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J. Leopold: Fired US Attorney Calls On White House

Fired US Attorney Calls on White House to "Produce" Bolten, Miers to Congress

By Jason Leopold

David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico who was one of nine US attorneys fired two years ago for reasons that appear to be politically motivated, said last week's vote in the House to hold former White House counsel Harriet Miers and President Bush's chief of staff, Josh Bolten, in contempt for refusing to testify and turn over documents to a congressional committee related to the US attorney dismissals was encouraging, but questions related to his dismissal remain unanswered.

In an interview following the historic vote, the first time in 25 years a full chamber of Congress voted on contempt of Congress citation, Iglesias called upon the White House to "do the right thing."

"Congress is exercising its legitimate oversight role in this unfinished matter," said Iglesias, who has written a book on the ordeal, "In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration " that is due to be published in June. "I implore the White House to do the right thing and produce Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolton to the Congress."

The White House said it has no intention of producing documents to the House Judiciary Committee or allowing Bolten and Miers to testify on grounds that the information is covered by executive privilege. Attorney General Michael Mukasey testified before Congress two weeks ago that he has no plans to enforce the contempt citations.

But Congressman Maurice Hinchey, (D-NY), said even if Mukasey refuses to act on the contempt citations Congress will pursue civil litigation to enforce the subpoenas and Bolten and Miers' testimony.

"It's pretty clear to me that senior White House and U.S. Department of Justice officials deliberately fired U.S. attorneys who they felt were not acting in ways that were politically advantageous to the Bush administration and the Republican Party, Hinchey said. "Those subpoenas have been ignored for far too long, which is why ...we finally passed resolutions of contempt against them to begin the legal process of forcing them to comply or, if they continue to refuse, imposing tough consequences."

John Conyers, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, agreed, and said he would vigorously pursue legal action to enforce the subpoenas to "vindicate Congress' authority."

"The Privilege Resolution introduced [February 13] follows the suggestion first made by former Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner last year and authorizes the House general counsel to file a civil suit to enforce the subpoenas," Conyers said. "That way, if the Administration refuses to enforce the contempt finding, we can take action in the courts Although Mr. Sensenbrenner suggested a civil lawsuit as an alternative to contempt, the courts have made clear that statutory contempt must be tried first. In a lawsuit in the 1980s, when the Justice Department tried to get a civil court ruling after the House had found a former EPA Administrator in contempt, the court ruled that it should "defer to established statutory procedures" on contempt and that a civil lawsuit could be pursued only after statutory contempt remedies are exhausted. Here, a civil suit would be filed only after the Administration refuses to allow statutory contempt to go forward."

Iglesias said the legal wrangling clearly indicates that the executive branch and Congress are headed for a showdown, but he added that documents in the case released thus far goes far beyond the realm of circumstantial evidence and shows culpability--and perhaps criminal behavior--on the part of several high-level former Justice Department and White House officials who were involved in his firing and sought to cover-up their involvement. Iglesias points to a transcript of an interview with career Justice Department official David Margolis conducted by Congressional investigators in May 2007 in which Margolis said that he participated in a "brainstorming" session with other senior DOJ officials to come up with a reason to sell to the public and to lawmakers in the event that questions were raised about why Iglesias was ousted.

John McKay, the former US attorney for the Western District of Washington who was also fired in late 2006 for reasons that appear to have been motivated by partisan politics, wrote in a lengthy article in the January edition of the Seattle University Law Review that Iglesias's firing stands out among the other eight U.S. attorneys because it demonstrates "the very real prospect of improper interference with an ongoing criminal investigation involving public corruption and the seeking of political advantage."

"Violations of the obstruction of justice statute may have occurred and should be investigated," McKay wrote. "Even as the role of the White House remains shrouded in its claims of executive privilege, 23 certain White House employees appear to have been heavily involved in the dismissal of U.S. Attorney Iglesias. In several e-mails it appears that these officials were reacting directly to the complaints of Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and the ongoing investigation into public corruption in New Mexico. For example, Deputy White House Counsel Bill Kelley smugly e-mailed Gonzales' Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson to report that Domenici's office was "happy as a clam" on learning of Iglesias's ouster. Senior Counselor to the President Karl Rove bragged about Iglesias's dismissal by proclaiming "he's gone" to the New Mexico Republican Party Chairman, who had previously complained to Rove about Iglesias."

McKay wrote that multiple investigations at the DOJ, which are said to be in the final stages, could result in "criminal charges" against former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other former DOJ officials involved in the dismissals "for impeding justice."

"The elements of a prima facie case of obstruction of justice are: (1) the existence of the judicial proceeding; (2) knowledge of or notice of the judicial proceeding; (3) acting 'corruptly' with intent to influence, obstruct or impede the proceeding in the due administration of justice; and (4) a nexus (although not necessarily one which is material) between the judicial proceeding sought to be corruptly influenced and the defendant's efforts," McKay wrote in the 32-page law review article. "The [federal] omnibus clause is a 'catchall' provision, which is broadly construed to include a wide variety of corrupt methods."

In testimony before Congress last year, Iglesias said that a few weeks before the 2006 midterm elections he received telephone calls from New Mexico's Republican Senator, Pete Domenici, and the state's Republican Congresswoman, Heather Wilson, inquiring about the timing of an indictment against a popular Democratic official in the state who was the target of a corruption investigation. Iglesias told Domenici and Wilson he could not discuss indictments with them. Iglesias was added to a list of US attorneys to be fired on Election Day in November 2006. The official or officials responsible for drafting the list is still unknown.

Domenici is currently the subject of a Senate Ethics Committee probe for allegedly trying to pressure Iglesias into securing indictments prior to the November 2006 midterm election.

Last April, Iglesias filed a Hatch Act complaint with the White House Office of Special Counsel, alleging former White House political adviser Karl Rove and other Bush administration officials may have broken the law by orchestrating his firing. That investigation is still ongoing, but the obscure shop has hit some roadblocks. Special Counsel Scott Bloch, a Bush appointee, said he has been unable to obtain certain documents from the Justice Department (DOJ) to advance his probe into the firings.

The OSC sent a request to the DOJ late last year seeking a wide range of documents including email correspondence between DOJ and White House officials who had discussed which US attorneys should be selected for dismissal. The OSC set a deadline for turning over the documents. However, the deadline has since passed and the DOJ has not formally responded to the OSC's request, nor has the agency stated a reason it would not turn over documents. The OSC appears to have been particularly interested in obtaining documents from the DOJ surrounding the circumstances that led to Iglesias's firing, according to people knowledgeable about the probe.

The DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the Justice Department's Inspector General have been investigating the issue, with particular attention being paid to Iglesias's dismissal. Recently, the OPR contacted Iglesias's former executive assistant, Rumaldo Armijo, to interview him about whether he was pressured by Pat Rogers, a Republican attorney in Albuquerque, and Mickey Barnett, a Republican lobbyist, to bring charges of voter fraud against Democrats in the state, Iglesias confirmed when asked about the matter during an interview.

Rogers was affiliated with the American Center for Voting Rights, a now defunct non-profit organization that sought to defend voter rights and increase public confidence in the fairness and outcome of elections. However, it has since emerged that the organization played a major role in suppressing the votes of people who intended to cast ballots for Democrats in various states Rogers is also the former chief counsel to the New Mexico state Republican Party, and was tapped by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) to replace Iglesias as US Attorney for New Mexico.

Rogers did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Armijo was also unavailable for comment. During his tenure in the US attorney's office he was in charge of issues related to voter fraud in New Mexico. Iglesias said in an interview that he launched an in-depth investigation into claims of voter fraud in New Mexico and found the allegations to be "non-provable in court." He said he is certain that his firing was due, in part, to the fact that he would not file criminal charges of voter fraud in New Mexico. Iglesias added that, based on evidence that had surfaced thus far and "Karl Rove's obsession with voter fraud issues throughout the country," he now believes GOP operatives had wanted him to go after Democratic-funded organizations in an attempt to swing the 2006 midterm elections to Republicans.

Armijo spoke to the Senate Ethics Committee last year about numerous telephone calls and emails dating back to 2005 he received from Rogers related to voter fraud, and Iglesias's alleged failure to investigate the matter while Iglesias was US attorney, Iglesias confirmed.

Last May, House Democrats released a transcript of an interview Congressional investigators had with one of Gonzales's senior Justice Department staffers, Matthew Friedrich, in which Friedrich recounted that over breakfast in November 2006, Rogers and Barnett told him they were frustrated about Iglesias's refusal to pursue cases of voter fraud and that they had spoken to Karl Rove and Domenici about having Iglesias fired.

"I remember them repeating basically what they had said before in terms of unhappiness with Dave Iglesias and the fact that this case hadn't gone anyplace," Friedrich said, according to a copy of the interview transcript. "It was clear to me that they did not want him to be the US attorney. And they mentioned that they had essentially ... they were sort of working towards that."

According to media reports, Rogers said he does not recall speaking to Rove about Iglesias.

Additionally, Barnett and Rogers met with Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's White House liaison, in June 2006 to complain that Iglesias's was ignoring voter fraud. Goodling's meeting with Rogers and Barnett took place at the urging of a colleague. Rogers also drafted a lengthy letter that he sent to Domenici detailing what he claimed were Iglesias's prosecutorial failures, Iglesias said he had been told.

Allen Weh, the New Mexico Republican party chairman, told McClatchy Newspapers in March that he urged Rove to use his influence to have Iglesias fired because Weh was unhappy with Iglesias's alleged refusal to bring criminal charges against Democrats in a voter fraud investigation.

Weh told McClatchy Newspapers that he followed up with Rove personally in late 2006 during a visit to the White House.

"Is anything ever going to happen to that guy?" Weh said he asked Rove at a White House holiday event that month, according to McClatchy's report.

"He's gone," Rove said, according to Weh.

"I probably said something close to 'Hallelujah,'" said Weh.

This chain-of-events trouble McKay who wrote in his law review article that former Attorney General Gonzales ultimately approved Iglesias's termination with the full knowledge that it was based on partisan politics.

Gonzales admitted "he took multiple phone calls from Domenici concerning [Iglesias], urging that he be replaced, and has admitted that [President Bush] spoke with him about the 'problems' with Iglesias," McKay wrote." Gonzales has even admitted that one of the reasons that Iglesias was fired was because Senator Domenici had "lost confidence" in Iglesias. While these allegations are troubling under any analysis, a thorough and independent investigation is necessary to determine whether criminal laws have been violated. Among the considerations facing the inspector general is whether the actions of former Attorney General Gonzales constituted obstruction of justice by removing Iglesias. That [Gonzales] had knowledge of the high profile public corruption case being investigated by Iglesias in New Mexico is virtually certain, given that [Gonzales] has admitted speaking to Domenici and would almost certainly be expected to have such knowledge as the leader of the Justice Department. Under the broad language of [the federal statute regarding obstruction of justice], it would be hard to imagine that 'corruptly influence' would not extend to firing of the United States attorney in the middle of a public corruption case because he 'lost confidence' of a senator who sought to manipulate the indictments for crass political advantage."

*************

Jason Leopold is senior editor and reporter for Truthout. He received a Project Censored award in 2007 for his story on Halliburton's work in Iran. Jason is the author of the National Bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir. He is the editor of BackgroundBriefing.org, a new online political magazine scheduled to launch in March. He can be reached at jasonleopold [at] hotmail.com.

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