Probe finds no proof that Domenici pressured Iglesias

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The Senate Ethics Committee has found no evidence that Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., attempted to improperly influence an ongoing investigation during his October 2006 phone call to then-U.S. Attorney to David Iglesias but says Domenici should have known that the call would create the appearance of impropriety.

The committee issued a “public letter of qualified admonition” to Domenici today, more than 13 months after it began its investigation. You can read the letter by clicking here.

“The committee finds no substantial evidence to determine that you attempted to improperly influence an ongoing investigation,” the committee members wrote in the letter. “The committee does find that 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 that reflected unfavorably on the Senate.”

Domenici and U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., separately called Iglesias in October 2006 to discuss an ongoing corruption investigation related to construction of the Bernalillo County Courthouse. The case involved high-ranking Democrats, and the calls came as Wilson was in the midst of the toughest re-election battle of her career.

Iglesias was one of a handful of U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush Administration a month after the election, and he alleges he was fired because he refused pressure from the two to speed indictments in time to sway voters in the November 2006 election. When Iglesias made his allegations public, he initiated a national controversy over whether the firings were politically motivated.

The committee did not consider the larger issue of the firing of Iglesias and the other U.S. attorneys. Though it found no evidence that Domenici pressured Iglesias, the committee cited a Senate guideline that advises senators to avoid communications with a federal agency on a matter on which it is “engaged in an ongoing enforcement, investigative or other quasi-judicial proceeding.”

The committee also considered, according to its letter, the duty of prosecutors to “ensure the fair and impartial administration of justice” and the fact that the handling of public corruption matters was an issue in Wilson’s House race.

The committee’s letter officially closes its investigation.

In a statement released by his Senate office, Domenici said he was “gratified” that the committee did not decide to proceed with a formal adjudicatory review and confirmed “what I have always maintained: I did not attempt to improperly influence an ongoing investigation when I telephoned the former United States attorney for the District of New Mexico.”

“Nevertheless, as I said publicly last March when this complaint was originally filed, I regret the distraction this controversy has caused my colleagues, my staff, my family and, most importantly, my constituents,” Domenici said. “Now that this matter has concluded favorably, I am anxious to focus all of my time and attention on the business of the people of New Mexico.”

The committee noted that, in March 2007, Domenici publicly said he regretted making the phone call and apologized, and its members thanked him for his candor.

The news comes less than six weeks before Iglesias’ book about the U.S. attorney firings, In Justice, hits the shelves. Though there have been other inquiries into the firings of the attorneys, this is the first official ruling on Iglesias’ allegation that Domenici inappropriately pressured him.

Update, 5:40 p.m.

Iglesias, in an e-mail to 770 KKOB-AM political reporter Peter St. Cyr, said he is “pleased that the Senate Ethics Committee has chosen to publicly admonish Senator Domenici for his improper actions.”

“I trust this will serve as a warning to other members of Congress that contacting United States attorneys in this manner is impermissible and unacceptable behavior. This official reprimand to a senior senator who knew better has revived my confidence in the rule of law and the sanctity of a prosecutor’s independence.”

Update, April 25, 8:30 a.m.

Wilson spokesman Enrique Carlos Knell released this statement to me late last night:

“The congresswoman is pleased the Senate Ethics Committee has concluded its inquiry favorably,” he said. “Senator Domenici apologized again today as he did last March for the distraction this caused and his apology should be accepted.”

2 thoughts on “Probe finds no proof that Domenici pressured Iglesias

  1. That makes sense… Iglesias should have been doing his job. There are many crooks in New Mexico, and they are in control, but Democrats keep looking away.

    When are these hardcore liberals going to get wise and start their own movement? Since they are so smart, you’d think they would figure something out. Maybe it is simply just rhetoric. Get used to it America.

  2. Ah, yes. The Banana Republic formerly known as the United States of America continues to take shape. And for those apologists out there—just wait ’til it happens to YOU. Then you’ll wonder what ever happened to the Constitution and Bill of Rights you grew up thinking was the law of the land.