The Iglesias Episode

Monday, April 9, 2007

THE DISPUTE between Democratic lawmakers and the Bush administration over access to documents and interviews with officials about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys seems to be escalating, not resolving. That's unfortunate, because it's become clear that the administration must make more information available than has been forthcoming. Perhaps the clearest case for that -- and the most troubling evidence of improper political motivations -- involves New Mexico prosecutor David C. Iglesias.

Mr. Iglesias, it turns out, was a late addition to the target list. He was a "diverse up-and-comer" considered for promotion and, in a March 2005 assessment, was placed in the category of "recommend retaining; strong U.S. attorneys who have produced well, managed well and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general." Indeed, Mr. Iglesias's name didn't turn up on the list of those to be terminated until Nov. 7, 2006. How and why? The answers, though still incomplete, do not paint the Bush administration in an attractive light.

It was already known, before testimony last month by D. Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, that two New Mexico Republicans -- Sen. Pete V. Domenici and Rep. Heather A. Wilson -- had called Mr. Iglesias before the election to inquire about a criminal investigation involving a Democratic politician. Mr. Domenici, having reached Mr. Iglesias at his home, hung up when the prosecutor informed him that no indictment would be forthcoming before the election; he also placed repeated calls to the attorney general and deputy attorney general complaining about Mr. Iglesias.

In addition, New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh complained to White House adviser Karl Rove about Mr. Iglesias. And, last but not least, President Bush himself passed on to the attorney general complaints about U.S. attorneys, including Mr. Iglesias, who were allegedly failing to aggressively pursue voter fraud cases.

Mr. Sampson's testimony showed that Mr. Iglesias was added to the list after Mr. Rove also complained to the attorney general about Mr. Iglesias's supposedly poor performance on voter fraud. This revelation not only adds to the evidence undercutting the attorney general's professions of ignorance about the whole episode; it deepens the sense that the judgment about whom to fire was influenced, if not dictated, by political considerations.

What prompted Mr. Rove's complaint? Did he speak with Mr. Domenici or Ms. Wilson? Was there in fact a problem with Mr. Iglesias's record on voter fraud? Was he dismissed for failing to bring voter fraud cases that he did not believe were justified by the evidence? Was voter fraud the real reason for his dismissal, or his alleged absenteeism because of military service? Or was it because he failed to produce in time an indictment that could have been helpful to Ms. Wilson's endangered reelection bid?

There are reasons to be skeptical about what happened here. Mr. Iglesias was one of two U.S. attorneys invited to teach a voting integrity symposium in October 2005 -- though Mr. Sampson testified he was not aware of that. Other complaints about Mr. Iglesias -- for example, that he didn't do enough on immigration -- also appear to be contradicted by the evidence. Whether Mr. Gonzales stays or goes, more needs to be known about what happened on his watch.

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