Friday, February 13, 2009

Domenici's Records Subpoenaed in Firings Probe

Ex-lawmaker's records subpoenaed in firings probe

By PETE YOST

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A federal grand jury has subpoenaed records of former Sen. Pete Domenici, and prosecutors are preparing to interview an ex-aide to former White House political adviser Karl Rove in an investigation of politically tinged firings of U.S. attorneys.

The moves are the clearest sign yet that the criminal inquiry, which began in September, is likely to continue for many months.

Career federal prosecutor Nora R. Dannehy is looking into whether former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, other Bush administration officials or Republicans in Congress should face criminal charges in the dismissals.

Some White House officials, including Rove as well as Domenici, R-N.M., the retired senator's former chief of staff and others refused to be interviewed in an earlier joint inquiry by the Justice Department's inspector general and the department's Office of Professional Responsibility.

Rove has said he will cooperate with Dannehy's investigation.

Tom Carson, a spokesman for Dannehy, declined to comment.

The earlier Justice Department inquiry concluded that despite Bush administration denials, political considerations played a part in the firings of as many as four federal prosecutors. Nine U.S. attorneys in all were fired in 2006.

The interview with Scott Jennings, former White House deputy director of political affairs, was expected to occur Thursday at Justice Department offices in Washington, according to Jennings' attorney, Mark Paoletta of Washington.

The grand jury subpoena for some of Domenici's records was confirmed by two private attorneys who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not representing the former senator. Domenici's attorney, K. Lee Blalack, declined to comment about what he described as Ms. Dannehy's review.

Dropping a subpoena on Domenici may have at least as much to do with the conduct of Justice Department officials as about Domenici, who retired from the Senate this year.

Domenici made three phone calls to Gonzales in 2005 and 2006 and one to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty in October 2006 complaining about the performance of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, one of those fired for what the Justice Department's inspector general said were political reasons.

In a February 2007 briefing for the Senate Judiciary Committee, McNulty did not mention Domenici's phone calls, nor were they listed on a chart prepared for the briefing at the Justice Department.

Two weeks later, Iglesias became the first person to publicly refer to Domenici possibly having had a role in removing Iglesias from his job, saying at a news conference that two members of Congress pressured him to bring an indictment in a public corruption case before Election Day in November 2006. In response to Iglesias' statements, Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., confirmed they had telephoned Iglesias but denied that they pressured him in any way.

Jennings also had a role in the Iglesias controversy. He was on the receiving end of complaints from Republicans in New Mexico that Iglesias had failed to prosecute voter fraud in a state that President George W. Bush narrowly lost in the 2000 presidential election.

In the earlier Justice Department inquiry, Jennings told investigators that shortly after joining the White House in early 2005, he heard criticism of Iglesias' performance from Domenici's chief of staff.

Jennings said the chief of staff, Steve Bell, periodically told him that he was unhappy with Iglesias' response to voter fraud complaints and other issues and that the White House should replace him. Jennings said he passed along that information to his immediate superiors, who, like Jennings, worked for Rove.

Jennings' attorney, Paoletta, said Wednesday that "in her efforts to gather all of the facts, the special prosecutor asked to interview Scott. Scott is happy to cooperate to the best of his ability, as he has done with all probes to date. It is my understanding that Scott is not a target in this investigation."

Jennings also was involved in discussions that led to one of Rove's aides, Tim Griffin, becoming U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark. He replaced H.E. "Bud" Cummins. The two U.S. senators from Arkansas had expressed reservations about Griffin.

Cummins was one of the U.S. attorneys targeted for removal on a list that Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, supplied to the White House in March 2005. Cummins' name remained on every removal list throughout the drawn-out decisionmaking process that concluded in December 2006, the month that eight of the nine firings took place.

On the Net:

Justice Department inspector general's report on firing of U.S. attorneys:

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