Friday, March 16, 2007
Pete Preps Defense: Iglesias Testimony On Phone Call Scrutinized, Plus: More From The U.S. Attorney Front, And: Legislature '07 Nears End
You don’t hire a high-powered criminal defense attorney for nothing, so it's no surprise to hear that NM Senator Pete Domenici's defense is swinging into action and will soon be noticeable at a newsstand near you. At the heart of the debate, as we have repeatedly blogged, is that phone call Domenici made to then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias and whether it was a call in which Pete pressured Iglesias to speed up federal corruption indictments that might have benefited the re-election campaign of his protégé, ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Sources say it will be Iglesias's version of that phone call he dramatically retold before the Senate Judiciary Committee will come under harsh scrutiny from the Domenici camp.
"There are several issues with the call; Iglesias's version of the timeline is one of them. Does Iglesias have that right? Maybe not. Also, his contention that Pete called him at home; it appears he was called on his Justice Department cellphone. Domenici didn't know where Iglesias was when he made the call." Reports a Senior Alligator of La Politica.
Those are just a few tidbits being strewn around for the Alligators to munch on as they await a meaty defense and the effort to turn the tables on Iglesias. The effort to paint him as a bumbling incompetent will continue by Republican operatives, but critics are asking whether it matters if it was a bumbling and incompetent U.S. attorney who was unethically pressured by a U.S senator or one with a stellar performance record. In the end, if Domenici can't call into question the veracity of Iglesias's version of that phone call, he is going to take a hit.
Until now, the main point casting Iglesias's testimony on the phone calls from Domenici and another from Rep. Wilson into doubt is that he did not report them to his superiors at Justice. He said he fetlt loyalty to Pete and friendship toward Heather and did not want to hurt them with allegations that they crossed the ethical line.
Heather also made a controversial call to Iglesias. There is no word of her hiring a lawyer yet, and no word either on any member of Congress filing an official complaint against her as is required to get an ethics investigation going. The Senate Ethics Committee has begun a preliminary inquiry into Domenici's actions.
Some insiders are saying Wilson may have been misled by campaign scuttlebutt into thinking there were already "sealed indictments" in the courthouse investigation case when she made her now famous mid-October call to Iglesias during a pitched battle with Democrat Patricia Madrid. In that call, Iglesias has testified that Heather inquired about "sealed indictments."
"Were there sealed indictments when she made that call? If there were none, why was Iglesias so freaked about her asking? In his senate testimony he compared sealed indictments to the secrecy of the military's nuclear launch codes, but if there were none at the time she called, Heather can make Iglesias out to be a hype artist.
But that still leaves on the table the issue of those phone calls and whether unethical pressure was applied by Domenici and/or Wilson to get the prosecutor to speed up the indictments said to involve at least one prominent Democrat, former state Senate leader Manny Aragon. Domenici's high-priced lawyer and his associates have begun chipping away at Iglesias's version of events, but they are absorbing political damage as the case refuses to get out of the headlines.
MORE ON MICKEY
Political observers were taken aback when GOP lawyer-lobbyist and former GOP national committeeman Mickey Barnett revealed that FBI agents had complained to him about the performance of Igleasias. What were government officials doing complaining to a private lawyer? Insiders are now wondering whether they were retired agents or active duty agents that Barnett was hearing from. Barnett could get to answer that question himself in the media and/or before the Democratic Congress.
ON THE HILL...
Thursday we blogged that '04 Bush campaign manager Scott Jennings would be one of those testifying before Congress on the Iglesias affair. He is now a deputy political director under Karl Rove at the White House. According to news reports, his testimony and that of other White House officials before Senate Judiciary are on hold. Meanwhile, there was new information on just when Bush political guru Rove became involved in the U.S. attorney firings and it seems a lot sooner that first indicated.
One political veteran says he sees the proverbial "smoking gun" in the dismissal of Iglesias. He says it is the news that the Justice department did not add Iglesias's name to the list of U.S. attorneys who would be fired until November 2006, after the election.
"It's confirmed that Domenici, Barnett and (GOP attorney) Pat Rogers were in Washington in June '06 complaining about Iglesias and the complaining by Domenici goes back to 2005, but the fact that Iglesias's name was not added to the list of those to be fired until November 15, 2006, after the election, gives credence to the view that it was his failure to return the courthouse indictments that cost him his job. It's the smoking gun," contended our veteran.
Well, it may be a gun, but whether it's smoking or not will be a subject of contention in the weeks ahead. Pete can argue that he asked that Iglesias be fired well before he was placed on the list and well before his October call and that Justice did not get around to putting him on the hit until mid-November. Justice Department emails confirm Iglesias was not put on the firing list until November 15, 2006, after the Domenci-Wilson October phone calls.
Was it really Iglesias's failure to address voter fraud that had his fellow Republicans ready to dump him. The New York Times doesn't think so.
READER BLOGGING PART II
Our readers continue to contribute their thoughts on this big political story via email. "To hear Heather say that she called Iglesias but didn't pressure him is like saying she put the joint in her mouth but didn't inhale," wrote one reader, reminding us of the brouhaha over Clinton smoking pot, but not inhaling.
Another reader is back with what some may consider outlandish speculation that evangelical Christian Iglesias will switch to the Dems and run against Heather in '08:"
"I was recently told to fully expect in the coming months to hear he is switching political parties and that Big Bill's political machine has already geared up the spin machine to make him a star and that he will either run for office or receive a significant appointment from Big Bill. If any of this is true I hope you and the other local media who have been making a big deal out of Heather and Pete will do the same with Iglesias. I won't bet on it however." Offers reader Gary Simpson.
Well, don't bet against us, Gary. Iglesias running for Congress as a Democrat seems a real longshot, given his conservative views. Would the Dems embrace him? But we're entertaining every possible angle, even if some of them seem straight out of the Twilight Zone. After all this is New Mexico politics.
The frantic rush and down-to-the-wire action is underway at the Merry Roundhouse. We're on the eve of destruction, er, I mean adjournment...You think it would be more with the amount of the state surplus, but a tax cut package worth around $94 million is now on Big Bill's desk. And he's signed our state's new $5.6 billion budget, a nearly 11% increase over last year. Did yours go up that much?...You want a payday loan bill? You got a payday loan bill. How about a Tilapi fish bill? What in the name of Saint Andrew were they doing wasting their time on this with only hours to go in a session? It stunk the whole place up and the fish died.
I'll put a brief wrap up Saturday when the Legislature adjourns and have a complete report on Monday. Don't forget to email me your news and comments from the link at the top of the page. See ya' soon.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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