U.S. attorney scandal: political fallout on both sides of Hill
The political fallout from the firings of eight U.S. attorneys continues to ripple across Capitol Hill.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has just launched a radio ad attacking Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) for allegedly calling a U.S. attorney and asking about "sealed indictments" that might embarrass her political enemies on the eve of last November's elections. Democrats are trying to make the case that the firings were politically motivated.
And Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) continues to take heat from Republicans who say there is a major conflict between him leading the probe of the mass dismissals as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee while heading the campaign arm of Senate Democrats. One of his chief critics is Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), co-chairman of the ethics inquiry into the role of Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) in the firing of the U.S. attorney from New Mexico, David C. Iglesias.
According to the DCCC, the ad is running during the so-called morning-drive time for the next five days.
The political jousting on the Hill comes as congressional Democrats and President Bush are girding for a legal showdown over the testimony of White House advisers, particularly the political aide Democrats love to hate: Karl Rove. A House Judiciary subommittee this morning authorized subpoenas for the testimony of Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and three other current and former administration aides, a move that the Senate Judiciciary Committee is expected to follow tomorrow. But Bush, in a defiant press briefing yesterday, refused to allow his aides to testify under oath, in public and with a transcript of the proceedings, vowing to take the issue to the federal courts and precipitate a constitutional showdown over executive powers if necessary.
This is unusually early in the two-year campaign cycle for the Democrats to be on the air, but it's a sign of the eagerness of congressional Democrats to try to drive home the negative images of this investigation -- and demonstrate to their political base that they are very much on the offensive.
On its web page, the DCCC has prominently displayed a "Heather Wilson Watch" regarding media stories about her role in the U.S. attorney scandal.
Two weeks ago, Iglesias testified before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees that Wilson and Domenici called him to ask about a local corruption investigation he was overseeing that targeted a Democrat, inquiring about whether indictments were forthcoming. He told the committees he felt "sick ... pressured ... leaned on" after the calls.
Less than two months after telling Wilson and Domenici that no immediate action was forthcoming in the case, Iglesias was told by the Justice Department he had to resign.
Wilson has steadfastly denied that she was pressuring him about any specific investigation and was instead relaying complaints from constituents about his case work.
In the Senate, Republicans are increasingly trying to tie Schumer to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's actions regarding Domenici, as Capitol Briefing first reported last week.
Republicans accuse Schumer of using the investigation as a cudgel against Domenici, who is up for re-election in 2008. They point to a fund-raising letter Schumer's top political aide sent out shortly after washingtontpost.com reported that Domenici had retained a high-priced defense lawyer to handle the Senate Ethics Committee's preliminary inquiry into the matter.
But the latest complaints about Schumer come from an interesting source: Cornyn, who is a prominent member of Judiciary but, more importantly, is also the top Republican on the Ethics committee handling the Domenici inquiry.
Shortly after Schumer spoke on the floor last evening about President Bush's public offer of private interviews with top aides, Cornyn took to the floor to denounce Schumer for his dual role as Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman and leader of the prosecutorial inquiry.
Accusing Schumer of having "already reached a verdict", Cornyn went on to directly cite Schumer's fund-raising letter about Domenici.
"I just think it's appropriate to point out to our colleagues that this sort of campaign by the Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that's using this incident to raise money on the website of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is just inappropriate and unworthy of this institution," he said.
Schumer rejects the criticism. He has said repeatedly that his inquiry is pointed at the administration and any questions about Domenici or Wilson or other lawmakers should be the province of the ethics committees.
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