Thursday, March 15, 2007
Gripes About Iglesias Not New
By Michael Coleman
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON Newly disclosed e-mails show complaints from New Mexico Republicans about David Iglesias were long-standing and involved issues other than prosecuting public corruption cases that could embarrass Democrats.
Also, Bush administration officials moved to defend Iglesias' firing by pointing to mixed results in the prosecution of former state Treasurer Robert Vigil by Iglesias' office.
And documents show Iglesias' name was not included on a list of federal prosecutors to be let go until after he received calls from Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, both Republicans, last October to inquire about a public corruption investigation.
The various disclosures came amid mounting political controversy over the dismissal of Iglesias and seven other U.S. attorneys.
Mickey Barnett, an Albuquerque lawyer and former Republican national committeeman, e-mailed Iglesias in September 2004, chastising him for appointing a task force to investigate voter fraud instead of bringing charges against suspects.
"Most of us think a task force is a joke and unlikely to make any citizen believe our elections and voter registrations are honest," Barnett wrote.
E-mails released by the Justice Department show Barnett and Pat Rogers, another GOP lawyer in Albuquerque, complained about Iglesias to Justice Department officials in June 2006.
E-mails show Barnett asked the White House Office of Political Affairs for a meeting with Justice Department officials to "discuss the USATTY situation" in New Mexico. Rogers and Barnett met with Justice officials the next day.
"The meeting was to discuss perceived management issues and his failure to give priority and attention to voter fraud and corruption cases," Rogers said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Iglesias contends he was fired for failing to bring indictments against Democrats in a public corruption case before the November 2006 elections. He told congressional committees last week that he felt Domenici and Wilson had pressured him to do so during their October phone calls.
He first leveled the charges in February after Justice officials said his dismissal was performance-related, and has acknowledged he didn't report what he considered to be inappropriate contacts, as required.
Domenici and Wilson acknowledge making the phone calls but deny exerting any pressure on Iglesias in connection with the election timetable.
Iglesias said Wednesday that Barnett and Rogers overstepped their bounds in trying to get him fired.
"It's just wrong," Iglesias said in a telephone interview from Chicago, where he was attending a meeting of his college alumni board. "They don't have the information necessary to put any pressure on U.S. attorneys."
Iglesias said he was enthusiastic about pursuing what he believed were legitimate complaints about voter fraud in New Mexico. He set up a voter fraud task force in the U.S. attorney's office after the 2004 election.
"I wanted to prosecute voter fraud cases," Iglesias said. "I was one of two U.S. attorneys (nationally) to set up election fraud task forces."
But after investigating a "hatful" of allegations brought to him, Iglesias said he did not have enough evidence to bring charges.
"Most of the complaints were completely without basis," Iglesias said. "At the end of the day we decided we did not have any cases we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt... . We cannot prosecute on rumor and innuendo."
Former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, a Democrat, said Iglesias was eager to prosecute voter fraud and appointed a liaison to her office to monitor allegations.
Vigil-Giron said no allegations she was aware of had any merit.
"I think he acted with enough force in regards to voter fraud," Vigil Giron said in a telephone interview from New Mexico on Wednesday.
Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White said he alerted Iglesias during the summer of 2004 that someone working on behalf of ACORN, a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income people and conducts voter registration drives, had allegedly registered a 13-year-old boy to vote.
He also said Iglesias was aware that ACORN's voter registration cards had been recovered in a suspected crack house in Albuquerque.
White called Iglesias' formation of a voter fraud task force "ridiculous."
"Just do the case," White said. "It was very frustrating."
He said local officials successfully prosecuted several cases after the 2004 election rather than taking them to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
'Lack of leadership'
Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett told reporters traveling with Bush in Mexico on Tuesday the White House had received complaints about failure to prosecute voter fraud cases in New Mexico, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania "over the course of several years."
Bartlett acknowledged that Iglesias received strong performance reviews in 2005 but said Justice officials lost faith in him after that in part because of a "lack of leadership" and a failure to win multiple convictions against Vigil in an extortion case involving state investments.
"The fact that he had lost a high-profile case, when I think 24 or 25 counts were thrown out by the jury against the government ... it was a devastating loss for the government," Bartlett said.
Vigil was convicted on one of 24 counts in a second trial prosecuted by Iglesias' office, after a mistrial.
Iglesias defended his record on the Vigil case, pointing out that the former treasurer will serve three years in jail.
"We got a federal conviction," he said.
Iglesias' name didn't appear on a Justice Department list of U.S. attorneys to be fired until Nov. 15, 2006, according to department e-mails. Wilson and Domenici called in October.
Records released by the Justice Department also show Domenici called U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in January 2006 to discuss the "docket and caseload" in New Mexico.