BOISE - Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick has come out with another hard-hitting new campaign ad about GOP rival Raul Labrador, this one focusing on a federal drug case involving an illegal immigrant that Labrador handled as an attorney in 2001.
Minnick says after Labrador got his client released pending trial, the man was deported to Mexico, thus avoiding facing the charges.
“Carlos Lopez didn’t face justice,” the ad says. “The U.S. Attorney’s office questioned Raul Labrador’s ethics, claiming that he had a ‘specific and preexisting plan’ to help Carlos flee to Mexico to avoid the charges. He was later caught after sneaking across the border again.”
Labrador called the ad “despicable” and noted that he never was charged with any ethical violation in the case. After Labrador argued for releasing his client, Carlos Araiza Lopez, with conditions requiring him to stay in Idaho pending trial, Lopez was deported to Mexico by federal authorities; Labrador then argued the charges against him should be dropped, but the court disagreed.
The Minnick campaign pointed to federal court documents in which the U.S. Attorney’s office argued strongly against dropping the charges, saying, “What the Government sees is an attorney’s specific and pre-existing plan to have his client released from this Court on standard conditions and then have him deported to Mexico so as to avoid federal charges, specifically what the United States warned the Magistrate Court to guard against in releasing him.”
Labrador called the ad “the biggest example of the lies that Mr. Minnick has said about my record,” and said, “The court released him and he went into the custody of immigration. Immigration deported him. In the ad, Mr. Minnick states that I helped my client escape. So apparently I helped my client escape by having him go into the custody of immigration.”
John Foster, spokesman for Minnick’s campaign, said, “What the U.S. Attorney’s office wrote in its response to the motion was very surprising and we thought something that people needed to know.”
He said the ad was long planned; it continues a theme from Minnick’s earlier ads, closing with, “Raul Labrador’s record on illegal immigration makes him wrong for Idaho.”
Labrador said Lopez was apprehended three years later attempting to re-enter the country, and then was convicted on charges unrelated to the original drug case.
Labrador called a press conference Thursday with Kent Nygaard, the retired Immigration and Naturalization Service special agent who handled the Lopez case and a Labrador supporter. Nygaard said there were 26 defendants in the drug case, and all of their defense attorneys argued for their clients to be released pending trial. Labrador, he said, was just doing his job.
Former U.S. Attorney Tom Moss, a Republican who served from 2001 until early this year, issued a statement saying his opinion was that Labrador “did nothing illegal or unethical,” and acted “as I would expect any competent attorney to do.”
Nygaard said, “Mr. Labrador defended his client in this matter as he was required to do under his oath and as expected by the prosecution. His actions in this case were in accordance with proper handling of a criminal case by a defense attorney.”
Responding to questions from reporters, Nygaard said he opposed the release and argued against it. “It was a continuing battle with the U.S. Magistrate’s office,” Nygaard said. “We would bring illegal aliens in, and they probably half the time would release them subject to some sort of conditions.”
Labrador and Nygaard both said Lopez was a “low-level” defendant in the case who was accused of being present when money changed hands for a drug deal. “We actually thought he had a good defense,” Labrador said, adding that there was no evidence Lopez knew of the drug deal.
Asked if he regrets getting Lopez released - rather than having him face the charges and perhaps win acquittal - Labrador said no. “It’s my job to represent my clients. I would actually lose my license if I don’t do everything I can to represent my clients,” he said.
Labrador said, “I was not charged with any wrongdoing. The charge is baseless, and it is completely dishonest.”
Minnick’s campaign stood by the ad. “Labrador is using the same argument now that he made at the time,” Foster said.