[As with all guest chats, please stay on topic — off-topic discussions should be taken to the prior thread.  Also, please be polite, and help me welcome David Iglesias to FDL.  — CHS]

In 1940, Attorney General Robert H. Jackson gave what was to become one of the most famous speeches on the conduct and mindset of a just prosecutor ever given:

The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous….While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst….

A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.

Jackson was speaking to a room full of new federal prosecutors, just after the Hatch Act went into effect, preventing them from being involved in political activities. It was a DOJ milestone when a wall between politicization and justice was erected, so that cases were to be decided on merit, the facts, the evidence and the law, and not primarily on building political patronage. 

This wall stood fairly sturdily, give or take a few bad actors over the years, until the Bush Administration’s arrogant and deliberate efforts came crashing in on several US Attorneys who were asked to resign for not being political enough in their prosecution choices.

One of those US Attorneys is with us today.

David Iglesias, whose book In Justice lays out the evidence of this attempt to taint the US system of justice.  From his early years as the son of missionary parents to a stint as a Navy JAG, a run at public office in New Mexico and a rise to USAtty there, Iglesias built a career on integrity and a professional reputation for honest judgment — which is everything you have as a lawyer — until he ran afoul of the wishes of the state’s GOP establishment and the political machinations of Karl Rove.   

Except the story does not end there.  In fact, it’s just getting started.

Iglesias and his fellow USAttys decided that, in an administration where political fealty was placed at a premium, they knew where their real loyalty ought to lie:  to the American public.  And so they spoke up, testified before Congress,  and laid a large amount of evidence in front of the court of public opinion.  

And, in the end, the finger of guilt pointed all the way to the White House.  With resignations of key figures in the scandal ranging from Monica GoodlingKyle Sampson and Paul McNulty at DOJ all the way to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Sara Taylor and others connected to Karl Rove, all of whom eventually resigned.  But only after the stunning revelations from former DAG James Comey of hospital bedside attempts from the Bush WH to ram through an illegal breach of the 4th amendment and the FISA laws with their NSA domestic spying program.

And, in In Justice, David Iglesias walks us back through the scandal as it unfolded, through testimony of him and his colleagues and the shameful "I don’t recall"-itis of the various DOJ employees and WH minions.    

What remains, though, are a host of questions that Iglesias raises in In Justice — which, for those of us who have worked in the justice system, is an especially painful set of questions with no ready answers.  And it is those issues I most want to discuss today with our guest, David Iglesias.  Because it is clear that he cares very much about the integrity of the justice system, of the Department of Justice, and for the rule of law. 

So, here’s a start on questions:

—  We know what the fired USAttys refused to do.  But how will we ever know what the attorneys who kept their jobs may have done?  And I offer the Siegelman prosecution and another one closer to my home — the Craigo prosecution — as potential examples, along with the odd saga of Rachel Paulose in Minnesota, although there are many more that have also raised questions.

— With the recent OIG/OPR report on politicization of hiring for the SLIP and Honors programs, and questions regarding politicized weeding out of potential hires based on political fealty tests — this leaves a huge problem:  a lot of these folks were hired for career positions during the last 7 plus years.   Are they properly vested civil service employees now?  For AUSAs hired and trained under the politicized atmosphere of the last few years, will there be re-training in proper evaluation and prosecutorial standards if they worked in a politicized office?  A lot of the AUSAs and folks at DOJ will have learned a false culture in this highly politicized environment — how can you possibly learn who has and who hasn’t without it becoming a witch hunt, which would simply be reverse politicization.  How will these folks overcome the taint of having been hired during this period, because a number of them are bound to be even-handed, decent lawyers?  This is one huge mess.

— Worse, how does the DOJ even begin to regain any public trust after all of this plus the Yoo and Bybee memoranda, the wholesale gutting of the civil rights division which has been used to support caging and other efforts, such as the Georgia Voter ID law, and large questions of internal standards and checks for civil liberties and anti-politicization monitoring having been wholly disregarded?  

— Further, how do we return to a respect for the rule of law in this country rather than a wholesale disregard for it unless a particular provision can be made politically useful? 

The administration of justice should never, ever be merely an afterthought on the way to some fleeting political divide and conquer strategy.  Justice is an end unto itself, and one that should be valued, highly, in a nation whose foundation rests on the equal application of the rule of law.   We forget this at our peril.  

I want to personally issue a thank you to David Iglesias for standing up for his nation at a time when such courage was sorely needed.  As Dr. King said, there comes a time when silence is betrayal — luckily for all of us, David Iglesias chose to speak up.  With that, I welcome David Iglesias and open the floor for your questions and comments. 

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com