Brian Murray, Renzi's top aide, issued a statement late Tuesday acknowledging that shortly after the local media reported that the congressmen was being investigated, he called Charlton spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle.At best, Rep. Renzi is looking at an Ethics probe because of Brian Murray's phone call to the U.S. Attorney's office to talk about the investigation.
"I called Mr. Hornbuckle seeking information about press accounts which appeared just weeks before Election Day alleging a pending indictment," Murray said in a statement. "I left him a message asking for information about these allegations, but I was called back and told they would not comment."
Hornbuckle refused to comment Tuesday. [Snip]
The disclosure is one of several examples of phone calls made by members of Congress to federal prosecutors.
The Senate ethics committee has opened a preliminary inquiry into a call by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., to then-U.S. attorney David Iglesias, who like Charlton also was later fired. Iglesias says Domenici wanted to know whether indictments that would help Republicans would be returned before the November elections. Told no, Domenici hung up, Iglesias said.
The House ethics committee has also been asked to investigate a separate call from Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., to Iglesias.
For his part, Renzi said the leaked stories and conjecture about the land deal were wrong.
"None of them bear any resemblance to the truth," Renzi said.
Law enforcement officials confirmed in October that they were scrutinizing a land deal that benefited a Renzi friend and business associate who was also a campaign donor. Last Thursday, the FBI raided a Sonoita, Ariz., insurance business owned by Renzi's wife, Roberta.
Renzi has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyer did not return several calls for comment Tuesday.
According to state records and officials involved in the land deal, Renzi helped promote the sale of land that netted his former business partner, James Sandlin, $4.5 million.
The property eventually was to be part of a swap in which potential buyers could exchange it for land owned by the federal government. Such deals are common in the West, where the government owns vast tracts. Renzi had said he wanted to prevent encroaching development near the Fort Huachuca Army post and to protect the environmentally threatened San Pedro River.
But Renzi never introduced legislation in Congress to complete the swap for the new owners. [Snip]
The raid on Renzi's business happened the same day that Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., temporarily stepped down from the House Appropriations Committee. Doolittle is under scrutiny for his ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Renzi (R) won his 2004 reelection by 51.4% to Ellen Simon (D) 43.8% with David Schlosser (L) 4.8% picking up half of the difference. ( Arizona Congresswatch.)Any time an incumbent wins by less than 55% he is vulnerable. He was already in trouble in the election of 2006.
How the word got to Rove and Sampson to fire U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton is not yet clear, but it should be out soon. He and Doolittle are both in real trouble, and there being the two of them at the same time will probably make things worse for each of them.