Monday, March 05, 2007

"especially immigration and illegal drugs"

For those of you who've been living under a rock (or perhaps abroad?), in January a dozen or so US Attorneys were quietly fired under questionable circumstances. One had issued indictments for several Republicans, including the guy who was, by all accounts, the big cahuna in the Duke Cunningham scandal, only a couple of weeks beforehand. The attorneys will be testifying to Congress this week about the (questionable) circumstances of their firing.

One case that has become the exemplum for the entire scandal is that of the US Attorney for the state of New Mexico. It appears that, at some point during the week before the November midterms, he was contacted by two lawmakers trying to get him to speed up an indictment of a state Democrat on corruption charges. It now appears that those two lawmakers were Rep. Heather Wilson (who, you may remember, just barely survived her re-election by 875 votes out of nearly 211,000), and Senator Pete Domenici. As if it even needs to be mentioned anymore, they're both Republicans.

This weekend, both the White House and Sen. Domenici have gone into full damage control mode, as this scandal could get pretty big. And here's where I'd like to put in my 2 cents that, so far, no one else seems to have noticed. The White House/Domenici tactic from here is to paint the attorney as someone who's performance necessitated his ouster, rather than his partisanship. It also has nothing to do with filling posts with cronies or deepening the rather drained and wanting GOP bench.

We've talked a lot about "dog whistle politics" and GOP racist code in this wee corner of the blogosphere, and I feel like I'm starting to get a feel for it, and am learning where to look for it and when to expect it. Domenici, suddenly mired in bad press and staring down the barrel of his own re-election in '08, needs someone, to give him a break and come to his aid: GOP voters, those who really understand him and what New Mexico's problems are and why this attorney needed to go.

Everyone feel primed and ready?

From Sen. Domenici's statement:
During the course of the last six years, that already heavy caseload in our state has been swamped by unresolved new federal cases, especially in the areas of immigration and illegal drugs. I have asked, and my staff has asked, on many occasions whether the federal prosecutors and federal judiciary within our state had enough resources. I have been repeatedly told that we needed more resources. As a result I have introduced a variety of legislative measures, including new courthouse construction monies, to help alleviate the situation.

My conversations with [the US Attorney] over the years have been almost exclusively about this resource problem and complaints by constituents. He consistently told me that he needed more help, as have many other New Mexicans within the legal community.

My frustration with the U.S. Attorney’s office mounted as we tried to get more resources for it, but public accounts indicated an inability within the office to move more quickly on cases.[emphasis mine]

Why was the highlighted snippet so important to add? What bearing does it have on his larger point? Ahh, more important to the question (remember your audience) is, what kind of US Attorney would be neglectful of immigration and drugs cases in New Mexico and would be constantly asking for more government aid and more American dollars to do a job that, one would assume, other US Attorneys have done without extra it?

Meet United States Attorney David Iglesias.


matt crosier said...

Does Domenici's statement even make sense? Ignacius told him he needed more help and Domenici seems to agree that he needed it... but then Domenici got upset when the office was swamped and moving too slowly... isn't that a result of the lack of help Domenici recognized and supposedly fought for? Talking out both sides of his mouth much?
Anyhoo, in addition, I would just note another rather funny case in this executive coup. My criminal procedure prof this morning felt the need to comment on the dismissal of the US Attorney who led the charge against Duke Cunningham. Always intersting when recent events make it into class, especially when the recent events have nothing to do with the particular subject of the day.
I would also note something that I haven't had a chance to research yet. My prof noted something about the removal or perhaps the appointment of replacements being based at least in part on an obscure part of the patriot act. According to this link,, a section of the renewed patriot act gives my favorite fellow Texan, Mr. Gonzales, the ability to appoint interim replacements for these recently terminated prosecutors. Apparently the difference between this and previous law is that interim US attorneys could only hold the post for 120 days without either being nominated for a full position, or, having a judge nominate a replacement. I would assume this is an end run around the consent and approval of the senate (article 2, section 2), or something similar for lower ranking positions.
On a final note, as I was reading in the Times about the US attorney in Maryland being fired (apparently for investigating the republican governor for misappropriation of funds) it sruck me that these cases are amusingly similar to basic employment law cases. The justice department claims that the firings were justified based on performance, despite DOJ produced documents to the contrary. Good to know the federal gov, who has given and more recently removed many of our employment laws, meager though they may be, can't follow them any better than private employers. Maybe we should allow the US attorneys to unionize like the TSA employees...

El Ranchero said...

Or, put another way, this is why we enacted employment/unionization laws in the first place. Without them, victims have no redress when this kind of thing happens and we suffer in so many respects, from job security to equality in the workplace to the quality of the services we pay good money for.

An important note about Carol Lam, the US Attorney that prosecuted the Cunningham case, is that just before her "departure" she issued fresh indictments that blew that case wide open (one such figure was Brent Wilkes, defense contractor/lobbyist extraordinaire, and another was Dusty Foggo, the former executive director of the CIA). You may be right on with the "end run" bit, though certainly an aspect of these firings, as well, was the need to deepen the Bushite neoconservative bench for future judgeships and whatnot, as members of the Administration have admitted. A less generous interpretation would be patronage. It's a pretty disgusting use of presidential power, but a legal one nonetheless.

The big question then becomes, "are we comfortable with US Attorneys becoming patronage posts for partisan operatives?"

grimsaburger said...

I did hear about this--in fact when I was still on northern Indiana soil, and the bells went off in my head so loud I frantically searched far and wide on the intertubes for more info, and all I found was thru TPMcafe. All I gotsta say is thank Jeebus something is happening on this story in regular news, because I felt a little crazy for a while...