Today’s Must Read

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Ooh, that must sting. For ringing up his state’s U.S. attorney at bedtime to interrogate him about whether that high-profile corruption case against a prominent state Democrat will result in an indictment before the election, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) has been branded with the dreaded QA: that’s right, qualified admonition.

The Senate ethics committee says it left no stone unturned in coming to this conclusion, including interviewing “current and former executive branch officials and attorneys,” but that the “Committee finds no substantial evidence to determine that [Domenici] attempted to improperly influence an ongoing investigation.” The key word there being “substantial.”

The U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, who was of course fired a little more than a month after Domenici’s call, testified that the call made him sick. And so the committee says that Domenici “should have known” better — that such a call would create an “appearance of impropriety.” But appearance of impropriety aside, maybe the good senator was just looking for an update. You know, just ringing up the local prosecutor at home to see how things are going.

The modesty of the punishment matches the modesty of the investigation. It wasn’t the committee’s job to investigate the U.S. attorney firings in general: “We do emphasize, however, that the Committee confined its inquiry to your October 2006 call to Mr. Iglesias, its context and consequences and related actions by you or your office.”

Nevertheless, as Domenici serves out his last year in the Senate, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the broader context.

Such as the fact that when the story first broke that two lawmakers had called Iglesias shortly before the 2006 election, the lawmakers were not identified, resulting in a media scramble to identify them. When all other members of the New Mexico delegation responded that they’d never done such a thing, Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) went to ground and refused to comment. Finally, cornered by an AP reporter, Domenici said “I don’t have any comment. I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

But when it became apparent that Iglesias would be testifying to Congress about the call, Domenici eventually developed an idea and fessed up. He apologized, but said “I have never pressured him nor threatened him in any way.” In their letter yesterday, the committee thanked Domenici for the “candor” of that statement.

Neither Domenici nor Wilson have admitted that it was Iglesias’ failure to speedily dispatch with a couple high-profile corruption investigations into state Democrats that led to their dissatisfaction. Rather, they both hewed to the coded criticism that Iglesias had been slow to move cases — when it’s evident that they were really only talking about a few cases in particular.

We know that Domenici was also instrumental in Iglesias’ firing, making calls not only to the Justice Department, but also to the White House. Of course, Iglesias had plenty of enemies, so it’s certainly possible that other Republicans got him canned for, say, not jumping on the voter fraud bandwagon, and that’s always been Domenici’s best alibi.

But if you’re looking to find out more about the context of Iglesias’ firing, the Justice Department’s forthcoming inspector general report will be much more informative.