Ignoring Domenici's flip-flop, National Journal's Taylor "doubt[s] that there'll be anything discrediting" to senator in U.S. attorney probe


Commenting on Sen. Pete Domenici's (R-NM) alleged involvement in the firing of U.S. attorney David Iglesias, National Journal's Stuart Taylor Jr. said he "doubt[s] that there'll be anything discrediting to Senator Domenici," ignoring Domenici's reversal on his contact with Iglesias. Taylor also asserted that Joseph Wilson "was not very well qualified" to investigate whether Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from Niger.

On the March 15 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, National Journal senior writer Stuart Taylor Jr., commenting on Sen. Pete Domenici's (R-NM) alleged involvement in the firing of U.S. attorney David Iglesias, said he "would not lead to a conclusion that he did anything wrong" because his "impression of the senator is consistent" with that of host Don Imus, who called Domenici "about the last guy on the planet who'd pick the phone up and lean on somebody." Dismissing the scandal as a "Washington feeding frenz[y]," Taylor added, "I doubt that there'll be anything discrediting to Senator Domenici in all this once the dust clears." In fact, Domenici has already reportedly reversed himself on the key issue of his contact with Iglesias.

A March 1 Washington Post article reported Iglesias' contention that "two members of Congress" -- whom he declined to name -- "attempted to pressure him to speed up a probe of Democrats just before the November elections." The Post contacted New Mexico's congressional delegation, all of whom issued flat denials that they had been involved with the exception of Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson (R), who "did not respond to repeated requests for comment," the Post wrote. Later that day, the Associated Press reported having made contact with Domenici, who said, "I have no idea what he's talking about," referring to Iglesias' accusation.

But on March 4, Domenici released a statement in which he admitted he had contacted Iglesias:

I called Mr. Iglesias late last year. My call had been preceded by months of extensive media reports about acknowledged investigations into courthouse construction, including public comments from the FBI that it had completed its work months earlier, and a growing number of inquiries from constituents. I asked Mr. Iglesias if he could tell me what was going on in that investigation and give me an idea of what timeframe we were looking at. It was a very brief conversation, which concluded when I was told that the courthouse investigation would be continuing for a lengthy period.

In retrospect, I regret making that call and I apologize. However, at no time in that conversation or any other conversation with Mr. Iglesias did I ever tell him what course of action I thought he should take on any legal matter. I have never pressured him nor threatened him in any way.

Domenici further asserted that he had "recommend[ed] to the Department of Justice that New Mexico needed a new United States Attorney," but claimed that he had made the recommendation "several months before my call with Mr. Iglesias."

Later in the segment, when the discussion turned to the trial of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Taylor suggested that former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, the husband of former CIA operative Valerie Plame, was not properly qualified to discover whether Saddam Hussein had sought to purchase uranium in Niger. Taylor said that "the problem is that he was not very well qualified to do this," adding that "the main White House complaint was that if the CIA is going to investigate something, they ought to send somebody who knows more about what's going on -- who's better qualified to investigate it than this guy was." Taylor also said that Joseph Wilson's "trip to Africa looks like a nepotism deal set up by his wife."

However, when asked about Joseph Wilson's qualifications during his March 24, 2004, grand jury testimony, Libby himself stated that "as an ambassador he was perfectly capable to conduct those missions," and noted that kind of mission was "something he had done as an ambassador presumably many times." Asked about the charge of nepotism, Libby said, "Nepotism has two meanings to me. One is of a person who is unqualified to do something but he gets the job because he's somebody's nephew. I didn't think he was unqualified to do the job that he was given."

From the March 15 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:

IMUS: What exactly in this case, in the firing of these U.S. attorneys, particularly the one there in New Mexico, [unintelligible] -- what did Pete Domenici do? Senator Domenici, do you know?

TAYLOR: What the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, the fired one, David Iglesias, said is that Domenici had made an inquiry about a pending criminal investigation -- a politically sensitive one, I think -- and to alleged allegations of vote fraud, if I'm thinking of the right one about Democrats. And on the one hand, you know, it's the business, I suppose -- the president and the White House are entitled to oversee how their U.S. attorneys are handling vote fraud. But when it's really politically sensitive and it's a senator coming in, and there's some reason to suspect that he's just trying to get something to happen to help him in the election, it has -- it has a nasty look to it. I don't think we know enough details about this to know whether it's really a serious abuse, and Senator Domenici is not a guy who's known for playing games. So I'm not sure that anything really bad went on, but it certainly needs investigating, and it certainly needs to be discussed candidly by the Justice Department, and that's what we haven't seen so far.

IMUS: Almost without exception, every time I know something about a story that appears in any newspaper, but even The New York Times and The Washington Post -- if I am aware of the details of the story, there almost always -- the account that is represented in the paper are almost always wrong. And in some cases, you know, you could charge deliberately wrong, but you can certainly say egregiously wrong. And in the case of Senator Domenici, who I sort of know, he's about the last guy on the planet who'd pick the phone up and lean on somebody. I mean, that's just not his style. So I was kind of surprised -- so are they suggesting that's what he did?

TAYLOR: Well, there's a suspicion, and -- but my impression of the senator is consistent with yours, and so I would not lead to a conclusion that he did anything wrong. But you know what happens in one of these Washington feeding frenzies when there's kind of blood in the water, and when people figure something bad somewhere happened, every little thing that comes up, people are likely to jump on it and say, "Aha! That was a -- he was trying to fix a case." I doubt that they'll be anything very discrediting to Senator Domenici in all this once the dust clears.


TAYLOR: But this whole Libby business with Joe Wilson, ironically, was one of the few areas where they -- where the critic really didn't have much of a point to make. Wilson claimed that he'd gone to Niger in Africa to investigate whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium there, and then he reported no, they didn't. And in fact, on closer inspection, his trip to Africa looks like a -- looks like a nepotism deal set up by his wife, and he wasn't well-qualified to investigate that sort of thing. And what he did find wasn't that inconsistent with what the president said. So he comes back and he starts sounding off, writes a New York Times op-ed, says the president was lying or words to that effect. This drives the people in the White House nuts. They're saying, "Who the heck is this guy? Why do we have to put up with him? He doesn't know anything." And I think in this particular case, they were probably right. But they got careless, and in their effort to discredit him they referred to his wife's CIA connection which was sort of semi-undercover, and then you're off to the races.


TAYLOR: The way it begins is she goes to her husband, and this is according to their own testimony to one of the congressional committees, she said, "Hey, there's this crazy idea the White House has that maybe Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa. Do you want to go check it out?" And he said, "Sure." And the problem is that he was not very well-qualified to do this. Now, why he wanted to do it is another question. It's certainly not one of the great vacation trips ever. But I think the main White House complaint was that if the CIA's going to investigate something, they ought to send somebody who knows more about what's going on -- who's better qualified to investigate it than this guy was.

IMUS: That's almost exactly what [New York Times columnist] Tom Friedman -- I was talking to Tom Friedman about this -- who knows something about reporting and wearing that shoe leather around the world. And he said, you know -- just as a reporter, Tom Friedman said, "If somebody called me and said I want you to go to Niger and find out" -- I was telling him, you know, how would -- you know, I mean, how would you find that out? Particularly if you're Joe Wilson and don't have any real skills, you know. Maybe you have a few contacts.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Stuart Taylor Jr.
Imus in the Morning
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