WASHINGTON – A political tempest over the mass firing of federal prosecutors escalated Wednesday with allegations from the departing U.S. attorney in New Mexico, who said that two members of Congress attempted to pressure him to speed up a probe of Democrats just before the November elections.
David Iglesias, who left Wednesday after more than five years in office, said he received the calls in October and believes that complaints from the lawmakers may have led the Justice Department to fire him late last year.
Iglesias also responded to allegations from Justice officials that he had performed poorly and was too often absent, citing positive job reviews and data showing increasing numbers of prosecutions. He also noted that he is required to serve 40 days a year in the Navy Reserve.
Iglesias declined to name the lawmakers who called him, but he said in an interview: “I didn’t give them what they wanted. That was probably a political problem that caused them to go to the White House or whomever and complain that I wasn’t a team player.”
Iglesias’ allegations were met with strong denials from the Justice Department on Wednesday but prompted the Democrat-controlled House and Senate judiciary committees to announce that they would issue subpoenas for testimony from Iglesias and other fired prosecutors if necessary. Iglesias said he would not testify unless subpoenaed.
Spokesmen for Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and the state’s two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Tom Udall, said the lawmakers and their staffs had no contact with Iglesias about the case. The offices of New Mexico’s two other Republican lawmakers, Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse called Iglesias’ allegations “flatly false.” Roehrkasse said that Iglesias should have reported any calls from lawmakers, as required under department guidelines.
In briefings about the firings on Capitol Hill, Justice Department officials had said that Iglesias was the target of complaints from members of Congress, according to several sources familiar with the meetings who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The briefers did not specify the nature of those complaints, the sources said.
Iglesias, 49 and the son of a Baptist minister, is a Navy Reserve commander whose role as a defense lawyer in a famous military hazing case was the basis for the Tom Cruise character in the movie “A Few Good Men.”
Iglesias was among seven U.S. attorneys notified by phone on Dec. 7 that they were being fired without explanation. An eighth prosecutor, in Little Rock, Ark., also was removed in December, to make room for a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove.
The charges by Iglesias added a new dimension to the ongoing controversy over the fired prosecutors. Although other fired prosecutors have publicly defended their records, they have never alleged that political pressure related to an ongoing criminal investigation played a role in their dismissals.
In addition to Iglesias’ probe of Democrats, fired prosecutors in Arizona, Nevada and California were conducting corruption probes involving Republicans at the time of their dismissals.