U.S. attorney scandal smacks of Watergate

President Bush gave Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a vote of confidence last week. But labor, peace and civil rights activists in New Mexico are raising sharp questions about Gonzales’ firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, suggesting it was revenge for Iglesias’ failure to carry out the White House agenda just before the Nov. 7 elections.

Meanwhile new revelations in Washington point to the role of Karl Rove and other White House officials in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys for failing to aggressively pursue the GOP’s grab for total power.

Chris Chavez, New Mexico Federation of Labor executive director, told the World lawmakers should further investigate Republican Sen. Pete Domenici’s role in Iglesias’ firing.

“Most definitely the Senate should get to the bottom of that,” Chavez said, referring to Domenici’s telephone call to Iglesias a few weeks before the elections, asking Iglesias if he planned to announce indictments of Democrats on corruption charges before Election Day. When Iglesias said no, Domenici snapped, “I’m very sorry to hear that,” and hung up.

Two weeks earlier, Iglesias received a call from Rep. Heather Wilson, the state’s Republican congresswoman locked in a close race with Democrat Patricia Madrid. Wilson asked about the contents of a sealed indictment that might benefit her re-election hopes. “Red flags went up in my head,” Iglesias told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We specifically cannot talk about a sealed indictment.”

Wilson won re-election by a razor-thin margin.

Domenici is up for re-election in 2008 and could face questions about his role in the firing.

“It is not up to a senator to get into the functioning of the judiciary,” Chavez said. Domenici “should be doing his job for the people of New Mexico. If he is using his influence to remove a person from office, I don’t think that’s right.”

David Boje, a Vietnam veteran and founder of PeaceAware in Las Cruces, N.M., told the World the U.S. attorney firings reminded him of the Watergate scandal. “There are some differences but I’m amazed there aren’t more investigations going on,” he said. “It’s reasonable to call for more investigations. It took a long time for the Watergate to show through the façade.”

Peter Simonson, executive director of the New Mexico Civil Liberties Union, told the World Iglesias’ firing “threatens to erode public trust that the federal investigative and prosecutorial agencies are immune to manipulation.” The White House attempt to enlist Iglesias as an “attack dog” in the November election “undercuts the impartiality of our judicial system,” he said.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington charged April 21 that the White House has “lost” over 5 million e-mails generated between March 2003 and March 2005, many presumably on the purge of the U.S. attorneys.

Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, said, “It’s clear that the White House has been willfully violating the law.” She called it “very convenient that embarrassing and potentially incriminating e-mails have gone missing. It’s the Nixon White House all over again.” CREW accused the administration of “routinely” using Republican National Committee e-mail accounts for official business, to circumvent the law.

CREW blasted Bush for appointing Special Counsel Scott Bloch to investigate three White House scandals, including the attorney firings. Bloch is notorious for using the Office of Special Counsel to punish whistleblowers, Sloan charged. His appointment “suggests the possibility that the White House is orchestrating a cover-up of its illegal and improper activities.”

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