' committee until Flood can review them. Conyers said Flood's request is an impediment to the investigation.