Senate Finds that Domenici’s Call to U.S. Attorney was Only an “Appearance” of Impropriety

The Senate is congratulating itself on finding taking a stand on ethics. It admonished Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R., N.M.) yesterday for his “appearance of impropriety” in connection with the firing of one of the nine U.S. attorneys fired. Yet, it is hard to see what it takes under congressional rule to commit an actual act of impropriety. Perhaps if Domenici had actually paraded around with the head of David C. Iglesias . . . wait, that is an “appearance of insobriety” under Senate rules.

Domenici called Iglesias to clearly pressure him about an investigation of New Mexico Democrats on the eve of the 2006 midterm elections. The investigation was key to the future of Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.), who accused her 2006 opponent, a state attorney general, of being lax on corruption investigations. To show that no scandal is relevant in American politics, Wilson is now running for Domenici’s Senate seat despite an on-going investigation into her conduct.

Just in case you are worried about Domenici facing some terrible penalty, fear not. He received a “public letter of qualified admonishment.” That’s right, “qualified admonishment.” I supposed that is a term found in the same language group as “faint praise” and “guarded apology.” Here is the whipping language selected by our esteemed Senate ethicists: “You should have known that a federal prosecutor receiving such a telephone call, coupled with an approaching election which may have turned on or been influenced by the prosecutor’s actions in the corruption matter, created an appearance of impropriety that reflected unfavorably on the Senate.” Wow, that’ll leave a mark.

By the way, that “public letter of qualified admonition” is the result of a 13-month investigation. Another ten months and the Senate might have been able to work up a “conditional criticism.”

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5 thoughts on “Senate Finds that Domenici’s Call to U.S. Attorney was Only an “Appearance” of Impropriety”

  1. RE: Pete Domenici’s letter from the Senate Ethics Committee:

    According to PointofOrder (one of the most invaluable sites around) the admonishment was unprecedented as there has been no language explicitly prohibiting such behavior in the Senate Ethics Manual or in Rule 43 Interventions With Other Government Agencies: “Ex parte communications may be prohibited in some judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings.”

    So in Domenici’s case the Ethics Committee created some new “law”:

    “Notwithstanding these limitations respecting court interventions, the Committee has ruled communications with an agency with respect to a matter which may be the subject of litigation in court is, nevertheless, generally permitted, where the communication is with the agency (or its attorneys, e.g., the Department of Justice) and not directed at the court, where the agency is not engaged in an ongoing enforcement, investigative or other quasi-judicial proceeding with respect to the matter, and where the communication is based upon public policy considerations and is otherwise consistent with Rule 43.”

    PointofOrder concludes in part:

    “Domenici’s conversation with Iglesias was not a prohibited ex parte communication. Anyone is free to communicate with a federal prosecutor regarding a matter that is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation, although the prosecutor is not free to provide information regarding that investigation. Thus, although Domenici’s call certainly seems inadvisable (in part because Domenici was attempting to solicit information about the timing of indictments that Iglesias could not or should not have provided), it did not appear to violate any specific prohibition contained in either Rule 43 or the Ethics Manual.”

    Everyone agree?

  2. Unless that politician is Mark Foley and the news outlet is Fox News or NewsMax…

    Actually, I think you’re just saying something to have something to gripe about, without anything remotely resembling a fact to back you up. Such is life on a thread with Nibbles, alas.

  3. One thing you can always count on: if it is a Republican in the news looking bad you will almost alwasy find his party affiliation noted in the first line of the article.

    However, if it is a Democrat in the news looking bad you will seldem ever find his party affiliation noted in the entire article.

    Don’t believe me? Pay attention the next time a politician is in the news for bad behavior and look for the party affiliation. If it is not noted, odds are with almost certainty that the politician is a Democrat.

  4. If you judge a society by the actions of its leaders, then this is just another sad day. Perhaps we can say that the Senate has given us the appearance of propriety in its action.

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