In yesterday’s New York Times, David C. Iglesias, former U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico, has an op-ed titled “Why I Was Fired”. Referring also to his fellow U.S. attorneys who were recently dismissed, Iglesias asserts, among other things, that “it seems clear that politics played a role in the ousters” and that “we had apparently been singled out for political reasons”. He claims that he was fired “for not being political” and refers twice to the U.S. attorneys brouhaha as a “scandal”.
Unfortunately, Iglesias offers not an iota of evidence for his charge that the Bush administration fired him (or any of the other U.S. attorneys) for improper political reasons. As his is the one dismissal among the eight that has as its backdrop seemingly inappropriate inquiries into a pending investigation, this absence of evidence is a striking sign of the lack of substance behind the charges of scandal.
Let’s consider a few points:
1. Iglesias states in his op-ed (and has previously testified) that Representative Heather Wilson and Senator Pete Domenici separately contacted him to inquire about a “politically charged corruption case … involving local Democrats.” They shouldn’t have done so. I won’t sort through here the competing accounts of whether the inquiries were relatively innocuous missteps or grossly improper pressure. In either case, they aren’t chargeable to the Administration.
2. Iglesias does provide one clear account of improper behavior—his own. In the same paragraph in which he states that “[p]rosecutors may not legally talk about indictments,” he relates that he nonetheless informed Domenici that he didn’t think he would file corruption charges before November. Separately, he has admitted that he failed to comply with DOJ directives requiring him to report Domenici’s and Wilson’s improper contacts.
3. Understood in a very broad sense, “politics” probably played the same role in Iglesias’s ouster that it had played in his initial selection. For better or worse, same-party senators have extraordinary influence in the selection of U.S. attorneys for their home districts. Domenici was largely responsible for Iglesias’s appointment. Once he made the fact of his dissatisfaction with Iglesias clear to the Administration, it would hardly be surprising that the Administration would look to replace him at an appropriate time. (It is highly doubtful that it would matter to the Administration whether Domenici offered any reasons, though it’s worth noting that he has stated that he had growing frustration with Iglesias’s alleged failure to move expeditiously on immigration and drug cases.) Giving a home-state senator so much clout may not be the best practice (though there are around 100 senators who like that clout), and it’s understandable that Iglesias would feel aggrieved by it, but it would not be improper, much less scandalous.