Domenici Called About U.S. Attorney Four Times A senior Republican senator says he regrets a phone call he made to a U.S. attorney about an ongoing corruption probe. Sen. Pete Domenci (R-NM) wanted federal prosecutor David Iglesias to speed up a probe of a prominent local Democrat. Iglesias was fired in November.
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Domenici Called About U.S. Attorney Four Times

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Domenici Called About U.S. Attorney Four Times

Domenici Called About U.S. Attorney Four Times

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. At least four of the U.S. attorneys who were recently fired are expected to testify tomorrow on Capitol Hill under oath. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees want to know if any of the eight federal prosecutors who were let go were dismissed for political reasons.

A senior Republican senator says he regrets a phone call he made to one of the fired U.S. attorneys. We'll hear from a former U.S. attorney just ahead. Now, here's NPR's David Welna at the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA: On his last day as U.S. attorney in New Mexico last week, fired federal prosecutor David Iglesias told local reporters he'd been contacted by two congressional Republicans shortly before the November elections. Iglesias said the two lawmakers, whose names he did not reveal, wanted him to speed up a probe into alleged corruption by a prominent local Democrat.

When the Associated Press asked New Mexico's Republican senator Pete Domenici last week about Iglesias' allegations, Domenici was quoted as saying he had no idea what Iglesias was talking about. But over the weekend, Domenici did an about-face. He issued a statement acknowledging having called the fired U.S. attorney late last year. Domenici said he asked Iglesias about the ongoing investigation and wanted a timeframe on it. He also said that in retrospect, he regretted making that call, and he apologized.

As he hurried toward an elevator today at the U.S. Capitol, Domenici had little more to say.

Senator PETE DOMENICI (Republican, New Mexico): You have a detailed statement from me. That's all there is.

WELNA: You said you regretted speaking with him. Why do you regret that?

Sen. DOMENICI: I think if you read the entire statement, you get the message.

WELNA: The Justice Department disclosed today that Domenici called U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales four times over the past year and a half to raise questions about Iglesias. A Justice Department spokesman did not respond to repeated requests for further comment. But New Mexico's other senator, Democrat Jeff Bingaman, said today he'd seen no problems with Iglesias' performance.

Senator JEFF BINGAMAN (Democrat, New Mexico): As far as his performance, I - my impression was he was - his performance was fine.

WELNA: Domenici's call concerning a case Iglesias was involved in has raised ethical concerns. The Senate ethics manual says senators should not communicate with agencies involved in ongoing investigative matters.

The Senate Ethics Committee was asked today to investigate Domenici's call by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning watchdog group. Melanie Sloan is the group's executive director.

Ms. MELANIE SLOAN (Executive Director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington): It's particularly shocking behavior. It really undermines the criminal justice system, and it would make suspect any indictment of anybody involved in that case. It's now likely that a new U.S. attorney will take over, and when that new U.S. attorney takes over, if they quickly move to indict some of the people involved in this alleged corruption scandal, there will be a lot of questions about whether or not those indictments are politically motivated.

WELNA: And Stan Brand, a former House counsel who's an expert on Congressional ethics, finds Domenici's call about the pending case, as he puts it, slightly unusual.

Mr. STANLEY BRAND (Attorney): Had any member of the House - and many did ask me - about calling local U.S. attorneys in pending criminal cases, I would have told them they need to stay away from that with a ten-foot pole for precisely these reasons. I don't think you'll find too many precedents involving such inquiries, because it's almost self-evident that calling a prosecutor about a pending case is out of bounds.

WELNA: Also today, the Justice Department announced the official who told the eight U.S. attorneys they were fired is leaving his job next week. White House spokesman Tony Snow was asked whether Michael Battle's departure was related to the firings.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): No. He's made it known for many months that he's wanted to move on, so it's certainly not news. He wanted to go to the private sector.

WELNA: Snow would make no further comment on a matter the White House has had little to say about since the firings first became public. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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