Friday, March 02, 2007

Iglesias Set To Go National On Pete & Heather; Dems Sharpen Knives; R's Circle Wagons; We're On It Like A Wet Blanket 

Domenici & Wilson
Pete Domenici and Heather Wilson circled their wagons Thursday as former NM U.S. Attorney David Iglesias continued to strafe the landscape with political gunfire, announcing that he will reveal the identities of the two members of the NM congressional delegation who he claims unethically interfered with the workings of his office. And while Iglesias's guns continued to blaze, a subcommittee of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee was giving him a platform, announcing that Iglesias and other fired U.S. attorneys will be subpoenaed and will testify Tuesday afternoon in D.C. Iglesias is widely expected to publicly name Wilson and Domenici as the intimidating callers, setting in motion an unpredictable series of events that could see the melodrama either fizzle or accelerate and reshape the state's political future in dramatic and profound ways.

Those hoping for a backdown from Iglesias lost that hope when he took to the air of KRQE-TV in ABQ late Thursday and announced that not only will he name the names, but that he is also "reviewing possible documents that I may take to the House for their review" in an effort to prove that improper congressional phone calls took place. The only good news for the beleaguered Domenici and Wilson camps was that Iglesias revealed there was no tape recordings of the mid-October conversations in which he asserts he was pressured to speed up indictments in the investigation of the construction of two Bernalillo county courthouses; an investigation involving prominent Democratic politicos. Those indictments, Iglesias says, will come at the end of March. (Complete TV interview here.)


Domenici and Wilson were stalked on the Hill throughout the day by the national press and the blogs, threatening to set off one of those Washington feeding frenzies that ends badly. Finally tracked down late in the day by the AP, the veteran senator gave a classic non-denial denial: "I don't have any comment. I have no idea what he's talking about," Domenici said. And Wilson told the same news agency in her now familiar aloof manner: "You should contact the Department of Justice on that personnel matter." It was immediately noted across a vigilant blogosphere that this too was not a denial that a call was made.

But House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers and subcommittee chair Linda Sanchez will not be as easily dismissed by Wilson as the news agencies and the bloggers. There was a growing sentiment in the state political community that of the two, Wilson is in much deeper trouble than Domenici, not that Pete has a walk in the park.

Supporters of the two fear that once Iglesias names them before the nation and charges them with unethical conduct, the now majority Democrats will move quickly for an ethics probe that could be devastating for Wilson, who was only re-elected in November by the slimmest of margins. Already she is bleeding from the charges by fellow Republican Iglesias who was fired by Justice December 7 and worked his last day this week. Insiders say if an official ethics probe is launched the headlines provoked could actually end Wilson's career in the House and forever dash her hopes to eventually replace Pete in the senate.

Washington insiders told me that the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is well aware of and monitoring the Wilson-Domenici-Iglesias triangle. Pelosi was a vigorous supporter of Patricia Madrid who Wilson defeated. And how's this for an ironic twist. The chairwoman of the subcommittee that will hear Iglesias's testimony Tuesday is a Hispanic woman, holding similar views to the Hispanic woman Wilson barely defeated in November--Patsy Madrid.

Rep. Park
With Wilson already pinned down by the Iraq war and her close re-election, state Dems were renewing their interest in finding an '08 challenger. The names of ABQ state Rep. Al Park and ABQ state Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino made the rounds. And that will probably be just for starters, if Washington Democrats have their knives properly sharpened. No one has announced for Pete's seat, but I did receive an email from one Jim Hannan, who described himself as a "candidate for U.S. Senate, 2008." He called on Domenici to disclose if he asked the Justice Department to fire Iglesias, and if so, why. Hannan did not return a phone call or email inquiry and did not say whether he is a Democrat or Republican.

For Domenici, the risk from the Iglesias grenades was seen as less threatening to his '08 re-election because of the large amount of political capital he has stored. His supporters, perhaps engaging in some wishful thinking, were spreading the word that the whole Iglesias affair would blow over, that it is insider baseball and that the general public really doesn't care.

But others with a more pragmatic bent were already devising exit strategies for Pete from this embryonic scandal. This analysis actually came from a senior Democratic Alligator:

"Pete should consider apologizing. It would be plausible for him to say he was calling to check on progress in the U.S. attorney's office in light of the complicated trial of ex-Treasurer Vigil and wanted to make sure the office was able to handle the courthouse probe. He could say his remarks might have crossed the line and he apologizes. It could be his best chance to move on. Otherwise, this could imperil him. He has a stellar ethical record. This endangers his legacy. If he stays in his bunker the Democrats may drag him out. It could get ugly and undignified. He needs to abandon the bunker and end it, preferably before Iglesias goes national on Tuesday," analyzed our Senior Alligator.

Pete may indeed want to move quickly, as already new ground is being plowed on his alleged phone call. McClatchy newspapers Marisa Taylor is now reporting that her sources are saying Domenici did in fact make the call and was quite aggressive when he phoned.

Wilson has the same option as Pete, but the House atmosphere is much different than the relatively friendly air Pete breathes with his longtime senate colleagues. Wilson has few, if any friends, in the Democratic majority. Still, she might be able to minimize the incident by taking the same line as Pete and downplaying its importance in the overall scheme of things.

But there wasn't giddiness among New Mexico's Democratic D.C. staffers for nothing this week. They know, no matter what, that the 30 second campaign TV spot indicting Wilson on ethics is a done deal.

Another option for the R's is an effort to destroy Iglesias's credibility via rough questioning Tuesday from the GOP minority congressmen and again when he appears before the senate. But press and public sympathy is heavily with the fired U.S. attorneys, and the Bush administration, which fired all of them, is polling at extremely low levels. Iglesias is also showing a much bigger appetite for dealing with the media than he did during his tenure as U.S. attorney. He has been seemingly everywhere, including NPR.

Truly, Iglesias is turning the tables on the state's two most prominent Republicans who now look threadbare in front of the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill. It is political theatre and spectacle of the highest order with no end yet in sight as the relevant congressional bloodhounds are just starting to sniff. For Pete and Heather fans, it's Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." But for the Democrats and Iglesias, the more appropriate play of the bard's is a "Comedy of Errors" of which there appear to have been many in this latest entry in the never ending book of La Politica.


Larry Gomez was named Acting U.S. Attorney for NM Thursday, amid the Iglesias controversy. Gomez was deputy U.S. attorney...ABQ criminal defense attorney Jason Bowles will reportedly interview for the U.S. attorney job with Attorney General Gonzales this week. He just may get the job, as applicants are not flooding in, not with this mess going on. I asked yesterday if he was a Democrat or Republican since he was an assistant U.S. attorney during the Clinton years. I got my answer from a legal Alligator: "Bowles is no Democrat. After clerking for Bobby Baldock, a conservative judge even for the conservative-tilting Tenth Circuit--and his stint at the U.S. Attorney's Office, he began doing legal work for the Republican Party." So Bowles is a true-blue R and as I recall Domenici long ago recommended Baldock for his judgeship. Now it makes sense.

Alligators, legal beagles, and insiders. We need your tips to continue bringing you the latest. Please email your info from the mail link at the top of the page. You can remain anonymous, just not ill-informed. All of today's blog photos by Mark Bralley.

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