Dangerous New Turn in Justice Department Investigation

Last week, non-partisan investigators recommended the appointing of a special prosecutor to determine whether criminal laws were violated in my ouster and that of my colleagues.
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Last week brought a dangerous new turn to the on-going United States Attorney and Justice Department disaster. Based on the evidence, career, non-partisan investigators recommended the appointing of a special prosecutor to determine whether criminal laws were violated in my ouster and that of my colleagues. No longer just a civil matter to blithely ignore, this ominous development could result in current and high level officials being indicted for crimes. I suspect the special counsel will "follow the emails" in the way that "follow the money" brought down Nixon's men during Watergate.

The Justice Department's independent watchdog offices, the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, finished the definitive investigation about the firings, stating that U.S. Attorneys may not be removed for an "illegal or improper reason." I was not disappointed or surprised by the findings contained in its blistering report which I cooperated with fully. Every reason given for my ouster was examined and rejected as "disingenuous after-the-fact rationalizations" by former Justice Department personnel, thus sounding the death knell to my alleged "performance-related" problems. More importantly, the firings of my colleagues and me "severely damaged the credibility of the Department and raised doubts about the integrity of Department prosecutive decisions" according to the investigation. Several Republican officials took key roles damaging America's premier crime fighting organization.

The 392-page report described a "fundamentally flawed" process of termination, one in which politics were allowed to overrule the historic independence of U.S. Attorneys. Pat Rogers, the New Mexico Republican committeeman, despite his incessant drone of criticism, curiously refused to cooperate with the Justice Department investigators, as did Senator Pete Domenici, his chief of staff Steve Bell, former White House Advisor Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, and former DoJ official Monica Goodling. The Attorney General, Michael Mukasey called it straight, the removals were "haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional". He further stated the reputations of the terminated US Attorneys were "unfairly tainted by the removals and their aftermath."

The local New Mexico GOP power brokers, on the other hand, did not care about the evidence, all they cared about was partisan wins, by any and all means. Rogers, former Republican Committeeman Mickey Barnett and New Mexico Republican Chairman Allen Weh among others,will never get it. Once in office, United States Attorneys, like federal judges, are required to stay out of politics. We were not like other political appointees since we are the only presidential appointees that have the power to take away a citizen's life, liberty, property and reputation. This is an awesome responsibility and must be administered fairly and without consideration of partisan gain.

Independence is not just a town in Missouri, it is the lifeblood of a prosecutor who must base his or her decisions solely on the law and evidence. Yet, Rogers, Weh, and Barnett with zero experience as prosecutors thought they knew best. Based on rumor and innuendo, they and others tried to improperly influence me to file cases that were non-provable or not ready to indict. This type of reprehensible practice may be acceptable in corrupt third world countries but it has no place in the United States where we venerate the rule of law and the Constitution.

The DoJ investigation was unsparing in its harsh criticism of our removals. The report summarized the issue succinctly, "If a U.S. Attorney must maintain the confidence of home-state political officials to avoid removal, regardless of the merits of the U.S. Attorney's prosecutorial decisions, respect for the Department of Justice's independence and integrity will be severely damaged and every U.S. Attorneys' prosecutorial decisions will be suspect. The longstanding tradition of integrity and independent judgments by Department prosecutors will be undermined, and confidence that the Department of Justice decides who to prosecute based solely on the evidence and the law, without regard to political factors, will disappear." This is the touchstone of our criminal justice system, without which we are slouching towards institutional corruption.

I pledge my full cooperation with Special Counsel Nora Dannehey, a career federal prosecutor. One thing is for certain; I will not second guess, criticize or attempt to improperly influence her in the way that Republican officials attempted to do to me. I've learned many lessons these past eighteen months -- prosecutorial independence is not a talking point and seeking justice can never be viewed as a political "wedge" issue.

David C. Iglesias was the United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico between 2001 and 2007. His is the author of the book, "In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration."

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