WASHINGTON — Putting their congressional control to work, Democrats approved new subpoenas Wednesday — and a grant of immunity — for probes ranging from the prosecutor firings and White House political activities to President Bush's justification for the war in Iraq.
Democrats said the broad array of investigations represents a revival of Congress' role after six years of little oversight of the Bush administration by Republican lawmakers.
The White House is pushing back, refusing to allow officials to testify under oath about the firings and arguing that top officials — including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, subject of one of the subpoenas — already have answered questions about the administration's now-discredited claim that Iraq was seeking uranium for a bomb.
"I am beginning to wonder whether the White House has any interest in the American people learning the truth about these matters," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Congress' effort isn't driven solely by Democrats. Republicans have barely restrained their disdain for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' accounting of the firings, including his claims of a faulty memory.
Sen. Arlen Specter, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, co-signed a letter with Leahy Wednesday urging Gonzales to freshen his memory and provide answers within a week.
"We are reviewing this request," said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.
Congress was ramping up investigations of the White House on several fronts:
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 21-10 to issue a subpoena to Rice to compel her testimony on the Bush administration's pre-war claims about Saddam Hussein seeking weapons of mass destruction.
Next door, the House Judiciary Committee voted 32-6 to grant immunity from prosecution to Monica Goodling, Gonzales' White House liaison, for testimony on why the administration fired eight federal prosecutors. The panel also unanimously approved — but did not issue — a subpoena to compel her to testify. In addition, the committee scheduled a May 10 hearing for Gonzales.
Across Capitol Hill, Leahy's panel approved — but did not issue — a subpoena in the firings matter for Sara Taylor, deputy to Bush political adviser Karl Rove.
The House oversight committee also issued subpoenas for the Republican National Committee for testimony and documents about White House e-mails on RNC accounts that are said to be missing. The RNC released a letter to the panel listing 37 White House officials who have RNC e-mail accounts, including Rove.
Gonzales, meanwhile, was trying to mend fences in his first visit to Capitol Hill since his punishing appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
He met privately with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who has contended Gonzales wasn't truthful with him about the dismissal of the U.S. attorney in Little Rock. The outreach didn't take.
"I reiterated with the attorney general, face-to-face, that I think he should resign," Pryor told reporters after the meeting. "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."
Lawmakers say they want to force into the open the story of why the eight U.S. attorneys were fired.
Pryor's harsh words on Gonzales were echoed by lawmakers in both parties, though Republicans tended to leave out the actual call for his resignation. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, noted a pragmatic concern: The waning months of the Bush administration complicate prospects for confirming a new attorney general.
"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," Grassley said.
On the uranium issue, Rice's allies maintained that she has for years answered Congress' questions under oath, as well as media inquiries, about her knowledge of Bush's claim about Iraq.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, traveling with Rice in Europe for NATO meetings, said department officials would try to answer the committee's questions, but he indicated Rice might not comply with a subpoena.
"Those matters are covered by executive privilege," McCormack said. "Those matters mean the questions that he has related to her tenure as national security adviser."
That position gives "us no choice but to proceed with a subpoena," said House Oversight Committee's chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
Even as he pressed ahead on Rice, Waxman postponed a vote on a subpoena for former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card on the same issue. Waxman said White House Counsel Fred Fielding had made a compromise proposal worth pursuing: The committee will first talk to the White House office of administration about Card's knowledge.
On the prosecutor firings, the House Judiciary Committee approved two measures that would compel Goodling's testimony and grant her immunity from prosecution for what she says.
Some Republicans cautioned that immunity has tied the hands of prosecutors in the past, notably during the Iran-Contra affair. John Poindexter and Oliver North were granted immunity for congressional testimony, and later convictions were reversed — ruled to have been based too much on that testimony.
At the Justice Department, Boyd would not speculate on whether giving Goodling immunity could hamper prosecutors should evidence of criminal activity surface.