Wilson’s Role In U.S. Attorneys Scandal Could Haunt Her Senate Bid

March 7, 2011 11:25 a.m.

Now that former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) is throwing her hat into the ring for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), expect a nasty, bitter race and plenty of ghosts turning up from Wilson’s decade-long Washington career.

Wilson, a former Air Force officer and director at the National Security Council, was a rising GOP star and a standout on defense and intelligence matters post-9/11. But her Washington career ended in 2008 when she lost a GOP Senate primary to Rep. Steve Pearce, who then lost the general election to Democrat Tom Udall.

In the lead up to that primary, Wilson suffered a series of public relations blows for her role in the U.S. attorneys’ scandal, improperly politicized firings of U.S. prosecutors by the Bush administration, which Democrats spent months investigating in 2007 and 2008. A lot of information about Wilson’s role wasn’t ever really scrutinized to the extent it could have been because she lost her first Senate bid.Wilson always had a close race to keep her House seat, and the 2006 election was no different. At the beginning of the U.S. attorneys scandal, former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, a Republican, accused Wilson of contacting him in mid-October 2006 while he was still in office to pressure him to take action on a political corruption case, which Wilson was using as political fodder against her opponent Patricia Madrid. Anti-intimidation rules prohibit elected officials from contacting U.S. attorneys to inquire about progress on a case.

After the Wilson call, Iglesias said her mentor, Domenici, then called him and angrily hung up when Iglesias objected and told him the call was inappropriate. Wilson has long refuted Iglesias’ account, arguing the calls were aimed at checking on the status of the investigation, not influencing it.

Interestingly enough, Domenici became one of Wilson’s first endorsements for the race, appearing Monday alongside her at the announcement press conference.

Karl Rove has even confirmed that Wilson wanted to get Iglesias fired for not moving quickly enough on the corruption case involving New Mexico Democrats, according to testimony released by the House Judiciary Committee in August 2009.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Eric Schultz is already starting to develop the narrative Democrats hope will define the Wilson race.

“Heather Wilson has been part of the problem in Washington for years. At a time when voters want fresh faces and new energy, she brings to the race a long record of standing up for the entrenched interests in Washington,” he said in a release. “Heather Wilson’s connections to some of Washington’s darkest scandals and shadiest figures will be a problem for her in a primary and — if she makes it — in a general election.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh blasted back, pointing out that one of their own Democratic candidates for the Senate seat, Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), is a sitting member of Congress, hardly a Washington outsider.

“It’s an interesting messaging strategy to attack someone as a ‘Washington insider’ when one of your potential Democrat candidates is a sitting member of Congress,” Walsh said. “But we look forward to reminding folks of these quotes if the Democrats are successful in getting a top candidate in this race.”

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