Last week, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine released the findings of an investigation into the Bush administration’s firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias and eight of his colleagues.
Iglesias spoke about his experience at the Yale Law School on Tuesday night as part of a panel sponsored by the Political Science Department. Iglesias was joined on the panel by Law School professor Drew S. Days III and Newsweek investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff. Political science lecturer Stanley Flink led the panel’s discussion, on the subject “What ever happened to the Justice Department?”
Iglesias said he was fired for failing to heed the calls of two prominent New Mexico Republican congressmen to begin a political prosecution.
“Senator Pete Domenici, my former mentor, and [Rep.] Heather Wilson called me at home, on my cell phone, asking me to expedite indicting a leading Democrat before the 2006 midterm election,” he said.
Administration officials claimed that Iglesias and his colleagues were fired for performance-related reasons.
According to Isikoff, the inspector general’s report proved without a doubt that he was fired for political reasons.
“With regard to David Iglesias, the evidence is incontrovertible and incredibly disturbing,” he said.
Iglesias said the public is entitled to hear the truth about political meddling in the affairs of U.S. attorneys.
“American citizens have a right to know if there was an attempt to illegally politicize the Justice Department,” he said.
Iglesias said he was concerned by many of the findings in the inspector general’s report.
“Most troubling to me was the revelation that the administration was questioning the politics of career assistant U.S. attorneys, who generally serve over multiple administrations,” he said. “It is not a matter of right or left — it is one of right and wrong.”
“This is about maintaining the independence of the U.S. attorneys,” he added.
Days, a former solicitor general in the administration of Bill Clinton LAW ’73 and assistant attorney general for civil rights under President Jimmy Carter, discussed the historical nature of the firings.
“There has been a strong tradition in the Justice Department of freedom from [political] interference,” he said. “This is reminiscent of [President Richard] Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre.”
In 1973, Nixon’s controversial firing of independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox and the subsequent resignations of the attorney general and deputy attorney general were part of the president’s efforts to cover up the Watergate scandal.
Iglesias said he does not need or even want his old post back.
““This is not about losing my job — this scandal goes to the heart of the criminal justice system in which U.S. attorneys should make decisions solely based upon the evidence and the law,” he said. “It is about ensuring the rule of law in this country.”
All of the panelists lauded last week’s decision by Attorney General Michael Mukasey LAW ’69 to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate any wrongdoing, but they questioned whether anything would come of it.
“Unless you have direct testimony or a smoking gun, I think it would be a really hard criminal case to try,” Isikoff said.
Iglesias agreed, saying all he wants is vindication.
“The inspector general examined every reason given about why I was fired and called it all baloney,” he said. “All I want is a retraction — I want something on the current attorney general’s letterhead that says that I was not fired for performance-related issues.”
The discussion as a whole was well-received by students, faculty and guests in the audience, who often interrupted with applause.
“I think it is a very important issue, and one that the public should become more aware of,” Amy Larsen ’10 said.
Iglesias, for his part, said he is surprised that the issue of political meddling in the Justice Department has not yet become a factor in the presidential election.
“This issue has attracted remarkably little attention this election cycle,” he said in an interview with the News after the panel. “Whoever wins next month will have to depoliticize the Justice Department.”