Friday, March 2, 2007
The Department of Justice's decision to remove seven U.S. Attorneys from their positions for purported performance reasons just got more sticky with charges by former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias that his termination may have been because he resisted political pressure to pursue more aggressively investigations of Democrats. A Washington Post story (here) details Iglesias' allegations, which came the day after he ended his term, that two federal elected officials called him in October 2006 asking that he speed up the investigation of Democrats before the November election. One reason apparently cited by the Department for Iglesias' removal was complaints about him from members of Congress. Putting two and two together, Iglesias asserts that his refusal to comply with the requests led to his dismissal.
That politics are involved in the selection and retention of U.S. Attorneys is nothing new -- these are appointed offices and political loyalty can be the price of admission. Nor is it unknown that the Department of Justice uses prosecutions for political gain, and targets certain types of crimes to tout its credentials as an effective crime-fighting operation. Crime is a political hot-potato, and U.S. Attorney's Offices are not immune, at least not completely. Iglesias' claim is weakened by the fact that the did not report the contact in October 2006, as required by Department policy, and a DOJ spokesman strongly denied the allegation.
The problem for the Department of Justice is the growing perception, particularly in Congress, that the politicization of the process is reaching deeper than just the appointment of U.S. Attorneys. It now includes their removal if they are viewed as falling out of line, and the Attorney General's new authority to appoint interim replacements with no limit on their terms can be viewed as insulating the office from review and oversight by the Legislative Branch. The Department's credibility has suffered quite a few blows over the past couple years, from the search of a Congressional office to attacks on the policy for corporate crime prosecutions to the defense of secret telephone call monitoring. Whether Iglesias' charges are true, DOJ suffered another black eye in removing a group U.S. Attorneys who will now be viewed as targets of a crackdown on "independent" prosecutors. (ph)