U.S. Attorney Says Firing Had Political Origins David Iglesias, who until this week was the United States attorney in New Mexico, says that his firing is tied to political pressure put on him in October by two members of Congress. So far, Iglesias has refused to name them, but that may change.
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U.S. Attorney Says Firing Had Political Origins

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U.S. Attorney Says Firing Had Political Origins

U.S. Attorney Says Firing Had Political Origins

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. Today, Congress issued subpoenas to four of the eight U.S. attorneys who have been fired in the last several months to testify under oath. They're scheduled to testify before Congress next Tuesday. One of those fired prosecutors says politics was behind his dismissal.

BLOCK: David Iglesias says he was fired because he resisted pressure from two congressmen to bring corruption charges against a Democrat in his state before the 2006 election. Iglesias was removed as the U.S. attorney in New Mexico after more than five years in office, and he joins us from Albuquerque. Mr. Iglesias, this case involves a criminal investigation, as I understand it, that involves a former Democratic state lawmaker. Is that right?

DAVID IGLESIAS: That's correct. It's a widely reported local corruption matter that has been around for quite some time.

BLOCK: And you got some phone calls - two phone calls, I believe - in mid-October from two members of Congress. What did they say?

IGLESIAS: The first call was in mid-October, and the caller was asking - and this is not a staff member. This is an actual member of Congress. The person was asking about - wanted to know if there are any sealed indictments. And I said, sealed indictments? Well, we only do that for juvenile cases or national security cases.

It's fairly unusual. And instantly red flags went up. I didn't want to talk about it. Federal prosecutors can't talk about indictments in general until their made public, so I was evasive. I shucked and jived like Walter Payton used to for the Chicago Bears, and the call was ended rather abruptly.

BLOCK: And there was another phone call as well?

IGLESIAS: Approximately a week and a half later, I got a second call from another member of Congress wanting to know about when the corruption matters were going to be filed. Again, red lights went on. It was a very unpleasant phone call because I know that members of Congress should not be making phone calls about pending matters, pending investigations, indictment dates, things of that nature.

BLOCK: You have refused to say so far who, which congressmen or women made these calls. Why is that?

IGLESIAS: Well because, frankly, I'm afraid of retaliation. I live in a very small state with a very small legal community. And I'm frankly afraid that if I go public right now, that there could be retaliation in terms of me being blacklisted, blackballed, you pick your adjective.

BLOCK: It's not a big congressional delegation from New Mexico, and a number of congressman have denied it. Two Democrats, Senator Jeff Bingaman, Congressman Tom Udall, also a Republican congressman, Steve Pearce, say they didn't make these calls. We did call the offices of Senator Pete Domenici and Congresswomen Heather Wilson today, both Republicans. They both said no comment.


BLOCK: Anything you'd want to add to that?

IGLESIAS: I'll be adding much more on Tuesday afternoon at 2:00.

BLOCK: What do you make of the timing of those calls, and how is it that you interpret those as pressuring you to do something before the election, in other words something that might help Republicans?

IGLESIAS: Well, it was in mid-October. There was a tight race going on here. I'd never received any other call from any member of Congress about any specific matter, investigation or case that was pending.

BLOCK: What was your reaction after you got these calls?

IGLESIAS: I was like a deer caught in headlights. I felt violated. I was not happy, and I should have called the Justice Department right away and said I just got two very inappropriate phone calls. I didn't do that, and in retrospect I regret that I did not do so.

BLOCK: And the Justice Department agrees that that would be proper procedure, that you should have called them when these calls came in.

IGLESIAS: That's true. There's a section in the United States Attorney Manual that I think specifies that when we do get contacts either in person, by phone, e-mail or letter that we need to report those contacts.

BLOCK: And why didn't you make - why didn't you report the phone calls?

IGLESIAS: I think initially I was too stunned. I'd never had anything like that happen. So once I kind I kind of calmed down, I felt well, should I report this, or should I just let it slide. I figured well, I'll just let it slide. It shouldn't - I don't think it's going to be that serious of a matter. And I think looking back, I was drastically wrong about that.

BLOCK: Now the Justice Department says that the suggestion that your firing was politically motivated is absolutely false. That's their words. The spokesman says that your firing and the others' were for performance-related reasons.

IGLESIAS: Yes, I've heard that mantra, and let's go over the three possible reasons for asking a United States attorney to step down. Reason number one would be misconduct, and there's never been even a hint of that for me or my seven colleagues. Reason number two would be performance, and I stand by the EARs evaluation report that my office had twice in the past five and a half years giving me outstanding marks in terms of leadership and how the office was run. That leaves only a third possible option, that being politics.

BLOCK: Was there also some concern about your absence from the job?

IGLESIAS: Yes, I've heard that. And when I talked to the staffer in the Senate, I said well did they mention to you that I'm an officer in the United States Navy Reserve? I'm gone at least 36 days per year. The staffer laughed and said no, they didn't say that. So if you subtract my 30 to 45 days or so of military duty, I'm probably in the middle of the pack. If you add those 40 or so days, then I'm probably in the top 10 U.S. attorneys being gone from the office. But it wasn't like I was sipping marguerites in Tucson. I was serving my country in the U.S. Navy.

BLOCK: Mr. Iglesias, you and the other seven U.S. attorneys who have been dismissed I believe were all appointed by President Bush. Is that right?

IGLESIAS: That's correct.

BLOCK: Why then would politics be at play here?

IGLESIAS: Well, now that's the $64,000 question. I wish I had e-mails to review. I wish I was privy to conversations between the White House counsel, between the main Justice Department and probably the members of Congress who called me. I could speculate all day long, but we don't have enough time on this show for me to do so.

BLOCK: Can you give me some indication of what it might be though?

IGLESIAS: Well, I think - one theory that I've heard coming out of Arkansas is that the Republican Party wanted to increase the bench strength. In other words, instead of just having one appointee serve for the seven or eight-year period, you have two or three appointees. They put that on their resume, that makes them more marketable for a judgeship or running for office or something like that. And I think that's plausible. And frankly, I don't see anything that outrageous about that.

My only beef is they should have, when they called me, said hey, this is not performance-related, Dave. We really need to share your appointment with someone else. How much time do you need to find another job? Had that happened, I would have gladly left. I would have faded quietly into the darkness and I wouldn't be talking to you today.

BLOCK: Have you talked to any of the other U.S. attorneys who have been fired?

IGLESIAS: Yes, I have.

BLOCK: And do any of them share your feelings that the dismissal was because of politics?

IGLESIAS: I think they do, and we'll find out with specificity on Tuesday afternoon.

BLOCK: When you testify before Congress.

IGLESIAS: That's correct.

BLOCK: And are you prepared in that testimony to name the names of the congressman who called you?

IGLESIAS: Yes, if directed to do so, I will publicly announce who called me on what days.

BLOCK: David Iglesias, thanks for talking with us.

IGLESIAS: Thank you.

BLOCK: David Iglesias served his last day as U.S. attorney for New Mexico yesterday. In a statement, the Justice Department said this administration has never removed a United States attorney in an effort to retaliate against them or inappropriately interfere with a public integrity investigation.


BLOCK: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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