Friday, June 22, 2007
Domenici's Role Got Downplayed
By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON The second-in-command at the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday that he did not mislead Congress by previously failing to disclose that Sen. Pete Domenici pushed to get then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias fired.
Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who is resigning this summer, said that, when he testified before Congress in February, he didn't mention New Mexico's longtime Republican senator out of respect.
"We were being as forthcoming as we could because we were identifying the things we understood to serve as the justification (for the firings) but we didn't always reference the source of that information," McNulty told a House Judiciary subcommittee. "In my mind, I was ... trying to respect the process of letting members convey their own views."
McNulty testified Thursday as part of a five-month investigation into the Justice Department's firing of eight U.S. attorneys, including Iglesias of New Mexico.
Iglesias has said he felt pressured in the fall by Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, another New Mexico Republican, to deliver indictments against top Democrats in a public corruption case.
Domenici and Wilson have acknowledged calling Iglesias to ask about the corruption cases, but each has denied exerting any pressure.
The Senate Ethics Committee has launched a preliminary investigation to determine if Domenici violated Senate ethics rules. It remains unclear if a complaint will be lodged against Wilson in the House.
Also Thursday, McNulty said Kyle D. Sampson, former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, compiled the list of U.S. attorneys to be fired.
Sampson has testified he compiled the list with input from others in the department. Exactly who added Iglesias' name remains in question, Iglesias said Thursday.
"I'm not sure McNulty's testimony shed much light," Iglesias said to the Journal. "It seems he was doing damage control."
Chris Gallegos, Domenici's spokesman, and Joel Hannahs, Wilson's spokesman, declined to comment.
Several Justice Department officials, including Gonzales, have said Domenici's displeasure with Iglesias helped seal the decision to ask him to resign.
McNulty said he was presented with a list of U.S. attorneys to be fired and then considered a "brief conversation" he had with Domenici, in which the senator groused about Iglesias.
Among Domenici's complaints was that Iglesias had failed to prosecute voter fraud cases in New Mexico.
"When I saw his (Iglesias') name on that list, I had to make my own judgment as to whether or not I objected to it," McNulty said. "That (Domenici's complaint) certainly was a factor in my mind when I saw his name on the list. And just as the attorney general said, it affected his judgment."