This article first appeared in the New York Law Journal and is reprinted with permission.
New York Law Journal
1/30/2009 NYLJ 6, (col. 1)
Copyright 2009 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved.
In Justice: Inside The Scandal That Rocked The Bush Administration
By David Iglesias with Davin Seay, Wiley & Sons Inc., N.Y. 256 pages, $25.95
Reviewed by Jenny Rivera
The firing of several U.S. attorneys in 2006 became part of a scandal implicating officials from the Department of Justice, the former U.S. attorney general, members of Congress, and the White House.
The scandal involved claims that politicians and department colleagues pressured federal prosecutors to pursue cases for political ends and terminated those U.S. attorneys who failed to deliver on party demands.
Former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias in his personal account, 'In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration,' provides the reader with an insider's look into the terminations and the world of federal political appointments and Washington, D.C., politics.
On Dec. 7, 2006, Mr. Iglesias was asked to resign because 'the administration wants to go a different way.' He describes the emotional roller coaster of being fired without warning, his sense of loss and confusion and his growing anger as he comes to the conclusion that politics motivated his termination and that of several other former U.S. Attorneys fired on that same day.
Reading 'In Justice,' we are lead to the conclusion that Republicans and the White House sought to use the position and authority of U.S. attorneys to influence elections and to secure control of the Legislative Branch. Mr. Iglesias informs the reader that, '...U.S. attorneys wielded the power to wreak havoc on the electoral process if they so intended' and that the fired U.S. attorneys 'were just collateral damage in a larger battle to refashion government to reflect the ideals and the values of a single partisan agenda.'
In its candid description of the events surrounding Mr. Iglesias' appointment and termination the reader is led through a troubling description of the U.S. attorney appointment process and party demands for ideological loyalty. Mr. Iglesias recounts his rise to prominence, the highly politicized nature of how he came to the attention of his mentor and sponsor, Republican Senator from New Mexico Pete Domenici, and his reliance on the support of his political mentor and Republican supporters to secure a job that he describes as 'part of the spoils system that has been a fixture of the American political landscape since the founding of this country.' We learn about the political connections and the 'display of loyalty' required to gain Republican Party support and how he needed to come 'to the attention of the right people.'
Mr. Iglesias viewed the growing political muscle of the Latino community in New Mexico and his ethnicity ('the ethnic factor' as he calls it) as assets in his quest for elected office and his successful appointment as a U.S. attorney. He admits that he was opportunistic, but he tells the reader that he 'was genuinely excited about the prospect of a Bush presidency.'
Despite the obvious politics involved in securing his appointment, Mr. Iglesias asserts that he genuinely believed that the integrity associated with the office of
U.S. attorney assured that he would be able to make independent decisions based on the merits of the cases. He did not believe he would be part of the political battleground that is Washington, D.C., and that had been the hallmark of the administration and Congress since George W. Bush took office in 2001. While the reader is hard-pressed to accept that a politically-savvy Mr. Iglesias was so naive as to believe that there was not some measure of political loyalty expected beyond just doing a good job, he makes a case for his position that it was well-established that the office of U.S. attorney demands a certain independence regardless of political affiliation.
Mr. Iglesias describes his outrage at discovering that the Bush administration did not share this view of the office. He is particularly harsh on former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Mr. Iglesias states that, '[i]t was his job to protect the integrity of the institution he led, and in that respect, Alberto Gonzales was a miserable failure.'
The book is an eye opener for anyone unfamiliar with Washington politics and the office of the U.S. attorney.
Mr. Iglesias' description of pressure to pursue cases is haunting and deeply troubling. The reader is faced with a harsh look at law and politics and the significant questions of why we should care about the termination of U.S. attorneys pressured by an overzealous White House.
Those who serve as a U.S. attorney have tremendous discretion and, as Mr. Iglesias informs us, they 'are empowered to take away your life, liberty and property.' As the new administration takes shape and announces appointments, the story of the
U.S. attorneys scandal is a reminder of the importance of political independence for those charged with making such important decisions and the need to reestablish the integrity of the office.
JENNY RIVERA is director of the Center on Latino and Latina Rights and Equality and a professor of law at CUNY School of Law in Flushing.