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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Iglesias Digs A Deep Hole For Heather & Pete; Can They Climb Out? Ethics Probes Loom; D.C. Drama Grips NM; Complete Blog Coverage 

In riveting testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday former NM U.S. Attorney David Iglesias performed like a trick dog doing back flips as Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led him through a series of questions that laid the groundwork for ethics investigations of GOP Senator Pete Domenici and ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Committee Republicans were mild in their pursuit of Iglesias, seeming to signal no strong opposition to having the Senate Ethics Committee move ahead with a probe of Domenici's actions.

(The key moments of Iglesias's testimony can be seen here.)

A House judiciary subcommittee was treated to a similar Iglesias performance Tuesday and the ethics committee in that chamber is expected to be prodded into an investigation of Wilson. Domenici and Wilson now must prepare for the prospect of being pinned down for months, dealing with what has now arguably become the most controversial episode involving the New Mexico congressional delegation in state history.

The gravity of Iglesias's statements accusing the senator and Wilson of putting undue pressure on him to speed up indictments in a corruption case involving state Democrats hit home since this was sworn testimony, not a political statement.

And Iglesias put flesh on the bones of his key intimidation accusation. He explained that Domenici called him at home, not the office, in late October 2006 asking if indictments were going to be issued soon in the courthouse construction investigation. Also adding a new dimension to the intimidation argument was the revelation that Domenici chief of staff Steve Bell--the "Shadow Senator"--first came on the line to tell Iglesias Pete wanted to speak with him.

It reminded one Alligator of that scene in Godfather II where Michael Corleone reacts to a murder attempt at his home. "In my home, where my children sleep!" Raged Michael. And Iglesias noted that he was in the bedroom of his home with his wife when the senatorial call came. The conversation ended, Iglesias said, with Domenici hanging up the phone when he was told by Iglesias that indictments would not be coming before the November election. "I felt sick afterward." Iglesias testified.

THE DOMENICI DEFENSE

Domenici argued in a statement issued after the Iglesias appearance that the former prosecutor had failed to make his case that he was being pressured.

"Mr. Iglesias confirmed that...my words did not threaten him, nor did I direct him to take any course of action...I asked Mr. Iglesias about timing of the investigation, neither I nor those who overheard my side of the brief conversation recall my mentioning the November election to him. When I was first asked, in response to a chorus of questions, about whether I pressured or threatened Mr. Iglesias, I responded that I did not know what he was talking about. Today he testified that he “felt violated.” I still do not know what he is talking about. In his own testimony, Mr. Iglesias confirmed that nothing I actually said was threatening or directive. I did not pressure him..." Domenici contended.

Who was that who overhead the conversation? Just Bell? Or was there someone else who can corroborate? The definition of being threatened or intimidated is not cut and dry either. The very act of calling him to ask about the indictments, especially at home, was enough for Iglesias. It would be interesting to know if Iglesias, at the time of the October call, knew of Domenici's ongoing effort to have Justice fire him beginning in September of '05. If he had, it would not take a hammer over his head to make Iglesias feel intimidated by the powerful senior senator. But it was the atmospherics that Iglesias pointed to as the foundation of the intimidation. The call to his home, Bell importantly announcing that the senator had complaints about him and wanted to speak with him and the abrupt hanging up of the phone by Domenici were the events that Iglesias believed amounted to undue pressure. That's plenty for the Senate Ethics Committee which has opened a "preliminary inquiry."

It's true that Domenici often hangs up the phone abruptly. How do I know? I interviewed him many times in the 70's for radio programs and he did it then. If that alone were the problem,
Pete would be off the hook. But it isn't.

On another point, the AP reported last week that it asked Domenici if he had "contacted" Iglesias after Iglesias first told the public of Domenici's October phone call. "I have no idea what he's talking about." Responded Domenici. In his statement last night, Domenici says that response was to "a chorus of questions about whether I threatened or pressured Mr. Iglesias," not whether he had contacted him.

Domenici was accused of lying when he admitted over the weekend to making the phone call to Iglesias. Critics pointed to his previous statement to the AP of "I don't know what he's talking about." Unless the AP report is erroneous, Domenici's latest statement has him applying his answer to a different question than the news agency reported it asked.

HEATHER AND THE SEALS
Rep. Wilson
There was a new twist when Iglesias discussed the call Rep. Wilson made to him October 16th, two weeks before the Domenici call. He said Heather inquired about "sealed indictments" in the courthouse case. "She had been hearing about sealed indictments. What can you tell me about sealed indictments? Red flags went up. We cannot talk about sealed indictments." Iglesias testified. He then said he told Wilson that prosecutors sometimes use sealed indictments in national security cases. "She was not happy with that answer." Iglesias told the senators.

How did Wilson learn of "sealed indictments?" Were there news reports of "sealed" indictments? Not that we are aware of. The federal grand jury proceedings are secret. Did someone in Iglesias's office tip her off? Or did Iglesias just not hear right? The courthouse indictments are expected to be announced within weeks, but earlier predictions on the timing have not been accurate. Meanwhile, the same citizens group that filed an ethics complaint against Domenici did the same with Wilson.

THE IGLESIAS PROBLEM

If Iglesias "felt sick," after that call from Domenici, why didn't he immediately call his superiors at Justice and tell them he was being strong-armed? It's a failure Iglesias has admitted to and Tuesday he said it was due to the "loyalty" he felt to Domenici who had recommended him for his job. Why didn't he report Wilson for her errant call? Because, he said, he considered her a friend. Was he more concerned with losing his job than doing his job by reporting the calls? And was he embarrassed to admit that before the nation? It's reasonable speculation. Iglesias was fired by Justice December 7, after repeated calls from Domenici that dated back to September 2005. He then turned on Domenici and Wilson with a vengeance.

PETE & THE WHITE HOUSE

The only good news for Pete and Heather Tuesday was the Scooter Libby verdict coming down during the Iglesias testimony and diverting, if only momentarily, attention from their own problems. But it didn't last long. Demonstrating how the scandal has grown from a toddler to a teenager in a matter of days, the subject of Domenici and Iglesias came up at the White House briefing. There, a spokesman was asked if the Senator had informed the White House about his desire to get rid of Iglesias. The spokesman confirmed that he had. Now the question is what reasons Pete gave the White House for wanting Iglesias out.

These and other issues provide plenty of nourishing fodder for the ethics enforcers to munch on and determine what, if any, specific House and Senate rules may have been violated. That's not good for Wilson and Domenici because it could mean ongoing news stories as the investigation progresses. They can be expected to do all they can in the coming days to have any probes conclude rapidly. But in a reversal of fortune, they no longer have power over events. The Democrats control the Congress.

BY THE WAY

Another reason was offered by the Justice department Tuesday for Iglesias getting the ax. A spokesman told the House subcommittee that Iglesias was out because "he delegated" too much responsibility to his deputy. Iglesias maintains the ax came because he refused to speed up the indictments.

THE POLITICAL LINE

On the political front, the state Democratic party released a statement focusing on Heather and Pete's insistence that it was constituent complaints that led them to contact Iglesias about the courthouse corruption case.

"Wilson’s and Domenici’s initial attempts to stonewall the media only highlighted their guilty conduct. Domenici and Wilson finally admitted in written statements that they phoned Iglesias. Although their statements seem waffling and inconsistent, both Wilson and Domenici disingenuously blame constituents for prompting them to violate congressional ethics rules." The party blasted.

Democrats weighing in on the scandal think it's pretty simple. They say Wilson panicked when she found herself down in the polls in mid-October and called Iglesias in the hope of speeding up the courthouse indictments which she believed would name several Democrats and give her re-election a badly needed boost. Wilson had made the ethics of her Democratic opponent, Patricia Madrid, a major campaign issue.

The Democrats story line has Wilson upset that her phone call did not get the expected results and that she called Domenici and Bell and asked them to call Iglesias. According to this theory, they did, and, as they say, the rest is history.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Speculation on the future of Domenici and Wilson was rampant as Iglesias named their names. I fielded calls from the Los Angeles Times (article here) and Congressional Quarterly as well as a number of my readers. As the frenzy built, the Alligators pondered all conceivable angles. Would Senator Schumer and company try some friendly but firm persuasion to convince Pete not to seek another term next year? If Pete does retire, what Democrats will emerge? Is Heather's hopes for the Senate now hopeless in light of Iglesias's sworn testimony? What about getting re-elected to the U.S. House? And will we have some polls soon showing where Pete and her stand post-scandal? KRQE-TV did an Internet poll last night that showed 67% of the respondents thought Domenici and Wilson's behavior in the Iglesias affair was inappropriate.

So it went on what was an historic day; a day in which the earth shifted under our feet and changed the assumptions under which the fine art of La Politica is practiced.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
Not for reproduction without permission of the author

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Update: Iglesias Details Calls From Domenici And Wilson At Senate Hearing: "I Felt Sick ," He Says 

Former NM U.S. Attorney David Iglesias went before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning and detailed phone calls made to him by Senator Domenici and Congresswoman Wilson, calls he said were improper. He said Domenici actually called him at home, adding to the intimidation factor. Details are here. Links to view the testimony are linked below.

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

HERE IS A LINK TO VIEW TODAY'S SENATE TESTIMONY OF FORMER NM U.S ATTORNEY DAVID IGLESIAS AND HERE'S ANOTHER. IT BEGINS AT 8 A.M. NEW MEXICO TIME (10 A.M. EST) HOUSE TESTIMONY IS SET FOR NOON NEW MEXICO TIME (2 P.M. EST) AND CAN BE VIEWED HERE. I WILL UPDATE DEVELOPMENTS AS THEY OCCUR TODAY.
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.

BATTLE GOES TO THE HILL

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."

STARTLED DEMS

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.

MORE DOMENICI NEWS

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.

MEDIA ANGST

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.

THE "L" WORD

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.

THE BOTTOM LINES


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...

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
Not for reproduction without permission of the author

Monday, March 05, 2007

Pete's Apology: Enough To Call Off The Dogs? What About Heather's Stonewall? Iglesias Prepares Testimony; Preparing A Race Too? And What About Manny? 

Sen. Domenici
That apology by NM GOP U.S. Senator Pete Domenici was like a fig leaf that covered the most vital parts, but left plenty of skin exposed for Democratic marksmen if they choose to continue the hunt. But Domenici has acted and that's a start. Still twisting slowly in the wind is ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson who continued to stonewall reporters Friday, but will soon face the pickaxes of the majority U.S. House Democrats who will begin chipping away at both that wall and Wilson. (Iglesias is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday at 8 a.m. NM time and before a House subcommitee at noon NM time.)

The Pete apology, unprecedented in his 34 year senate career, came Sunday as former Republican U.S. Attorney David Iglesias prepared to tell the nation Tuesday that the senator and ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson pressured him in two separate October phone calls to speed up indictments in the corruption investigation of the construction of the ABQ Metro Court building and other projects; an investigation targeting former state Democratic powerhouse Manny Aragon.

Domenici's apology (his complete statement here) followed advice offered to him on your Friday blog by a senior Democratic Alligator who speculated that such an apology could call off the dogs starting to bark for an ethics probe of Domenici. He admitted to making the call and inquiring about the probe, but maintained he applied no unethical pressure on the prosecutor to come with indictments.

"The worst case scenario for Pete is senate Democrats trying to convince him to retire or face an ethics probe. If they choose not to do that, then they will be content to let Pete go and focus their wrath on Wilson who is much more vulnerable anyway. There is a big reservoir of goodwill for the senator. He has drawn down the water here, but it may be enough to get him off the hook," offered our seasoned source who first floated the apology option.

Can it be said that Domenici, 74, cut and ran when it came to Heather? They are really in separate boats as Iglesias is saying they made separate pressure-filled phone calls to him just weeks prior to Heather's re-election which nearly ended with her defeat. How could Pete have helped her? By stonewalling with her and going down for the count? Loyalty is one thing; suicide is another. One question that could be pursued is whether Domenici and Wilson communicated with each other before placing any calls to Iglesias. Meanwhile, there are already reports that a citizens group is ready to file an ethics complaint against Wilson and Domenici if Iglesias names them Tuesday.

ET TU, HEATHER?
Rep. Wilson
With Domenici out of the closet on his phone call, will we be hearing something similar from Heather? And what will Iglesias now tell Congress about those calls? He told the Washington Post he "accepted" Domenici's apology, even though it was not offered specifically to him. Will his Tuesday testimony before a House subcommittee soften Pete's involvement and harden Wilson's? After all, it was Wilson, not Domenici, seeking re-election and who would have directly benefited from courthouse indictments. That will make it all the more plausible to her congressional foes that she used a heavy hand that could be the basis for an ethics investigation, and Democrats hope, the end of her congressional tenure.

CONGRESSMAN IGLESIAS?

There was a political story line gaining traction over the weekend regarding any political ambitions of Iglesias who is not, as we blogged last week, a native of Gallup, NM, but of Panama who was raised in Gallup. We quoted the jokers last week who ribbed that perhaps he might switch from R to D and run for Wilson's seat in '08. Lo and behold, the Alligators started surfacing to tell of Iglesias actually making feelers on that front or, depending on who was doing the talking, the Dems making overtures to him.

With the state Democratic party doing such a poor job in recruiting for the congressional seats, the Iglesias speculation took on an air of believability as incredulous as it may seem on the surface. How badly Heather is damaged will determine the number of potential candidates.

WHAT ABOUT MANNY?
Aragon
And what about Manny Aragon? Once again the former state senate leader finds himself smack dab in the middle of La Politica. He is widely reported to be the target in the alleged courthouse caper. The legal beagles say Manny's lawyers have been given a gift horse and can and should argue that any indictments would be grounded in politics not the law.

There was also the race card in play, with some ABQ South Valley operatives noting that if it is finally determined that Wilson made a phone call that crossed the line it would not help her cause in some heavily Hispanic wards that still have warm feelings toward Manny. But what about Pete? "He is not the one they will be after," explained one operative who recounted how Heather tanked in the Valley last November, winning her seat by a district wide total of less than 900 votes. Domenici's seat in '08 is not yet in play by a first-tier Democrat.

Unless Wilson makes a move, we all await Tuesday and I-Day--Iglesias Day--to see if he delivers more surprises and also to assess the mood of the majority subcommittee Democrats. You don't have to be psychic to sense that we could be closer to the beginning than the end.

JOLLY STEVE PEARCE


If you're keeping score--and who isn't?--GOP southern NM Congressman Steve Pearce was the winner of the PR derby in one of the most memorable weeks in state delegation history.

While two of the three R's in the delegation were consumed with Iglesias, Dems Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman were not scoring any points either as the latest blow to Los Alamos Labs had them looking a bit off their game.

We noted Pearce's quick statement last week denying any contact with Iglesias which kept the focus squarely on Wilson and Domenici. On Friday the conservative lawmaker struck a note of odd jocularity. He offered commentary on the brewing scandal and its entertainment value, comparing it with the Anna Nicole Smith saga. What was more striking was Pearce not offering any strong remarks in defense of his two colleagues, but then there could be a U.S. senate seat up for grabs someday soon and someone is going to have to get the Republican nomination.

Pearce has always been the media stepchild among the three GOP NM reps, but with Wilson looking very much like damaged goods and Pete disheveled as well, Pearce's stock, unlike those in the Dow Jones industrial average, was definitely on the rise last week.

THE BOTTOM LINES

ABQ Journal columnist Jim Belshaw felt this fouled-up pic from the New York Times was too good to pass up and he passed it on to us. The headline writer will definitely be put on probation for this one. The Repubs are probably saying not so fast, that's what it really looks like...We haven't intentionally neglected the 2007 NM Legislature; it's just that the compelling political stories have been elsewhere as capitol reporter Walt Rubel notes: " With apologies to NASCAR fans, covering the New Mexico Legislature is a little like watching a stock car race. For those who aren't big fans of the sport— it's pretty dull until there's a crash. And, there haven't been many yet this session — a little rubbing is all." Writes Rubel.

We still have two weeks for some pile-ups, so stay tuned.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
Not for reproduction without permission of the author

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Domenici Admits Call To Iglesias And Apologizes; Denies He Pressured U.S. Attorney in Corruption Case 

Moving to fend off calls for an ethics investigation, New Mexico GOP Senator Pete Domenici Sunday admitted he called U.S. Attorney David Iglesisas before last year's election to ask about a corruption investigation involving at least one prominent Democrat, but he denies he pressured Iglesias to speed up indictments in the case. Here are the money paragraphs in the senator's statement which you can read in its entirety at the Washington Post.

I called Mr. Iglesias late last year. My call had been preceded by months of extensive media reports about acknowledged investigations into courthouse construction, including public comments from the FBI that it had completed its work months earlier, and a growing number of inquiries from constituents. I asked Mr. Iglesias if he could tell me what was going on in that investigation and give me an idea of what timeframe we were looking at. It was a very brief conversation, which concluded when I was told that the courthouse investigation would be continuing for a lengthy period.

In retrospect, I regret making that call and I apologize. However, at no time in that conversation or any other conversation with Mr. Iglesias did I ever tell him what course of action I thought he should take on any legal matter. I have never pressured him nor threatened him in any way.

The Washington Post news story on the Domenici apology is here. And the report from the ABQ Journal is here.

Iglesias has also charged that he was called by ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson just prior to last year's election and pressured by her to speed up the courthouse investigation indictments. Unlike Domenici, Wilson has refused comment. We'll have more on our Monday blog.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
Not for reproduction without permission of the author

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.)

STALKED ON THE HILL

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.

SMELLING BLOOD; MOVING IN?
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.

HARDBALL FOR HEATHER
Iglesias
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.

MY BOTTOM LINES

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.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
Not for reproduction without permission of the author

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Igleisas Bombshell: Explosive Charges Send Shrapnel Flying At Wilson And Domenici; Interference Claimed In Courthouse Probe; My Exclusive Report 

Iglesias
Outgoing New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias dropped a political bombshell Wednesday, sending heavy shrapnel flying toward GOP ABQ Congresswoman Heather Wilson and GOP Senator Pete Domenici. The question now is what will be the reverberations from a probe of Iglesias's explosive charges of improper intervention in his office by two members of Congress who he refused to name because he said he feared retaliation. But Iglesias, according to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), met with his staff the day before he made his revelations public and is willing to appear under subpoena before the Senate Judiciary Committee and “tell his story” under oath. The Committee is investigating Justice Department dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, including Iglesias. Meantime, a U.S. House committee is expected to vote today on issuing subpoenas to the ousted prosecutors, including Iglesias.

Iglesias, 49, says two members of Congress called him in mid-October to ask about the status of indictments in the federal investigation of the construction of two Bernalillo county courthouses, indictments that Iglesias said the two congressional members seemed eager for. "They were fishing around for information in terms of the status of the investigation...They were fishing around for a timetable. Those are things I'm prohibited from talking about...I didn't give them what they wanted," Iglesias told the Washington Post. He also said he regrets not reporting the calls as required by Justice policy.

Former Democratic state senator Manny Aragon's name has been linked to the probe, as well as that of other Democratic politicos. At the time Iglesias said the calls were made, Wilson was locked in a tight battle with Democrat Patricia Madrid in which ethics was a major issue. Iglesias says he now believes he was dismissed by Justice because he did not announce indictments in the courthouse case prior to the November election, an announcement that would have been a political boost for Wilson.

THE MAKING OF A BOMBSHELL

Congressional questions about ongoing cases are supposed to go through the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The U.S. attorney is a political appointment, (Bush appointed Iglesias) but he is expected to keep politics out of the law. A member of Congress pressuring a U.S. attorney would at the least be a significant ethical violation.

At a morning ABQ news conference called to discuss his firing and his future plans, Iglesias again defended his performance in office and said despite Justice's denials, his firing was political. But it was several hours later that the bombshell exploded. It came from a phone interview Iglesias conducted with Marisa Taylor of McClatchy newspapers in which he charged that two members of Congress called him in mid-October to inquire about the federal investigation. Why didn't he also announce this before local reporters? Probably to assure maximum national impact.

Democratic U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman, GOP Congressman Steve Pearce and Dem U.S. Rep. Tom Udall quickly denied talking with Iglesias. That left Domenici and Wilson, but they refused to comment to either McClatchy, the Washington Post or the blogs. It was left to Justice to fire back at Iglesias saying again that he was ousted for performance related reasons, not politics. The spokesman termed Iglesias's charges "flatly false." It was a similar Justice statement over his job performance made before senate judiciary earlier this month that pushed Iglesias over the edge. In an email to a friend and picked up by this blog on Monday, he reacted by calling his firing nothing less than "a political fragging." Iglesias confirmed the accuracy of our report at his Wednesday news conference.

So what members of Congress called Iglesias in mid October? We first reported in December the insider speculation that Representative Wilson was upset that no indictments had come down in the courthouse case during her campaign with Madrid. Domenici was cited as having the same feelings by the legal insiders, but nothing about direct pressure being placed on Iglesias by them was being mentioned. Clearly, however, they are the pair Iglesias is clearing a trail toward.

THE BATTLEFIELD AHEAD
Sen. Schumer
Dem Senator Schumer, a member of Judiciary, wasted no time pouncing on the red meat thrown his way by Iglesias, announcing on the senate floor that the charges were "very serious” and calling Republican Iglesias "a man of integrity.“ California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein signaled her agreement, setting up future sworn testimony by Iglesias and a possible political donnybrook the likes of which the NM congressional delegation hasn’t seen in years

Reaction across the political spectrum was swift and furious.

"He (Iglesias) went suicide bomber, for sure. He blew up whatever political career he had in the Republican party, but he is extremely upset with the allegations that he was dumped because he did a bad job. Also, he may be having a tough time getting a new job, adding fuel to this fire," said one attorney familiar with the ins and out of the drama.

Iglesias's last day on the job was yesterday. He said he has several job offers in the private sector.

Whatever Iglesias's motives, it is now up to the Democrats in Washington to determine how much hardball they want to play. First, will they ask him to disclose the names of the members of Congress at the center of this storm? Will they then try to determine if Iglesias has any proof of those alleged phone calls; a call log, tape recordings or other witnesses? Would a mention of a particular congressional representative by Iglesias launch official ethics probes? According to Washington insiders, the answer to that last question is "yes." Obviously, such ethics probes would have major political ramifications for any congressional member involved.

"If Iglesias were to point directly at Heather or Pete it could light a fire under the Democrats and get them out on the playing field with strong challengers. The allegations aren't criminal, but they are unethical and they surely have political force," offered up an Alligator in the know.

One wag was already suggesting that Iglesias switch parties and run against Heather. Mama Mia!

REPLACING IGLESIAS

Playing against this backdrop is another drama; the one over who succeeds Iglesias. Senator Domenici initially sent four names over to the White House, including that of '06 GOP attorney general candidate Jim Bibb and private ABQ attorney Charles Peifer. But sources in Washington are now telling me that those names are off the list; Bibb for the obvious reason that he is a politician and the White House is being accused with trying to pack U.S. attorneys' offices with political players. The reasons given to me for Peifer apparently no longer being in contention varied.

In another bizarre development in this saga, ABQ criminal defense attorney Jason Bowles, who defended ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil on federal corruption charges, is said by sources in Washington to be under consideration to replace Iglesias! Bowles, 36, teamed with well-known Democratic attorney Sam Bregman to win a mistrial in Vigil's first trial. In the retrial, Vigil, with Bowles by his side, was convicted of only one count of corruption out of two dozen. Bowles is a former assistant U.S. attorney serving during the Clinton years. Is he a Democrat? If so, it's even more weird.

There has been speculation that another reason Iglesias is gone is because the White House, Domenici and Wilson were unhappy with his performance in the Vigil case as well as his reluctance to announce the courthouse indictments prior to the November election.

There is also talk that the White House could turn to an interim appointment because of the mess surrounding the Iglesias departure. Deputy U.S. Attorney Larry Gomez is being mentioned as a possible if that route is taken.

Finding a suitable candidate for a job that may last less than two years (a Democratic President in '09 would name their own prosecutor) and one that is now a political pinata is no easy task, but something will have to be done, whether interim or permanent, and that is expected within days, if not sooner.

ISOLATING HEATHER?
Rep. Pearce
The Alligators were besides themselves over the statement of Rep. Steve Pearce quickly denying that he was one of those congressional reps who Iglesias is saying made improper contact with him before the election.

"Did he really have to issue a statement right away? It could be read that Pearce was isolating Heather as the one who made the call." Argued one political veteran.

It's no secret that both Wilson and Pearce have their eye on the Domenici senate seat if and when it becomes available, so fairly or not, all actions of the two are going to be weighed in that context, this imbroglio being the latest example.

As for Pete, one Alligator put it this way: "It appears he is going to at least get some powder burns. Schumer and the Democrats could try to leverage this by putting pressure on Pete to retire. The D's control the senate by only one vote. If they could turn this into an embarrassment for Pete, they will. But if he decided to call it quits, well, that would be different. We'll have to wait and see if this is as big a deal as the Democrats would like it to be," said our legal beagle.

New Mexico Democrats were salivating over the prospects, noting that it is Republicans fighting with each other, with Dems investigating the charges, not leveling them.

THE BOTTOM LINES

At the Roundhouse, that controversial bill to provide a big tax credit to Sithe Global to build a coal-fired plant on the Navajo Nation was permanently tabled by the House Energy Committee yesterday. Las Cruces are Rep. Joni Gutierrez had voted to bring the credit back to life, but yesterday joined with the other committee Democrats and voted to table the proposal. We blogged this one last week noting widespread environmental opposition and the radio ads that were run against the bill.

This is the home of New Mexico politics--www.joemonahan.com. We're #1 in readers, #1 in advertisers and #1 in scoops! (Hey, if we don't tell you, who will?) Send your news and comments from the email link at the top of the page.


(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
Not for reproduction without permission of the author

 
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