WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Sen. Pete Domenici was criticized by a Senate ethics panel on Thursday for a call he made to a U.S. attorney, one of nine federal prosecutors who were later fired, sparking a political uproar.
David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney contacted by the veteran New Mexico senator, later told lawmakers he felt the call had been made to pressure him about an ongoing investigation.
The subsequent firing of Iglesias and eight other U.S. attorneys in 2006 prompted congressional investigations and led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Critics charged that the nine federal prosecutors were fired for political reasons, allegations denied by the White House.
The Senate Ethics Committee found in a letter of “qualified admonition” that Domenici, who is retiring next year, should have known better than to contact the prosecutor about an ongoing investigation.
But the committee said it found no substantial evidence to determine that Domenici attempted to improperly influence the investigation and it recommended no formal punishment.
“The Committee does find that you should have known that a federal prosecutor receiving such a telephone call, coupled with an approaching election which may have turned on or been influenced by the prosecutor’s actions in the corruption matter, created an appearance of impropriety,” the panel said in the letter to Domenici.
Domenici said he was gratified the inquiry confirmed what he had always maintained.
“I did not attempt to improperly influence an ongoing investigation when I telephoned the former United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico,” Domenici said in a statement posted on his Web site.
Domenici, 75, first elected in 1972, announced in October he would not seek another six-year term this year, saying he had a degenerative brain disease. He said he would retire from the Senate when his term expires in January 2009.
Additional reporting by Tom Ferraro; Editing by Peter Cooney