Second Lawmaker Contacted Prosecutor
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) acknowledged yesterday that she contacted a federal prosecutor to complain about the pace of his public corruption investigations, as the Senate ethics committee signaled that it had opened a preliminary inquiry into a similar communication by her state's senior senator, Pete V. Domenici (R).
Wilson denied allegations from former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias that she pressured him to speed up a political corruption investigation involving Democrats in the waning days of her tight election campaign last fall.
"I did not ask about the timing of any indictments and I did not tell Mr. Iglesias what course of action I thought he should take or pressure him in any way," Wilson said in a statement to The Washington Post. "The conversation was brief and professional."
Iglesias, one of seven U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department on Dec. 7, is expected to tell Congress today that Wilson and Domenici were trying to sway the course of his investigation. Domenici acknowledged Sunday that he called Iglesias about the corruption case but said he did not pressure him. The telephone calls to Iglesias by Domenici and Wilson appear to put them in conflict with congressional ethics rules that bar contacts with federal agency officials during most active investigations.
The furor over Domenici and Wilson has rapidly become the focus of the dispute over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys and a change in law that allows Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to appoint interim prosecutors for an indefinite period of time. The Justice Department has said that seven of the prosecutors were dismissed for failing to follow Bush administration policy on multiple issues, and acknowledged that one was sacked to make way for an ally of White House political adviser Karl Rove.
But most of the prosecutors have cited positive job reviews, and Democrats have alleged that there were political motivations behind the firings.
"Each of us was fully aware that we served at the pleasure of the president, and that we could be removed for any or no reason," six of the prosecutors said in a statement released yesterday. "In most of our cases, we were given little or no information about the reason for the request for our resignations."
Iglesias and three other ousted prosecutors are scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning. The same group and two others are slated to testify in the afternoon before a House Judiciary subcommittee.
The Senate Ethics Committee released a statement yesterday evening declining to address the allegations against Domenici, but it said that anytime a legitimate complaint is filed against a senator, a preliminary inquiry is begun. The statement, from the chairwoman, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the committee's ranking Republican, noted that preliminary inquiries can lead to wider investigations.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal-leaning advocacy group, filed a complaint against Domenici with the committee yesterday.
Wilson said in her statement that many of her constituents had complained about "the slow pace of federal prosecutions" in corruption cases and that one unidentified constituent told her that "Iglesias was intentionally delaying corruption investigations."
Wilson also said she was trying to help Iglesias. "If the purpose of my call has somehow been misperceived, I am sorry for any confusion. I thought it was important for Mr. Iglesias to receive this information and, if necessary, have the opportunity to clear his name."