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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