There has been a lot of discussion already about the Ralston news from today--that she asked for immunity so she could testify about Abramoff contacts with the White House. What seems to be missing from those stories is the takeaway: Henry Waxman's not giving Ralston immunity anytime soon.
Waxman provides a helpful map of what happened. Ralston gave a deposition on May 10--over a month after Waxman first invited her to visit. While there, she "testified on a number of subjects unrelated to the Abramoff matter." [Note to Novak and Rove--that bit's just there to make you sweat.] But as for the rest, Waxman describes what sounds like an unsuccessful attempt on the part of designated firewall defense lawyer Brad Berenson to convince Waxman to give Ralston immunity for stuff she's still under investigation for with the DOJ probe. Henry helpfully shows us the roadmap Berenson laid out for us:
Susan is here this morning voluntarily. She wants to assist the committee in its investigation to the extent she is able to. She is not under subpoena. We understand that the purpose of this morning’s deposition is really twofold: first, for her to provide the information that she can provide on a couple of subjects where she can testify without precondition … and, secondly, to make a record for the committee of the subjects on which she does not feel she can testify without a grant of immunity based on concerns that the testimony may reasonably form some link in a chain of evidence that someone could regard as inculpatory of her.
The subjects this morning that she will be unable to testify to on those grounds are the subjects of the relationship between Jack Abramoff and his associates and White House officials, including Ms. Ralston, and the subject of the use by White House officials of political e-mail accounts at the RNC.
She has material, useful information about both of those subjects. She is more than willing to provide it to the committee. However, she will, as we have previously discussed, require a grant of immunity before she is comfortable going forward.
And if you can't read that road map, Henry gives you an even more specific one:
She was personal friends with a number of the individuals on Abramoff’s staff, and as the
committee’s own report makes clear, was frequently the recipient of communications from them, even if the substantive matters under discussion related only to activities by other officials in the
So let me read the road map for you all:
- Ralston would incriminate herself if she talked about Jack Abramoff's contacts with the White House.
- Ralston would incriminate herself if she talked about the political emails at the RNC.
- Ralston got frequent emails from people on Abramoff's staff discussing activities relating to "other officials in the White House."
But, Waxman says, Ralston isn't going to get immunity to talk about these things--there are plenty of people (like Michael Scanlon or the other Abramoff lobbyists who have flipped) who can testify about these things.
Curiously, Waxman doesn't say how he's going to get to the RNC emails without Ralston. But since Ralston says that, too, will incriminate her, I suspect her non-testimony has renewed Waxman's interest in getting the emails.