Wednesday, March 21, 2007

David Iglesias: Why I was fired

David Iglesias, one of the fired U.S. attorneys, discusses what happened to him in an opinion piece published in today's New York Times.

Depending on your political persuasion, this is either another nail in Gonzales' coffin or evidence that David Iglesias is the Joe Wilson of 2006.

Politics entered my life with two phone calls that I received last fall, just before the November election. One came from Representative Heather Wilson and the other from Senator Domenici, both Republicans from my state, New Mexico.

Ms. Wilson asked me about sealed indictments pertaining to a politically charged corruption case widely reported in the news media involving local Democrats. Her question instantly put me on guard. Prosecutors may not legally talk about indictments, so I was evasive. Shortly after speaking to Ms. Wilson, I received a call from Senator Domenici at my home. The senator wanted to know whether I was going to file corruption charges — the cases Ms. Wilson had been asking about — before November. When I told him that I didn’t think so, he said, “I am very sorry to hear that,” and the line went dead.

A few weeks after those phone calls, my name was added to a list of United States attorneys who would be asked to resign — even though I had excellent office evaluations, the biggest political corruption prosecutions in New Mexico history, a record number of overall prosecutions and a 95 percent conviction rate. (In one of the documents released this week, I was deemed a “diverse up and comer” in 2004. Two years later I was asked to resign with no reasons given.)

Regarding the voter fraud case in question, part of the "fired for cause" argument put forth by the Justice Department:

As this story has unfolded these last few weeks, much has been made of my decision to not prosecute alleged voter fraud in New Mexico. Without the benefit of reviewing evidence gleaned from F.B.I. investigative reports, party officials in my state have said that I should have begun a prosecution. What the critics, who don’t have any experience as prosecutors, have asserted is reprehensible — namely that I should have proceeded without having proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The public has a right to believe that prosecution decisions are made on legal, not political, grounds.

What’s more, their narrative has largely ignored that I was one of just two United States attorneys in the country to create a voter-fraud task force in 2004. Mine was bipartisan, and it included state and local law enforcement and election officials.

After reviewing more than 100 complaints of voter fraud, I felt there was one possible case that should be prosecuted federally. I worked with the F.B.I. and the Justice Department’s public integrity section. As much as I wanted to prosecute the case, I could not overcome evidentiary problems. The Justice Department and the F.B.I. did not disagree with my decision in the end not to prosecute.

He doesn't need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to proceed with an investigation, but he does need a reasonable belief that he can win a case based on that standard. Pursuing a case that he believed couldn't be successfully prosecuted would have been a waste of limited resources at best, prosecutorial misconduct at worst.

This is just Iglesias' version of events, of course, and he can be expected to be a little self-justifying. As well, there can be differences of opinion over what constitutes sufficient evidence to bring a case. But thus far we haven't seen anything from the Justice Department to contradict him.

If the timing of Iglesias' firing turns out to be more than a coincidence, there's a real scandal brewing at the bottom of this political contratemps.

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