Wire fraud. Obstruction of justice. False statements.News accounts of the damaging report [in .pdf] that Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine issued Monday on the firing of nine U.S. attorneys should definitely include those words - the criminal laws the IG said may have been violated through the firing of New Mexico's U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, because of his refusal to prosecute cases that would benefit the Republican cause in his state. I highlight those words here because you may not see them elsewhere; the coverage is focusing on Attorney General Michael Mukasey's decision to appoint a prosecutor to investigate, rather than on the substance of the IG's report.It is worth noting that the IG comes up with an interesting approach: that federal fraud laws may have been violated through a scheme to deprive the public of Iglesias' honest services. (Wire fraud could involve a phone call used to advance the scam.) The report also says that an obstruction of justice charge could be filed against those who pressured a prosecutor to pursue or accelerate a case for partisan political reasons. This should set a broad scope for the coming criminal probe, since these charges could cast a much wider net than a case built on whether Justice Department officials' carefully crafted congressional testimony was false. There were people in the White House and Congress on the other end of those calls to Justice.The broad outlines of the controversy surrounding Iglesias' dismissal are already well known, but the report spells out the potential criminality with plenty of ugly details. The bottom line is that the report said Republican leaders in New Mexico successfully pressured the White House and Justice Department to see to it that Iglesias was removed because he refused to prosecute voter fraud cases that would embarrass Democrats.It didn't matter that in one case, the FBI found the allegations to be baseless and that in the other, involving the actions of an ACORN worker who registered voters, Iglesias determined that the subject of the probe lacked the criminal intent required for prosecution. The IG report says:"We determined that the Department [of Justice] never objectively assessed the complaints raised by New Mexico politicians about Iglesias's actions on the voter fraud or public corruption cases, or even asked Iglesias about them." That is, no one ever checked to see if there was any truth to the claims being made about Iglesias.The truth didn't matter.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.