WASHINGTON – A House panel on Wednesday approved a subpoena for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to compel her to come to Capitol Hill to provide answers about Bush administration claims that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger.
Meanwhile, a separate House panel also voted to grant immunity from prosecution to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former aide Monica Goodling on Wednesday, forcing her hand to testify about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.
On the Senate side, the judiciary panel approved, but did not issue, a subpoena for White House Political Director Sara Taylor, deputy to presidential adviser Karl Rove.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 21-10 to issue a subpoena for Rice to respond to questions relating to a more than four-year-old claim by President Bush, long since retracted, that in 1999 Iraq had tried to purchase yellowcake from the African nation.
Committee chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said Rice was "giving us no choice but to proceed with a subpoena" since Democrats are not satisfied with previous explanations.
The debate over Iraq's efforts in Niger became the subject of a July 2003 op-ed written by Amb. Joe Wilson, who went to Africa in October 2002 to investigate the charges. In rebutting the op-ed, the Bush administration revealed that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA agent. That action led to a perjury and obstruction conviction against former Vice President Cheney's chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
On the uranium issue, allies of Rice, who was national security adviser at the time, maintain she has already answered Congress' questions under oath.
"We note the committee's actions and will be consulting with the White House on this matter. As I said earlier today, the Secretary has addressed this four-year old issue on many occasions and the subject already has been exhaustively investigated," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.
In the House Judiciary Committee, several Republican members went along with the grant of immunity for Goodling despite concerns that such privilege has previously prevented prosecutors from legal action against administration aides.
The committee voted 32-6 by voice vote for the immunity grant. The panel needed a two-thirds majority to grant a witness immunity from prosecution. The votes instruct a House lawyer to seek an immunity grant from a federal court. The grant would not take effect unless Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., chooses to issue Goodling a subpoena compelling her to testify, Conyers said.
"I do not propose this step lightly," Conyers told the panel. "If we learn something new in the course of our investigation ... we can always stop the process before the court issues an order."
Goodling, former senior counsel to Gonzales and the department's White House liaison, quit her post on April 6, a few weeks after she told Congress she wasn't going to testify about her role in the attorney firings. She then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Six Republicans — Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, Chris Cannon, Randy Forbes, Steve King, Trent Franks and Louis Gohmert — voted against the immunity. Sensenbrenner noted that Admiral John Poindexter and Lt. Col. Oliver North were granted immunity relating to their testimony on Iran-Contra. They later had their convictions reversed when a judge ruled that they were based too much on immunized testimony.
"Think of the consequences to the integrity and reputation of this committee and this institution should we grant immunity and it's impossible to prosecute someone," said Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a former chairman of the panel.
Democrats called the votes necessary to proceed with their investigation about the attorney firings flap. Another vote to authorize a subpoena for Goodling passed by voice vote.
The Department of Justice must now review the grant for immunity to determine if it would affect the outcome of any criminal investigations. Justice Department officials did not comment on the House action.
Goodling's immunity grant comes as Gonzales returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who recently called for the attorney general's resignation. Pryor accused Gonzales of lying to him and his constituency in Arkansas in a mid-December 2006 meeting.
At the time, according to Pryor, the attorney general asked him to consider Tim Griffin, a former aide to White House political strategist Rove, for the job of U.S. attorney for Arkansas.
"The attorney general not only lied to me as a person, but when he lied to me, he lied to the Senate and he lied to the people I represent," Pryor said last month after hearing Gonzales' former chief of staff Kyle Sampson's statements.
After meeting with Gonzales, Pryor said his position hadn't changed about wanting the attorney general to resign.
"I told him point blank I think it's in the best interest of the department and the administration that he resign," Pryor said. "I do believe that. It's hard to see how he manages this very important department given the stress and strain going on around him right now."
Pryor said Gonzales tried to explain his role in the firings but he had a "hazy memory."
"I think he's generally been caught in the crosshairs; I think much of this came out of the White House, but he is the attorney general," Pryor said.
Some Republican senators also are unmoved by the attorney general's performance last week before the committee.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said if Gonzales stays, he needs to work hard to repair the damage done to his credibility.
"I may have mixed feelings about him staying in place, but the reality is that putting in a new attorney general with only 18 months left in this administration may not make much of a difference because of the heightened politicization that's taken hold in the Senate," Grassley said in a statement.
Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., sent a letter to Gonzales on Wednesday requesting clarification about his role in the firings. They asked for a response within a week.
Gonzales failed to answer about 100 questions, according to the letter, which "hampered" the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation.
"The questions asked by senators should not have been a surprise. You were alerted in letters to you well in advance of last Thursday’s hearing," the letter reads.
Back in the House, the government reform committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., postponed a vote on issuing a subpoena to former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card on the same issue, saying White House Counsel Fred Fielding had made a compromise proposal worth pursuing.
As Gonzales continues to fight for his survival — with the seemingly undisputed backing of President Bush — the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to authorize another subpoena in its ongoing investigation of the attorney dismissals, this one for Sarah Taylor, who heads the White House political shop and is a top aide to Rove.
FOX News' Molly Hooper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.