Tuesday, March 06, 2007

State Politics Rocked: Wilson Finally Talks; Ethics Complaint Filed Against Domenici; Iglesias Takes Center Stage; Dems Seek Candidates; We Go Indepth 

Domenici & Wilson
Trying to pull a rabbit out of her hat on the eve of congressional testimony that could inflict severe damage on her, ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson came out from behind her stone wall Monday night, but whether she produced a rabbit or laid an egg is debatable. And whether her statement encouraged the Democratic majority in Congress to aggressively pursue ethics charges against her is the proverbial $64,000 question.

In a statement released to the Washington Post, Wilson, after days of no comment, admitted what everyone suspected--that she had indeed called U.S. attorney David Iglesias just prior to the November election to ask about a federal corruption investigation involving at least one prominent Democrat. But, she asserted:

"I did not ask about the timing of any indictments and I did not tell Mr. Iglesias what course of action I thought he should take or pressure him in any way. The conversation was brief and professional."

Wilson told the Post that she had received constituent complaints about "the slow pace of federal prosecutions in corruption cases" and that she was even told by one unidentified constituent that "Iglesias was intentionally delaying corruption investigations."

And in a statement that is sure to cause strong reaction, Wilson added: "I thought it was important for Mr. Iglesias to receive the information and, if necessary, have the opportunity to clear his name...If the purpose of my call has somehow been misperceived, I am sorry for any confusion."

Several top Dems last night immediately shot back that it is not Wilson's role to act as supervisor of the U.S. attorney, a function of the executive branch and said her version of events stretched credulity.

"Who was the unidentified constituent? Is there really one? And who were all these other folks supposedly complaining? She says she was looking out for Iglesias's own good, not looking for him to speed up indictments that would benefit her politically? This story seems far fetched, like something her opponents could have a field day with." said one Dem veteran.


Those opponents will be front and center today as Iglesias and other U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration go before two congressional committees--the Senate Judiciary Committee beginning at 8 a.m New Mexico time and then a House judiciary subcommittee at noon our time. Links to view the testimony are at the top of the blog.

While Wilson was trying to take air out of the Iglesias balloon, times remained tough for NM GOP Senator Pete Domenici with word coming that the Senate Ethics Committee is in receipt of a complaint from Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility alleging Domenici violated ethics rules when he made his October call to prosecutor Iglesias. Like Wilson, Domenici claims he made no attempt to speed up indictments related to corruption in building the ABQ Metro Court building and other projects. He apologized for the call, but that wasn't enough to stop the slow wheels of a senate ethics probe to start turning. In a statement that offered no encouragement to the Pete camp, Ethics Chair Barbara Boxer noted that anytime a legitimate complaint is filed against a senator it begins a preliminary inquiry and that such inquires can lead to more expansive investigations.

It's hard to believe that an ethics investigation of Wilson isn't far behind, calling into question the political futures of the state's two most prominent Republicans. Amy Walter with the Cook Political Report, summed up the situation this way for the Post.

"You're having an impact on the Senate race either way-- whether he (Domenici) stays or not."

And handicapper Walter said an inquiry into Wilson's actions could impair Wilson's "outsider" reputation. "It calls into question those skills," she said.

Here in NM, one of my Senior Alligators said if probes are launched expect them to go on for a long, long time. "Joe, it will be like Chinese water torture, with the largest drops falling on Wilson."


The startling turn in events has stunned NM Democrats who are beside themselves in trying to pinpoint a first-tier challenger for Wilson and also look for a suitable candidate to replace Domenici who they now see as possibly reversing his decision to seek an unprecedented seventh term.

Names were being floated by the bucketful, but none quite rose to the top-level. For example, state Treasurer James B. Lewis, a solid vote getter, but he's now in his 60's. Eric Griego, a former ABQ city councilor, energetic and informed, but seen as perhaps too far left. ABQ City Councilor Martin Heinrich, a thoughtful politico, but perhaps too liberal as well. There is yet to emerge a "jump off the page candidate" where you would say: "That person could beat Heather." Another problem is the reticence of many of the new generation of politicians; they seem risk averse, wanting a sure thing.

The recruiting crisis may solve itself if Wilson's situation in Washington continues to deteriorate; a first level candidate would likely materialize or one of the candidates already mentioned would be able to overcome a critically wounded Wilson. Meanwhile, the failure of the state Democratic party to effectively recruit candidates is coming home to roost as a challenger could already be on the field making political hay and raising money.


Besides Heather breaking her silence, another major development came in the Iglesias story Monday when it was revealed that Senator Domenici had been making phone calls to Justice as far back as September 2005 urging that Iglesias be booted out. His office said it was concern about such issues as immigration and the border and Iglesias's poor prosecutorial record that prompted the action.

Defenders of the senator seized on the Iglesias record, but they shot wide of the mark. In fact, federal statistics don't reflect an inability for Iglesias' office to move quickly on cases. In 2001, when Iglesias took over, the data shows a median of 4.6 months for a criminal case in the New Mexico office to move from filing to disposition (dismissal, guilty plea, or trial). In 2005, that time had dwindled to 3.7 months.

Besides, it is not the Iglesias record at issue; it is whether pressuring phone calls were made just weeks before the November election to speed up indictments that would benefit Wilson's re-election bid. The R's are on stronger ground when they fault Iglesias for failing to report the allegedly pressuring calls when they were made, not after he was fired December 7th.

Republican insiders tell me that it was actually Iglesias's investigation of voter fraud from the 2004 election and his findings that it was not widespread in New Mexico that upset some top Republicans and led to the crusade against him, not other issues. The failure to speed up the indictments, they say, was the straw that broke the camel's back and led Domenici, with the prodding of Wilson, to get Justice to finally dump him.

Both Wilson and Domenici are low on ammunition and the mood in Washington seems decidedly unfriendly. The furor over their actions is compounded because the first subpoenas the Dems have issued since taking over Congress are in connection with the dismissal of Iglesias and several other U. S attorneys. It is their first taste of red meat since taking power and it is Wilson and Domenici being served up to a ravenous press and public.


We're covering all the angles on this biggest of political stories, including the media angle. It was no mistake that Domenici released his version of events and an apology in an exclusive statement to the ABQ Journal late Saturday. The paper has a record of being friendly toward him. But times have changed and other media are not prone to look the other way in this Internet age. Bill Dupuy, news director of Santa Fe public radio station KSFR-FM, slammed Domenici's press office.

"Your staff has done you a disservice in the way they disclosed your statement about the Iglesias affair. They selectively released your statement first to the Albuquerque Journal, at least 12 hours in advance of releasing it to the rest of New Mexico's press and, by extension, to the rest of your constituents. That left me...and the balance of your constituents, to discover through an Internet search we had been left out. Your statement wasn't distributed to all until I personally raised the question Sunday morning." Fired off newsman Dupuy in a letter to Domenici.

It's just one example of the changed atmosphere. Pete's press office has been slow to engage critics of their boss and their boss has suffered for it. If a blog or outlet is not deemed as giving favorable coverage, they are shut out. But the blogs nationally and locally are helping to frame the coverage in other media. And that's the way it is.


Several readers chime in that the media and blogs are ignoring Senator Domenici's initial statement on the Iglesias affair which they say catches him in a lie. When first asked about whether he called Iglesias he told the AP: "I have no idea what he's talking about."

But then over the weekend Domenici admitted calling Iglesias and apologized for the phone call. Was it a "lie?" Well, this is politics. More on this is here.


Our Monday blog said Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman and Dem Rep. Tom Udall seemed a "bit off their game" because Los Alamos Labs lost a major contract to design a new nuclear warhead and their reaction to it was muted. That drew this rebuttal from a D.C. insider:

"Udall & Bingaman have always supported the Lab, even in the wake of recent controversy. However, they have been consistent in their positions that this program may not be the best idea for the nation. In Udall's case, he wanted congressional hearings on this project because DOE's team concluded a study saying our current supply of warheads was fine. They said the life of our warheads are likely twice as long as previously . Plus, how are we going to pay for it? Wasn't this decision a little premature?"

What?? Automatic support of every Los Alamos Lab project is not imprinted on a gene implanted in every newly elected New Mexico congressional rep? I'll be...

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