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The Political Scandals Just Keep On Coming

Even after the November elections when voters rebuked the GOP because of its scandal-ridden image and turned control of Congress over to the Democrats, the political scandals just keep on coming.

I attended the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this morning on eight federal prosecutors who were fired en masse following the 2006 elections in December by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Bush Administration.  The Administration initially gave no reason for the firings.  The story of political intrigue and corruption that my Public Citizen colleague Linda Andros wrote about on TomPaine.com last week continues to unfold.

The hearing noted that all but one received exemplary performance reviews. The common thread among many of these firings appears to be political repercussions for prosecuting Republicans for corruption, such as the infamous Duke Cunningham, or not prosecuting Democrats fast enough before the elections. Never mind that all but two of the prosecutors are Republicans; the other two are Independents.

Perhaps the most telling story was by former New Mexico prosecutor David Iglesias, a Republican. He was pursuing corruption allegations against a state Democratic officeholder, but his investigation was not likely to produce an indictment before the election. Iglesias received a call at home one night from Republican Sen. Pete Domenici. Domenici was brief. The Senator asked whether Iglesias would produce an indictment before November. “I don’t think so,” responded Iglesias. “Very sorry to hear that,” said Domenici, and then abruptly hung up on the prosecutor. Iglesias said he viewed the curt exchange as political pressure from the Senator and felt “sick” to his stomach.

According to Iglesias, the phone call from Domenici came two weeks after another call from Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), who was in a close re-election battle (largely because of all the GOP corruption scandals), also asked about the pace of the investigation. Wilson further inquired about “sealed” documents, which would have been a crime for Iglesias to discuss (sort of like phoning the Pentagon and asking for its launch codes).

Another fired prosecutor, Bud Cummins, testified that he received a high-pressure phone call from Mike Elston of the Deputy Attorney General’s office. According to Cummings, Elston suggested that all of the prosecutors could face “retaliation” if they went public and tried to defend themselves against being fired. Cummins felt that Elson wanted him to convey the threat to the other prosecutors, which he did via e-mail. Cummins produced the e-mail, which warns his colleagues that the Administration would “pull their gloves off” in how it treats the former prosecutors in the press if they did not leave quietly.

Well, it ain’t so quiet no more. Even the usually impotent Senate ethics committee initiated an investigation into whether their Republican colleagues may have obstructed justice.  There also is a bill recently introduced in the Senate that would address the abuse of presidential power in the firings. We won’t keep quiet, and neither should you.    

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