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Four of the eight U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration testified on Capitol Hill today. They described what they said were efforts to intimidate them.
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: The four fired U.S. attorneys who sat before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee today, did so only under threat of being issued subpoenas. The Senate panel's Democratic chair, Charles Schumer, acknowledged their reluctance to testify.
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): I want to thank the witnesses for coming here today. I know it is neither easy, nor pleasant.
WELNA: Former U.S. attorney Carol Lam, who prosecuted now-jailed former California Republican congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, underscored the bewilderment of all four fired prosecutors.
Ms. CAROL LAM (Former U.S. Attorney): In most of our cases, we were given little or no information about the reason for the request for our resignations.
WELNA: But David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney from New Mexico, said he suspected politics was why he was fired. Iglesias described to Chairman Schumer a phone call he received at his home a week before the November elections.
Mr. DAVID IGLESIAS (Former U.S. Attorney): And I recognized the voice as being Senator Pete Domenici. And he wanted to ask me about the corruption matters or the corruption cases that had been widely reported in the local media. I said, all right. And he said, are these going to be filed before November? And I said I didn't think so. And to which he replied, I'm very sorry to hear that, and then the line went dead.
Sen. SCHUMER: So in other words, he hung up on you?
Mr. IGLESIAS: That's how I took that. Yes, sir.
Sen. SCHUMER: And he didn't say goodbye or anything like that.
Mr. IGLESIAS: No, sir.
Sen. SCHUMER: Now did you take that as a sign of his unhappiness with your decision?
Mr. IGLESIAS: I felt sick afterward.
WELNA: Domenici, a Republican who got Iglesias his job five years ago, had earlier issued a statement saying he regretted making that call, but insisting he did not pressure Iglesias. Similarly, House Republican Heather Wilson of New Mexico also issued a statement saying she, too, called Iglesias before the election but had done nothing to pressure him. Iglesias said Wilson had, in fact, asked him about sealed indictments which he refused to discuss. Iglesias said the Justice Department's Mike Battle, who resigned yesterday, told him in early December he was being fired.
Mr. IGLESIAS: I didn't know why I had been asked to resign. In fact, when I asked Mike Battle - Mike, why did they ask to terminate me? He said, I don't know, Dave. I don't want to know and I don't think - I don't want to know. All I know is this came from on high. That was a quote, "on high."
WELNA: Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold was intrigued.
Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): What do you think he meant by that?
Mr. IGLESIAS: Two possible sources: White House counsel or the fifth floor, which is where the AG and deputy work.
WELNA: And Bud Cummins, who was fired as the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, said he got a warning call from an aide to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty two weeks ago.
Mr. BUD CUMMINS (Former U.S. Attorney): And he indicated that there was a viewpoint held among people, some people who managed that department that if the controversy would continue to be stirred up, that more information, more damaging information might be brought on. I'm not attempting to quote him here, but the inference was clear that - and again, I think it mainly applied to my colleagues, not to me, because I had been separated.
WELNA: Cummins then e-mailed his fired colleagues to pass along a warning not to talk he took as meant for them. John McKay, the former federal prosecutor in Washington state, took it seriously.
Mr. JOHN McKay (Former U.S. Attorney): I felt that that was a threat. I felt that it was hugely inappropriate coming from a Department of Justice official, particularly with regard to potential congressional testimony.
WELNA: A Justice Department spokesman today issued a statement calling those chargers ridiculous and complained of, quote, "former disgruntled employees grandstanding before Congress." Democrats say they plan to summon Justice Department officials to explain further.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.