GOP leader defends Wilson

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) Wednesday defended Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), who has become entangled in a controversy over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year.

    During his weekly meeting with reporters, Blunt said that it was inappropriate for members to pressure U.S. attorneys but added that he did not believe Wilson did anything wrong.

    “My view is it is inappropriate for any member of Congress or their staff to pressure a person from the Justice Department in any way,” Blunt said. “But it is also my view that Heather Wilson has made it clear that she didn’t do that, and I have confidence in her.”

    Blunt was responding to a question about whether the ethics committee should launch an investigation into Wilson’s phone call. Another question was whether Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) should recuse himself from any ethics investigation into Wilson’s actions because one of his former staffers, Ed Cassidy, made a different call to another U.S. attorney in 2004.

    Just weeks before last year’s election, Wilson called David Iglesias, the then-U.S. attorney in New Mexico who was fired along with six other U.S. attorneys in December. Wilson and Iglesias have different accounts about what Wilson said during the call. She maintains that she called about the slow progress of prosecutions. Iglesias has said she called to inquire about the progress of an investigation into a courthouse construction project involving Democrats. Wilson eked out a victory in November with fewer than 1,000 votes.

    The Senate Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into a separate call that Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) made to Iglesias some two weeks after Wilson’s phone call. Domenici’s and Iglesias’s accounts of that conversation also differ, an area the ethics committee no doubt will explore.

    The House ethics committee has not indicated whether it will open its own investigation. A staffer for the panel said Tuesday the ethics panel does not comment on such matters. However, last year amid a public outcry, the ethics committee announced an investigation into former Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) tawdry electronic communications with pages and held a press conference to discuss its findings.

    Hastings is the ranking Republican on the ethics panel. His spokeswoman, Jessica Gleason, refused to comment on all ethics matters or on whether Hastings planned to recuse himself from a potential investigation.

    Gleason released a written statement Wednesday in response to questions about whether Hastings believes Cassidy did anything wrong.

    “Since John McKay, a respected former United States attorney, said yesterday he didn’t think the call crossed any unethical lines, it’s unlikely anyone else will either,” she said in the statement.

    That response follows an earlier statement in which Hastings called Cassidy’s call “entirely appropriate” and “simply an inquiry and nothing more.”

    During dramatic testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, McKay, a former U.S. attorney of Washington state, said Cassidy, then-chief of staff to Hastings, called him in 2004 to ask whether he was investigating allegations of voter fraud after a Democrat won the Washington state governor’s race in a third recount.

    McKay was one of seven U.S. attorneys fired by the administration in early December. Democrats have seized upon the firings and are demanding to know whether politics or the politically charged investigations that several of the U.S. attorneys were pursuing had anything to do with their departures.

    McKay said during the Tuesday testimony that he stopped the conversation by asking Cassidy whether, on behalf of Hastings, he was truly asking him about an internal investigation or lobbying for one, which would have been improper. He said Cassidy agreed that such questioning would be unethical and quickly ended the conversation.
    In response to a question by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) about why he didn’t report the call to the Justice Department, McKay said that if he thought it was “clearly improper,” he would have reported it.

    Cassidy, who is now a senior aide to Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) whom he advises on ethics matters, said in a statement that his call was “routine” and that he was well aware of the “permissible limits” on such a conversation, and that both he and McKay respected those boundaries.

     Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy said in a written statement Wednesday that McKay and Cassidy handled the situation “cautiously and appropriately.”

    “The U.S. attorney made it clear that they should not carry a conversation regarding a potential legal matter into territory beyond proper protocol. Mr. Cassidy concurred and confirmed that he had no such intent, and Mr. Cassidy ended the call," Kennedy said.