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The Trial of Alberto Gonzales

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No, we’re not there yet. In fact, Fredo hasn’t even been indicted. And with political appointees yanking the chains ferociously as they have since the beginning of the Bush Administration, it has to be reckoned as a long shot that he will be indicted—notwithstanding a long line of now well-defined perjuries before Congress.

But a report in Friday’s Kitsap (Washington) Sun gets us a bit closer to the core of the case which is emerging against the former attorney general. And President Bush sits right in the middle of it. No doubt he’s dusting off another one of those pardon forms right now.

Our relator is former Seattle U.S. Attorney John McKay, speaking to a crowd of lawyers. And it seems that ground zero for Gonzales’s troubles can be found in the Land of Enchantment. McKay

pointed specifically to Gonzales’ role in the firing of the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, David Iglesias. New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici called Iglesias to see about getting indictments against state Democratic officials before the 2006 election. McKay said it’s clear from testimony that Gonzales met with Domenici and other New Mexico Republicans — and with the president — about the fraud case there.

“It’s apparent that he had a conversation with the president about David Iglesias and David Iglesias was fired six weeks later,” he said. “There was real live investigation and the Republicans wanted the indictment out in time to help them in the election, and Iglesias said ‘no’ and they fired him. “Now if all of that’s true and the attorney general was aware of that when he fired David Iglesias, then he has some ‘splainin’ to do — and probably in front of a grand jury.”

To put this in a bit sharper focus, New Mexico was standing on the edge of a knife. It went right down to the wire in both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, both races being decided by paper-thin highly contested margins. In 2006, Domenici’s protégée and heir apparent, Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson of Albuquerque was facing her strongest opponent yet, New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid. Polls were pointing to a photo-finish and Wilson was figuring high on the list of Republicans likely to lose a seat in a year that ended disastrously for the G.O.P.

New Mexico Republicans were counting on Iglesias to deliver an indictment of a key New Mexico Democrat to tip the balance. The idea was to use the indictment against Madrid, charging that she was an ineffective watchdog over corruption in state government and that the feds had to come in and deal with the matter. (In fact of course the feds had pre-empted the investigation by claiming it as their own).

Iglesias was intent on sticking to the Justice Department guidelines which require restraint in bringing indictments in immediate proximity to elections to avoid an appearance that the prosecutors are attempting to influence elections. He wanted the matter to proceed on its normal pace. He was doing exactly what the law and the ethics guidelines required him to do. And this is the point on which he got into serious hot water with New Mexico Republicans and Karl Rove. The suspicion has long been that Domenici and Wilson were pulling out all the stops to pressure Iglesias to indict in a manner designed to influence the elections, and Gonzales’s actions are intimately tied up with that. A story that ran earlier in the Albuquerque Journal put President Bush personally right in the middle of this process.

Of course, this is just one incident. Gonzales’s statements don’t match the facts with respect to what happened in Little Rock, Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix or Seattle, either. And in several other states, names appeared on the “fire” list and then disappeared following some seriously irregular conduct by the U.S. attorneys on the list—one of those targeted for extinction was Mississippi’s Dunnica Lampton, who carried off some of the most brazenly political prosecutions in the country, and is now threatening still more. McKay also proceeded to outline a series of false statements that Gonzales made to investigators concerning his actions relating to the scandal.

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