N.M. senator apologizes for inquiry into corruption case

Fired U.S. attorney says he was pressed about probe on Democrat

March 05, 2007|By McClatchy-Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Republican Sen. Pete V. Domenici apologized yesterday for calling the U.S. attorney he helped install in New Mexico to inquire about the timing of a continuing federal corruption case involving at least one Democrat.

Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias told McClatchy Newspapers last week that he believed the call was timed in mid-October to pressure him to rush the investigation before the November elections to benefit Republicans. Iglesias, who left office Wednesday, added that he believed he was fired because he resisted and did not speed up the case.

Domenici said in his statement that he never pressured or threatened Iglesias.

"In retrospect, I regret making that call and I apologize," he said. "However, at no time in that conversation or any other conversation with Mr. Iglesias did I ever tell him what course of action I thought he should take on any legal matter."

Domenici also acknowledged that he asked the Justice Department to replace Iglesias but said he made the request before calling about the corruption probe.

Two individuals with knowledge of the contact have told McClatchy Newspapers that Rep. Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican, also called to press Iglesias for details of the case. Wilson appeared miffed after Iglesias was "non-responsive" to her questions about whether an indictment would be unsealed, said the two individuals, who asked not to be identified because they feared possible political repercussions. A spokesman for Wilson did not return calls yesterday.

Experts said efforts to intervene with a prosecutor could represent ethical violations. Iglesias said the calls were about his investigation of an $82 million courthouse contract.

Domenici's acknowledgement is expected to dominate hearings tomorrow as the House and Senate probe the administration's sudden firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Most were notified Dec. 7.

Questions about the firings have continued to trouble Justice Department officials, who have said most of the firings were motivated by "performance-related" reasons.

Justice Department officials said they had not known about any congressional contact and questioned why Iglesias did not report the allegations, as he was required to do under departmental policy.

"Any suggestion that David Iglesias was removed as U.S. attorney to interfere with any public integrity investigation is plainly wrong and ill-conceived," said Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman. "The department was unaware that such a conversation between the senator and the U.S. attorney happened."

Experts have said mass firings in the middle of an administration are unprecedented, although incoming administrations often remove prosecutors appointed by their predecessors.

Justice Department officials have played down the firings as internal administrative decisions based on individual concerns about each U.S. attorney's overall performance.

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