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GOP Raps Schumer Over Dual Role

Senate Republicans are voicing concerns about the role of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in the investigation into the reasons behind the dismissals of eight federal prosecutors, suggesting he's targeting a fellow senator in the probe for political gain.

"I think Senator Schumer has a direct conflict of interest and is the worst possible person to be on the point," Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the minority whip, told Capitol Briefing Tuesday.

Schumer chairs the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on oversight, a pedestal he's used to lead two hearings examining the firings of the U.S. attorneys. But he's also the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the political arm of the Democratic caucus that is charged with trying to pick up GOP-held seats in 2008.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the ranking member of Judiciary, said Schumer should not be "leader of the inquiry" into the fired U.S. attorneys while he's also using the issue as a fund-raising tool for the DSCC.

"He has a conflict of interest," Specter said.

This dual role was on display last week, when Schumer led a Tuesday hearing at which fired U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias charged that veteran Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) pressured him to bring indictments against local Albuquerque Democrats just before the midterm elections. Schumer slowly walked Iglesias through the phone call he received from Domenici, asking him how he felt afterward. That prompted Iglesias to say he felt "sickened" by it. "I felt leaned on, I felt pressured," he told Schumer.

Those allegations have prompted a Senate Ethics Committee inquiry.

One day after the Schumer-led hearing, his top aide at the DSCC sent out an attack e-mail to financial supporters questioning the ethics of Domenici - who is up for reelection in 2008 and is considered likely to cruise to a seventh term unless he retires or some scandal tarnishes his reputation.

In harsh tones, Schumer's aide said that Domenici has given various accounts explaining the call: "He has been less than forthcoming and has given his constituents every reason to question his honesty and his fitness to be a United States Senator."

The aide, J.B. Poersch, executive director of the DSCC, added a "P.S." note in which he advised supporters that he asked the DSCC research department "to go deep inside the Domenici case."

Schumer defends his dual role, saying that he started looking into the dismissals of the prosecutors long before Iglesias lobbed his charges against Domenici, as well as Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), whom he accused of also pressuring him.

"We're taking it where it leads," Schumer told Capitol Briefing of his probe. "We had no idea it involved anyone from the House or Senate. Instead of complaining, [Republicans] ought to help us get to the bottom of it."

He first called for hearings on the matter in mid-January, held the first hearing in early February, and Iglesias didn't make any allegations of congressional interference until a press conference Feb. 28, his last day in office, when he said two unnamed lawmakers pressured him.

And, at a press conference Tuesday, after e-mails from the Justice Department revealed Domenici was "happy as a clam" when he was informed Iglesias was fired, Schumer specifically dodged questions about the New Mexico lawmaker. He said he wouldn't comment on Domenici and would leave the matter up to the Ethics Committee.

Schumer has long been accused of jumping into issues to gain media attention, a charge he's largely relished over the years, and he's been the DSCC chairman since January 2005. But now, with the Democrats in the majority, the charges against Schumer have a different tone because he can help set the chamber's agenda as well as dictate the types of hearings held at the committee level.

In a Senate floor speech Tuesday, Specter said he was angry to see the DSCC's web site highlighting the Domenici allegations, adding that "the statements of some members of this body" have gone too far against the New Mexican, who has said he placed the call to Iglesias and inquired about indictments but never pressured him.

After the floor speech, Specter made clear he was directing his comments at Schumer, noting that he saw on the DSCC web site that there was one use of the word "alleged" around the Domenici allegations. "That doesn't erase the tone of the politicization," Specter said.

By Paul Kane  |  March 14, 2007; 12:40 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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