During a broadcast of KNUS 710 AM's Backbone Radio, host John Andrews and guest John Dendahl, former chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party and a 2006 gubernatorial candidate, repeated numerous conservative talking points to spread misinformation about the Bush administration's dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys.
On the March 18 broadcast of KNUS 710 AM's Backbone Radio, host John Andrews joined his guest, former New Mexico Republican Party chairman and 2006 gubernatorial candidate John Dendahl, in spreading misinformation related to the Bush administration's controversial firings of eight U.S. attorneys. In particular, Dendahl claimed that former New Mexico U.S. attorney David Iglesias “turned out to be incompetent to run the office” -- despite Iglesias' positive official performance evaluations. Andrews also repeated the conservative talking point that because U.S. attorneys serve at the will of the president, “there's no such thing as a proper or improper reason” for dismissal. However, evidence suggests that U.S. attorney Carol Lam's firing was intended to obstruct an ongoing corruption investigation involving Republicans. Beyond being improper, a dismissal to achieve that end might be considered a federal crime.
Andrews is a Claremont Institute fellow and former Republican Colorado Senate president. As The New York Times reported July 12, 2002, Dendahl, as New Mexico's Republican Party chairman, admitted to having surreptitiously offered the state's Green Party $100,000 to run candidates for two congressional seats -- an offer Green Party officials refused, “saying they did not want to be used” to draw votes away from Democratic candidates.
In discussing Iglesias' dismissal, Dendahl accused the former U.S. attorney of “attempting to lynch” New Mexico Republicans Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson by testifying before Congress that he felt they were pressuring him to hasten corruption investigations targeting Democrats.
From the March 18 broadcast KNUS 710 AM's Backbone Radio:
ANDREWS: John Dendahl, let's shift to another subject where you've got firsthand knowledge, and which is continuing to make big national news as recently as today. The dismissal of former U.S. attorney -- a top federal prosecutor for the state of New Mexico, David Iglesias, is the subject of a, of a long piece in The New York Times, the paper of record, as they like to fancy themselves. He's one of the U.S. attorneys dismissed by Alberto Gonzales, we now know in consultation with the White House. Entirely legal, nothing wrong with any of it, but the Democrats are making a lot of political hay as though there was something improper in the firing of, of these federal prosecutors, Mr. Iglesias of New Mexico included. What light can you shed on the David Iglesias story, John?
DENDAHL: If you like Anita Hill, you're gonna love David Iglesias.
ANDREWS: Oooh. What's the connection?
DENDAHL: I -- the connection is the way that she went to Congress and did what Clarence Thomas referred to as a high-tech lynching. He's going up there and attempting to lynch two people -- Senator Pete Domenici and Heather Wilson -- who are head and shoulders better men and better women than David Iglesias. In 1998 we ran David Iglesias for attorney general of New Mexico. He ran against Patsy Madrid, who then served for eight years, because she beat him. David was very un-shy about sharing with the public the idea that his Navy JAG [judge advocate general] career and his work at Gitmo -- Guantánamo [Guantánamo Bay Naval Base] -- was the basis for the Tom Cruise character in A Few Good Men. For him to now talk about A Few Good Men being the story of his life is an irony of the first order. David was -- is, in many respects, a good guy. However, as a U.S. attorney he turned out to be incompetent to run the office. And, in retrospect, after his firing, he's turned out to be gutless, because instead of taking his medicine of simply being relieved of his duties because he didn't perform, all right, he's got to go around and now go back to Washington and get all this publicity --
ANDREWS: He's going to cast himself in the victim role.
DENDAHL: That's right.
ANDREWS: And he wants --
DENDAHL: And assassinate people --
ANDREWS: -- as we say, he wants to put the frame of improper influence over his firing around U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, Republican, and U.S. Congresswoman Heather Wilson, a Republican. What's your interpretation of the actual role played by Representative Wilson and Senator Domenici, John Dendahl?
DENDAHL: That it was absolutely proper. They were hearing, hearing, hearing, hearing for years about the incompetence of David, the fact that he would not pursue voter -- first, voter fraud evidence that we took to him, and then he's had FBI -- the FBI's been ready to indict 14 prominent politicians of acts of one kind or another, probably Hobbs Act violations.
DENDAHL: So, when Iglesias finally got called on the carpet for not indicting these 14 guys for these Hobbs Act violations in connection with these courthouses in Albuquerque, he said, “I'm not going to bring those indictments up until after the election because I don't want to appear partisan.” And now he's screaming about partisan conduct.
ANDREWS: Well, let --
DENDAHL: The guy's a loser.
Contrary to Dendahl's claim that Wilson's and Domenici's role “was absolutely proper,” Media Matters for America has noted -- quoting a March 5 article in The Washington Post -- that "[l]egal experts say it violates congressional ethics rules for a senator or House member to communicate with a federal prosecutor regarding an ongoing criminal investigation." Similarly, the Times' Adam Cohen noted in a March 19 column that under an obstruction of justice provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, “If members of Congress try to get a United States attorney to indict people he wasn't certain he wanted to indict, or try to affect the timing of an indictment, they may be violating the law.”
Furthermore, contrary to Dendahl's claim that Iglesias “turned out to be incompetent to run [his] office,” the Times reported February 25 that "[i]nternal Justice Department performance reports for six of the eight United States attorneys who have been dismissed in recent months rated them 'well regarded,' 'capable' or 'very competent,' a review of the evaluations shows." As Colorado Media Matters noted, the Times further reported:
The performance reviews, known as Evaluations and Review Staff Reports, show that the ousted prosecutors were routinely praised for playing a leadership role with other law enforcement agencies in their jurisdictions.
Over all, the evaluations, which were obtained from officials authorized to have them, appear to raise new questions about the rationale for the dismissals provided by senior Justice Department officials. The officials have repeatedly cited poor job performance to explain their decisions to oust the eight prosecutors, all of them Republicans appointed by President Bush in his first term.
Similarly, as the weblog TPM Muckraker noted, Senate Judiciary Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) evaluated the reports -- which were released for Iglesias as well as for U.S. attorneys Carol Lam (San Diego), John McKay (Western District of Washington), Bud Cummins (Eastern District of Arkansas), Paul Charlton (District of Arizona), and Daniel Bogden (District of Nevada) -- and found that the performance reviews contradicted administration claims that the U.S. attorneys were dismissed for poor performance:
All were favorable and, in fact, all are quite positive reviews of their performances. Indeed, contrary to the Department's rationalizations to explain their dismissals, in every case the fired U.S. Attorney was judged to have a strategic plan and appropriate priorities to meet the needs of the Department and their districts.
Andrews also made misleading statements regarding the Senate's current role in confirming U.S. attorneys and the possibility that a dismissal could be other than subjectively “proper” :
ANDREWS: And let's remind ourselves how the -- how the system works. [Guest] Ross Kaminsky and I were just refreshing our Constitution 101 before we went on the air for this evening's show about these firings. The attorney general and all of the United States attorneys in the states work for the president in the executive branch. The president appoints those individuals with the advice and consent of the Senate, but he dismisses them upon his sole authority. And so, whatever political hay can be made by Democrats and their allies -- like The New York Times and the mainstream media -- of improprieties and the reasons for these people being dismissed, there's no such thing as a proper or improper reason. It's employment at will when you work for the president of the United States. And, after all, as you just said, John Dendahl -- let's remember that senators and representatives in a state are consulted going in before someone is named U.S. attorney.
In stating that the president appoints U.S. attorneys “with the advice and consent of the Senate,” Andrews glossed over the fact that a law enacted in March 2006 as part of the renewal of the USA Patriot Act allows an administration-appointed “interim” U.S. attorney to serve indefinitely without Senate confirmation, as Media Matters has noted. As TPM Muckraker noted, under the previous law, the attorney general appointed interim U.S. attorneys who could serve only until the Senate confirmed a replacement or until 120 days had passed, whichever occurred first. After 120 days, the local federal district court could select an interim appointee to serve until the Senate confirmed a replacement. The office of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Congress passed the Patriot Act renewal, reportedly added the provision eliminating the 120-day limit and the role of the local federal district court. At a February 6 Judiciary Committee hearing, Specter said that a member of his staff had inserted the provision without his knowledge. Democrats have proposed legislation (here and here) that would reverse the provision's changes; on March 20, the U.S. Senate voted 94-2 “to revoke the authority it granted the Bush administration last year to name federal prosecutors without Senate confirmation,” the Times reported.
Further, as Colorado Media Matters has noted, evidence also suggests that the administration fired Lam, the U.S. attorney in San Diego, because of her investigations into a corruption scandal surrounding convicted former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA). According to a timeline compiled by the blog Talking Points Memo, The Wall Street Journal reported (subscription required) on May 6, 2006, that Lam's office was investigating Kyle “Dusty” Foggo in connection with the Cunningham case. The Journal made the disclosure in an article about the resignation of then-CIA director Porter Goss, who had chosen Foggo to be the CIA's executive director.
TPM Muckraker noted that on May 11 the Los Angeles Times reported that Lam's investigation had widened to include Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), then-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. That same day, as Talking Points Memo noted, D. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, emailed Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley, writing that he wanted to discuss "[t]he real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires." As Cohen noted in his March 19 New York Times column, this dismissal might have violated 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (c), which prescribes penalties for “anyone who corruptly 'obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so,' including U.S. attorney investigations.”
A March 19 Associated Press article similarly reported, “The day after then-U.S. Attorney Carol Lam in San Diego notified the Justice Department of warrants in a corruption case focused on Republicans, a DOJ official contacted the White House about 'the real problem' with Lam, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Monday.” The AP also quoted Specter as saying, “The sequence of events raises a question as to whether Ms. Lam was asked to resign because she was hot on the trail of criminal conduct relating to the Cunningham case.” The AP quoted Feinstein as saying, "[I]f any U.S. attorney were removed because of a public corruption investigation or prosecution this well could comprise obstruction of justice."
Additionally, in claiming that “Democrats and their allies” are seeking to make “political hay” out of the firings, Andrews ignored Republican criticism of the Bush administration and Gonzales, as Colorado Media Matters has noted.