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Probe of prosecutor firings intensifies

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070305/ap_on_go_co/congress_prosecutors;_ylt=ApRdYxx6cRYrXEY8qE61SUmMwfIE Probe of prosecutor firings intensifies By LAURIE
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 5, 2007

      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
      kickback scheme.

      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
      are resolved.

      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.

      Democrats scoffed.

      "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 —
      to testify.

      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.
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