Politicians from both sides of the aisle are demanding answers for the abrupt and mysterious firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year. Both the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Juduiciary subcommittee have authorized the use of subpoenas to extract testimony from White House aides as to whether the dismissals were politically motivated.
Lost in the political bickering and accusations of scandal, the lives and careers of eight former U.S. attorneys stand to fain or lose the most from the debate.
In denying political motivations for the firings, administration officials have accused the dismissed federal prosecutors of poor performance, a charge that harms their vocational futures and does not square with performance records.
According to a USA Today analysis of court records, three of the ousted attorneys ranked in the top 10 of the nation's 93 federal attorneys for prosecutions and convictions. Paul Charlton of Phoenix, Carol Lam of San Diego, and David Iglesias of New Mexico were among the most productive lawyers in the land.
Iglesias, whose impassioned prosecution inspired the character played by Tom Cruise in the 1992 film A Few Good Men, is convinced his firing had nothing to do with performance and everything to do with politics. "If I'm not 100 percent sure, I'm pretty close," he told WORLD. "Ultimately what's at stake is to what degree United States attorneys are going to be independent of interference by politicians." The Panamanian-born Iglesias is the son of missionaries and graduated from Wheaton College before attending the University of New Mexico's law school.
Despite mounting pressure on the White House, President George W. Bush remains resolutely opposed to his aides making any sworn, public statements on the matter. He proposes private interviews as an alternative, an offer that Sen. Patrick Leahy and other investigating lawmakers hotly reject. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chair of the Judiciary Committee, said Bush's offer of a closed-door meeting with no oaths or transcripts amounts to nothing.
House minority leader John Boehner countered that Leahy and other Democrats are more interested in grandstanding than finding the truth. And White House spokesman Tony Snow called the Bush offer generous and said it provides sufficient means for Congress to learn what happened. Bush admits the Justice Department made mistakes in how it handled the firings but maintains political motivation played no part.
Should Democrats issue subpoenas, Snow said Bush would withdraw his proposal for voluntary cooperation, potentially sparking a drawn-out legal battle over executive privilege. The president seems poised to hold steady for such a showdown and has demonstrated similar resolve in his unwavering support of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whom many Democrats believe should resign.
In the run-up to last November's election, Iglesias received two phone calls from prominent Republicans in his state asking about sealed indictments of corruption against local Democrats. The experienced attorney evaded the questions of Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), per his legal obligation not to discuss the case. When Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) called soon after to inquire if he planned to file charges before November, Iglesias said he didn't think so. Domenici expressed disappointment and abruptly hung up.
Iglesias received a call from the Justice Department several weeks later asking for his resignation. He was shocked: "I asked main justice why, and the response I got was, 'I don't know, and I don't think I want to know.' That was troubling, because normally when you tell someone it's time to move on, you at least give them a reason.
Iglesias has taken heat from some New Mexico Republicans for speaking out in the wake of his dismissal. He says he's not out for vengeance, just an honest answer for why he and his colleagues were fired: "What would really settle this in my mind is a written retraction from the Justice Department, stating that performance was not the true basis."