Mr. Domenici's Non-Apology

Saturday, April 26, 2008

WHEN YOU'RE caught doing or saying something inappropriate, you can acknowledge your error and apologize. Or you can issue the modified limited hangout apology, saying that you are sorry if anyone was offended, if your actions caused pain, etc. Unfortunately, Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) chose the latter route in response to the determination by his peers -- the Senate ethics committee -- that some of his actions "created an appearance of impropriety that reflected unfavorably on the

Senate."

The ethics panel examined Mr. Domenici's October 2006 phone call to the U.S. attorney whose appointment he had recommended,

David C. Iglesias. It was the month before a hotly contested election involving Mr. Domenici's protégé, Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.). Mr. Domenici, calling Mr. Iglesias at home, wanted to know about the timing of a grand jury investigation that touched on New Mexico Democrats and that had become an issue in Ms. Wilson's race. Mr. Domenici wanted to know whether an indictment would be handed up before the election; when Mr. Iglesias said no, the senator responded, according to Mr. Iglesias, "I am very sorry to hear that," and hung up. Mr. Iglesias was among eight U.S attorneys fired two months later.

The ethics panel, in a letter signed by its three Democrats and three Republicans, found "no substantial evidence to determine that you attempted to improperly influence an ongoing investigation." However, the panel concluded, "you should have known that a federal prosecutor receiving such a telephone call, coupled with an approaching election which may have turned on or been influenced by the prosecutor's actions in the corruption matter, created an appearance of impropriety. . . ."

Although the panel said it appreciated the senator's "candor" in saying last year that he regretted making the call, Mr. Domenici's statement Thursday was devoid of any acknowledgment that he had overstepped. Indeed, it seemed to go out of its way to explain the limited nature of his previous apology. "I regret the distraction this controversy has caused my colleagues, my staff, my family and, most importantly, my constituents," the statement said. Mr. Domenici suffers from health problems and is retiring at the end of this Congress after a distinguished Senate career. It's too bad he will depart on this unbecoming note.


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