Accusations against a former top aide to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) throw a new wrinkle into any investigation flowing from the dramatic testimony of a former U.S. attorney that implicates two sitting lawmakers — and could force Hastings, the top Republican on the ethics committee, to recuse himself from such a probe.
John McKay, the fired U.S. attorney for Washington state, on Tuesday accused former ethics panel aide Ed Cassidy of calling him to ask about the status of a potential federal probe into the long-contested 2004 Washington gubernatorial race.
At the time of the inquiry, Cassidy was Hastings’ chief of staff in his personal office, but he went on to become Hastings’ top aide on the ethics panel in February 2005.
The accusations were leveled at a sensational Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday morning, during which four ousted U.S. attorneys testified that they did not know why they were summarily fired by the Justice Department. At the hearing, fired New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias accused Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) of pressuring him into wrapping up a corruption probe into local Democrats.
The House and Senate ethics committees could open probes into the lawmakers’ behavior.
“I believe the House ought to take it under consideration,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “Am I going to file a complaint? The answer is no. It has been my consistent position that the ethics committee has a responsibility ... when issues are raised in the public sphere ... I would hope they would do that.”
A Hastings spokeswoman would not comment Tuesday on whether the Republican would recuse himself from any probe into the U.S. attorneys’ allegations.
“Ed Cassidy’s call and the conversation that took place were entirely appropriate,” Hastings said in a written response to questions from Roll Call. “It was simply an inquiry and nothing more — and it was the only call to any federal official from this office on this subject either during or after the recount ordeal.”
“If McKay was truly dismayed at the time about Ed Cassidy’s call, I simply cannot understand why he didn’t just pick up the phone to make me aware of his concern about my aide’s call,” Hastings continued.
In his testimony before the Judiciary Committee, McKay said he was “concerned” and “dismayed” by a call from Cassidy a few weeks after the November 2004 elections.
McKay testified that Cassidy called him to “inquire on behalf of the Congressman” about the status of any federal probe into voter fraud. McKay said he reminded Cassidy that he was certain he was not asking him to “reveal information” about the status of a probe or “lobby me on one.”
“He agreed that it would be improper and ended the conversation in a most expeditious fashion,” McKay said, explaining that he then summoned his top staffers to discuss the troublesome phone call. “We all agreed that I stopped Mr. Cassidy before he entered clearly inappropriate territory and that it was not necessary to take the matter any further.”
Now a top aide to House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Cassidy released a statement Tuesday in which he agreed that he contacted McKay, but denied that anything improper was said.
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