Friday, April 20, 2007

Is Dominici Done For?

Way back at the beginning of the Purge scandal, Senator Pete Dominici of New Mexico retained high-powered Washington attorney Lee Blalack to represent him in the matter.

Now it looks like he just may be getting his moneys worth for that hefty retainer, because the Senate Ethics Committee is digging into his involvement in the politically motivated firing of U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias.

A parliamentary maneuver executed yesterday by Ken Salazar and Sherrod Browm signals that the heat on Dominici is being turned up.

Yesterday Senator Salazar of Colorado recused himself from the investigation and Senator Brown will stand in for him on the evenly split ethics panel. (In Chess, a similar maneuver is known as Castling, and I have never lost when I used it.)

Here is what the Washington Post Capitol Briefing blog said about it:

Here at Capitol Briefing we've been reading statements from the Ethics Committee for many years, in the same way Kremlinologists studied the order Politburo members stood at big military parades in Soviet-era Moscow. And from this vantage point, the committee appears to be examining more than merely the facts surrounding Domenici's call to Iglesias to ask about the timing of a highly sensitive probe of Democrats , but also the the motives behind the call.

Salazar recused himself, according to spokesman Cody Wertz, "because of his relationship with [former] New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid." Madrid was the 2006 opponent of Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), who, like Domenici, is accused of calling Iglesias in the weeks before the election to pressure him to bring indictments against local Democrats in a case that might have caused Madrid political embarrassment.

Moreover, Wertz said that the content of the investigation also prompted Salazar's recusal: "He may have knowledge of matters that may be investigated by the committee."

If the scope of the investigation were not widening from the original question of propriety for Dominici to have contacted Iglesias and inquire about the timing of indictments in an ongoing investigation that could have affected the outcome of an election, it is highly unlikely that this rare maneuver would have been used.

The last time it was used, Harry Reid recused himself from an investigation into New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli. That in itself does not bode well for Dominici. That investigation took more than six months, and required multiple instances of Torricelli testifying under oath before the committee in closed sessions. In the end, he was severely admonished and he bowed out of his reelection bid weeks before the 2002 midterms.

Lee Blalack is, in the words of a friend who is also an attorney, not the guy you hire if you are afraid of losing a senate seat. Lee Blalack is who you hire if you are afraid you may end up going to the slammer because you have been engaging in criminal activity.

I’m not trying or convicting anyone – but this is huge, and I’ll be watching to see how it turns out.

[Cross-posted from Watching Those We Chose. You should be reading that blog every day.]

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