former US attorney in New Mexico.
New York attorney specializing in international law and human rights. He is also a legal affairs contributor to Harper’s Magazine, where he writes the blog "No Comment."
Documents released by Congress this week offer powerful new evidence that Karl Rove and other senior Bush administration figures took the lead in the firing of nine US attorneys in 2006. We speak to former New Mexico US attorney David Iglesias, who was fired after refusing Republican pressure to take on allegations of voter fraud and pursue cases against Democrats to help a Republican lawmaker’s re-election campaign. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Documents released by Congress this week offer powerful new evidence that Karl Rove and other senior Bush administration figures took the lead in the firing of nine US attorneys in 2006. The House Judiciary Committee released nearly 6,000 pages of internal email and once-secret congressional testimony Tuesday after a two-and-a-half-year investigation and a protracted fight over access to White House records.
The documents show Karl Rove helped wage a campaign to fire US attorneys who refused to use their positions to benefit Republican lawmakers. Internal emails from as early as 2005 indicate widespread Republican disappointment with former New Mexico US Attorney David Iglesias. Republicans had wanted him to take on allegations of voter fraud and pursue cases against Democrats to help a Republican lawmaker’s re-election campaign. That’s Congress member Heather Wilson.
In a written statement, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers called Karl Rove the, quote, "driving force behind several of these firings" and said, quote, "Under the Bush regime, honest and well-performing U.S. attorneys were fired for petty patronage, political horsetrading and, in the most egregious case of political abuse of the U.S. attorney corps — that of U.S. Attorney Iglesias — because he refused to use his office to help Republicans win elections. When Mr. Iglesias said his firing was a ‘political fragging,’ he was right," unquote.
Meanwhile, in a statement released Tuesday, Karl Rove said he did not decide which prosecutors were fired and accused Democrats of making, quote, "false accusations and partisan innuendoes."
Well, as this evidence makes its way to a special prosecutor investigating the firings on behalf of the Justice Department, we’re joined on the phone right now by former US attorney in New Mexico, David Iglesias.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Your response to this latest, these 6,000 pages that have come out and what we have seen in them, David Iglesias?
DAVID IGLESIAS: Good morning, Amy.
It’s exactly what I had predicted over two years ago when I said all roads lead to Rove. I meant it then. I knew the evidence was out there. I figured it would be a long protracted fight; I didn’t think it would take two-and-a-half years. But it’s exactly what I thought, that Rove was the prime mover, that the basis for our removals was political. So, no big surprises there for me.
AMY GOODMAN: What most surprised you in these documents that were released?
DAVID IGLESIAS: I guess one thing I did not expect was how early the complaints were rolling in. I’m looking at a copy of an email dating back to June of 2005 from Scott Jennings, who worked for Karl Rove, and he writes to Tim Griffin, another staffer for Rove, “I would really like to move forward [...] getting rid of [the New Mexico US Attorney]. I was with codel” — which I think is “congressional delegation” — “this morning, and they are really angry over his lack of action [over the] voter fraud stuff. Iglesias has done nothing. We are getting killed out there.”
Well, that tells me that —- I mean, that is the smoking gun. I failed to file non-provable voter fraud cases, and that was, in large measure, the reason for my removal. They wanted me to file politically advantageous prosecutions, which United States attorneys cannot do legally. And, you know, that set the ball into motion.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a <a href=http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/08/miers_rove_phone_call_iglesias_firing.php#more >piece by Justin Elliott, where he says, “In a June 15 interview with House investigators, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers detailed a remarkable 2006 contact with Karl Rove, then on the road in New Mexico, regarding US Attorney David Iglesias.” That’s you.
“Rove, Miers recalled, was ‘very agitated’ about Iglesias, who was later ousted in the Bush Administration’s purge of US Attorneys. Rove was getting ‘barraged’ with [complaints] by,” quote, “‘political people that were active in New Mexico.’
“Miers affirms in the interview that Rove raised the issue of voter fraud prosecutions. But she says she can’t recall whether Rove suggested the [Iglesias] should be removed from office. [...]
“She relayed Rove’s complaints about Iglesias to Paul McNulty at the DOJ, [Department of Justice], who was then serving as deputy attorney general. [...]
“The call occurred in September 2006. Iglesias,” you, were fired a few months later, in December.
DAVID IGLESIAS: Mm-hmm. The timing is damning, Amy, because Rove was in New Mexico for a fundraiser the last week of September of 2006. Within two weeks, I get my first phone call from a member of Congress, Heather Wilson, and then two weeks after that, I get another phone call from then-Senator Pete Domenici. And, you know, those phone calls are highly inappropriate. But Pete Domenici ends up getting a letter of admonition from the Senate Ethics Committee, which you don’t do very often. So, I mean, it -—
AMY GOODMAN: Remind us of that phone call that you got. Actually, each one. First the one from Pete Domenici, I always remember, because you talk about it. Was it a Sunday night, and you were in your bedroom?
DAVID IGLESIAS: Well, I was at home. It was late October 2006. The election was a week or so later, the mid-term election. Heather Wilson is locked in a death battle with her challenger at that point. Heather ends up winning by 800 votes. And Pete Domenici calls me. I was at home in my bedroom. I don’t remember exactly what day of the week it was, but I was at home.
And he wanted to know whether I was going to be filing any indictments in a matter he’d been reading about in the local media. And I knew exactly what he was talking about in this particular case, and it wasn’t about voter fraud; it was about a corruption indictment that was rumored to have been held up, involving the former state senator in charge of the Senate, a guy named Manny Aragon. And I said, well, I didn’t think so. And then Domenici hangs up on me.
I am put on a list a week and a half later. It’s the first time my name shows up on any list to be fired. So it’s pretty clear to me that I was put on that list for failing to do the bidding of members of Congress in a politically directed prosecution.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the call from Congress member Wilson?
DAVID IGLESIAS: That would have been in mid-October, approximately the 16th, and I was in Washington, DC for some Justice Department meetings. Heather calls me and is snooping around, asking about some sealed indictments. I had heard the rumor on the street in New Mexico was that I was sealing indictments related to this corruption case involving Manny Aragon, waiting until after the election. I couldn’t comment on that with her, so I evaded her question. She wasn’t very happy with my response, but at least she didn’t hang up on me. I suspect she probably called Pete Domenici or called the White House and got more pressure put on me to rush these indictments, which could have been to her benefit.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain exactly what’s the problem with a politician calling you, the US attorney, there.
DAVID IGLESIAS: Well, it’s a complete violation of separation of powers. The members of Congress don’t enforce federal law; they pass the law. In fact, there are federal statutes that prohibit corruptedly influencing members of the executive branch. Prosecutions have to be based on the evidence and the law. It’s purely a executive branch function; it’s not a legislative function. So it’s potentially possible that they or others could face obstruction of justice charges for attempting to influence me to hurry these indictments.
AMY GOODMAN: So we’re talking about criminal prosecution?
DAVID IGLESIAS: Exactly. And as I understand it, the special counsel, who’s the acting US attorney in Connecticut, she’s looking at possible perjury charges against Gonzales and possible obstruction of justice charges against other members, including possibly Wilson and Pete Domenici.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined in the firehouse studio, in addition to the former US attorney of New Mexico, by attorney and legal affairs contributor to Harper’s Magazine, Scott Horton. The significance of all this? You followed this very closely, the US attorneys’ firings, Scott.
SCOTT HORTON: David is coming exactly to the right focus in the end. I mean, was it unethical? Yes. Clearly it was the violation of rules. Was it inappropriate? That’s all clear. We’re coming down to the question of, was it a crime? And specifically, did it involve an effort to corruptly influence a pending criminal prosecution?
And I think it’s clear that the evidence that’s being assembled now, particularly in the New Mexico case, moves this into the area of a colorable prosecution involving Domenici, Heather Wilson, whose testimony, by the way, and statements are viewed by many of the investigators as highly evasive and unlikely, and also Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales — Alberto Gonzales, who had a general failure of recollection about all of this.
So I think it’s possible. These things are being studied. But there’s never been a prosecution of this sort before. That is, we’re dealing with a criminal prosecution that was actually brought. This was an effort to influence the timing of the indictment to make it before the election to influence an election. Most legal scholars agree that, yes, in theory, that counts as obstruction of justice, that’s something that could be charged, but there’s no precedent for such a prosecution.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you want to go back to being a US attorney, David Iglesias? And are you still a Republican?
DAVID IGLESIAS: I knew you’d asked me that. You know, I’m happy in what I’m doing right now. I don’t think it would be a good move on my part to go back.
I am hanging on by a thread of filament in being a Republican. I’m fairly disgusted with what I’ve read in these emails. You know, the party lost its way. I thought it was a law-and-order party; it turned out it was a lawless party. So I’m still kind of processing that, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, have you spoken with other fired US attorneys, the nine of you?
DAVID IGLESIAS: Oh, sure. We’re still — I mean, for over two-and-a-half years now we’ve been in frequent contact. So, yes, we’ve — there’s been lots of emails shooting back and forth.
AMY GOODMAN: And the significance, Scott Horton, of the special US Attorney Nora Dannehy, the Connecticut attorney who is going to be weighing all of this?
SCOTT HORTON: Well, she has a special mandate to review all these facts and act on them. She has a lot of information that the House Judiciary Committee did not have. She has conducted many, many more interviews than they have conducted. And I think it’s very, very clear she’s focusing on New Mexico, but she’s looked at a number of other matters, too. I’m hearing that there’s been an examination of things that occurred in Arizona. We had some very interesting disclosures about that, particularly involving Harriet Miers’s intervention to help a Republican congressman who was the subject of a probe, and potentially other matters. I think there’s a reasonable prospect now of criminal charges resulting from her probe.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Thank you, David Iglesias. I know you’re on your way to work, former US attorney in New Mexico, with this new — thousands of documents that have just been released that will certainly fuel the investigation of the firings of nine US attorneys, of which David Iglesias was one.
And Scott Horton, I hope you’ll come back at the end of the broadcast to talk about the first — what’s believed to be the first known rendition of a prisoner under President Obama.