GOP contender linked to attorney firing
By Jason Leopold
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Jun 3, 2008, 00:22
Though virtually unknown outside the Albuquerque area,
Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White is betting that his conservative
credentials and close ties to the White House will help Republicans retain the
hotly contested New Mexico congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Heather
Wilson, in turn, is campaigning hard for the Senate seat
that Republican Pete Domenici has held for 36 years in a race that could go a
long way toward determining whether Democrats expand their narrow control of
the U.S. Senate
But all three of these Republicans -- Domenici, Wilson and
White -- have something else in common: They all were implicated in the firing
of New Mexico�s U.S. Attorney David Iglesias as part of the White House-driven
federal prosecutor purge in 2006.
Wilson is currently the subject of a preliminary House
ethics probe related to a phone call she placed to Iglesias just a few weeks
before the 2006 midterm elections, inquiring about the status of an indictment
against a prominent Democrat in the state.
Domenici was the subject of a similar probe in the Senate
over a call he made to Iglesias about the timing of indictments, a call that
the Senate Ethics Committee said created an �appearance of impropriety� in a
formal admonishment of the six-term senator.
Sheriff White also reportedly was pushing Iglesias to crack
down on Democratic-backed voter registration drives and then took his complaints
about Iglesias�s lack of aggressiveness to Washington.
In a little noticed article in the Albuquerque Journal at
the height of the U.S. attorney scandal, White said he was upset with
Iglesias�s inaction against Democratic-backed voter registration drives and
other criminal issues.
White, who was New Mexico chairman of the Bush-Cheney 2004
campaign, confirmed that in spring 2006, he took his �complaints directly to
the Department of Justice where he met with Attorney General [Alberto]
Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson and others," the Albuquerque
Journal reported on April 15, 2007.
Sampson was chief of staff to Attorney General Gonzales and
helped create the list of U.S. attorneys selected for dismissal, prosecutors
who in Sampson�s phrase were not �loyal Bushies.�
Trip to Washington
According to interviews with several law enforcement
officials in Bernalillo County and a review of documents, White traveled to
Washington with two other Republican operatives in 2006 to complain to the
Justice Department that Iglesias was balking at bringing criminal charges
against what they called rampant voter fraud -- and that he should be fired.
Law enforcement officials said White was accompanied by
Mickey Barnett, a Republican lobbyist, and Pat Rogers, a Republican attorney,
both of whom are based in New Mexico.
Rogers was affiliated with the American Center for Voting
Rights, a now defunct non-profit organization that sought to defend voter
rights and increase public confidence in the fairness and outcome of elections.
However, it has since emerged that the organization played a
major role in suppressing the votes of people who intended to cast ballots for
Democrats in various states.
Rogers is also the former chief counsel to the New Mexico
Republican Party, and has been recommended by Domenici to replace Iglesias as
U.S. Attorney for New Mexico.
Barnett, Rogers and White reportedly met with Monica
Goodling, the Justice Department�s White House liaison who resigned last year
for the role she played in the unusual firing of nine U.S. attorneys in the
middle of a president�s term.
Last May, House Democrats released a transcript of an
interview between congressional investigators and senior Justice Department
official Matthew Friedrich. He said that over breakfast in November 2006,
Rogers and Barnett expressed frustration with Iglesias's refusal to pursue
voter fraud cases and that they had spoken to Karl Rove and Domenici about
getting Iglesias fired.
"I remember them repeating basically what they had said
before in terms of unhappiness with Dave Iglesias and the fact that this case
hadn't gone anyplace," said Friedrich, who last week was named to head the
Justice Department�s Criminal Division.
"It was clear to me that they did not want him to be
the U.S. attorney and they mentioned that they had essentially . . . they were
sort of working towards that."
Iglesias also had been hearing rumors in New Mexico
political circles that White was the �third man� who personally complained to
Justice Department officials that he was not pursuing voter fraud cases
�I was advised by Republican insiders that Darren viewed me
as competition for future elected office,� Iglesias said in an interview.
�So it was a slick move on his part to try to get me removed
for �performance� knowing that that stigma would diminish my future
electability. The irony is that he could have called me and asked if I was
considering running for Heather Wilson's seat. I would have said no.�
Iglesias said White also pressed him to prosecute voter
fraud cases during the 2004 election. In the months before the general
election, Iglesias said White showed up at the county clerk's office demanding
to know if there were any questionable voter registrations on file.
Mary Herrera, the Bernalillo County clerk, told White that
there were about 3,000 or so forms that were either incomplete or incorrectly
Bernalillo County had been the target of a massive
grassroots effort by the group Association of Community Organizations for
Reform Now (ACORN) to register voters, which paid off with about 65,000 newly
Sheriff White intended to challenge the integrity of some of
the names on the voter registration rolls, Iglesias wrote in a new book, In
Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration.
White seized upon the registration forms as evidence that
ACORN submitted fraudulent registration forms. He held a press conference along
with other Republican officials in the county to call attention to the matter.
Iglesias said he established an election fraud task force in
September 2004 and spent more than two months probing claims of widespread
voter fraud in his state.
"After examining the evidence, and in conjunction with
the Justice Department Election Crimes Unit and the FBI, I could not find any
cases I could prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt," Iglesias said.
"Accordingly, I did not authorize any voter fraud related
Iglesias said he views White�s participation in his firing
as an inappropriate attempt by a law enforcement officer to pressure a
�I question his judgment is attempting to remove a U.S.
attorney who did not find any cases worth prosecuting related to voter fraud,�
Iglesias said. �That shows a spectacular lack of understanding of how law
�Cops complain all the time that prosecutors don't take
their cases, but it's incredibly rare for the cop to seek the removal of the
prosecutor. But he was that highly politicized.�
White�s campaign refused to respond to questions about the
sheriff�s role in Iglesias�s firing. Contacted at the Bernalillo County
Sheriff�s station, White declined to comment for this story.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched
an ad campaign against White that cites his role in Iglesias�s firing.
"A federal prosecutor was fired only after he refused
to bend to political pressure Darren White helped orchestrate,� said Yoni
Cohen, Western Regional Press Secretary for the DCCC. "If he were in
Congress, White would likely be under investigation for violating ethical
standards . . .
"Senator Domenici is paying the price for listening to
Darren White -- he was punished by the Ethics Committee. The people of New
Mexico deserve better than another Republican Member of Congress who believes
playing politics is more important than playing by the rules and honoring
America's system of checks and balances.�
Leopold is the author of "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit
www.newsjunkiebook.com for a
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