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Purge Gets Pinned On Politics

By Mike Gallagher
Journal Investigative Reporter
    U.S. Attorney David Iglesias on Wednesday blamed his firing on failure by his office to bring indictments in the courthouse investigation before the November elections, saying he felt that two members of Congress pressured him to do so.
    After his final news conference as U.S. attorney, he confirmed to the Journal that two members of the New Mexico delegation contacted him before the election and asked when indictments would be handed up by a federal grand jury.
    Iglesias said he assumes that the members of the delegation were unhappy and complained to the White House, which led to his firing.
    There has been grumbling for months within the state Republican Party and legal community that the investigation into possible contract padding in state courthouse construction projects has been conducted at a snail's pace. The original allegations— involving contractors, public officials and millions of dollars— were brought to the U.S. attorney and the FBI more than 18 months ago.
    Iglesias, a Republican, declined to identify the members of the congressional delegation who called him, but the two with the most interest would have been Republicans Sen. Pete Domenici and Congresswoman Heather Wilson.
    Domenici's and Wilson's offices did not respond to repeated Journal requests for comment Wednesday.
    At the time of the calls, Wilson was locked in a tight race with Democratic state Attorney General Patricia Madrid.
    The other three members of the New Mexico congressional delegation told The Associated Press they didn't make any calls to Iglesias.
    Iglesias held the news conference Wednesday, his final day in office, to defend his record and dispute U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's statements to a Senate committee last week that Iglesias and several other U.S. attorneys were asked to resign for "performance issues."
    He presented statistics that his office has increased the number of prosecutions for immigration and narcotics cases. He also said the caseloads of prosecutors have increased dramatically since he took office in 2001.
    He blamed "politics" for his firing but said during the news conference that he would not speculate further. He did not mention being pressured by anyone about the courthouse case.
Senate investigating
    Iglesias' comments about being contacted by members of Congress were first published Wednesday by McClatchy Newspapers and read on the Senate floor.
    The firing of the U.S. attorneys have sparked a Senate Judiciary Committee investigation into whether politics played a role.
    A Department of Justice spokesman said in a telephone interview that the department was unaware of the telephone calls, which under department guidelines are supposed to be referred to Washington.
    "The suggestion that David Iglesias was fired because he failed to bring indictments in the courthouse cases prior to the elections is wrong," department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.
    Roehrkasse said the department was not judging Iglesias on the performance of his entire office, but on his personal evaluations and that the department had "performance-related concerns."
    For more than a year, the FBI has been conducting a not-so-secret investigation into possible kickbacks and contract padding in the multimillion-dollar construction budgets of the state District and Metropolitan courthouses in Albuquerque.
    The Journal first reported on the investigation, which has implicated former Democratic state Sen. Manny Aragon and others, last March.
    Expectations of indictments in the case have been widespread since last summer, when the FBI confirmed that agents had completed the investigation and delivered results to the U.S. attorney.
    But the courthouse investigation had to take a back seat to the prosecution of former state Treasurer Robert Vigil.
Rumors swirled
    Vigil's first trial on federal extortion charges ended in a hung jury, with most jurors wanting to convict on some of the charges. The second monthlong trial in September ended with Vigil convicted of one count of attempted extortion.
    The lead prosecutor in both trials was Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathon Gerson, who is also in charge of the courthouse investigation.
    Over the summer and fall of last year, Iglesias was privately criticized by local attorneys for failing to provide Gerson more help to move the courthouse investigation along.
    Another veteran assistant U.S. attorney, Paula Burnett, was added to Gerson's team after the November elections.
    Iglesias said at his Wednesday news conference that he expects an interim U.S. attorney to make an announcement in the courthouse investigation by the end of March.
    Rumors that indictments would be announced on Iglesias' final day in office have circulated for weeks, but key members of the prosecution team were unavailable last week to make that happen.
    Meanwhile, Iglesias said he would not appear before any of the congressional committees investigating the U.S. attorney firings voluntarily. He said he would only appear if he was subpoenaed.
    Iglesias did not bring up the telephone calls or any concerns about being pressured to bring indictments in the courthouse investigation during his news conference.
    But he made it clear on several occasions during the news conference that he believes he was fired for political reasons.
    And Iglesias told the Journal after the news conference that he began losing the support of important state Republican Party leaders after the 2004 election when he didn't prosecute anyone for voter fraud.
    Stories wanted
    Democrats may compel dismissed prosecutors to testify A2