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Fired U.S. Attorneys Tell All

March 5, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Today, four subpoenaed U.S. attorneys who have been fired by the Bush administration in the last three months will undergo questioning in two separate congressional hearings. David Iglesias, Carol Lam, Bud Cummins, and John McKay will testify about the conditions surrounding their dismissals — first, before the Senate Judiciary Committee at 10 AM, then again before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law at 2 PM. At the house hearing, the four prosecutors will be joined by fellow fired U.S. attorneys Paul Charlton and Daniel Bogden. The hearings will focus on whether these prosecutors were fired by the Bush administration for poor performance, or for Repubilcans’ political advantage.

You can get streaming video of the proceedings from C-SPAN throughout the day, or check in with your favorite blogs to keep up with the details of the hearings as they are happening.

So far, the news about these firings has mainly revolved around the case involving former U.S. attorney David Iglesias. Iglesis said that he had received phone calls from two members of Congress questioning him about a case involving an alleged Democratic kickback scheme that was ongoing in the months leading up to the 2007 midterm elections. Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico (pictured at right) has come forward and admitted that he contacted Iglesias to question him about the time frame of the case. Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM) is expected to be named by Iglesias today as the other inquiring lawmaker . The suspicion is that Domenici (and Wilson) helped to get Iglesias fired as retaliation for his failure to bring the case to a conclusion soon enough that it could be used against Democrats in the November, 7 election.

Indeed, Domenici has said that he was concerned with Iglesias’ “inability” to “move more quickly on cases.” TPM put up some data that illustrates the pace that Iglesias worked at.

>In 2001, when Iglesias took over, the data (pdf) shows a median of 4.6 months for a criminal case in the New Mexico office to move from filing to disposition (dismissal, guilty plea, or trial). In 2005, that time had dwindled to 3.7 months.
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>And that’s a time when Iglesias’ office was increasingly snowed under by more cases. His office opened 1,548 criminal cases in 2001; in 2005, the office opened 2,915.
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>So Iglesias’ office was opening more cases and handling them faster than his predecessor.

Ed Morrissey, at The Captain’s Quarters blog, suggests that there may be some evidence that Domenici’s request for Iglesia’s dismissal has to do with a deeper history of dissatisfaction.

>…it doesn’t appear that the corruption investigation was the entire issue for Domenici’s request to remove Iglesias. Despite recommending him to the incoming Bush administration in 2001 for his position, Iglesias had become a frustration for the Senator by 2004. Domenici started filing complaints with the DoJ at that time about Iglesias’ performance. That certainly shows a mitigating context for the other calls, but not enough to shake the perception that Domenici pressured the US Attorney into charging Democrats with corruption to get campaign fodder just in time for an October surprise.

Chris Cillizza, at the Washington Post’s The Fix blog, has some predictions of how the charges against Domenici and Wilson could play out in the 2008 elections.

>If Domenici chooses to retire (whatever his reasons), it remains to be seen whether the firing of Iglesias will remain a campaign issue. If Wilson is implicated, it could damage her chances of winning the Republican Senate nomination. She is widely seen as the heir to Domenici’s political legacy. Pearce, too, has expressed interest in the Senate seat if it comes open.
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>An open Senate seat would be a major pickup opportunity for Democrats. The state is one of the most evenly divided along partisan lines in the country. Former Vice President Al Gore won it by just over 300 votes in 2000; four years later George Bushtriumphed by less than 6,000 votes.
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>The Democratic field is entirely unformed at the moment. But, if Domenici retires, considerable pressure would be brought to bear on Gov. Bill Richardson (D) to consider switching from the presidential race to a Senate contest. Udall also would consider the race in an open seat scenario.

Paul Blumenthal, at the Sunlight Foundation’s In Broad Daylight blog, has some background info on the other attorneys that will be testifying tommorow, as well as more links to news about Igleasias and Domenici.

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