TPM News

Yet another tutorial in how not to do damage control.

Yesterday, former U.S. Attorney for Seattle John McKay testified that he'd been contacted by Rep. Doc Hastings' (R-WA) chief of staff a few weeks after the November 2004 gubernatorial election, in which the Democrat had won by a scant couple hundred votes after multiple recounts. Republicans had alleged voter fraud. McKay testified that Cassidy called him on "behalf of the Congressman" to inquire about the status of any investigation into the alleged fraud.

McKay, immediately on guard, responded (sub. req.) with public accounts of the investigation's status, and then before Cassidy pressed further, told Cassidy that he was "certain" that Cassidy was not asking him to "reveal information" about the status of a probe or “lobby me on one.” Cassidy, McKay testified, agreed that no, sir, he was not doing that, and then the call ended.

So what does Cassidy, who now works for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), have to say about it? Here's his statement:

“My conversation with John McKay was a routine effort to determine whether allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 gubernatorial election were, or were not, being investigated by federal authorities... As the top aide to the chairman of the House Ethics Committee, I understood the permissible limits on any such conversation. Mr. McKay understood and respected those boundaries as well. I am pleased that Mr. McKay recalls both our agreement to respect these boundaries and my subsequent decision to end the conversation promptly.”

"Routine effort?" That makes it sound as if Cassidy makes it a habit to call up federal prosecutors and ask whether their office is investigating Democrats, doesn't it? As CREW has detailed in their requests for investigations of Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), it's against the rules of both houses for members to inquire about the status of a particular investigation. Why? It's obvious: because that's an indirect way of applying pressure to a prosecutor to get a move on.

Maybe that's why Rep. Hastings took the opposite tack in his statement:

“Ed Cassidy’s call and the conversation that took place were entirely appropriate... It was a simple inquiry and nothing more — and it was the only call to any federal official from my office on this subject either during or after the recount ordeal.”

So either it was "routine" or it was the "only" call anybody from Hastings' office ever made like this. Which is it?

Earlier, we noted that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had referenced a letter she'd received from the Justice Department essentially vouching for U.S. Attorney Carol Lam's approach in prosecuting border cases.

You can read the letter here. It's dated August 23, 2006. Little more than three months later, Lam was fired -- according to the administration, because of her office's poor performance prosecuting border cases.

A new statement out from Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM):

In his testimony today, Mr. Iglesias confirmed that our conversation was brief and that my words did not threaten him, nor did I direct him to take any course of action. While I recall, as I stated previously, that I asked Mr. Iglesias about timing of the investigation, neither I nor those who overheard my side of the brief conversation recall my mentioning the November election to him.

When I was first asked, in response to a chorus of questions, about whether I pressured or threatened Mr. Iglesias, I responded that I did not know what he was talking about. Today he testified that he “felt violated.” I still do not know what he is talking about. In his own testimony, Mr. Iglesias confirmed that nothing I actually said was threatening or directive. I did not pressure him. I asked him a timing question. He responded. I concluded the conversation.

You can watch Iglesias' testimony about Domenici's call here.

The House Judiciary's hearing just got started. You can listen to it on the House Judiciary's website.

As with the Senate hearing, I'll be posting rolling updates. The witness list is here. Most anticipated is the testimony of William E. Moschella, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General United States Department of Justice, and two other U.S. attorneys, Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Paul K. Charlton of Arizona.

Updates below the fold...

Read More →

During his questioning, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked all four prosecutors that if they were told by a witness in an ongoing invsetigation that he had received a call similar to the one Bud Cummins got from Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, what would they think? All four said that they would investigate to see whether obstruction of justice or witness tampering had occurred.

The video:

During her opening statement during this morning's hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) revealed that the Justice Department had written to her last year and assured her that Carol Lam was doing a fine job prosecuting border cases -- even though they've said that the reason for Lam's firing was her poor performance on border cases.

From Feinstein's statement:

The Department has used the fact that I wrote a letter on June 15 to the Attorney General concerning the San Diego region, and in that I asked some questions: What are the guidelines for the U.S. Attorney Southern District of California? How do these guidelines differ from other border sections nationwide? I asked about immigration cases.

Here is the response that I got under cover of August 23, in a letter signed by Will Moschella. And I ask that both these letters be added to the record.

“That office [referring to Mrs. Lam’s office], is presently committing fully half of its Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute criminal immigration cases. Prosecutions for alien smuggling in the Southern District under USC sections 1234 are rising sharply in Fiscal Year 2006. As of March 2006, the halfway point in the fiscal year, there were 342 alien smuggling cases filed in that jurisdiction. This compares favorable with the 484 alien smuggling prosecutions brought there during the entirety of Fiscal Year 2005.”

The letter goes on to essentially say that Mrs. Lam is cooperating; that they have reviewed it and the Department is satisfied.

Update: You can read the letter here.

More from today's hearing, where John McKay revealed that Rep. Doc Hastings' (R-WA) then chief of staff called Seattle U.S. Attorney John McKay to inquire about whether the feds were investigating allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 Washington governor's race:

Here's testimony from U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins about his conversation with Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty:

And here's the email Bud Cummins sent to the other USAs outlining the conversation.