While Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has received most of the press lately over allegations that he illegally and inappropriately fired several U.S. Attorneys, two New Mexico Republicans are also on the hot seat: Senator Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson.
Before the Senate ethics investigation of Domenici could even get started, though, Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) recused himself, as Lois Romano of the Washington Post reports, because Salazar had worked with former New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, and Madrid tried to unseat Wilson last November.
Such a recusal is a rare, and significant event. Hear more after the jump…According to Romana, there has been only one other time in the past decade when a senator recused himself from an ethics investigation: in 2002, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) stepped aside during the investigation of Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), who was under investigation for taking improper gifts.
That investigation lasted six months, and while Torricelli was not removed from office, the political damage was so great that Torricelli resigned his seat a month before a near certain defeat in the November, 2002 election. The resignation allowed Democrats to retain the seat, as Frank Lautenberg replaced Torricelli as the Democratic nominee and ultimately won the election.
Salazar’s recusal suggests that the investigations into Domenici and Wilson are taken seriously by other senators, and could cause similar damage to their political careers.
Whether either Republican will likewise be forced to step down is unclear, but it could open up an opportunity for Democrats to pick up the New Mexico Senate seat in 2008. Domenici had previously been considered safe.
Wilson in particular could be vulnerable on the ethics charges, as her seat has consistently been a top Democratic target.