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The New Mexico Situation

I’ve resisted the temptation to write on the ongoing problem with New Mexico’s former US Attorney David Iglesias, his firing, subsequent congressional testimony, and fallout from the comments of people in NM who should know better.

I was raised in New Mexico and lived there until I was 29. I served as the Communications Director, Deputy Director and Executive Director of the New Mexico GOP at various times between 1995 and 2003. I’ve worked closely with just about everyone involved in this case with the exception of the current Chairman, and I like all of them. However, the stunning lack of judgment that is on display has made me speak out.

Unlike a lot of bloggers, I’m squarely on the side of David Iglesias. He’s a good guy. He was a lazy candidate, but he’s a decent person.

The public relations disaster in which the Administration finds itself is entirely of its own making. The Justice Department screwed this up terribly. The minute that they alleged the firings (universally) were due to performance problems, they should have seen this going down in exactly this way.

If you are asked to leave a company, for whatever reason, and you come to a deal with your former employer to make the transition smooth, you expect them to honor that. The last thing you would expect to see is the guys you just left trashing you in the media, and making you sound incompetent.

According to both his internal performance reviews and the White House’s own list of poor performing USAs, Iglesias was doing a good job. His firing, based on news reports, seems to be entirely a function of his refusal to rush an investigation and issue indictments simply so his party would benefit at the polls.

Sampson sent an e-mail to Miers in March 2005 that ranked all 93 U.S. attorneys. Strong performers “exhibited loyalty” to the administration; low performers were “weak U.S. attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.” A third group merited no opinion.

At least a dozen prosecutors were on a “target list” to be fired at one time or another, the e-mails show.

Only three of those eventually fired were given low rankingsTwo were given strong evaluations: [including] David C. Iglesias in Albuquerque, who has alleged political interference from GOP lawmakers…

In September, Sampson produced another list of firing candidates

Iglesias, the New Mexico prosecutor, was not on that list. Justice officials said Sampson added him in October… [emphasis mine]

In other words, Iglesias was doing a good job, had been loyal to the Administration, was pushing the Bush agenda. All that good came to an end when he refused to issue bogus indictments.

Now I don’t believe for a minute that Domenici intended to pressure Iglesias. His style is sometimes rough, but I have always known him to be a good guy. I have been on the receiving end of a couple of calls from him and I know the feeling Iglesias describes as a pit in the stomach. It’s more a reaction to his position than it is to him. I think he may sometimes lose sight of the position he holds in the eyes of others.

That said, I believe the blame for this debacle rests solely on the shoulders of the Justice Department. They screwed this up, and screwed it up badly. There were about a dozen ways they could have handled this better. None of them involved a public proclamation challenging the competence of people who otherwise had been party loyalists for years.

I am pleased to see Sampson resign, but I do not believe his head should be the last to roll.

I don’t want a US Attorney who will misuse the power of his office just to ensure Republican electoral victory. If we truly believe, as Ken Mehlman, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove have all said, that our party is built on the strength of our ideas, then why do we need to fast track indictments against Democrats to win? And why do we feel the need to punish and slander those who follow the law?

Anyone in the Department of Justice or the White House who has willingly misused the power of law to pursue political goals should be run out as well. When they’re fired, by the American people, they’ll truly know what it means to lose your job for poor performance.

Written by Michael Turk