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Outgoing U.S. Attorney Calls His Ouster Shocking, Politically Based

By Sue Major Holmes/
Associated Press
      On his last day on the job, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias today strongly defended his record in office, saying the Bush administration's call for his resignation came without warning and was rooted in politics — not performance.
    ''This episode came like a thief in the night,'' he said of the Dec. 7 request for him to step down. He added, ''Obviously, I tripped some wire.''
    Iglesias, a Republican, is among eight federal prosecutors asked in recent weeks to resign. Critics have suggested that the removals were politically motivated and illustrate what they say is a flaw in the antiterror Patriot Act.
    Senate Democrats want to eliminate a provision in the Patriot Act that gave the attorney general new power to replace fired U.S. attorneys indefinitely, avoiding the Senate confirmation process and allowing the president to appoint GOP allies.
    At a news conference in his Albuquerque office, Iglesias displayed charts with statistics showing that the number of defendants charged during his tenure rose 13 percent and immigration cases increased 78 percent. At the same time, the caseload of his assistant U.S. attorneys went up 24 percent, while the number of full-time employees in the office went up just 7 percent.
    ''I'm proud of my office,'' he said. ''They've done righteous work.''
    Iglesias also insisted that he received strong ''atta-boy'' performance reviews in 2003 and 2006 and was certain that the call for his ouster was not performance related nor the result of any misconduct.
    ''What does that leave? Politics,'' he said.
    Iglesias was confirmed in 2001 to a four-year term ''and was allowed to extend his service for an additional year and a half,'' said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington.
    ''During his 5 years of service, we had a lengthy record from which to evaluate his performance as a manager and we made our decision not to further extend his service based on performance-related concerns,'' Roehrkasse said.
    In a report published in McClathy Newspapers on Wednesday, Iglesias also claimed that two members of Congress contacted him in the weeks prior to the 2006 election to ask about an ongoing investigation of a kickback scheme, appearing eager to see an indictment just before the elections.
    Corruption charges against two previous state New Mexico treasurers — both Democrats — were prominent issues during the election, and further charges could have helped the Republicans. Iglesias refused to name the members of Congress in the report because he feared retaliation, and would refused comment when asked about the statement by The Associated Press.
    ''I've got nothing further to say about that,'' he said.
    Roehrkasse said the administration ''has never removed a United States attorney in an effort to retaliate against them or inappropriately interfere with a public integrity investigation.'' He also said that the Justice Department was unaware of any conversations between Iglesias and New Mexico's congressional delegation.
    An interim U.S. attorney for New Mexico is expected to be appointed soon.
    He said he still feels ''hugely disappointed'' by his ouster but said he was not disgruntled.
    ''If anything, if such a word exists, I'm gruntled. I had a great five-and-a-half years.''
    Still, he said, he represents three big constituencies for the Republican Party — evangelical Christians, Hispanics and veterans — and said he couldn't understand why the administration would ask someone who's doing a good job and who represents those constituencies to step down.
    Iglesias said he's proudest of prosecuting political corruption, and that his biggest regret is leaving unfinished an investigation into construction contracts for an Albuquerque courthouse. He said he expects an announcement in that case in the next month.
    He said he still considers himself a loyal member of the Republican Party. No organization is perfect, he said, ''but what I've seen in the last two months is imperfection practiced at a ... grandiose level.''
    Associated Press reporters Jennifer Talhelm and Lara Jakes Jordan contributed from Washington.

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