A Conversation with David Iglesias
“I’m doing right what I am meant to be doing.”
By Jim Scarantino
David Iglesias and I worked together in the Special Prosecutions Division of the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. That was a long time ago. I went into private practice and David went on to become the United States Attorney for New Mexico.
As a prosecutor, and in his crusade against the partisan corruption of the U.S. Department of Justice, he has shown the same qualities he exhibited as a Navy JAG Corps lawyer. If you don’t know already, Tom Cruise’s role in A Few Good Men was based on Iglesias.
I’ve learned that David Iglesias lives by a code of honor, seared deep into his character by his Christian faith and his position as a captain in the Naval Reserve. He doesn’t slap you in the face with his values. He prays before eating in a public restaurant, but humbly and unobtrusively. And when he feels he is being pressured to do something he believes to be wrong, the sharp edges of his personal ethics reveal themselves like his ramrod-straight posture and square shoulders.
Iglesias’ career as a prosecutor is over. He knowingly accepted the consequences of refusing demands from New Mexico Republicans to file what he considers “bogus” voter fraud charges “just so they would get some headlines.” With other U.S. Attorneys forced to resign for similar reasons, he is exposing how the prosecutorial function of the United States government has been twisted into an extension of Karl Rove’s political operations.
We caught up after his return from a round of lectures and press conferences in Seattle.
The criticisms you and your colleagues are leveling against the Attorney General and the White House are unprecedented. What’s motivating you?
We believe strongly in the rule of law, and that we cannot politicize the Justice Department. Prosecutors must rely on evidence alone and cannot be subjected to political considerations. Look at what happened to the Duke lacrosse team prosecutor, Mike Nifong, when he filed a political prosecution. The public must know that prosecutors are above politics if they are to maintain confidence in the fairness of our system of justice. U.S. Attorneys must remain independent and exercise their judgment without being infected by the virus of partisan politics.
Can you remember all your media appearances in the past few months?
I have testified before the U.S. Senate and House concerning the U.S. Attorney scandal. I have appeared on CNN, Fox News, ABC, NBC, C-Span, MSNBC, “Meet the Press with Tim Russert," “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” “Larry King Live,” CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Canadian Broadcasting Network, British Broadcasting Corporation, NPR and many other venues. The story has been covered by hundreds of print media [outlets]. I’ve also written two New York Times op-eds.
On a personal level, how are you holding up? Besides your grueling schedule, you are under attack from people you once considered friends.
I’m doing great. As an evangelical Christian, I take tremendous comfort in knowing I am fulfilling God’s purpose and doing his will in my life. I know to the marrow of my being that I am doing right what I am meant to be doing. What is that verse? “If God be for you, who can be against you?”
Truth is the ultimate weapon. My colleagues and I are speaking truth to power. I am emboldened when members of the pubic come up to me and say they support me, or that they are praying for me. This has happened many times in coffee shops, airports, gyms, restaurants and on military bases across America. One guy just looked me in the eye and said, “David, give them hell!”
Coverage of your latest press conferences suggests the possibility of criminal charges against administration officials.
There may be obstruction of justice charges or witness intimidation charges filed against Mike Elston, the Deputy Attorney General’s chief of staff, if his phone calls to [former Arkansas U.S. Attorney] Bud Cummins and [former Washington U.S. Attorney] John McKay were done with intent to dissuade them from testifying before Congress. There may be obstruction of justice charges filed against Karl Rove or members of his staff if they replaced any U.S. Attorneys who were investigating political corruption charges with the intent to interfere with ongoing investigations.
How about your case?
Good question. Sen. Domenici has retained a good criminal defense lawyer. Could his phone call to me [concerning the timing of charges in the court house corruption investigation] constitute a criminal offense? I’m not sure. I suspect ethics charges are more likely than criminal charges as I doubt he called me to interfere with the courthouse cases. Having me removed for not prosecuting voter fraud cases or [not] prosecuting cases fast enough probably does not constitute obstruction of justice.
On Bill Maher’s show you said you were forced out for refusing to file “bogus voter fraud charges.” That’s different than Domenici being impatient about public corruption charges against Manny Aragon and company.
The “bogus” language was broadly directed against New Mexico Republicans like [New Mexico GOP general counsel] Patrick Rogers and [the Bush campaign’s lawyer] Mickey Barnett, who wanted me to file election fraud charges without the evidence I needed to convict. Domenici and [U.S. Rep. Heather] Wilson never directly pressured me to take action—it was the New Mexico GOP.
I kept hearing they expected me to file voter fraud charges. It never went away, although I naively thought the Justice Department would protect me from their criticism.
Rogers wrote a long, blistering letter to Sen. Domenici in 2006 detailing all my alleged failures. He would also leave long voice messages with my executive assistant, who was in charge of voter fraud charges. With my executive assistant, I met with Rogers in September or October of 2006 to try to get him to understand that we would prosecute provable cases but that we wouldn’t prosecute non-provable cases. He seemed skeptical.
High-level DOJ officials have testified you had excellent performance ratings and made a big impact in reducing gun crime in Southeast Albuquerque. I’ve watched the Attorney General testify he doesn’t know who put your name on a list of U.S. Attorneys to be terminated. No DOJ documents have surfaced explaining why you were fired. With your experience as a prosecutor, what do you make of that?
Ironically, I was placed on the list Election Day, 2006. I know from personal experience that DOJ documents everything carefully. The fact that there is no paper trail at Main Justice tells me performance had nothing to do with my forced resignation. This was a politically based decision emanating from the White House. The reason the administration is fighting to prevent Karl Rove from testifying under oath before Congress is that there is likely evidence at the White House showing my colleagues and I were fired for purely political reasons. If any of those reasons were to obstruct or impede ongoing criminal investigations, whoever was involved will need good criminal defense attorneys.
Please connect the dots. How do we get from two Albuquerque Republicans pressuring you to file bogus cases to Karl Rove ending your career?
I always wondered about Tip O’Neill’s aphorism, “All politics is local.” Now I know, at least as to voter fraud, that is true. Because of the razor-thin difference in 2000, local Republicans believed there was systemic voter fraud in New Mexico. I initially agreed, until I examined the evidence. Because I required my office to follow the rule of law, to be ready to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, no prosecutions arose from the Election Fraud Task Force I established in 2004. I worked closely with the Justice Department in Washington, Public Integrity Section and the FBI. We agreed there were no prosecutable cases. Local Republicans, without examining the evidence, concluded I was intentionally not prosecuting good cases. They complained to Sen. Domenici and Rove. Those complaints made it to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who never did his due diligence. He never called me or contacted me to see what the evidence was or get my side of the story. He simply acquiesced to the political nature of the complaints.
If Rove resists giving evidence, why can’t Congress go around him and subpoena New Mexicans like Rogers, Barnett and New Mexico GOP Chairman Allen Weh who have bragged about getting rid of you?
Counselor, now you’re thinking like a prosecutor. The president may claim privilege for Rove’s communications, but not for communications from Rogers, Barnett and Weh to Rove. You take down organizations by starting down the food chain and then you work your way up.
What’s next for David Iglesias?
I’m at a crossroads now. I’ve been spending lots of time praying about what direction to take, whether the consulting business or the lecture circuit/book-writing/network analysis route. I’ve taken two months off from work—something I haven’t done since 1984. Frankly, I’m enjoying the time off, but know I’ll be back in the saddle sometime soon. The final thing I have to say about this scandal is that it is not a liberal/conservative issue, or a Republican/Democrat issue. Rather, it is a matter of right or wrong, an issue that is either legal or illegal.
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