investigative journalist. His latest book is Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans—Sordid Secrets & Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild.
On a single day, December 7, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales demanded the resignations of eight United States attorneys. What was really the purpose of the firings? And who was behind it? Investigative journalist Greg Palast reports. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We return to the latest now in the U.S. attorney firing scandal. Nearly half of the U.S. attorneys slated for removal by the Bush administration last year were targeted for not doing enough to prosecute voter fraud. According to The Washington Post, of the 12 U.S. attorneys known to have been dismissed or considered for removal last year, five were identified by presidential adviser Karl Rove or other administration officials as working in districts that were trouble spots for voter fraud: Kansas City, Milwaukee, New Mexico, Nevada and Washington state. Four of the five prosecutors in those districts were fired.
Perhaps the most well known of these U.S. attorneys is ousted New Mexico prosecutor David Iglesias. His case has been at the center of the political firestorm. Investigative journalist Greg Palast has been closely following this story. He files this report.
KEVIN BACON: Your honor, I’d like to ask for a recess.
TOM CRUISE: I’d like an answer to the question, Judge.
J.A. PRESTON: The court will wait for an answer.
GREG PALAST: This past December 7 was not the first time United States prosecutor David Iglesias had been brutally cut loose. In the 1992 film A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise plays David Iglesias, the true story of the young military defense lawyer fighting to uncover the truth.
TOM CRUISE: I want the truth!
JACK NICHOLSON: You can’t handle the truth!
GREG PALAST: Greg Palast.
DAVID IGLESIAS: Greg, hi. David Iglesias.
GREG PALAST: Hey, how are you, Captain?
DAVID IGLESIAS: Hey, I’m doing just fine. Thank you.
GREG PALAST: So can you handle the truth or not?
DAVID IGLESIAS: Absolutely.
GREG PALAST: Captain Iglesias, the U.S. prosecutor, knew something was very wrong when, just a week before the 2006 midterm elections, he received a strange and threatening call to his home. It was his state’s senior senator, the powerful Republican leader Pete Domenici on the line, pushing Iglesias to file criminal charges against a Democrat before the election.
DAVID IGLESIAS: I’m sitting in my bedroom, and here’s the killer point, Greg. He says, "Are these going to get filed before November?" And I said I didn’t think so. And the line goes dead. In other words, our senior senator hung up on me. A terribly inappropriate call.
GREG PALAST: Inappropriate, certainly. Obstruction of justice, possibly.
DAVID IGLESIAS: He basically wanted to know: Are you going to file these cases that can help Heather out? That was the subtext. I felt terrible after that phone call.
GREG PALAST: By "helping Heather," he meant Congresswoman Heather Wilson, then-candidate Heather Wilson. The race was a dead heat. Domenici wanted him to bust a Democrat to help Wilson. Still, Iglesias tried to be the loyal party man, even covering up the threatening call.
Did you report this phone call to anyone at the time?
DAVID IGLESIAS: I did not, and I should have. There is a requirement under the U.S. attorney’s manual for us to report that kind of contact from a member of Congress. I didn’t do that.
GREG PALAST: But that act of loyalty wasn’t good enough for Karl Rove, the president’s political adviser. Rove flew to New Mexico just before the election and got an earful of complaints about Iglesias from state party chiefs. Rove reported to President Bush, who personally put the heat on Attorney General Gonzales. Iglesias was stunned.
DAVID IGLESIAS: I had no idea that a few local yokels in New Mexico would have enough stroke to get the president to complain.
GREG PALAST: There was more than failing to help the Wilson campaign. In the 2004 presidential election, Republican operatives blocked a quarter-million new voters nationwide from voting on grounds they brought the wrong IDs to the polls. To justify this massive blockade, Republican officials wanted Iglesias to arrest some voters to create a high publicity show trial. Iglesias went along with the game. Just before the 2004 election, he held a press conference announcing the creation of a vote fraud task force. But the prosecutor drew the line at arresting innocent voters.
DAVID IGLESIAS: They were telling Rove that I wasn’t doing their bidding. I wasn’t filing these voter fraud cases.
GREG PALAST: The evidence fellow Republicans gave him was junk. He refused to bring a single prosecution.
DAVID IGLESIAS: It was the old throwing pasta at the wall trick, that he’s throwing up pasta. Something’s got to stick, and it didn’t.
GREG PALAST: For failing to bring the voting cases, Iglesias paid with his job.
DAVID IGLESIAS: They wanted a political operative who happened to be a U.S. attorney, and when they got somebody who actually took his oath to the Constitution seriously, they were appalled and they wanted me out of there. The two strikes against me was, I was not political, I didn’t help them out on their bogus voter fraud prosecutions.
GREG PALAST: Rove personally ordered his removal. As a prosecutor, Iglesias says that if missing emails prove the firing was punishment for failure to bring bogus charges, Mr. Rove himself is in legal trouble.
DAVID IGLESIAS: If his intent was, look what happened with Iglesias, if that was his intent, he’s in big trouble. That is obstruction of justice, one classic example.
GREG PALAST: Iglesias believes the real reasons for the firings are in what are called the missing emails, emails sent by the Rove team using Republican Party campaign computers, which Rove claims can’t be retrieved. But not all the missing emails are missing. We have 500 of them. Apparently the Rove team misaddressed their emails, and late one night they all ended up in our in-boxes in our offices in New York City.
And as Iglesias predicted, they reveal a story the party would rather keep buried. Voting rights attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. reviewed the evidence in our cache of emails and concluded:
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: They ought to be in jail for doing this, because they knew it was illegal, and they did it anyway.
GREG PALAST: What is it that was so obviously illegal that law professor Kennedy thought they deserved prison time? The evidence that shook him was attached to 50 of the secret emails, something that GOP party chiefs called caging lists, thousands of names of voters. Notably, the majority were African-American. Kennedy explained how caging worked.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: Caging is an illegal way of getting rid of black votes. You get a list of all the black voters. Then you send a letter to their homes. And if the person doesn’t sign it at the homes, the letter then is returned to the Republican National Committee. They then direct the state attorney general, who is friendly to them, who’s Republican, to remove that voter from the list on the alleged basis that that voter does not live in the address that they designated as their address on the voting application form.
GREG PALAST: In all, the Republican Party challenged nearly three million voters, a mass attack on minority voting rights virtually unreported in the U.S. press.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: So they disenfranchised millions of black voters who don’t even know that they’ve been disenfranchised.
GREG PALAST: Page after page of voters with this address, Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, hundreds, thousands of soldiers and sailors targeted to lose their vote. Go to Baghdad, lose your vote.
And what does this have to do with the prosecutor firings? Take a look at the name at the top of the secret missing email: Tim Griffin. This is the man in charge of the allegedly illegal caging operation. He is research director for the Republican National Committee, special assistant to Karl Rove, and as of December 7 Karl Rove’s personal pick for U.S. attorney for the state of Arkansas. Is this a case of the perpetrator becomes the prosecutor? For Democracy Now! this is Greg Palast.
JACK NICHOLSON: We use words like honor, code, loyalty.
GREG PALAST: Is Tom Cruise going to play you in this follow-up?
DAVID IGLESIAS: He’s more handsome, but I’m quite a bit taller, so I’ve got that on him.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was the excerpt of A Few Good Men from Greg Palast’s piece. Greg Palast, investigative journalist, his latest book just out on paperback called Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans, Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild. Greg Palast joins us in the studio now.
Greg, I just want to start where you left off and started this film: A Few Good Men. I don’t think most people understand this about David Iglesias.
GREG PALAST: Yes, well, Iglesias was the guy played by Tom Cruise in the film A Few Good Men, which is a real story about how a young military attorney stood up to military brass to uncover the truth. And somehow they thought that this —- you know, this Tom -—
AMY GOODMAN: This was the hazing of a young man, a soldier, who was killed.
GREG PALAST: Yeah, who was killed. And it was covered up. And, you know, he just wanted to get to the truth. That was David Iglesias. Now, here he is again, you know, standing up to the brass. I mean, one of the things we have to be very careful of is — you know, I’m not going to say he’s a man for all season — he went along just before the 2004 election and held a big splashy press conference, saying, "Yes, I’m going to go and look for voter fraud," that there are — you know, it looks like there may be thousands of fraudulent voters.
Understand what this is about. This is to create a hysteria so they could pass legislation which would require voters to show up with ID. A quarter-million voters were turned away for having the wrong ID, but no one was arrested. So Karl Rove and his assistant Tim Griffin are in a panic. You’re turning away thousands of voters, you’re not arresting any. So he’s asking Iglesias, demanding Iglesias — and now we know a half-dozen others, almost everyone that was fired — they demand that they just grab people. That’s where Iglesias drew the line in the sand. He said a press conference is one thing, which he probably shouldn’t have done, but literally handcuffing innocent voters for show trials — and then, of course, then you drop the case later — that is one thing he absolutely was not going to do. He was going to give up his job.
He also made the mistake — when he got calls from Senator Pete Domenici asking for inside information, pushing him to arrest Democrats a week before the midterm election of 2006, that was another attempt at what could be obstruction of justice. The U.S. code for U.S. attorneys requires that he turn in Senator Domenici, which he admits he didn’t do. And now he regrets that, but he said, "You know, I want the evidence out there anyway, even if it shows that I failed to act."
AMY GOODMAN: And Healther Wilson, of course, also called, and Heather Wilson at the time in an extremely close race for her political life as a congressmember from New Mexico.
GREG PALAST: Well, in fact, from my investigation, she didn’t win. There was voter fraud, and that the majority of the votes went to the Democrats.
Another thing is that Iglesias did not, unfortunately, investigate the other side of the coin, which is this massive denial of votes, systematic by Republican operatives. Now, what we have and what we showed in the film is that when I was investigating for BBC and for Democracy Now! back in 2004, we got 500 of the so-called missing emails of Karl Rove. They were, you know — Karl Rove, people think he’s an evil genius, but that’s only about half right. I mean, he’s not necessarily the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he and his guys were mistyping their email addresses, sent them to georgewbush.org, instead of dotcom, which is an email domain owned by friends of ours, who shot them right to us.
We went through the 500, and what we found were this massive plan to deny the right to vote — I mean, extraordinarily targeting African-American soldiers sent overseas. They’d send them a letter to their home address. The letter would come back. They say, "Gee, they don’t live there. They shouldn’t be allowed to vote." Their absentee ballot would come in from overseas, and it would be challenged. They would lose their vote. They wouldn’t even know it. Now, when we showed this to several voting rights attorneys, including, as you heard, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — now, he was really shaken up. That’s when he said these guys should be in jail. So this is the other side of this whole issue involving the prosecutors.
And who did this? Who was in charge of this? It wasn’t Rove personally. He had put Tim Griffin in charge. Griffin is the guy who, with Rove, picked out the U.S. attorneys to be fired and then had himself named by Rove — had himself named by Rove to the spot as U.S. attorney for Arkansas. So what we may have here is a case of the perpetrator of voter fraud becoming the prosecutor. I mean, it is — and what this is all about — in fact, I have an internal Tim Griffin email — what this is all about is, he says it’s all about the votes. This is about the 2008 election, a panic to get their people in place for 2008 to create hysteria about voter ID, knock out minority voters, especially Hispanic, and to put in their people who are experienced in knocking out voters.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go more into this after break. We’re talking to Greg Palast. His book, just came out on paperback, it’s called Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Greg Palast, investigative journalist, author of Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans. Investigative journalist Murray Waas reported last week the Bush administration has withheld emails showing senior White House and Justice Department officials collaborated to conceal the role of White House strategist Karl Rove in installing his former deputy, Timothy Griffin, as U.S. attorney in Arkansas. The emails show that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, worked with White House officials on two letters that misled Congress on the appointment and also Rove’s role in that. Greg?
GREG PALAST: Well, yeah. They were covering up the fact that Tim Griffin was Rove’s right-hand man. And you have to understand, Rove, as the political director at the White House, was deeply involved in targeting and taking out the U.S. attorneys who were recalcitrant and wouldn’t start handcuffing Hispanic voters on false voter charges. They also know that it’s a slippery slope, because they know that I have 500 of the so-called missing emails.
In fact, that’s one of the points that — in one of their internal emails, which was actually subpoenaed by the committee, they’re complaining about that guy, the British reporter — that’s Greg Palast. As you realize, Amy, I’m American. But, of course, my reports are exiled to BBC Britain, and then they come back here through Democracy Now!, bless you. But they’re saying that these reports about Griffin’s role have not been picked up in the U.S. media, in the U.S. national media. And they’re kind of right. I mean, this material has not come through the U.S. media.
They don’t want Griffin’s role opened up, because once they have the role of Griffin in the firings opened up, they’ll ask why that happened. They will find and discover these emails, and, in fact, now that they’re public, will turn them over to the Conyers committee, and then they’ll find out that Griffin was deeply involved in the removal of legal voters. And now you’re getting into potential felony area. That’s a very serious business. So they want to stop the slippery slope of bringing in Griffin and revealing the entire chain of emails, not just his involvement in the firings, but what led up to it, and that brings us to the emails that you just saw on our report.
AMY GOODMAN: In this whole scandal, we keep hearing about voter fraud, voter fraud. But can you explain what is being talked about here with this aggressive effort to restrict, particularly people of color, voting in battleground states?
GREG PALAST: What happened is that the Republican Party was running a massive campaign directed by Karl Rove and, we know, Tim Griffin, from the written emails, to block voters’ votes or to challenge their votes. One way to challenge voters was to say that they were stealing someone else’s identity. Someone is voting for Amy Goodman. Well, they say, the solution is to create ID cards. The problem is we can’t find anyone anywhere who has committed this crime of stealing Amy Goodman’s name to vote. People are not willing to go to jail to vote in some school board election or even for the presidency.
What Griffin, Rove’s assistant, wanted Iglesias to do — they gave them 110 names. They wanted them, for example, to arrest some guy named, say, roughly, if I remember, like Juan Gonzalez, and say he voted twice, stealing someone’s ID. Well, in New Mexico there may be two guys named Juan Gonzalez. So Iglesias just thought this was absolute junk, absolute junk stuff, and he wouldn’t do it. So it’s all about trying to create a hysteria about fraudulent voting.
There are 120 million people that voted, and I can’t find an actual case out of 120 of a prosecution that — a real prosecution of any single voter for voter identity theft. There is like five cases in the country involving some minor offices. That’s it. So it’s a complete false prosecution set-up, kind of like the Soviet Union: just grab people, put them on show trials, maybe let them go later, maybe they languish in jail.
On the other side, they’re covering up their own program, programmatic challenge of voters, which is not covered in the U.S. press. Three million people were challenged. By the way, this isn’t, you know, from the Democracy Now! black helicopter. This is from the raw data of the United States Election Assistance Commission: three million challenges. These votes were basically lost. Over a million votes were lost. Half a million absentee ballots were thrown out, and many, many of those were votes of African-American and Hispanic soldiers that went to Iraq, got their ballots challenged under this Karl Rove-Tim Griffin scheme, and they lost their vote. And they didn’t even know that they lost their vote. So all of this is being covered up.
And so, they cannot now — they don’t want to open up the whole story of Tim Griffin, how he became U.S. attorney, what his role was, because it goes all the way back. And what David Iglesias was saying, U.S. attorney, now captain — by the way, he’s back in the military — Captain Iglesias was saying, if you can show this chain of intent, that it’s all about the voting, and he’s being punished for not bringing these false prosecutions, he says, that’s an obstruction of justice charge that can be brought against Karl Rove.
And, by the way, one little sidelight on that is that Captain Iglesias, one of the excuses that they try to give for firing him, Amy, was that he was absent for too many days from office. They didn’t mention that he was absent because he was on active duty in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He is now, by the way, bringing the very first claim ever. You cannot fire someone for doing their duty in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He’s now filing a charge against the commander-in-chief, George Bush, for attempting to fire him for simply showing up for active duty.
AMY GOODMAN: The Arkansas Leader reported enterprising reporters examining Griffin’s fanciful resume discovered his blistering record as a prosecutor was nothing more than paper shuffling in short stints in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps and federal prosecutor offices. He had never taken a single case to trial. His career had consisted almost altogether of political hatchet work.
GREG PALAST: Well, you have to look at what’s going on here. You’ve replaced Iglesias, who is, you know, the Tom Cruise lawyer who has real experience as a prosecutor, as a trial lawyer from the military. They remove him, and they put in a paper shuffler — worse, someone who is actually shuffling voters’ papers that he shouldn’t be shuffling. You saw the kind of emotional reaction of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., voting rights attorney. He was the most emotional, because you have to imagine — remember that his father, his late father, was the predecessor to Alberto Gonzales. Imagine, we’ve gone from Robert F. Kennedy Sr. to Roberto Gonzales.
AMY GOODMAN: Alberto.
GREG PALAST: Yeah. And you can, you know — from Kennedy’s, this was very an emotional issue. To see the office that his father used to protect civil rights being used deliberately to attack civil rights is a very serious business. But, again, here he is saying, and Iglesias is suggesting now with this evidence, that it rises now to obstruction of justice.
AMY GOODMAN: And, interestingly, McClatchy Newspapers reporting, as part of the strategy, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has sought to roll back policies to protect minority voting rights. On virtually every significant decision affecting election balloting since 2001, the division’s voting rights section has come down on the side of Republicans.
GREG PALAST: Well, even worse, what’s not covered there is that they covered up the active attack on legal voters. I mean, you’re talking — the caging lists that we have, in the 500 sheets, the 500 emails, we have 70,000 names. That’s one state. This was a multimillion-dollar, gold-plated attack operation on the right of minority voters to vote. And, obviously, Griffin knew it, because he was in charge of it. So you actually have the guys who are supposed to be protecting voters are either actively covering up or even actively participating in knocking out legal voters. I mean, it’s like the mob has grabbed the police department. That’s the problem, by the way, with voter fraud — with real voter fraud, not the phony stuff of grabbing the Juan Gonzalezes of New Mexico — if you win, you’ve now grabbed the apparatus of protection and enforcement. It’s the perfect crime.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you very much, Greg Palast, for joining us. Greg, an investigative journalist, latest book just out in paperbook called Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans, Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild.