After watching the Senate hearings this morning (my Real Player went on the fritz for the House hearing) the real picture is beginning to unfold in the premature firing of seven or eight (or more) prosecutors by the Justice Department. David Iglesias, the star of the hearings, testified that both Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson called to ask him about an ongoing corruption investigation and whether indictments would be brought down before the November elections. According to Iglesias, Wilson, in a call placed on or about October 16th, 2006, went so far as to say that she was "hearing about sealed indictments" and wanted to know more. Iglesias told the committee, "We cannot talk about sealed indictment," and explained how he dodged the congresswoman's question by giving her information that was in the public record. Iglesias said that she "was not happy."
Two weeks later, on or about October 26th, 2006, Sen. Domenici called Iglesias at his home. Iglesias explained that this was the only time that he had received a call from a Member of Congress at his home. The conversation, as recalled by Iglesias, went as follows:
Domenici asks about indictments in the corruption case, "Are these going to be filed before November?"
Iglesias, "No, sir."
Domenici, "I'm very sorry to hear that you won't be taking action before November."
The line goes dead.
Iglesias said that he felt sick after receiving that phone call. Much of the 2006 House race between Democrat Patsy Madrid and Wilson revolved around allegations corruption. Iglesias stated that he did not want to get involved in the politics of this race and explained that he felt pressure to hand out indictments in time for the election. He was fired six weeks later.
John McKay, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Washington, revealed that he too was contacted by a congressional office in regards to an ongoing investigation. McKay recalled that in the wake of the bitterly contested gubernatorial race in 2004 between Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi he received a phone call from the chief of staff to prominent Washington Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), Ed Cassidy. Cassidy, who now works in Minority Leader John Boehner's office, asked McKay about the status of any federal investigation into electoral fraud in the '04 election. McKay, refusing to talk about an ongoing investigation, demurred only to have Cassidy begin to ask another question. McKay stated that he cut Cassidy off mid-sentence to ask him, "I'm sure you aren't about to ask a question about an ongoing investigation." Cassidy backed off and quickly ended the conversation. Hastings went on to chair the House Ethics Committee from '05-'06 after the widely reported purge of committee member who had voted to admonish then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The Seattle Times has an article about Hastings involvement in this matter.
To put this in perspective Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked an important question, although I'm not sure he got the answer that he was looking for. Graham, who was seeming to downplay the firings with his line of questioning, asked each of the prosecutors if they had ever received calls from Members of Congress and how often. Each of the four Attorneys present responded that they had never, except in the cases documented in this hearing, been contacted about a specific case as Iglesias and McKay were. Graham did not appear to expect this answer.
What we appear to be seeing is a small number of Members of Congress who may have actively obstructed numerous investigations throughout the country by prying into the business of U.S. Attorneys — a violation of ethics rules — and then contacting the Executive Branch to demand the removal of the unresponsive Attorneys. We expect the justice system in this country to work; especially if we advocate for more transparency and greater citizen vigilance we expect the justice system to work. If an investigative reporter, or blogger, or intrepid citizen digs up information that leads to a criminal investigation we expect that those in charge of the investigation will be independent and will not be removed from case, thereby obstructing justice, for political reasons.
For the coverage of the House hearings into this matter, and the terrible excuses the Justice Department is giving for firing these Attorneys, check out this thread at TPM Muckraker. This story is not going away.