Top Republican aide implicated in attorney firing probe
A senior aide to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) has been implicated in the controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration, which Democrats believe may have been politically motivated, The Hill reports.
Senate Democrats, having launched a probe into the matter, heard testimony before the Judiciary Committee in which former US Attorney John McKay "said that Ed 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," Susan Crabtree writes for The Hill.
At the time, Crabtree indicates, McKay was serving as Seattle's chief federal law enforcement officer.
McKay, who was fired along with seven others in early December, told the committee that he considered Cassidy's line of questioning inappropriate and ended the exchange abruptly.
"McKay said he stopped the conversation by asking Cassidy whether the aide was truly asking on behalf of his boss about an internal investigation or whether he was trying to lobby McKay to launch one, which would have been improper," Crabtree reports. "Cassidy agreed that such questioning would be unethical and finished the conversation 'in a most expeditious fashion.'"
Cassidy denied any wrongdoing in a statement he released. "My conversation with John McKay was a routine effort to determine whether allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 gubernatorial election were, or were not, being investigated by federal authorities," read the statement.
"As the top aide to the chairman of the House Ethics Committee," Cassidy's statement continued, "I understood the permissible limits on any such conversation. Mr. McKay understood and respected those boundaries as well. I am pleased that Mr. McKay recalls both our agreement to respect these boundaries and my subsequent decision to end the conversation promptly."
Crabtree pointed out the potential conflict of interest Rep. Hastings may now face due to his position as ranking member on the House Ethics Committee, a committee once chaired by Hastings before Democrats took control of Congress. That panel will be deciding whether it will launch its own investigation into phone calls made by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) to another attorney fired in December, David Iglesias.
Excerpts from the Hill article, available in full here, follow...
Just weeks before last year's critical midterm election, Wilson called Iglesias to inquire about the progress of a public corruption case against a Democratic lawmaker. At the time, Wilson was running a close race and eventually won reelection by fewer than 1,000 votes. If Iglesias had handed down indictments before the election, they could have helped boost Republican prospects at the polls.
Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who has close ties to Wilson, also recently admitted to calling Iglesias. Both Wilson and Domenici have denied that they said anything that would pressure Iglesias. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has called for House and Senate investigations into the calls that Wilson and Domenici made.
Cassidy had worked for Hastings for 12 years. When he left for Boehner's office earlier this year, Hastings praised Cassidy as his "most trusted adviser and one of my closest friends." Boehner's press secretary, Brian Kennedy, also issued a statement yesterday evening.
"It is improper for anyone to attempt to unduly influence the initiation or outcome of an investigation," the statement said. "Given their backgrounds, both Mr. Cassidy and U.S. Attorney McKay were acutely aware of this fact. Accordingly, both have made it abundantly clear that no such impropriety took place during their conversation and, more importantly, that neither had any intention of pursuing a discourse that could be construed to be inappropriate."