Monday, March 05, 2007

Domenici Admits Contacting Fired Fed Prosecutor

It all depends on your definition of "pressure."

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) acknowledged yesterday that he contacted the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque last year to ask about an ongoing corruption probe of Democrats, but said he "never pressured him nor threatened him in any way."

Domenici also said in a statement that he told the Justice Department it should replace U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias, one of eight federal prosecutors fired in December. ...

Legal experts say it violates congressional ethics rules for a senator or House member to communicate with a federal prosecutor regarding an ongoing criminal investigation.

Domenici's remarks came four days after Iglesias alleged that two New Mexico lawmakers called him in mid-October and pressured him about the pace of the investigation. Iglesias said he believes the calls were at the root of his dismissal.

When asked last week about Iglesias's allegations, Domenici said: "I have no idea what he's talking about."

Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) has yet to comment; the rest of the New Mexico congressional delegation has denied placing any calls to Iglesias.

Two sources with knowledge of the calls have said Wilson made the first contact, followed by Domenici about a week later. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be named discussing the matter before a congressional hearing tomorrow. ...

Domenici said in his statement that he called Iglesias to ask about a criminal probe of courthouse construction kickbacks, which the FBI had turned over to Iglesias's office. Officials say the probe centers on a former Democratic state senator; no charges have been filed in the case.

"I asked Mr. Iglesias if he could tell me what was going on in that investigation and give me an idea of what time frame we were looking at," Domenici said. "It was a very brief conversation, which concluded when I was told that the courthouse investigation would be continuing for a lengthy period."

Domenici is not specific about when the call took place, saying only that he made it "late last year." Iglesias said the calls occurred in mid-October.

At that time, Wilson, a close Domenici ally, was locked in a tight reelection battle with state Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D). Their race included widespread discussion of alleged corruption among New Mexico Democrats. ...

The House Judiciary subcommittee has issued subpoenas for Iglesias, Bud Cummins of Little Rock, Carol Lam of San Diego and John McKay of Seattle. The Senate Judiciary Committee has also asked Daniel Bogden of Las Vegas and Paul K. Charlton of Phoenix to testify, in addition to the four others.

"No one believes anymore these U.S. attorneys were fired for any good reason," said Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, "and we will start to uncover the real truth at our hearing on Tuesday."

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