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Domenici Says He Contacted Prosecutor

Iglesias and five other fired prosecutors are scheduled to testify tomorrow before Congress. Iglesias declined to comment in detail yesterday on Domenici's statement, saying he was refraining from further public remarks before the hearings.

"As to Senator Domenici's apology, I accept it and look forward to testifying on Tuesday," he said in an e-mail message.

The Senate Ethics Manual advises senators that contact with prosecutors and regulatory agency officials is "generally permitted, where the communication is with the agency and not directed at the court, where the agency is not engaged in an ongoing enforcement, investigative or other quasi-judicial proceeding."

Stanley Brand, an ethics lawyer who served as House counsel in the 1980s, said a senator should contact a federal prosecutor about an ongoing investigation only if he or she has evidence or information related to the probe.

"It's going to precipitate a huge problem," Brand said, warning of a potential review by the Justice Department.

Staff members on the Senate Ethics Committee could not be reached to comment yesterday.

The firings, which had already sparked congressional interest, became more controversial last week with Iglesias's allegations of political interference.

Democrats allege that the Justice Department was sacking qualified prosecutors to reward political cronies, and they have proposed legislation to limit Gonzales's power to appoint interim replacements.

Administration officials acknowledged Friday that the White House approved the unusual firings, in which seven of the prosecutors were called Dec. 7 and asked to resign, even though most had positive job reviews. An eighth prosecutor, in Arkansas, was informed of his firing earlier, opening the job for a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove.

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.

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