Justice Dept. Recognized Prosecutor's Work on Election Fraud Before His Firing

By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 19, 2007

One of the U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration after Republican complaints that he neglected to prosecute voter fraud had been heralded for his expertise in that area by the Justice Department, which twice selected him to train other federal prosecutors to pursue election crimes.

David C. Iglesias, who was dismissed as U.S. attorney for New Mexico in December, was one of two chief federal prosecutors invited to teach at a "voting integrity symposium" in October 2005. The symposium was sponsored by Justice's public integrity and civil rights sections and was attended by more than 100 prosecutors from around the country, according to an account by Iglesias that a department spokesman confirmed.

Iglesias, a Republican, said in an interview that he and the U.S. attorney from Milwaukee, Steven M. Biskupic, were chosen as trainers because they were the only ones identified as having created task forces to examine allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 elections. An agenda lists them as the panelists for a session on such task forces at the two-day seminar, which featured a luncheon speech by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

According to Iglesias, the agency invited him back as a trainer last summer, just months before a Justice official telephoned to fire him. He said he could not attend the second time because of his obligations as an officer in the Navy Reserve.

The fact that Justice officials held out Iglesias to his colleagues as an exemplar of good work on voter fraud conflicts with an explanation offered last week by a senior aide to President Bush that eight U.S. attorneys had been removed in part because of complaints that some had been lax in pursuing election fraud. Bush told Gonzales last fall that he was aware of such complaints, said Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, who cited New Mexico as one of three states in which the complaints had arisen.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) cited suspected voter fraud in complaints about Iglesias to the Justice Department, officials have said.

Iglesias and another U.S. attorney fired in December, John McKay of Seattle, said they were surprised by the White House's explanation because they had coordinated closely with Justice attorneys in handling allegations of fraudulent voting in recent elections. Justice officials had never expressed disagreement with their judgment, the two said.

McKay said in an interview that his staff had been "pretty much in daily contact" with the attorney in charge of election crimes in the department's public integrity section during a preliminary inquiry into alleged fraud in Washington state's 2004 gubernatorial election -- contact that continued when he concluded no federal crimes had occurred.

A spokesman for the department, Brian Roehrkasse, said that "as a matter of Justice Department policy, U.S. attorneys do consult with the public integrity section on election fraud matters," although he declined to comment on specific consultation that may have taken place with Iglesias or McKay.

Roehrkasse confirmed that the department twice invited Iglesias to speak at the voter fraud seminars but said the invitations were in 2004 and 2005 -- not shortly before his firing last year. Iglesias said he could not have been invited in 2004 because he had not yet established the task force that prompted the invitation.

As the controversy over the firings escalates, the circumstances of Iglesias's and McKay's dismissals demonstrate the pressure federal prosecutors have faced over election fraud inside the Justice Department and among Republican activists in swing states.

Among Republicans, "you had this widespread belief that voter fraud exists, combined with close elections," said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, a group that monitors electoral reforms. "They were either pushing the U.S. attorney or pushing the administration to push the U.S. attorney to investigate."

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