Thursday, March 01, 2007

U.S. Attorney Claims Political Pressure Led To His Firing

A political tempest over the mass firing of federal prosecutors escalated yesterday with allegations from the departing U.S. attorney in New Mexico, who said that two members of Congress attempted to pressure him to speed up a probe of Democrats just before the November elections.

David C. Iglesias, who left yesterday after more than five years in office, said he received the calls in October and believes that complaints from the lawmakers may have led the Justice Department to fire him late last year. ...

Iglesias declined to name the lawmakers who called him, but he said in an interview: "I didn't give them what they wanted. That was probably a political problem that caused them to go to the White House or whomever and complain that I wasn't a team player."

Iglesias's allegations were met with strong denials from the Justice Department yesterday but prompted the Democratic-controlled House and Senate judiciary committees to announce that they would issue subpoenas for testimony from Iglesias and other fired prosecutors if necessary. Iglesias said he would not testify unless subpoenaed.

Spokesmen for Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and the state's two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Tom Udall, said the lawmakers and their staffs had no contact with Iglesias about the case. The offices of New Mexico's two other Republican lawmakers, Sen. Pete V. Domenici and Rep. Heather A. Wilson, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. ...

Iglesias was among seven U.S. attorneys notified by phone on Dec. 7 that they were being fired without explanation. An eighth prosecutor, in Little Rock, also was removed in December, to make room for a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove.

The charges by Iglesias added a new dimension to the ongoing controversy over the fired prosecutors, at least four of whom were presiding over major public-corruption probes. Although other fired prosecutors have publicly defended their records, they have never alleged that political pressure related to an ongoing criminal investigation played a role in their dismissals.

In addition to Iglesias's probe of Democrats, fired prosecutors in Arizona, Nevada and California were conducting corruption probes involving Republicans at the time of their dismissals.

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