Wednesday  March 28, 2007

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Purged: A Q&A with Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias

By Greg Veis

Last December, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, along with seven of his colleagues, was "asked" to resign. The move was a head-scratcher: Only ten US Attorneys had been fired mid-term since 1982—and of those ten, eight were for completely justifiable reasons. (One, for instance, bit a stripper.) But these firings came in a cluster. And most of the USA-8, as the purged attorneys are being called, had strong records: a large number of cases prosecuted, high conviction rates. Iglesias, in particular, was a star—a 49-year-old former JAG lawyer, "a diverse up-and-comer" according to a Department of Justice evaluation, and someone who was being considered for the U.S. Attorney slots in both D.C. and Manhattan. Then, before he knew it, he wasn't. He was out of a job, for reasons that were unclear to him, and was barely given time to find a new one. Worst of all, he had to listen to two of his former bosses, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and his deputy Paul McNulty, tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that he hadn't performed up to snuff. Iglesias was a guy who'd set himself up for a long-term career in public service, possibly as a Congressman or even a Senator… and here he was, publicly smeared, his political career over. Now, with the scandal growing—contrary to what people in the White House and the Department of Justice initially said, evidence seems to suggest that the eight attorneys were fired for political, not performance-based, reasons—and the chances of Gonzalez staying on as Attorney General looking more iffy with each passing day, Iglesias took time to talk about the creeping politicization of the Justice Department, the White House's reckless pursuit of power, and his deep disappointment in Alberto Gonzalez.

So you're unemployed. What did you do this morning?

Well, I was invited to go on O'Reilly's show. Fox kind of looked the other way for a while, but finally the story got too big. I'm also trying to figure out if I can get on Larry King Live. He sent an invitation to one of my colleagues. Just trying to coordinate all this stuff has been difficult without a staff. I miss my Blackberry, my secretary, my scheduler.

O'Reilly's not such a good listener. Do you worry about getting your points in?

No, because I've been watching him for about six years now, I know his M.O., I've read his talking points. I know exactly what he's going to hit me with.

What's that?

What he's going to say is, "You know, Mr. Iglesias, Bill Clinton fired 93 U.S. Attorneys and nobody said anything. So this is just a fake controversy. What do you think?" And I'm going to say, "Sure, Bill Clinton fired Bush's people, and Bush fired Clinton's people, but nobody's ever fired their own people for no reason given."

But at least part of what he's getting at is right. Legally, as a U.S. Attorney, you could be fired at any time. You served at the pleasure of the president.

That's absolutely true, and none of us have ever said that is wrong. What's at the heart of this is the fact that the deputy and attorney general testified wrongly under oath in front of the Senate as to the true basis of our forced resignations. They knew the true reason, which was political, and they said it was based on performance. This scandal wouldn't have erupted had they just been truthful.

Are you in contact with the other fired attorneys?

We're all following this story because it affects us directly. It affects our reputations. And also, the administration keeps changing their story. What is the true basis? We all know, but Justice keeps changing the story. So, yeah, we're in contact with each other.

When did you guys start to realize that something wasn't right about the way this went down?

Last summer, Bud Cummins [U.S. Attorney from Arkansas] and I had a joint narcotics prosecution between his district and my district. One day in August, he called me about the case, and then out of the blue, he goes, "Hey, Dave, I was asked to resign." I said, "You gotta be kidding me. Why?" He goes, "I'm not sure, but I think they want to bring in one of Karl Rove's people."

Now, fast forward to December 7th—after I got the call from [Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys] Mike Battle [firing me], I remember thinking, Hey, Bud Cummins got asked to resign, too.

And then John McKay [U.S. Attorney from Washington] sent out this cryptic e-mail in mid-to-late December saying he was moving on, and he didn't say where he was going next. It's customary for outgoing U.S. Attorneys to send out an e-mail to their colleagues saying it's been great serving with you, here's my next great job, here's where you can reach me. Well, he didn't do that. I'm thinking: I bet McKay got the same phone call I did. So I called him right away and asked him. He confirmed it and said that he'd heard there were up to ten more. He gave me the names, and I started calling these people. Sure enough, we all got the same call on the same day. By mid-to-late December I had a pretty good idea of who was on the list. We then started to e-mail each other, basically just feeling sorry for each other because we all knew we'd done a good job. And at that point, nobody had told us what the problem was. We were all scratching our head, like, Why did this happen to us but not the 85 or so other U.S. Attorneys?

Politics.

Yes, but the Justice Department is fundamentally an apolitical agency. We do criminal justice. It's paradoxical because all of us came in through political means. I ran for state attorney general in 1998, and that was the political cred that I needed. But once we got into office it was made crystal-clear to all of us that politics were to stay outside.

Who made that crystal-clear? Ashcroft?

That was Ashcroft. He sat me down in his office, and he said that politics have no role in what you do as a U.S. Attorney.

Did you feel a change in the department when Alberto Gonzalez took over?

I'd heard that things had gotten more political under Bush from career people in Justice. My first assistant has been around since the Carter administration, and he told me that he's never seen anything like this, that politics historically don't play any role in our prosecutive decision-making. But I don't have a really good baseline since I was only there for this administration. As far as the transition between Ashcroft and Gonzalez, I thought it was fine, literally, until I got my phone call on December 7, 2006.

You didn't feel it before?

No. That's why I was so dumbfounded when I got my call. I asked Mike Battle—who I still consider to be a friend; he was just the messenger in this—I said, "Mike, what's going on here? I've received no warning. Had someone warned me six months ago that there was a problem, I would've fixed it. What's going on?" He said, "I don't know, and I don't wanna know. All I know is that this came from on high."

So you never felt your job was in jeopardy until you were fired?

I was asked to resign effective the end of January. There had been absolutely no warning from anybody in the administration.

But you had to have heard that local Republicans were upset with your performance, particularly that you weren't pursuing certain cases fast enough.

I heard some state Republicans were grumbling, and I'd heard that over the past year or so. But I figured, You know, if you do your job as U.S. Attorney, there's always going to be people grumbling. You can't operate your office to please everybody. That's a recipe for mediocrity.

Senator Pete Domenici called you in October basically to lean on you, to ask if you would issue indictments in a case damaging to local Democrats before November's election. You were supposed to report that call to Justice, but you didn't. Why? Because you felt loyal to the Senator?

Correct.

Do you regret that decision?

It's hard to go back and change what happened. I felt like I owed a debt of gratitude to the Senator because he recommended me for the position, he helped me when I ran for office, he did a fundraising video for me, he lent me one of his staffers for a few days to help me drive around the state. I just felt a terrible conflict between my duty to report the inappropriate call and my loyalty to Senator Domenici.

But you've got to see the irony here. One of the great themes of the U.S. Attorney scandal is the tug between being loyal and following standard protocol.

Well, there are limits to loyalty.

From your public statements, it seems as if you told Domenici that the indictments weren't going to be filed before November, which is more information than you were allowed to give him under the law.

I was a little more vague than that. I had to be careful. I tried to be non-responsive, yet responsive to some degree. He asked if the indictments were going to get filed prior to November, and I said I didn't think so. I knew what he was talking about. He didn't come out and specify which cases or names of potential targets, but I knew exactly what he was talking about.

Something else that strikes me as odd is how nice you were to the people who canned you. On January 10th, you sent a pleasant email to Paul McNulty asking for a recommendation. Was this strictly to gauge whether you had been fired for performance reasons?

That's right. I figured that if the true basis of my resignation was performance, he would not agree to write a letter of recommendation for me.

But then a week later, you sent a very nice note to Gonzalez. You even told him you were going to send him a gift. At that point, it'd already been confirmed in your mind that you had been fired for unfair reasons. Why would you continue to solicit the help and the approval of the people who did this to you?

Because I wanted to make sure that the AG was in full agreement with the deputy. The deputy runs the Justice Department. Typically, they're former U.S. Attorneys or former prosecutors. They understand the criminal justice system. The AG tends to come from a political background and may not have any prosecutive background, like Mr. Gonzalez, for example. So I wanted to make sure that both the day-to-day operator of the Justice Department and the political head also would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation. And both of them said they were willing to, which told me that I did not have any true performance problems.

What was your relationship with Gonzalez like leading up to this?

You know, it was nice. I really looked up to him. I think he's the American Dream come true.

What do you think of him now?

I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in the way he's handled the situation. He's the Attorney General. He's in charge of the Justice Department. And it comes down to Leadership 101, to something I learned in the Navy years ago: When your organization does a good job, you take credit. When it doesn't, you take the responsibility. You don't push it down to staff members.

I'm also disappointed that he wouldn't have tried to stop these firings from happening in the first place. But, who knows, maybe he did and got overruled by the White House? Maybe he got overruled by Karl Rove for political reasons? That's part of why the Senate wants to get e-mails from Rove and [Harriet] Miers.

Which brings up the whole argument about executive privilege. Do you think the administration is abusing it here in shielding Rove and Miers from testifying under oath?

I think every president at one point in his term will use executive privilege, but I'm not sure I'm persuaded that there is an absolute privilege. Remember this, though: When you file something in court, it drags the process out. And there's only 20 months left in this administration. This could be a stalling tactic so that by the time it finally gets to the court, this administration will be out of office.

We don't know for sure yet, but how deeply do you think Rove was involved in the plan to fire you guys?

I'm sure his fingerprints are all over this. His greatest strength is his greatest weakness: He views everything in political terms. But you can't treat U.S. Attorneys in the criminal justice system like just another political problem, because we're not. We have more responsibility and more authority than anyone in federal government with the exception of some generals and admirals that are running wartime operations. We take people's lives away, we take their property away, we take their liberty away. Those are serious things. And you cannot let politics infect that process. Rove never understood that. We were just another political hire. I wonder if he didn't like U.S. Attorneys because Pat Fitzgerald, one of my former colleagues, was investigating him last year. Who knows how that was factored in?

Do you feel as if this scandal is of a piece with how the White House seems to view executive power? There's been the unitary executive theory, the suspension of habeas corpus…

Which you can do during wartime and not get the court's restrictive powers. You can do that when your party has the House and Senate. But—and I don't think the White House factored this in enough—there was a significant sea change when the Democrats came back to power last November. The White House wasn't used to any real Congressional oversight because there hadn't been for any for six years.

Would you characterize the administration as overzealous in its pursuit of executive power?

Possibly yes.

What makes it "possibly yes" as opposed to "definitely yes?"

The fact that I haven't really studied this issue in-depth. I have a real topical understanding of it. When the "torture memos" were being hashed about, I didn't follow it that carefully. I was just focused on doing law enforcement here in New Mexico…

But you've spent time in Gitmo as a JAG. You had a personal connection to the place. The administration's tacit approval of torture had to have been of interest to you.

Well, I don't like it. This country doesn't stand for that. By condoning torture or near torture, we're as bad as the people we're fighting. Sure, we're not cutting their heads off and filming it, but this country stands for decency. It makes me think of what Bobby Kennedy argued during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the military wanted to do a preemptive strike on Cuba. He goes, "You mean, you want us to do a Pearl Harbor, except we're the Japanese. We don't do that. Americans don't do that."

Does America feel less like America to you now than it did even just a few years back?

For the time being. I don't think that's necessarily something that's going to be permanently in place.

You think it's something that's going to change on Jan. 21, 2009?

Yes. And I don't care who's in power. I think you're going to see a radically different face to American foreign policy.

And clearly you think that's a healthy thing.

Yeah. And one other thing I'll say is that this scandal has really grown beyond just us. This has turned out to be a struggle between the executive and legislative branches of our federal government. Our founding fathers when they put our government together assumed checks and balances, assumed compromise. When one party—and it doesn't matter which party—has that kind of unitary power like my party did, bad things happen.

Are you at all interested in running for office some day?

No.

Had you ever been?

I was interested. Now, I cast a jaundiced eye towards the political process.

Because of the firing?

Oh sure. Yeah. Because if running for office means you're willing to cheat, you're willing to lie, you're willing to slander people, then I'm not interested. And, frankly, I've got a practical matter. I've got four kids—all girls—so I'm going to have four weddings and four college educations in the next 15 years, and based on what members of Congress make… Just do the math! It's not very encouraging.

Do you still consider yourself a Republican?

Yes.

Do you consider the people in the White House to be Republicans?

I think they've lost their way. They've lost their moral compass. On paper, we would probably be in agreement on most of the major issues, but in terms of actual practice and treating people fairly and respectfully and decently, I've lost my faith in our leadership.

Tuesday  March 27, 2007


My Life with Apple TV

I got my review unit of Apple TV (no "the"—just Apple TV) last Wednesday. We first covered it in January, as part of our 2007 Tech Preview. Yes, I would've been more excited if that anonymous brown box from Cupertino had contained an iPhone, but Apple TV is a close second on the list of gadgets I'm excited about this year—mostly because I find it a little sad to watch episodes of The Office I've downloaded on my tiny laptop, at home.

In a nutshell, Apple TV is a slender, white-and-silver box that that gets the movies, TV shows, and music off your computer and onto your TV wirelessly (or with a wire, if you really want). It can stream all that content from your PC or Mac, plus it has its own 40GB hard drive. So if your girlfriend is borrowing your laptop for the weekend, you won't have to lend her your music library, too.

All of that syncing of content (which can also include photos) is easily managed within iTunes. So if you know how to manage an iPod, you can manage an Apple TV. And the setup is easy. If you're even mildly tech-savvy, you won't need to read the instructions.

I'll spare you a thorough, more technical write-up, since you can cobble together that kind of information from prominent tech blogs and reviews in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. But here are a few easily digestible Apple TV nuggets:

Do I have to buy one?
The iPod changed the way you listen to music. Apple TV is not going to change the way you watch television or movies. It's a nice supplement to a TiVo or your cable provider's DVR and On-Demand programming, but it's not replacing them anytime soon.

So why are you so excited about it?
Because it's fun and easy to use. And if you're like me and have tons of TV shows that you've purchased from the iTunes store, it's nice to be able to incorporate that content into a living-room setting, and not just have it stuck on your laptop and iPod.

The Bottom Line: If you have a lot of stuff on iTunes and a TV significantly larger than your computer monitor, you should consider buying an Apple TV. (And by "stuff on iTunes" I mostly mean video, since there are cheaper, almost-as-good solutions to getting music off your computer and onto your stereo. More on that in a future post.) If you don't satisfy those two criteria, then put the money toward a bigger television. Or an iPhone. I can't wait for that to arrive in the mail.

Tuesday  March 27, 2007


The Best Baseball Blog in America

There's a dearth of good baseball analysis in the press today, and a new blog seeks to fill it: Opinionated and outspoken (sometimes to his own detriment), the author of 38 Pitches knows from baseball. He is Curt Schilling, the Red Sox ace, and he apparently suffers from graphomania. His per-day word count is Tolstoyan.

Schilling's blog has already inspired anxiety in certain quarters. Yesterday Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy, a nattering nabob of negativity if there ever was one, wrote a characteristically mean-spirited column about the blog. Sportswriters are middlemen, and Schilling is challenging them: Do better or you'll be cut out.

Schilling's pompous, but he's also pretty intelligent. 38 Pitches is a must-read for baseball fans.

Friday  March 16, 2007

Michaelhsu
The Unanswered Question

A few weeks ago, I made my way up to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum to see Design Life Now, the overview of American design that the museum mounts every three years.

This is the third installment of the Triennial series, and I found the exhibit easier to navigate this time out, probably because I've come to accept the fact that the question it asks—What's the state of design in America today?—is unanswerable. Or maybe my hang-up used to be that no matter how thoroughly we try to answer the question, we can't help but feel unsatisfied.

Now, I try not to overthink it, and I find I'm happier if I just go along for the ride.

The exhibition is best approached, I've realized, as an interesting conversation: probing, thoughtful, meandering, impulsive, frivolous. (Why is that object included while another is not? Because someone wanted it to be—which is as valid a reason as any.) The conversation starts among the four curators and continues among the objects themselves. According to co-curator Ellen Lupton, the exhibition wasn't organized by discipline or theme. "Instead," she writes on the exhibition's blog, "the show is more like life, where diverse objects and images sit beside each other in loose affiliations."

You can peruse the collection on the exhibition's Web site, loose affiliations intact, since the objects are smartly organized by tags.

But better to go in person and join the conversation yourself, literally: Visitors are invited to draw on a six-foot tall Munny Toy from Kidrobot that's been covered with chalkboard paint. This is how it looked at one point in time:

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To keep the conversation lively, the museum staff erases the drawings each night.

Thursday  March 15, 2007

Michaelhsu
Efficient Recycling

Umbra's U+ Studio Collection has two new products that make interesting use of reclaimed materials. "Reclaimed" and "recycled" are sometimes used interchangeably, but recycling usually involves some type of processing and is rarely 100% efficient. Reclaiming or salvaging (on the other hand) entails taking something that already exists and finding a new way to use it.

A fine example: Thea Yuzyk's Parquet Frame. It's made from slats of solid rosewood and costs a reasonable $55.

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The slats are actually Indonesian railway trusses, which were salvaged when the tracks were decommissioned. (If you're wondering why such a beautiful wood was used for such a mundane purpose, it's because rosewood doesn't swell in humid climes.)

Similarly, Matt Carr's Treasure Clock makes use of toys that Carr found at the Goodwill next to Umbra's design studio in Toronto. All of the toys were on their way to the incinerator (that's what happens to donations that don't sell), but Carr snatched them up and, in some cases, spray painted them for this limited edition series.

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The clocks come in white and black. Only 200 of each color were made. And unlike most Umbra products, which are manufactured offshore, the clocks were assembled by hand at Umbra's studio. You can buy them at Barneys New York.

Friday  March 02, 2007


Matt White: Relief Pitcher. Non-Roster Invitee. Billionaire.

Matt White, a 27-year-old lefty reliever who's played a grand total of two non-consecutive seasons in Major League baseball and possesses a career ERA of 16.76, may shortly become one of the richest men in pro sports--richer than Tiger Woods, richer than Michael Jordan, richer, even, than Martha Stewart.

Three years ago, the AP reports, White bought a fifty-acre parcel of land for $50,000 from an elderly aunt in need of fast cash. A surveyor subsequently informed him that the parcel sits on 24 million tons of high-quality, quarryable stone. At $100 per ton, that works out to $2 billion, though the costs involved in mining it would likely reduce its market value to (according to one expert quoted in the piece) "several million dollars, or more."

White has put the property on the block and turned his attention to winning a roster spot with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His chances are not great.