Thursday, 07 May 2009 13:55
It appears that former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici has come under increased scrutiny over his role in the politically motivated firing of the state's former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias.
In recent weeks, Nora Dannehy, the acting U.S. Attorney in Connecticut who was appointed special prosecutor last year to probe whether Bush administration officials involved in Iglesias's firing and the dismissals of eight other federal prosecutors broke any laws, interviewed Scott O'Neal, the assistant FBI special agent in charge of the Albuquerque field office, according to legal sources who requested anonymity because of the secrecy surrounding the probe.
Legal sources said Dannehy's questions to O'Neal were "tough"- and the FBI agent was left feeling "uncomfortable"- at the end of the interview.
It is believed the interview centered on an alleged briefing O'Neal and his boss gave to Domenici shortly before the 2006 midterm elections regarding the status of a federal corruption probe launched in 2005 involving a prominent New Mexico Democrat and whether Iglesias intended to secure an indictment against the individual before Election Day.
Domenici had a particular interest in seeing an indictment in the corruption case filed before the elections and had, according to Iglesias, pressured him to secure one before New Mexico residents went to the polls. Legal sources said Domenici may have used information he received during the alleged briefing to make a case to White House and Justice Department officials that Iglesias should be removed as the state's U.S. Attorney.
These sources added that Domenici was allegedly told by O'Neal and another FBI special agent that they had completed the corruption probe earlier in the year and that Iglesias should have secured indictments.
Dannehy is said to be collecting evidence against Domenici that may lead to obstruction of justice charges, legal sources said, but it's unclear how the FBI's alleged briefing to the senator, if that was the substance of Dannehy's interview with O'Neal, would fit into an obstruction case.
In February, a federal grand jury empaneled by Dannehy subpoenaed the former Republican senator's documents and had issued subpoenas to secure testimony from ex-Bush administration officials who played a role in the attorney firings.
Iglesias's refusal to bow to pressure by Republicans to secure indictments in the corruption probe prior to the 2006 midterm election played a major role in the decision by high-ranking Justice Department officials to place him on a list of U.S. Attorneys to be fired, according to a Justice Department inspector general's report issued last year.
The alleged briefing to Domenici about the status of the corruption probe would have required Iglesias's approval and according to his former colleagues and two Justice Department sources neither FBI agent O'Neal nor his superiors made a formal request.
The U.S. Attorney's manual prohibits "personnel of the Department of Justice shall not respond to questions about the existence of an ongoing investigation or comment on its nature or progress, including such things as the issuance or serving of a subpoena, prior to the public filing of the document."-
Domenici's attorney, Lee Blalack, did not return messages left for him at his Washington, D.C. law office. Iglesias, who is now prosecuting cases at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, was also unavailable for comment. O'Neal also did not return calls for comment.
In congressional testimony in March 2007, Iglesias said he received telephone calls from Domenici and then-Rep. Heather Wilson, (R-NM), in October 2006 inquiring about the timing of an indictment against former state senator Manny Aragon, a Democrat, and other Democrats who were involved in a courthouse construction project.
According to Iglesias's testimony, Domenici called Iglesias at home and asked whether the indictments "are going to be filed before [the] November"- midterm elections.
Iglesias said he told Domenici "no."-