One would have thought, judging from the Democratic smear tactics concerning the US Attorney situation, that Democrats themselves would never, EVER, think about inquiring about election-related investigations in the month before an election. After all, they have had conniption fits about the calls to USA David Iglesias made by Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico.
One would need to think again.
On the morning of Oct. 4, 2004, less than a month before the 2004 national elections, the chief of staff for New Mexico’s Democratic U.S. Senator, Jeff Bingaman, called the Justice Department to inquire about Iglesias’ New Mexico Election Fraud Task Force (EFTF). Actually, the contact apparently was (at least) the second such call. Iglesias answered that it is DoJ policy to avoid “attempting to influence the outcome of an election through investigation or prosecution. I am not aware of any prosecution which will commence before November 2, 2004 [election day]. I know Donsanto would not authorize such action because he has stated the same.”
Justice official Nancy Scottfinan followed up with other inquiries and reported to officials William Moschella and Crystal Roberts, on Oct. 7, a whole list of information that “we can say to Senator Bingaman’s Chief of Staff.” Among the info passed on was that Iglesias set up the task force “after he was contacted by the office of Bernaillo County Clerk Mary Herrera (D) who asked to meet about 3,000 suspicious registrations.”
To repeat: The investigation was begun at the request of a Democratic county clerk. The office of the Democratic U.S. Senator made repeated requests about it, apparently with interest in how it might affect the elections.
This information comes from documents released on Friday, DAG 2330 and 2331, pages 37 and 38 of CD ROM documents group one on the House Judiciary Committee web site.
Is there anything wrong with this? Probably not. But it shows that it can be an entirely innocent and normal thing for senators to inquire, during election season, about the status of investigations with political ramifications. It takes at least some of the sting out of the breathless allegations against Domenici.
Granted, there are two differences in the cases. First, Domenici called Iglesias directly, whereas it was Bingaman’s chief of staff who called and it was to the legislative affairs office at Justice, not to Iglesias, that he made his call. Second, there is no evidence that Bingaman did anything further that could be interpreted as putting political pressure on Iglesias or on DoJ, whereas it appeared that Domenici forwarded his complaints to the White House.
But the fact remains that it is just flat-out inaccurate to assert that senators are necessarily out of line to express concern about politically tinged investigations. The Democrats’ pretense to the contrary is not just hypocritical, but a rank descent into character assassination of a sort that can, by tying up resources, distract attention from the actual job of law enforcement.