Probe of prosecutor firings intensifies
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer 53 minutes
WASHINGTON - The probe into the Bush administration's
firings of U.S. attorneys intensified Monday as
lawmakers ordered two more ousted officials to tell
their stories and the Justice Department said
Republican Sen. Pete Domenici (news, bio, voting
record) had complained repeatedly to the attorney
general about one of the prosecutors.
The administration has said eight prosecutors were
told to leave, all but one for performance-related
reasons. However, Democrats have suggested ever more
pointedly that politics was behind many of the
dismissals, and the Domenici revelation fueled that
Six of those fired, meanwhile, issued a stiff defense
of their conduct and implied that they had had
differences with Justice Department officials in
"We leave with no regrets, because we served well and
upheld the best traditions of the Department of
Justice," the group said in a joint statement released
in advance of a Tuesday hearing by a House
The Justice Department, besieged by charges of
cronyism, acknowledged that lawmakers had complained
about several of the eight.
One, David Iglesias of New Mexico, was the subject of
four phone calls from Domenici, R-N.M., to Attorney
General Alberto Gonzales and his deputy questioning
whether the prosecutor was "up to the job," department
spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.
Iglesias was well aware of the senator's interest in
his work. Domenici said over the weekend that he had
called the prosecutor in October 2006 to ask about the
progress of a probe into an alleged Democratic
Iglesias has said he received calls from two lawmakers
he has not named them publicly who inquired about
the case. He said that he felt pressured by them to
rush indictments before the November elections.
Domenici has apologized for the call while denying he
put any pressure on Iglesias. The Senate ethics manual
advises lawmakers to refrain from speaking to court
officers about specific proceedings until after they
During a briefing that Deputy Attorney General Paul
McNulty gave senators last month about the firings,
McNulty singled out two U.S. attorneys, Iglesias and
Carol Lam of California, who had generated "extensive
congressional concern," according to a senior
administration official, speaking on condition of
anonymity because the official was not authorized to
speak on the record about that briefing.
The Justice Department released letters from Sen.
Dianne Feinstein (news, bio, voting record) and Rep.
Darrell Issa (news, bio, voting record) of California
to Gonzales and Lam complaining about Lam's
prosecution record with illegal immigrants, and other
Lam's and Iglesias' accounts are just two of the
stories expected to receive public airings on Capitol
Hill Tuesday. The Justice Department has said Iglesias
was among those dismissed for performance-related
U.S. attorneys are political appointees and can be
fired for any reason, or none at all. But these
firings have become a stress point of a power struggle
between the Republican Bush administration and newly
ascendant Democrats in Congress.
Separately on Monday, the Justice Department said that
Michael Battle a senior official who directed the
department's Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and
had personally informed the ousted prosecutors of
their removal would leave his post March 16.
Battle, who has held his job since June 2005, had
informed the department last summer that he wished to
pursue opportunities outside government, the
department said. Battle was not involved in the
decision-making that led to the prosecutors' ouster,
the department said.
"His departure is not connected to the U.S. attorney
controversy whatsoever," Justice's Roehrkasse said.
"The wheels seem to be coming off the Bush
administration's increasingly hollow defense of its
decision to fire eight U.S. Attorneys," said Rep.
Linda Sanchez (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif.,
who will chair the House hearings Tuesday.
Her panel subpoenaed two more fired prosecutors,
Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Paul Charlton of Arizona
They are the fifth and sixth ordered to testify. The
others, Iglesias, Carol Lam of California, H.E. "Bud"
Cummins of Arkansas and John McKay of Washington, are
expected to testify before both the House panel and
the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The six attorneys said in a statement released ahead
of the proceedings that they were given "little or no
information about the reason" for their firings.
"When we had new ideas or differing opinions, we
assumed that such thoughts would always be welcomed by
the department and could be freely and openly debated
within the halls of that great institution," they
Domenici, meanwhile, faced ethics questions from a
watchdog group but it was unclear whether he would
face a Senate probe. Ethics Committee Chairwoman
Barbara Boxer (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif.,
and ranking Republican John Conyers (news, bio, voting
record), R-Texas, declined to comment.
Domenici said Sunday he had had a brief conversation
with Iglesias last year and asked "if he could tell me
what was going on in that investigation and give me an
idea of what time frame we were looking at."
"In retrospect, I regret making that call and I
apologize," Domenici said. "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."
"If, as it appears, Senator Domenici pressured a
sitting U.S. attorney to push a criminal case to
benefit a political party, the ethics committee should
take swift and harsh action," said Melanie Sloan,
executive director of the private group Citizens for
Responsibility and Ethics.
Associated Press writers Hope Yen, Jennifer Talhelm
and Larry Margasak contributed to this report.