Wilson admits she was second caller; questions remain over reasons for attorney firings

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So, in light of the revelation that Rep. Heather Wilson did indeed call former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias (hat tip to Democracy for New Mexico), there are a few questions that have been running through my mind.

From a meta perspective, I again wonder why the eight fired attorneys were not given an explanation. In a prepared statement they’re set to give tomorrow, it seems obvious they knew they didn’t have a permanent gig, but simple professionalism makes me think they deserved a reason for their dismissal.

But when you look into the New Mexico situation, you have to wonder just how events went down. You have both Wilson and Sen. Pete Domenici saying that they contacted Iglesias, with Wilson stating she was trying to help him and let him “clear his name.” You have Domenici telling the Department of Justice, over a period of several months, that the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico needed additional help (and possibly complaining about Iglesias’ performance on the job).

What I hope to learn tomorrow is whether or not Iglesias knew all this, and how Domenici and Wilson expect anybody to believe they weren’t pressuring him or trying to interfere in the investigation (especially if Justice was breathing down his neck for results).

In addition, let’s look at something Josh Marshall said this weekend:

So let’s see what Iglesias says. He’s levelled extremely serious charges. So he deserves scrutiny too. But let’s not miss that we’re about to witness that most familiar of Bush era storylines, the whistleblower heading into the buzzsaw, with the full panoply of DOJ, Republican senators, National Review yakkers and RNC smearlords ready to crank up the noise machine to make sure Iglesias is too bashed and bruised by the end of the week to make his charges amount to anything.

The campaign to discredit Iglesias has already begun — New Mexico bloggers Mario Burgos and Whitney Cheshire struck the first blows in this state. Mario:

I’m beginning to think that Mr. Iglesias has his own political agenda in the works. David Iglesias is going out, not as a prosecutor whose number one interest is seeing bad guys end up behind bars, but as a politician whose number one interest is self promotion.
[…] Mr. Iglesias, I’ve got a book for you to read, Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D. You see, your bosses at the Department of Justice wanted you to focus on public corruption, and you wanted to focus on increasing your immigration and narcotics caseload. The “cheese” was moved and you didn’t follow it. That’s the reason you lost your job, and all of the charts and statistics combined with cries of political fouls isn’t going to change that simple fact. So, get over it, move on with your life, and try and learn when the boss moves the cheese, it’s up to you follow it.

Whitney:

Who cares about the numbers of narcotics cases and the so-called good reviews Iglesias received for running an office within budget, or promoting women equally with men…or whatever it is he was being “graded” on.

Who cares.

Now, one of the problems here is that it wasn’t Iglesias who wanted to increase his “immigration and narcotics caseload,” it was Domenici:

I was pleased to recommend to the President of the United States in early 2001 that he nominate Mr. Iglesias as U.S. Attorney for New Mexico. I knew from many discussions with federal law enforcement and judicial officials that the caseload had become extremely heavy within our state.

During the course of the last six years, that already heavy caseload in our state has been swamped by unresolved new federal cases, especially in the areas of immigration and illegal drugs. I have asked, and my staff has asked, on many occasions whether the federal prosecutors and federal judiciary within our state had enough resources. I have been repeatedly told that we needed more resources. As a result I have introduced a variety of legislative measures, including new courthouse construction monies, to help alleviate the situation.
(emphasis mine)

And another thing: Whitney asks why Sen. Jeff Bingaman didn’t call Iglesias to ask for an update.

Where was Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman? Was he NOT concerned over the lack of forward progress on the NUMEROUS public corruption and voter fraud scandals that had been referred to the US Attorney’s office? Did he NOT have a care in the world for this issue? None? No desire to even call the state’s US Attorney and inquire about WHAT WAS UP?

Maybe he did nothing – didn’t bother to ask the question – because it was members of HIS political party who were being investigated by the FBI.

Whoops! It looks like Whitney seems to have forgotten Rep. Steve Pearce. Why isn’t she holding his feet to the fire?

As I was writing this post, Josh added some more fuel to the fire regarding Wilson’s statement:

Now, let’s be honest. This is so risible as to almost be sad.

Consider what Wilson is asking us to believe: she says she didn’t ask Iglesias about the timing of the expected indictment. Nor did she tell him “course of action” she should take. She called because so many of her constituents had complained that this Republican US Attorney, appointed by President Bush, wasn’t moving quickly enough in his corruption investigation of a prominent New Mexico Democrat. Indeed, one unidentified constituent said Iglesias was intentionally bottling up the investigation. And Wilson called to give him the chance to “clear his name.”

Imagine Iglesias not understanding that in placing this call Wilson was just looking out for his own good?

Enough. Wilson would have done better to follow the Domenici route and just pretended she was making an informational call. After reading this transparently bogus line from Wilson this is the first moment when I think there’s a decent chance there will be a special election some time over the next twelve months in the first district of New Mexico. Anyone who reads even Wilson’s defense knows that she did precisely what Iglesias said she did: muscled a US Attorney to issue an indictment two weeks prior to election day because she believed it would help her save her seat.

Again, even going by Wilson’s account of what happened, there’s really no other reasonable explanation.

Oh, and now it looks like the attorneys are being threatened:

A high-ranking Justice Department official told one of the U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration that if any of them continued to criticize the administration for their ousters, previously undisclosed details about the reasons they were fired might be released, two of the ousted prosecutors told McClatchy Newspapers.

While the U.S. attorney who got the call regarded the tone of the conversation as congenial, not intimidating, the prosecutor nonetheless passed the message on to five other fired U.S. attorneys. One of them interpreted the reported comments by Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, as a threat.

So, it’s only after we learn that two Republican lawmakers called a U.S. Attorney to inquire about an ongoing investigation (in itself a possible breach of congressional ethics rules, whether or not they “pressured” him to speed it up), and only after several of those attorneys are subpoenaed by Congress, that the Justice Department chooses to release details on why eight U.S. Attorneys were fired? Remarkable, especially since one official has already testified to Congress, stating the eight were canned for performance-related problems (a claim that has been debunked).

Listen: should Iglesias have issued pushed the case faster? I have no idea, because I’m no legal expert. If the evidence as there, I would argue that it should have been brought to a grand jury, as soon as possible. Regardless, a New Mexican Senator and Representative should not have tried to interfere in the case. At this stage, it seems beyond belief that they could think their calls would be accepted as casual in nature, and without pressure. The mere nature of their office precludes such an argument.

I’m sure tomorrow will be a big one for this case, with 6 of the attorneys testifying before Congress. I’ll keep you updated.

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