It's becoming one of the central rules of the U.S. attorney purge scandal: whatever "performance related" complaint the administration claims as the justification for a U.S. attorney's firing, it's actually an area of performance for which that U.S. attorney was lauded.
In this instance, the White House has said that U.S. Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico was removed in part due to his handling of voter fraud complaints. That's backed up by the numerous instances of powerful New Mexico Republicans (including Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM)) complaining to Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, and President Bush about Iglesias' decision not to prosecute certain cases of voter fraud.
What does this mean? It means that Iglesias must have been lauded by the Justice Department for his handling of voter fraud cases. And not just lauded -- but cited as an example for U.S. attorneys across the country. From The Washington Post:
One of the U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration after Republican complaints that he neglected to prosecute voter fraud had been heralded for his expertise in that area by the Justice Department, which twice selected him to train other federal prosecutors to pursue election crimes.
David C. Iglesias, who was dismissed as U.S. attorney for New Mexico in December, was one of two chief federal prosecutors invited to teach at a "voting integrity symposium" in October 2005. The symposium was sponsored by Justice's public integrity and civil rights sections and was attended by more than 100 prosecutors from around the country, according to an account by Iglesias that a department spokesman confirmed.
Iglesias, a Republican, said in an interview that he and the U.S. attorney from Milwaukee, Steven M. Biskupic, were chosen as trainers because they were the only ones identified as having created task forces to examine allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 elections. An agenda lists them as the panelists for a session on such task forces at the two-day seminar, which featured a luncheon speech by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
According to Iglesias, the agency invited him back as a trainer last summer, just months before a Justice official telephoned to fire him. He said he could not attend the second time because of his obligations as an officer in the Navy Reserve.
There are, of course, other instances of this rule.
Justice Department official William Moschella told Congress that U.S. Attorney John McKay of Seattle was fired because of he'd been too aggressively pushing his office's regional law enforcement information-sharing program. But McKay pointed out during the hearing that the DoJ had actually made his system the DoJ's pilot project and chosen McKay to lead the U.S. attorneys' work on the issue.
Similarly, San Diego's Carol Lam was supposedly fired because of her office's failure to prosecute immigration cases. But it turns out that the Justice Department vouched for Lam's handling of such cases just three months before she was fired, citing, for instance, the fact that half of her staff was devoted to prosecuting such crimes.
One of the more remarkable aspects of this story, indeed, is the fact that the Justice Department chose a small group of the most distinguished U.S. attorneys in the country and then tried to portray them as incompetent. As you can see, it's been a losing effort. And in every case where the cover story has been blown, it's revealed political motivations for the firing.
Note: The whole voter fraud thing is actually the second line floated as the reason for Iglesias' firing. The first (what might be called the cover story's cover story) was that there had been a failure of leadership in his office. Iglesias, Moschella announced to the Congress, had often "delegated to his first assistant the running of the office." What Moschella did not mention is that Iglesias is a Navy Reserve officer, which means that he's required to serve 40 days during the year -- something, of course, that the Justice Department knew full well when they gave him the job.