Gonzales Eight: political pressure on Judges


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

March 8, 2007
The Gonzales Eight

Americans often suspect that their political leaders are arrogant and out of 
touch. But even then it is nearly impossible to fathom what self-delusion could 
have convinced Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico that he had a right to call a
federal prosecutor at home and question him about a politically sensitive 

That disturbing tale is one of several revealed this week in Congressional 
hearings called to look into the firing of eight United States attorneys. The 
hearings left little doubt that the Bush administration had all eight ‹ an 
unprecedented number ‹ ousted for political reasons. But it points to even wider
abuse; prosecutors suggest that three Republican members of Congress may have 
tried to pressure the attorneys into doing their political bidding.

It already seemed clear that the Bush administration¹s purge had trampled on 
prosecutorial independence. Now Congress and the Justice Department need to 
investigate possible ethics violations, and perhaps illegality. Two of the fired
prosecutors testified that they had been dismissed after resisting what they 
suspected were importunings to use their offices to help Republicans win 
elections. A third described what may have been a threat of retaliation if he 
talked publicly about his firing.

David Iglesias, who was removed as the United States attorney in Albuquerque, 
said that he was first contacted before last fall¹s election by Representative 
Heather Wilson, Republican of New Mexico. Ms. Wilson, who was in a tough 
re-election fight, asked about sealed indictments ‹ criminal charges that are 
not public.

Two weeks later, he said, he got a call from Senator Pete Domenici, Republican 
of New Mexico, asking whether he intended to indict Democrats before the 
election in a high-profile corruption case. When Mr. Iglesias said no, he said, 
Mr. Domenici replied that he was very sorry to hear it, and the line went dead. 
Mr. Iglesias said he¹d felt ³sick.² Within six weeks, he was fired. Ms. Wilson 
and Mr. Domenici both deny that they had tried to exert pressure.

John McKay of Seattle testified that the chief of staff for Representative Doc 
Hastings, Republican of Washington, called to ask whether he intended to 
investigate the 2004 governor¹s race, which a Democrat won after two recounts. 
Mr. McKay says that when he went to the White House later to discuss a possible 
judicial nomination (which he did not get), he was told of concerns about how 
he¹d handled the election. H. E. Cummins, a fired prosecutor from Arkansas, said
that a Justice Department official, in what appeared to be a warning, said that 
if he kept talking about his firing, the department would release negative 
information about him.

Congress must keep demanding answers. It must find out who decided to fire these
prosecutors and why, and who may have authorized putting pressure on Mr. 
Cummins. And it must look into whether Senator Domenici and Representatives 
Wilson and Hastings violated ethics rules that forbid this sort of interference.
We hope the House committee will not be deterred by the fact that Mr. Hastings 
is its ranking Republican. The Justice Department also needs to open its own 
investigation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales¹s claim that these prosecutors 
were fired for poor performance was always difficult to believe. Now it¹s 

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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