Inside the Capitol

Monday, March 05, 2007

3-7 Revised Iglesias

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- By the time you read this, we may know the answer to some of the following questions. Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was invited by a U.S. Senate committee and subpoenaed by a U.S. House committee to testify yesterday on his firing.
What's up with the Iglesias ouster? The surprise dismissal of U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias makes less sense all the time.
We wrote about the forced resignation of Iglesias last December, soon after it happened. We asked why Republicans would want to sacrifice one of their few rising political stars.
We've received no answers, only more questions as one U.S. attorney after another throughout the nation falls in front of someone's political firing squad.
U.S. attorneys are appointed by the U.S. Justice Department, usually upon the recommendation of a state's senior U.S. senator of the president's party. Suddenly, in this seventh year of the George W. Bush administration, eight U.S. attorneys have received their walking papers with no reason given.
Iglesias, along with his seven dismissed counterparts, figured they'd lost their jobs because of political maneuverings. Iglesias said he could handle that. People understand it's a political job.
But when the U.S. Senate's Judiciary Committee began seeing bipartisan reaction to so many firings, it called on the U.S. Attorney General's office to explain the situation.
Among other responsibilities, U.S. attorneys are on the front line of prosecuting terrorism offenses, such as immigration, narcotics and firearms violations. The panel wanted to know if these dismissals are affecting the administration's top priority of fighting the war on terror.
To the surprise of committee members, the deputy U.S. attorney general testified that only one dismissal was the result of politics. He told the panel that presidential adviser Karl Rove needed a job for an ex- staff member. He said the other seven axes fell because of performance issues.
That was the final straw for Iglesias. Citing an outstanding record for prosecuting terrorism cases, of which there are so many in a border state, Iglesias called his ouster nothing more than a "political fragging," according to blogster Joe Monahan.
"Fragging" is a military term referring to the attack from behind of a superior officer during battle. Iglesias would be very familiar with the term from his days as a judge advocate in the Navy. He so distinguished himself in that role that a character in the movie "A Few Good Men" was based on him.
Discharging someone based on performance is very serious business. It affects the remainder of a person's career. Performance so poor that it justifies dismissal as a U.S. attorney also likely wipes out a person's political career.
If Iglesias were to run for state attorney general again, don't you suspect his firing just might be noted by his opponents, whether in a primary or general election?
The poor performance charge against Iglesias may relate to the conviction of former state Treasurer Robert Vigil on only one count and the failure to have a case ready to go before last November's general election involving payoffs to Democrat officials in the construction of two courthouses in Albuquerque.
It may have been poor performance, but a good case can be made that the FBI overreached in preparing evidence for the cases just as it did in the national security prosecutions of Wen Ho Lee and David Hudak.
National news indicates that several of the other dismissed U.S. attorneys were preparing political corruption cases against Republican officials and that others disagreed with the Bush administration on high-profile issues such as immigration and capital punishment.
At a Feb. 28 news conference, Iglesias revealed that two members of Congress contacted him not long before the November election inquiring about his timetable in the case involving the Albuquerque courthouses.
What Republicans would be so interested in that? What Republicans would want to risk ruining his future political career? Potential opponents? Those who felt he wasn't playing the political game well enough as U.S. attorney?
Whatever the answer, those people may have wiped out one of their party's most promising future candidates.
WED, 3-07-07

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)

Timing is everything. Wish I'd written this for today instead of Wednesday.


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