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Glowing Reviews Turned Sour

By Michael Coleman and Mike Gallagher
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writers
    WASHINGTON— Newly released documents show former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was considered for a top job at the Justice Department in 2004, when he was lauded as a "diverse up-and-comer."
    Three years later, department officials seeking to justify his firing portrayed him as an "absentee landlord" who traveled extensively and delegated too many of his duties.
    More than 3,000 e-mails and other documents were released by the Bush administration Tuesday in an effort to quell the growing political controversy over the firing of eight federal prosecutors.
    Iglesias has been claiming he was fired for refusing to speed indictments in a corruption case that could involve prominent Democrats.
    But in his resignation letter to President Bush dated Jan. 17 and in another to department colleagues on his last day of work on Feb. 28, Iglesias made no mention of his complaints. He thanked Bush for the opportunity to serve and told the president he prayed for him often.
    The 2004 e-mail written by former Justice Department chief of staff Kyle Sampson said Iglesias was on his list of "USAs" who might be enticed to come to Washington to run the Executive Office of United States Attorneys.
    Sampson characterized Iglesias, a Republican protege of Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., as "a diverse up-and-comer— solid."
    He was appointed U.S. attorney in 2001 and forced to resign Dec. 7, but allowed to continue in the post until the end of February.
    Iglesias said Tuesday in an interview with the Journal that he interpreted Sampson's use of the word "diverse" as code for "Hispanic." He said he told Justice officials he wasn't interested.
    "I said 'Thank you, but I'd rather stay on as U.S. attorney in New Mexico,'" Iglesias said.
    John Ashcroft was attorney general at the time and a strong Iglesias supporter. Aschroft resigned effective February 2005 and was replaced by Alberto Gonzales.
Inappropriate pressure?
    Iglesias accused Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., of pressuring him in phone calls to speed up prosecution of public corruption cases in the weeks before the November election.
    Wilson and Domenici have acknowledged calling Iglesias in October, but they deny applying any pressure.
    Iglesias' name did not appear on a list of U.S. attorneys to be fired until Nov. 15, about a week after the midterm elections, in which Wilson hung on to the 1st Congressional District seat by a margin of fewer than 900 votes.
    As late as 2005, Iglesias was listed as a strong performer by Justice Officials.
    But top New Mexico Republicans— including Domenici— had complained to Justice officials as early as 2004 about Iglesias' failure to prosecute voter fraud and corruption.
    Wilson has said she phoned Iglesias on Oct. 16 only after someone "credible" told her the prosecutor was intentionally dragging his feet on corruption cases.
    During a brief interview with the Journal in a Capitol hallway Tuesday, she reiterated that she did nothing inappropriate.
    "My conversation with David was entirely appropriate," Wilson said, echoing a statement she released two weeks ago. "If someone with some credibility comes to me and says we have a U.S. attorney who is intentionally delaying prosecutions, I need to address that."
    She also said the congressional and media uproar hasn't affected her ability to do her job.
    "We just press on," Wilson said.
Others criticized
    While internal draft memos circulated within the Department of Justice show criticism of Iglesias, the other fired prosecutors came in for criticism that was much more scathing.
    For example, the memos indicate Carol Lam of San Diego and Paul Charlton of Arizona had major disagreements with Justice officials about immigration enforcement.
    Lam also was criticized for not accepting firearms cases, while Charlton had a long-running dispute over forcing the FBI to tape-record confessions to violent crimes on Indian lands.
    Lam was responsible for the successful corruption prosecution of former Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, and Democrats have suggested she was fired for doing her job too well.
    The criticism of Iglesias was milder.
    An undated memo said that border enforcement was a top priority and that Iglesias had failed to "tackle this responsibility as aggressively and as vigorously as we expected and needed her (sic) to do."
    "There was a perception that he traveled a lot, but that even when he was in the office he still delegated a vast majority of the management to his First Assistant," the memo said.
    Another memo outlines several points to be made to argue in favor of the dismissals.
    The document describes New Mexico as a critically important border district being underserved and says Iglesias is perceived to be an "absentee landlord" who relies on his first assistant.
    A survey of law enforcement on the office said Iglesias was experienced in legal management and community relations work and respected by judiciary, agencies and staff.
    But it noted heavy reliance on the first assistant to manage operations and said, "Poor morale exists in Las Cruces due to appointment of inexperienced supervisor (and growing immigration caseload)."
    In a possible reference to the corruption cases, one of the criticisms mentioned was "insufficient resources assigned to growing criminal caseload."
    In a backhanded compliment to Iglesias, the documents criticized Lam for having far fewer immigration and illegal-firearms prosecutions than Arizona and New Mexico.

Journal staff writer Leslie Linthicum contributed to this report.