Why Iglesias Was Fired

Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias has an op-ed in today’s New York Times entitled, “Why I Was Fired.”

Frankly, he doesn’t answer the question, except to say that it was “political.” In that regard, two statements in the editorial stand out:

  • “I am a Republican who was recommended by Senator Pete Domenici”
  • “Among the Justice Department’s released documents is one describing the office of Senator Domenici as being ‘happy as a clam’ that I was fired.”

As President Bush noted in his press conference last evening, “that’s Washington, D.C. for you. You know, there’s a lot of politics in this town.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. cian says:


    Not being a lawyer I am weak on the specifics of this case, but are you not concerned at all by what, in one instance at least, our common sense tells us in all likelihood happened, namely that the chairman of the Washington Republican party attempted to pressurise a US attorney to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury in order to weaken the democratic opposition in that state?

    We know McKay followed up on accusations of voter fraud, we know the FBI investigated and we know they and McKay found no case to be answered, but still Mr Chase pushed for more action to be taken.

    Whether on the right or left, conservative or liberal, this one example of serious political interference, interference that could have damaged innocent people, must surely horrify all who believe in our system of justice.

    Perhaps I am over reacting, but if so then I am not alone, as this joint statement from Bob Barr, David Keene, Richard Viguerie and Bruce Fein, all good conservatives, makes clear:

    “We are conservative scholars, activists and writers. We do not favour a crippled executive or enfeebled government. In a time of danger, checks and balances make for stronger government because the people will more readily accept a muscular authority if barriers against abuses are strong. If at some future time Congress, in turn, aggrandizes power and invades the executive or judicial domains, we will be equally alert to sound the alarm. But today, the clear and present danger to conservative philosophy is the White House.”

    As someone who respects your take on the political doings of the day, I am confused and disappointed by your lack of concern regarding what is fast turning out to be a frightening glimpse into the very dark heart of a very rotten white house.

  2. James Joyner says:

    My understanding–and it’s pretty limited to what I’ve read and heard since this controversy started–is that it is almost routine for politicians, especially Congressmen, to make inquiries and demands of U.S. Attorneys and expect rapid response. The professional norm of the Attorney is to politely inform them that they can’t divulge details of ongoing investigations and so forth.

    The problem here is that, for one of the rare times in U.S. history, we’re getting a glimpse of how the sausage is made. The existence of detailed email trails, for example, makes formerly off-the-record political machinations available for all to see. My strong sense is that none of this is any more corrupt than went on in the past.

    It strikes me that the upshot of all this is that U.S. Attorneys ought to be independent of the DOJ, appointed by some sort of bipartisan board rather than a politician, and removable only for cause during their term of office.

  3. cian says:

    My strong sense is that none of this is any more corrupt than went on in the past.

    Except, of course, it didn’t, James. Of the 480 US attorneys appointed since 1981 by republican and democratic presidents, only 4 have ever been replaced mid term. The email trail you speak of exists only because this administration fired US attorneys. As no other administration attempted the same, there can be no sausage.

    Hope I haven’t left you feeling peckish.

  4. Billy says:

    I’ve got to agree with the other comments here, James. This isn’t simply a case of political dissatisfaction with political appointees, this is a case of political interference in the criminal justice system. I know the possibility of obstruction of justice has been brought up, and there are almost certainly Congressional Ethics violations at work.

    This is exactly the sort of thing that banana republics routinely engage in that our system is supposed to be insulated from. The outrage in Congress (Repubilcan and Democratic), the media, and the public is a reflection that what the Domenici, Wilson, and the administration did here is a fundamental violation of the spirit of the Republic. Even John Ashcroft, not known for being apolitical, mentioned that politics is never to enter into a US Attorney’s calculus as to how to do their job. Any lawyer will tell you that if they did they would be violating the canons of professional responsibility that all lawyers take an oath to uphold.

    Simply stated, this administration has politicized the criminal justice system to an unprecedented and dangerous level, and if such actions are not illegal already (which they may be, depending on the specifics), Congress should take steps to make them so.

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    Cian why dude, it is but another conspiracy theory concocted by the traitor Liberals to undermine our government, why oh why can you people not see this? i will try to help you, if it comes out of the mouth of a Liberal or anyone who supports them it is a lie, and beware for their lies are very powerful. A few words of wisdom from the great Liberal statesmen Darth Vader…Luke, you do not understand the power of the Donkside… or it something like that, but I hope you get my point.

  6. Anderson says:

    Cian why dude, it is but another conspiracy theory concocted by the traitor Liberals to undermine our government, why oh why can you people not see this?

    Doug J, is that you?

  7. badger says:

    The problem here is that, for one of the rare times in U.S. history, we’re getting a glimpse of how the sausage is made.

    So it’s basically the “they all do it” defense without the need to demonstrate that anyone else ever, you know, did it.

  8. Tlaloc says:

    The problem here is that, for one of the rare times in U.S. history, we’re getting a glimpse of how the sausage is made. The existence of detailed email trails, for example, makes formerly off-the-record political machinations available for all to see. My strong sense is that none of this is any more corrupt than went on in the past.

    Isn’t that all the more reason to nail said corruption now? I mean if we rarely get a peak at this behavior we have to punish harshly when we do to have any hope of providing any deterrent to its routine usage. Ask yourself which behavior (which you seem to admit is corrupt) is less likely to be practiced
    1) One where it is rarely caught and when it is caught is dismissed, OR
    2) One that is rarely caught but when caught results in long prison terms, ended carreers, and public castigation (or even castration since were all down with tortune now).

  9. JohnG says:

    Iglesias apparently was apparently fired because politicians wanted the indictments on a corruption case to come down before an election, and Iglesias couldn’t get the case together until December. Politically motivated, yes, but not an abuse of prosecution. The indictment in question was proper, the only political question was the timing. Therefore, I don’t see how anyone can claim a crime happened here.

    He also only found one voter fraud case he felt he could win in court. Note that he didn’t say he felt those people were innocent, but that his case wasn’t strong enough to prove beyond reasonable doubt. Now obviously a prosecutor doesn’t want to waste his time trying cases he doesn’t think will stand up in court, but I don’t think it’s criminal for the President to expect his prosecutors to make the best case possible and try to prove it in court. Now if there was no evidence then I can see where Iglesias is coming from, but if he really only prosecutes cases where there is no reasonable doubt then I guess his office has a 100% conviction rate. Somehow I doubt that.

    Originally I didn’t really care one way or another about these cases other than as a legal curiosity, but now I’m seriously wondering when Congress decided they had nothing better to do than to create scandals out of thin air. I hope Bush does fight the subpoenas. To me this is nothing more than Congress hoping someone will make a mistake of recollection under oath so they can spit out another perjury charge even though no underlying crime has been committed.

  10. Howard DB says:

    The problem there is no “light of day” public method for prosecutions or pending investigations, especially, for victims wanting to submit additional evidence on any pending cases. So no matter what you do the situation is going to be political. Just the decision to prosecute cases or not could be viewed as being politically motivated. Who decides if there is enough evidence? there are many fingers in the pie and all have some say in the answer. Maybe, it should be mandatory to do more investigation if there is not enough evidence to prosecute and present this to a grand jury. I do think that any person involved in submitting prosecutorial evidence either as a victim or concerned citizen should be sworn before a grand jury is formed and granted opportunities to know the status of a case during the process. How many people even know that private citizens can empanel a grand jury and prosecute a case on their own? Not many and the information is not easily available. How can you know the roadblocks to justice if no one points them out. Otherwise, the prosecutors to include their investigatory body in this case the FBI can be manipulated by all kinds of concerns including what are “their” current priorities and who determines those priorities. I have personal information involving David Iglesias spent a significant time being on the President’s Anti-terrorism task force flying all over the country and he upset a lot of people in New Mexico by not prosecuting local cases or providing information about evidence that was offered to his office. I know he says that he cannot talk about pending cases but he needed to have found a legal, moral, ethical way to provide information in a acceptable way. Maybe he could have gone to congress and asked for help to do his job in a way that wouldn’t appear to be “political”. Regardless, of what the law is now, there needs to be a better process. Otherwise, the whole process is flawed and pointing fingers doesn’t really solve the problem. The FBI from another district doesn’t even like to communicate with other US Attorneys in a different district unless it is a high profile and mucho bucks involved. I personally know of one case in which over a thousand pages of evidence was submitted involving almost 2 million dollars of Medicaid fraud (just in one school district) but the case wasn’t high enough on the radar screen to get any attention. It was cases like this where David Iglesias started to treat former friends’ inquiries about prosecutions in a manner that appeared to be overly “high and mighty”. Maybe his aim was to be beyond reproach but not prosecuting cases doesn’t look very righteous either. Just the “manner” in which you “choose” to prosecute or not could be viewed as “political”. Constitutions from New Mexico went to their Congress person and US Senator for help in finding what was going on. Currently, there is no way to hold the US Attorneys accountable other than to fire them. The system is broken it needs to be fixed. I think there needs to be a prosecutorial advocate at the Dept. of Justice that could be a liaison for inquiries and all contacts are recorded and provided to the public. The information could be screened for leaks, but this is just a suggestion. I wish that congress would spend their time fixing stuff instead of just pointing fingers, this goes for David Iglesisas too. I will give you a perfect example at the local level. If you are a victim of a crime and the police take a report. It is up to the district attorney to decide if they have enough evidence but the charges are submitted by paralegals that work for the District Attorney. They only do the minimum in listing the charges because they aren’t aware or aren’t interested in any other evidence that might apply because all they have to work on is the information that the police submit. In other words the people who might know how to prosecute the case are the investigators. The victims aren’t allowed to provide more evidence even if they offer once it has gone to the DA’s office. The police aren’t provided any incentive to write more information than they have to. So the district attorney’s office only gets the basics. Very rarely is any additional evidence gathered because there are so many cases. So what hits the radar? Who decides? All of this is political to some degree and it gets even worse from here because most cases are plea bargained down. So even if you could have listed many more charges it won’t usually happen. So the criminal gets a break because the system is overburdened and broken with no one to offer anything better. I am just touching the surface. You wouldn’t even believe it if I told the whole story of how sad the situation is. So David Iglesias offered “no change” and others believed that he wasn’t doing his job because he was prosecuting cases he “believed/felt” were a priority, but the real issue is how did he decide what was a priority? Apparently, the powers that be decided he had the wrong priorities whatever that is interpreted to mean. Call it politics, call it business as usual but the end result is our judicial system isn’t working and we desperately need someone smart and morally tough enough to find a different way. I call it “Conspiracy by apathy and/or incompetence” sounds like a book title. Someone should write about it.