David Iglesias is the former US attorney for New Mexico. His disclosure that he was called by US Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, and US Rep. Heather Wilson, R-NM, regarding potential indictments in the Albuquerque courthouse scandal, helped trigger the congressional inquiry into the firings of Iglesias and seven other US attorneys by the Department of Justice in December. Iglesias was the keynote speaker at the June 16 Association of Alternative Newsweeklies First Amendment luncheon in Portland, Ore., and was publicly interviewed at that event by SFR Editor Julia Goldberg. What follows is an edited partial transcript of that interview.
When you got the calls from Pete Domenici and Heather Wilson, you knew that was a potential violation of the ethics guidelines; did you think about reporting them?
Sure, I did think about reporting them. The US Attorney's Manual specifies that if there is a contact like that you should report it. I felt terribly conflicted because I knew Heather Wilson; I campaigned with her back in 1998 when I ran for state attorney general. I knew Pete Domenici, obviously, since he had been my mentor. He helped with the nomination process. I was willing to give them some rope, let it slide, not thinking that it would lead to what it did. So I did actually self-report this to the media when the story first broke and I should have reported it.
In fact, when you submitted your resignation as asked, you sounded pretty sanguine—if I remember correctly you quoted Ecclesiastes. How did it come that you went from that spot to making the decision to hold the press conference and tell people what had really happened?
Right. One of the things that I've learned over the years of being a manager of people is you don't publicly criticize people's job performance; it causes all kinds of things to happen. To quote former New Mexico Gov. Bruce King, who said famously, "You open up a box of Pandoras" when you criticize people's performance, especially when you know that to be false. So in December, I started calling and e-mailing my other fired colleagues and just putting the pieces of the puzzle together and we all had loosely agreed to not go public unless the administration criticized our performance, because we all knew we were doing a good job. When Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty testified in early February that we had performance-related issues, it was go time.
And we subsequently learned that you had been pressured by New Mexico attorney Pat Rogers to prosecute voter fraud cases in New Mexico.
Pat Rogers was kind of a gatekeeper, Republican lawyer in Albuquerque. He had contacted my office and my executive assistant with allegations of massive voter fraud going on in New Mexico in 2004. We looked into it, we asked if he had any information, we'd get the FBI to send an agent over, which we did. I think the agent went there twice to interview him. He just couldn't seem to understand that US attorneys, prosecutors in general, have to rely on this little thing called evidence. We have to prove our case, we can't just rely on allegations. He never seemed to understand that—I later found out that he was representing a group called the American Center for Voting Rights, which appears to be a front organization to probably suppress voters throughout the country.
Was it communicated to US attorneys, when [US Attorney General] Alberto Gonzales came in, "This is the year of voter fraud, this is our thing, this is what we're working on"?
Well, not that directly. We would get e-mails during the election years, for instance in '02 and '04 and again in '06, [The Department of Justice] would e-mail every US attorney, and just say, "Please contact the secretary of states in your respective states, work with them, contact the voting officers, offer your assistance in prosecuting voter fraud cases." I assumed that had been the m.o. from previous administrations; I later found out that had not been the case, that there had been an increased emphasis on voter fraud investigations and prosecutions.
Can you offer some observations on the difference in for working for DOJ under [John] Ashcroft versus Gonzales?
His staff was a lot more professional, they were older, they were more experienced. I can't imagine Ashcroft putting up with some of the nonsense that Gonzales did. I realize there's lots in this room that probably have some real reservations about the [USA] Patriot Act. Ironically, that act was used as a sword against some of us US attorneys. We thought it was anti-terrorist legislation; it turns out they snuck in a provision to allow cronies to be hired as US attorneys, which none of us knew at the time. I found Ashcroft to be a straight shooter, you always knew where you stood—I actually enjoyed working with Ashcroft better than Gonzales, even though I probably have more in common with Alberto Gonzales.
You were very loyal to the Bush administration—what did you believe then and what do you believe now about this administration?
Well, I could write a book on that. In fact, maybe I will. To be honest with you, I'm still processing this. I was raised to believe that loyalty is very important, but I learned along the way that loyalty has limits. I started seeing a certain arrogance to try place DOJ above the law, the administration above the law, I'm old enough to barely remember Watergate; those of you in the room probably remember clearly the problem with if you believe you're above the law, a lot of really bad things happen. I'm still processing the damage that could be done to the rule of law and to notions like the Geneva Convention, which my former boss called quaint. It's not quaint, it's controlling law and it's what the international community has stated is the governing law. So overall I've been, you know, the loyal Bushie thing—I think I'd rather be known as loyal to the Constitution and loyal to the rule of law.
Watch the full interview on video in three parts: