WASHINGTON – New Mexico's former U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, is talking with the government's independent counsel about whether Justice Department officials violated federal law when they fired him late last year.
A deputy in the Office of Special Counsel, which protects federal government whistleblowers, first contacted Iglesias in early March as part of an inquiry into whether his firing may have violated a law that protects military reservists from discrimination.
The special counsel's staff also is examining possible violations of laws designed to protect whistleblowers and prohibit political activity by government employees, Iglesias said in an interview this week.
Iglesias said he has authorized an investigation, but there are no formal charges pending. The process is in its very early stages, he said, adding: "It's too early to tell whether will result in a legal claim."
Iglesias was one of eight U.S. attorneys fired last year as part of a Justice Department and White House plan to weed out some federal prosecutors in President Bush's second term. The firings are the subject of a congressional investigation.
Justice Department officials have said they added Iglesias to the list of prosecutors to be dismissed because his supervisors deemed him an "absentee landlord," who delegated too much authority to his second-in-command.
Iglesias acknowledges traveling out of New Mexico on U.S. attorney business and that he has spent some 40 to 45 days a year in his service in the Navy Reserve.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act prohibits an employer from denying any benefit of employment on the basis of an individual's military service.
A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.
New Mexico Republicans, including Sen. Pete Domenici (news, bio, voting record), complained to White House and Justice Department officials that Iglesias moved too slowly on voter fraud and political corruption cases.
Iglesias says he was fired for resisting pressure from Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson (news, bio, voting record), R-N.M., to rush indictments in an investigation of an alleged kickback scheme involving Democrats. Domenici and Wilson acknowledge calling Iglesias in October before the 2006 election, but they say they did not pressure him.
Iglesias said his discussions with the Special Counsel's staff includes questions about whether the pressure from officials to act on voter fraud or corruption cases might violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits civil servants from engaging in partisan political activity.
Iglesias said the Special Counsel also is looking into whether he might have a claim under whistleblower protection laws, even though he was dismiseed two months before he publicly discussed the calls he received from Wilson and Domenici. Iglesias said the details are still being researched.
Office of Special Counsel spokesman Loren Smith said the office was looking into Iglesias' case but would not provide any details.
Iglesias said he has not hired a private attorney. He has said what he wants most is a written retraction from the Justice Department indicating he was not fired for poor performance.