Fired U.S. at­tor­ney tells of a lunch with pol­i­tics on the menu

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - By Tom Ham­burger

wash­ing­ton — Weeks be­fore the 2006 midterm elec­tion, thenNew Mex­ico U.S. Atty. David C. Igle­sias was in­vited to dine with a well-con­nected Repub­li­can lawyer in Al­bu­querque who had been af­ter him for years to pros­e­cute al­le­ga­tions of voter fraud.

“I had a bad feel­ing about that lunch,” said Igle­sias, de­scrib­ing his meet­ing at Pap­padeaux Seafood Kitchen with Pa­trick Rogers, a lawyer who pro­vided oc­ca­sional coun­sel to the New Mex­ico Repub­li­can Party.

When the voter fraud is­sue came up, Igle­sias said, he ex­plained to Rogers that in re­view­ing more than 100 com­plaints, he hadn’t found any solid enough to jus­tify crim­i­nal charges.

Igle­sias re­counted the episode in an in­ter­view with The Times af­ter meet­ing be­hind closed doors with fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors this week to pro­vide new de­tails of the events lead­ing up to his ter­mi­na­tion as U.S. at­tor­ney. He said he now be­lieved he was tar­geted be­cause he was seen as slow to bring crim­i­nal charges that would have helped GOP elec­tion prospects.

Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors are ex­am­in­ing whether elec­toral con­sid­er­a­tions — such as a broader Repub­li­can ini­tia­tive to en­force anti-fraud rules and cull ques­tion­able vot­ers from rolls na­tion­wide — played a part in the ter­mi­na­tion of Igle­sias and other U.S. at­tor­neys last year.

The Igle­sias case has at­tracted spe­cial at­ten­tion be­cause the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has had dif­fi­culty de­fend­ing his dis­missal as be­ing non­po­lit­i­cal, es­pe­cially af­ter Igle­sias re­vealed that two Repub­li­can mem­bers of Congress had called him be­fore Novem­ber’s elec­tion to ask about a cor­rup­tion case against New Mex­ico Democrats.

Igle­sias’ ac­count of the lunch meet­ing with Rogers, not pre­vi­ously re­ported, raises new ques-

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[ tions about po­lit­i­cal pres­sures ap­plied to U.S. at­tor­neys re­lated to voter fraud and other mat­ters.

Rogers con­firmed the lunch meet­ing but dis­puted parts of Igle­sias’ ac­count, say­ing Igle­sias had been chang­ing his story “de­pend­ing on what he needs to do to keep the story alive, get me­dia at­ten­tion and write an­other chap­ter of his book.”

Dis­cus­sion of voter fraud

Igle­sias has told re­porters and in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he is speak­ing out be­cause his rep­u­ta­tion has been as­saulted and be­cause po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions were pushed im­prop­erly into the once-sacro­sanct area of pros­e­cu­to­rial dis­cre­tion.

“I be­lieve the pri­mary rea­son for my forced res­ig­na­tion is that I was not en­gaged in fil­ing crim­i­nal com­plaints . . . in ad­vance of the ’06 elec­tion,” Igle­sias said in an in­ter­view af­ter his three-hour meet­ing with the Of­fice of Spe­cial Coun­sel.

Jus­tice De­part­ment spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, “The de­part­ment did not and would not ask for the res­ig­na­tion of any in­di­vid­ual, in­clud­ing Mr. Igle­sias, in or­der to in­ter­fere with or in­flu­ence a par­tic­u­lar pros­e­cu­tion for par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal gain.”

Al­though most of the seven other U.S. at­tor­neys fired last year have not com­plained as ag­gres­sively, the dis­missals have cre­ated a cascade of em­bar­rass­ments for the de­part­ment and Atty. Gen. Al­berto R. Gon­za­les, who faces a “no con­fi­dence” vote in the Se­nate next week.

This week, an­other fired U.S. at­tor­ney who has said he felt pres­sure on voter fraud cases, John McKay of Seat­tle, said he thought in­ter­fer­ence with Igle­sias and other prose­cu­tors amounted to “pos­si­ble ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.” He pre­dicted that a crim­i­nal in­quiry would be launched. He said he felt pres­sure to bring voter fraud charges in his dis­trict af­ter a 129-vote mar­gin put a Demo­cratic gov­er­nor into of­fice in Wash­ing­ton.

“Suf­fice it to say that we thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gated [the elec­tion] at ev­ery ap­pro­pri­ate turn. My job is to look at the ev­i­dence, and frankly, there wasn’t any ev­i­dence of a crime,” McKay said.

Igle­sias reached a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion af­ter re­view­ing voter fraud al­le­ga­tions in New Mex­ico.

Rogers said Igle­sias had adopted the Democrats’ view of elec­tion fraud, dis­miss­ing a se­ri­ous prob­lem as the imag­in­ings of fever­ish par­ti­sans.

In fact, both ma­jor par­ties work as­sid­u­ously to in­ter­pret elec­tion laws in their fa­vor, par­tic­u­larly in bat­tle­ground states where elec­tions can be de­cided by thin mar­gins.

Rogers, Igle­sias re­called, had pressed him in 2004 and then again just be­fore the 2006 elec­tion to push for voter fraud con­vic­tions in the state. Igle­sias said he was so con­cerned about the pro­pri­ety of the pre­elec­tion get­to­gether with Rogers that he asked a col­league from the of­fice to join him as a wit­ness.

Rogers, reached by tele­phone in Al­bu­querque, re­called a brief dis­cus­sion of voter fraud at the lunch, but he chal­lenged much of Igle­sias’ ac­count.

Rogers said the pri­mary pur­pose of the gath­er­ing was to dis­cuss the U.S. at­tor­ney’s fail­ure to move on cor­rup­tion cases, not voter fraud. Rogers also said that it was he who in­vited the other em­ployee of the of­fice to at­tend and that he was pre­sent­ing them with con­cerns of oth­ers in law en­force­ment, in­clud­ing con­cerns raised in a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle that de­scribed how the FBI had fin­ished its work on a pub­lic cor­rup­tion mat­ter and turned it over to the U.S. at­tor­ney.

Rogers ac­knowl­edged he had chal­lenged Igle­sias in the past to re­view in­stances of al­leged voter fraud and said he was shocked that Igle­sias launched a task force on the broad is­sue rather than pur­su­ing spe­cific cases.

‘Ab­sen­tee land­lord’

Un­be­knownst to Igle­sias, a few months be­fore that lunch, Rogers and an­other Repub­li­can at­tor­ney from New Mex­ico, Mickey Bar­nett, had com­plained about Igle­sias at the Jus­tice De­part­ment in Wash­ing­ton. The ses­sion was ar­ranged with the as­sis­tance of the de­part­ment’s then-White House li­ai­son, Mon­ica M. Goodling, and an aide to White House po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Karl Rove, ac­cord­ing to e-mails re­leased re­cently by con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

One of those they met with was Matthew Friedrich, a se­nior coun­selor to Gon­za­les. Friedrich would meet again with Rogers and Bar­nett in New Mex­ico, where, he told con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors, the pair com­plained about Igle­sias. They made it clear “that they did not want him to be the U.S. at­tor­ney. . . . They men­tioned that they had com­mu­ni­cated that with Sen. Domenici, and they also men­tioned Karl Rove,” Friedrich said, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script pro­vided by con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Pete V. Domenici is a Repub­li­can U.S. sen­a­tor in New Mex­ico.

Igle­sias has said that he be­lieves “all roads lead to Rove” in ex­plain­ing the dis­missals and that he is count­ing on the Of­fice of Spe­cial Coun­sel to find the truth.

That ob­scure of­fice is charged with en­forc­ing the Hatch Act, which for­bids the use of fed­eral re­sources for elec­toral pur­poses, and an­other law pro­tect­ing mil­i­tary ser­vice mem­bers from dis­crim­i­na­tion. Igle­sias, who is in the Naval Re­serve, says he be­lieves his ter­mi­na­tion vi­o­lated the Hatch Act and the Uni­formed Ser­vices Em­ploy­ment and Reem­ploy­ment Rights Act.

“I rec­og­nize the in­her­ent power of the pres­i­dent to re­move his peo­ple — but he can’t do it for just any rea­son,” Igle­sias said in the in­ter­view. “There are some rea­sons you can’t re­move some­one.” Those rea­sons in­clude an un­will­ing­ness to co­op­er­ate with a plan to help one po­lit­i­cal party over an­other, he said.

In talk­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors, Igle­sias cir­cled back to Goodling’s hand­writ­ten notes, ob­tained last month by the House and Se­nate Ju­di­ciary com­mit­tees, which in­cluded a list of rea­sons for the eight fir­ings.

Next to Igle­sias’ name, she wrote: “Domenici says he doesn’t move cases” and later the words “ab­sen­tee land­lord.” Domenici has ac­knowl­edged call­ing Igle­sias last fall but says he ap­plied no pres­sure. He had been up­set with what he per­ceived as Igle­sias’ in­ac­tion, and he also called Gon­za­les, Rove and Pres­i­dent Bush.

Goodling’s “ab­sen­tee land­lord” com­plaint, re­peated later by oth­ers in the de­part­ment, galls Igle­sias. The for­mer pros­e­cu­tor says his only ab­sence be­sides rou­tine vacation was for re­quired ser­vice — up to 45 days a year — in the Naval Re­serve.

“It was ab­so­lutely ir­ri­tat­ing to have a 33-year-old non­ca­r­eer Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cial say th­ese things and not do her due dili­gence to check them out,” he said.

He said he be­lieved it was a breach of the law to get rid of a pros­e­cu­tor be­cause he was com­plet­ing re­quired mil­i­tary ser­vice.

When the de­part­ment first asked him to re­sign, Igle­sias says he was “con­tent to leave qui­etly.” But the 49-year-old, who was a model for the char­ac­ter played by Tom Cruise in the movie “A Few Good Men,” said he had be­come in­creas­ingly irate as he learned about the pres­sures that might have led to his forced res­ig­na­tion and as he heard the pub­lic rea­sons of­fered to ex­plain his de­par­ture.

De­spite Jus­tice De­part­ment de­nials, he in­sists: “There was an il­le­git­i­mate ba­sis for their ef­fort to re­move me. It was po­lit­i­cal.” tom.ham­burger@la­times.com Times staff writer Richard B. Sch­mitt con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Chip So­mod­ev­illa Getty Images

DAVID C. IGLE­SIAS The for­mer New Mex­ico fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor says he was tar­geted by the GOP.

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