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Prosecutors Say They Felt Pressured, Threatened
Arlen Specter (Pa.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said during the testimony that "if the allegations are correct, there has been serious misconduct in what has occurred."
The Justice Department said initially that the prosecutors had "performance-related" problems, but more recently it asserted that they had not adequately carried out Bush administration priorities on immigration, the death penalty and other issues. The department has also acknowledged that Cummins, the Little Rock prosecutor, was asked to resign solely to provide a job for a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove.
"In hindsight, perhaps this situation could have been handled better," Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella said in prepared testimony yesterday in the House. " . . . That said, the department stands by the decisions."
Moschella said Justice did not intend to evade Senate oversight of U.S. attorneys, who under a new law can be appointed on an interim basis indefinitely by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
For the first time, Moschella detailed in public the department's rationale for each of the dismissals (although most of the claims had previously been aired through anonymous comments and documents leaked to reporters). All but one of the fired prosecutors had received positive job evaluations, but Justice officials say those reports do not include all possible performance problems.
Moschella also said it is "dangerous, baseless and irresponsible" to allege that the firings were linked to unhappiness over public corruption probes, as Iglesias and some Democrats have alleged.
In addition to Iglesias, four other fired prosecutors were conducting political corruption investigations of Republicans when they were dismissed. Carol S. Lam of San Diego, for example, oversaw the guilty plea of former Republican representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, and brought related indictments against a former CIA official and a defense contractor.
Iglesias testified that Wilson called him while he was visiting Washington on Oct. 16 to quiz him about an investigation of a state Democrat related to kickbacks in a courthouse construction project.
"What can you tell me about sealed indictments?" Iglesias said Wilson asked him.
Iglesias said "red flags" immediately went up in his mind because it was unethical for him to talk about an ongoing criminal investigation, particularly on the timing of indictments.
"I was evasive and unresponsive," he said of his conversation with Wilson. She became upset, Iglesias testified, and ended the conversation.
"Well, I guess I'll have to take your word for it," she said, according to Iglesias.