Domenici dinged for call to prosecutor

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By Roger Snodgrass

The Senate ethics committee has given Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a mild warning for his conduct in a telephone call to former U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias in October 2006, but concluded that there was “no substantial evidence” of improperly attempting to influence him.

Domenici issued a statement expressing satisfaction with what he considered a favorable completion of the inquiry.

“I regret the distraction this controversy has caused my colleagues, my staff, my family and, most importantly, my constituents,” he said. “Now that this matter has concluded favorably, I am anxious to focus all of my time and attention on the business of the people of New Mexico.”

The inquiry was related to a telephone call Domenici made about the timing of indictments in a corruption case related to a major courthouse construction contract in Albuquerque.

The ethics committee said Domenici’s call created the appearance of a conflict.

“The Committee does find that you should have known that a federal prosecutor receiving such a telephone call, coupled with an approaching election which may have turned on or been influenced by the prosecutor’s actions in the corruption matter, created an appearance of impropriety that reflected unfavorably on the Senate,” the committee wrote to Dominici.

In its “Public Letter of Qualified Admonition” Thursday, the ethics committee cited a rule that calls for the avoidance of communication with a federal agency in an ongoing enforcement or investigation and noted the ethical duty of prosecutors to avoid influencing an election.

At the time of Domenici’s call, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., was battling down to the wire in a First District congressional race with Former Attorney General Patricia Madrid.

Wilson said in a statement last year that she had also called Iglesias.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said it took into account a public statement made by Domenici last March, in which he described the reason that he made the “brief call,” because of media reports and inquiries from constituents.

“In retrospect, I regret making the call and I apologize,” Domenici wrote, while insisting that he had not pressured or threatened Iglesias in any way.

Iglesias was later fired by the Bush administration. He told the Associated Press that he interpreted the letter as having admonished Domenici for his “improper activity.”

“I trust this will serve as a warning to other members of Congress that contacting United States attorneys in this manner is impermissible and unacceptable behavior,” Iglesias said.