Lawmaker Leaves Panels After FBI Raid

The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 24, 2007; 10:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- An Arizona congressman temporarily stepped down from two more House committees on Tuesday and got caught up in the probe of the firings of U.S. attorneys, less than a week after the FBI raided his wife's insurance business.

Rep. Rick Renzi said in a statement Tuesday that he was taking a leave of absence from the House Financial Services and Natural Resources committees. He stepped down from the House Intelligence Committee last week.

Even as he insisted that he had been "the subject of leaked stories, conjecture and false attacks" about a 2005 land exchange, Renzi became entangled in the U.S. attorneys probe when his chief of staff acknowledged calling Arizona's prosecutor's office to discuss the matter.

The prosecutor, Paul Charlton, was one of the eight prosecutors fired by the Justice Department over the winter.

Brian Murray, Renzi's top aide, issued a statement late Tuesday acknowledging that shortly after the local media reported that the congressmen was being investigated, he called Charlton spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle.

"I called Mr. Hornbuckle seeking information about press accounts which appeared just weeks before Election Day alleging a pending indictment," Murray said in a statement. "I left him a message asking for information about these allegations, but I was called back and told they would not comment."

Hornbuckle refused to comment Tuesday.

Murray's disclosure came a few hours after Charlton related the call to House investigators probing whether the firings amounted to a political purge by the Bush administration. An official with the House Judiciary Committee said Charlton did not provide details of the call but said his chief investigator reported the call to the Justice Department.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation, said the committee has not received a report from Justice of that call.

The disclosure is one of several examples of phone calls made by members of Congress to federal prosecutors.

The Justice Department maintains the firings were not punishments.

"No U.S. attorney was removed to retaliate against or interfere with bringing or failing to bring a public integrity case," said Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

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