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Vindication for fired U.S. attorney
As one of the nine U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration in 2006, I have been carefully monitoring the train wreck that followed. I am not happy to see the enormous damage that has been done to the Department of Justice, a once-venerated institution. But I am pleased that the internal investigations, including the report released Monday by the department, have fully vindicated what my colleagues and I have been saying for the last two years: Improper politicization has crippled the department, and the Bush administration's culture of partisanship-loyalty above all has done a terrible disservice to this country.
Little did I know when I received my Pearl Harbor day phone call from the Justice Department in December 2006 asking for my resignation that almost two years would pass until I would find out the extent of the improper politicization. My good friend and fired colleague, John Mckay, said it best when he stated, immediately after he received the phone call, that this would "not end in the way they think it will."
After the public release of the most recent internal investigations, it can no longer be said that there are mere "allegations" of improper politicization but rather, now, official findings of fact. Justice was compromised. Not only were my colleagues and I not insulated from politics -- as we should have been in our jobs as prosecutors -- but we were fired for the most partisan of reasons. In my case, it was because powerful Republicans in Congress and the White House believed that I had not done my duty as a Republican to bring criminal charges against Democrats in the run-up to the 2006 elections.
Our firings were just one part of the scandal. Another investigation, released over the summer, showed that the department's "honors program" for young law school graduates was the victim of illegal political screening. Lots of bright young applicants were turned away from career jobs because they answered questions in a way that was considered politically suspect or, in some cases, because they had listed organizations thought too liberal or Democratic for the neocons at main Justice.
Then came the findings that career immigration judges were similarly screened for their political views. Career federal prosecutors also were screened, in yet another violation of the law.
Why is this such a big deal? Because justice has to be blind to politics for our system to work. America stands for the venerable axiom of "equal justice under the law." The damage done to the Justice Department by young, idealistic zealots such as Monica Goodling and Michael Elston and others led our current attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey, to appoint a prosecutor Monday to continue the investigation. The lack of adult supervision at Justice was breathtaking; no one reined in the young bulls in the constitutional china shop.
Some people have argued that it was acceptable for the Bush administration to fire us because we were "political appointees" hired and serving at the will of the president. The death blow to this school of thought came Monday when the report was made public. The 358-page tome systematically described a "fundamentally flawed" system of slipshod, ad hoc job termination based on rumor and innuendo rather than evidence, one in which no due diligence was ever exercised by Department of Justice leadership before asking my colleagues and me to resign.
The scathing investigation concluded that the credibility of the Justice Department was severely damaged. In my case, every alleged reason for my dismissal was discredited by the investigation. I strongly support the appointment of a prosecutor to investigate whether criminal laws were violated by members of Congress, White House officials or former leaders of the Justice Department. I hope the newly appointed counsel is able to subpoena evidence that was denied to the inspector general's office.
The investigation summarized it best: "Once U.S. attorneys assume office, they are obligated to put political considerations aside when making prosecutive judgments on individual cases. Inevitably, their decisions may displease the political officials who initially supported them. If a U.S. attorney must maintain the confidence of home-state political officials to avoid removal, regardless of the merits of the U.S. attorney's prosecutorial decisions, respect for the Department of Justice's independence and integrity will be severely damaged and every U.S. attorneys' prosecutorial decisions will be suspect."
If the rule of law means anything, it means that all are subject to it. Prosecutors, operating independently and in a nonpartisan manner, are the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. Take that away and you are sprinting down the road to perdition.
David Iglesias was the U.S. attorney for the district of New Mexico from 2001 and 2007. He is the author of "In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration."