Sunday, April 15, 2007
Domenici Sought Iglesias Ouster
By Mike Gallagher
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Investigative Reporter
Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was fired after Sen. Pete Domenici, who had been unhappy with Iglesias for some time, made a personal appeal to the White House, the Journal has learned.
Domenici had complained about Iglesias before, at one point going to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before taking his request to the president as a last resort.
The senior senator from New Mexico had listened to criticism of Iglesias going back to 2003 from sources ranging from law enforcement officials to Republican Party activists.
Domenici, who submitted Iglesias' name for the job and guided him through the confirmation process in 2001, had tried at various times to get more white-collar crime help for the U.S. Attorney's Office even if Iglesias didn't want it.
At one point, the six-term Republican senator tried to get Iglesias moved to a Justice Department post in Washington, D.C., but Iglesias told Justice officials he wasn't interested.
In the spring of 2006, Domenici told Gonzales he wanted Iglesias out.
Gonzales refused. He told Domenici he would fire Iglesias only on orders from the president.
At some point after the election last Nov. 6, Domenici called Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, and told him he wanted Iglesias out and asked Rove to take his request directly to the president.
Domenici and Bush subsequently had a telephone conversation about the issue.
The conversation between Bush and Domenici occurred sometime after the election but before the firings of Iglesias and six other U.S. attorneys were announced on Dec. 7.
Iglesias' name first showed up on a Nov. 15 list of federal prosecutors who would be asked to resign. It was not on a similar list prepared in October.
The Journal confirmed the sequence of events through a variety of sources familiar with the firing of Iglesias, including sources close to Domenici. The senator's office declined comment.
The House and Senate Judiciary committees are investigating Iglesias' firing as well as the dismissals of six other U.S. attorneys.
Gonzales, the embattled attorney general whose job is likely in the balance, is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senate and House Democrats have focused on a telephone call Domenici made to Iglesias in October.
Iglesias testified before the congressional committees that Domenici called him at home and asked if indictments were imminent in a public corruption investigation of Albuquerque's Metropolitan Courthouse construction. Iglesias told him indictments were not expected anytime soon.
Iglesias testified that Domenici said, "I'm very sorry to hear that." And then hung up.
Iglesias said he felt "pressured" and "violated" by the telephone call but did not report it to Justice Department headquarters as required.
Domenici has admitted and apologized for making the call, but he denied pressuring Iglesias. He has also said he didn't mention the election.
Democrats have accused Domenici of attempting to influence the outcome of a tight congressional race between incumbent Republican Heather Wilson and former state Attorney General Patricia Madrid. Wilson won the election by fewer than 900 votes.
Iglesias could not be reached for comment. He was reportedly out of the country on Navy duty.
A spokesman for Domenici's office said they were not prepared to comment at this time.
Looking for a paper trail
Exactly how Iglesias' name came to be included on a Nov. 15 list of U.S. attorneys to be fired has been a mystery House and Senate Democrats have been trying to unravel.
There are gaps in documents provided to Congress by the Justice Department about the firings and other records are severely redacted.
Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, said he couldn't give a reason for Iglesias' firing during his testimony before Congress last month. He did say that if a U.S. attorney wasn't succeeding politically, he wasn't succeeding.
Documentation that has been turned over to Congress doesn't indicate problems with Iglesias' performance from the Department Justice point of view.
The documents reveal Domenici called Gonzales and his deputies on several occasions in 2005 and 2006.
In one undated memo, a Gonzales aide wrote, "Domenici says he doesn't move cases," in reference to Iglesias.
New Mexicans who complained directly to the Justice Department about Iglesias said they learned he was held in high regard by Gonzales and his staff.
At least one memo shows Iglesias was offered a job heading the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys in Washington, D.C.
Iglesias turned the job down.
That job offer, according to several sources, was made at the prodding of Domenici.
According to sources, Iglesias was also considered for U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., and other administrative posts at department headquarters.
Iglesias was apparently unaware that Domenici was unhappy with his job performance when he turned those jobs down.
In September 2005, Iglesias announced the arrests of state Treasurer Robert Vigil and his predecessor, Michael Montoya, on extortion charges. Both are Democrats in a state where Democrats control the Legislature and most statewide offices.
Republicans who had complained about political corruption in the state for years saw an opportunity to do more than complain. And this was an issue with political traction.
The point man would be Iglesias.
During one of his few news conferences while U.S. attorney, Iglesias called political corruption "endemic" in New Mexico.
The FBI also put a high priority on public corruption, naming it its top priority behind terrorism.
According to Justice Department memos turned over to congressional investigators, Domenici approached Iglesias in late 2005 and asked if he needed additional prosecutors for corruption cases.
Iglesias, according to the memo, told Domenici he didn't need white-collar crime prosecutors. He needed prosecutors for immigration cases.
Domenici was disappointed in the response. After that conversation, Domenici decided he would try to get Iglesias help, whether Iglesias wanted it or not.
In 2006, Domenici asked Gonzales if he could find additional experienced white-collar crime prosecutors to send to New Mexico. Gonzales had a number of prosecutors who were finishing the ENRON prosecutions and were quite experienced at complex white-collar crime cases.
None was sent here.
Within Iglesias' own office, prosecutors suggested moving more attorneys into the White Collar Crime-Public Corruption section in 2005 because the FBI was developing more cases and leads than the section could handle in a timely fashion.
Iglesias was initially enthusiastic about the idea but didn't follow through after consulting senior staff.
Treasurer's Office scandal
Montoya and others pleaded guilty in the Treasurer's Office scandal. Vigil went to trial in April 2006. After more than five weeks, a mistrial was declared. Several jurors said one holdout prevented conviction on at least some charges.
The second trial in September ended in one conviction on attempted extortion and acquittal on 23 counts. Vigil has been sentenced to 37 months in prison.
After the first trial, then-Attorney General Madrid indicted key prosecution witnesses in the federal case based on their testimony. She said Iglesias hadn't been tough enough in cutting plea deals and hadn't worked out an agreement with her office.
As a result, one key witness refused to testify in the second trial.
During this time, the much-publicized courthouse investigation was essentially put on the shelf. The lead prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office was handling both the Vigil trials and the courthouse investigation.
Delays in the courthouse case led to frustration among Republicans who had tried to make Madrid's track record on ethics and corruption cases an issue in the Madrid-Wilson race.
Indictments in the courthouse case were announced last month.