Michael J. Elston

On July 7, 2008, CREW filed a complaint against Michael J. Elston with the Virginia Bar for his role in the illegal politicization of hiring practices at the Department of Justice. However, CREW did not file a complaint with the Illinois, Kansas or Missouri Bars, jurisdictions in which Mr. Elston is also admitted, as explained here, but only sent these associations a copy of the Virginia complaint. More importantly, because the CREW complaint addressed only the illegal politicization of hiring practices at the Department of Justice, CREW notably failed to address Mr. Elston’s role in the politicized firing of several sitting United States Attorneys. As set forth below, Mr. Elston is also in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Virginia regarding his role in the United States Attorney firings.

Personal Information:

  • Name: Michael J. Elston, Partner, McGuireWoods LLP
  • Washington Square, 1050 Connecticut Avenue N.W., Suite 1200
    Washington, District of Columbia 20036-5317
  • Telephone: 202-857-1700, Fax: 202-857-1737

Bar Information: Illinois

  • ID No.: N/A
  • Date of Admission as Lawyer by Illinois Supreme Court: November 10, 1994
  • Registered Business Address: Mcguirewoods LLP
    1750 Tysons Blvd, Suite 1800
    McLean, VA 22102-4231
  • Registered Business Phone: (703) 712-5366
  • Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law
  • Last Registered Year: 2008
  • Malpractice Insurance: (Current as of date of registration; consult attorney for further information) In annual registration, attorney reported that he/she has malpractice coverage.
  • Public Record of Discipline and Pending Proceedings: None

Grievance Information: Illinois

Bar Information: Kansas

  • ID No.: N/A
  • Status: Unknown
  • On July 2, 2008, Amanda Provorse, Attorney Registration, responded to my e-mail request for Mr. Elston’s status with the Kansas Bar that “Mr. Elston is currently active and in good standing. He was admitted 9/29/1998.”

Grievance Information: Kansas

Bar Information: Missouri

Grievance Information: Missouri

Bar Information: Virginia

  • ID No.: N/A
  • Status: Active
  • Registered Address: 1750 Tysons Boulevard, Suite 1800, McLean, VA 22102-4215
  • Registered Phone: 703-712-5366 and Fax: 703-712-5215
  • Member class: Active

Grievance Information: Virginia

While reviewing this matter, it is important to keep in mind that the privilege to practice law imposes duties and responsibilities on each attorney who accepts a license to practice law. These obligations are described in the Preamble to the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct :

The practice of law is a public trust. Lawyers are the trustees of the system by which citizens resolve disputes among themselves, punish and deter crime, and determine their relative rights and responsibilities toward each other and their government. Lawyers therefore are responsible for the character, competence and integrity of the persons whom they assist in joining their profession; for assuring access to that system through the availability of competent legal counsel; for maintaining public confidence in the system of justice by acting competently and with loyalty to the best interests of their clients; by working to improve that system to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing society; and by defending the integrity of the judicial system against those who would corrupt, abuse or defraud it.

To achieve these ends the practice of law is regulated by the following rules. Violation of these rules is grounds for discipline.

* * *

The quality of the legal profession can be no better than that of its members. Lawyers must exercise good judgment and candor in supporting applicants for membership in the bar.

Lawyers also must assist in the policing of lawyer misconduct. The vigilance of the bar in preventing and, where required, reporting misconduct can be a formidable deterrent to such misconduct, and a key to maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the profession as a whole in the face of the egregious misconduct of a few.

These obligations are also expressly stated in the Preamble to the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct, the Preamble to the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct and the Preamble to the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, which provide, in part, that

A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs. A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges,
other lawyers and public officials. While it is a lawyer’s duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer’s duty to uphold legal process.

* * *

The legal profession’s relative autonomy carries with it special responsibilities of self-government. The profession has a responsibility to assure that its regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of parochial or selfinterested concerns of the bar. Every lawyer is responsible for observance of the Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer should also aid in securing their observance by other lawyers. Neglect of these responsibilities compromises the independence of the profession and the public interest which it serves.

It is also important to bear in mind that although Mr. Elston denies improper motives or conduct, his denials and protestation must be evaluated based on the totality of the circumstances. As noted in the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, for Mr. Elston to believe that his conduct was proper, he must have “actually supposed the fact in question to be true” (which belief “may be inferred from circumstances”) and for that belief to be reasonable requires “that the circumstances are such that the belief is reasonable.” Additionally, because “a lawyer of reasonable prudence and competence would ascertain the matter in question” to be improper, Mr. Elston reasonably should have known that his conduct was improper.

As detailed more specifically below, Mr. Elston’s conduct violated the following the following rules of professional conduct:

Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct:

Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct

Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct

Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct

File a grievance against Mr. Elston

  1. Print, complete and sign the official Complaint Form for Illinois, Kansas, Missouri (or .pdf) and/or Virginia (or .pdf );
  2. Print and attach this page to the Complaint Form; and
  3. Mail the complaint to the address noted on the Complaint Form.

Allegation: Michael J. Elston engaged in conduct that was a violation of federal laws that prohibit the obstruction of justice when he threatened four (4) recently-resigned United States Attorneys.

Michael J. Elston’s participation in the scheme to fire multiple United States Attorneys is at least unethical, if not actually criminal. As set out in greater detail below, Mr. Elston’s role in the firing of numerous United States Attorneys included placing telephone calls to several of these U.S. Attorneys in which he conveyed the threat that the Department of Justice would publicly attack the U.S. Attorneys if they chose to testify to the United States House and Senate. As reported by Paul Kiel at TPMMuckraker on May 2, 2007,

U.S. Attorney for Arizona Paul Charlton told Congress that Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, called him and warned him to remain silent. “I believe that Elston was offering me a quid pro quo agreement: my silence in exchange for the Attorney General’s,” Charlton wrote in answer to questions from the House Judiciary Committee.

Charlton did not expound on the conversation in his answer, only saying that the call occurred after the firing on December 7th, but before the attorney general testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 18th of this year.

It’s not the first time that Elston has been accused by one of the fired U.S. attorneys of trying to intimidate them into silence. Two others have said the same thing.

U.S. Attorney for Little Rock Bud Cummins testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Elston had made a similar call to him in mid-February. Cummins produced an email written the day of the call that clearly laid out the threatening undercurrent to Elston’s message.

And U.S. Attorney for Seattle John McKay has said that he got a call from Elston in December. Newsweek reported that McKay says “he also got a phone call from a ‘clearly nervous’ Elston asking if he intended to go public: ‘He was offering me a deal: you stay silent and the attorney general won’t say anything bad about you.'” (Emphasis supplied.)

Prior to this article, Mr. Kiel had reported on the contents of Mr. Cummins’ e-mail on March 7, 2007:

In a February 19th article in The Washington Post, Cummins was quoted on the firings:

“They’re [the Justice Department] entitled to make these changes for any reason or no reason or even for an idiotic reason,… But if they are trying to suggest that people have inferior performance to hide whatever their true agenda is, that is wrong. They should retract those statements.”

The next day, Cummins got a call from Elston. And very unfortunately for the Justice Department, Cummins sent out an email no more than an hour after the call to the other fired prosecutors (you can see it here):

The essence of his message was that they feel like they are taking unnecessary flak to avoid trashing each of us specifically or further, but if they feel like any of us intend to continue to offer quotes to the press, or organize behind the scenes congressional pressure, then they would feel forced to somehow pull their gloves off and offer public criticisms to defend their actions more fully…. I was tempted to challenge him and say something movie-like such as “are you threatening ME???”, but instead I kind of shrugged it off…

Cummins, a lifelong Republican, continues in the email to refer to Elston’s “threat of retaliation” and the “threatening undercurrent in the call.” So it was abundantly clear to him that he was being threatened.

The most inflammatory part of the email is Cummins’ description of Elston’s reaction to the idea of the fired prosecutors testifying before Congress:

“He reacted quite a bit to the idea of anyone voluntarily testifying and it seemed clear that they would see that as a major escalation of the conflict meriting some kind of unspecified form of retaliation.”

Mr. Kiel also reported on these comments from fired U.S. Attorney John McKay:

Now another prosecutor, Seattle’s John McKay, says he got a similar call much earlier, before the firings had even been reported. From Newsweek:

After McKay was fired in December, he says he also got a phone call from a “clearly nervous” Elston asking if he intended to go public: “He was offering me a deal: you stay silent and the attorney general won’t say anything bad about you.”

Murray Waas of the National Journal reported on May 3, 2007 these details regarding Mr. Elston’s conduct:

The U.S. attorneys have said that Elston, in effect, told them that if they kept quiet about their dismissals, the Justice Department would not suggest that they had been forced to resign because of poor performance.

* * *

McKay, who was the first of the prosecutors whom Elston called, described Elston’s message to him: “The attorney general was not going to disclose that I or the other U.S. attorneys were fired or forced to resign.… ‘We have no intention of naming people.'”

McKay said that Elston never specifically suggested an explicit quid pro quo whereby Justice officials would not say that McKay had been fired for cause or poor performance if McKay did not talk to the media or Congress about his firing. However, McKay said, “a reasonable person would have felt both offended and threatened” by Elston’s call.

McKay said that the message he took away from the conversation was, “If you remain silent, we will not out you as someone who was forced to resign.”

McKay said that he made contemporaneous notes of his conversation with Elston, and dated them — something, he said, that was not his ordinary practice. He did so because of his concerns about what Elston was telling him, according to McKay.

Charlton said he got a similar phone call from Elston on the same day. In formal response to written questions posed to him by the House Judiciary Committee, Charlton said, “I believe that Elston was offering me a quid pro quo agreement: my silence in exchange for the attorney general’s.”

Cummins testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 6, at which time a contemporaneous e-mail he wrote within an hour of his phone call with Elston was released. In the e-mail, which he sent to five of his fellow prosecutors, Cummins said that the “essence of [Elston’s] message” was that if any of the fired U.S. attorneys had pressed their case in the media or before Congress, senior aides to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales might “feel forced to somehow pull their gloves off” and accuse the prosecutors of ineptitude or poor management.

Cummins also wrote in his e-mail that Elston had called him because he was upset about comments Cummins had made in the press about his firing. “[Justice officials] feel like they are taking unnecessary flak to avoid trashing each of us,” Cummins said in the e-mail to his fellow prosecutors. “I also made it a point to tell him that all of us have turned down multiple invitations to testify. He reacted quite a bit to the idea of anyone voluntarily testifying, and it seemed clear that they would see this as a major escalation of the conflict meriting some kind of unspecified form of retaliation.”

McKay, one of the prosecutors who got the e-mail, said: “[Cummins] wanted to send a message to all of us. We got that message, loud and clear: If you talk to the press or go to Congress, the Department of Justice will not consider you a friend. I considered it an act of intimidation.”

* * *

At the March 6 Senate Judiciary hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked Cummins and three others U.S. attorneys what they would have done in their capacity as federal prosecutors had they learned that an interested party in one of their investigations had tried to discourage a witness from providing information or testifying. All four said that they would have investigated the matter to determine a possible obstruction of justice.

“Mr. Cummins, let me ask you first. I’d like to ask you to put your U.S. attorney hat back on,” Whitehouse said. “You’re still in office, and think of a significant grand jury investigation that you led as United States attorney in your district. And consider that a significant witness in that grand jury investigation has just come into your office to relate to you that prior to his grand jury testimony he was approached about his testimony and [told]… essentially exactly the words that Mr. Elston approached you. What would your next step be as United States attorney?”

Cummins responded: “We take intimidation of witnesses very seriously in the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney’s office, so we would be very proactive in that situation.”

Attempting to moderate his statement, he added: “I would qualify that by saying that at the time this discussion was had, we weren’t under a subpoena; the idea of testifying was just kind of a theoretical idea out there. And I would say … to the extent we talked about testimony at all, it was the idea that running out and volunteering to be part of this would not be viewed charitably by the people that it would affect.”

Whitehouse pressed Cummins: “But if that sort of approach had been made to a witness in an active proceeding that you were leading, and you were extremely proactive about it, that would lead you where?”

“Well, we’d certainly investigate it and see if a crime had occurred.”

“And the crime would be?”

Cummins responded: “Obstruction of justice. I think there are several statutes that might be implicated — but obstruction of justice.”

Whitehouse posed the same question to John McKay, the fired U.S. attorney from Washington state.

McKay responded: “I would be discussing it with the assigned prosecutor and federal agents.”

“With regard to?”

“With regard to possible obstruction of justice.”

Whitehouse next put the question to David Iglesias, the fired U.S. attorney from New Mexico:

Iglesias replied: “Same answer, sir. I would contact the career [assistant U.S. attorney] and probably the FBI and talk about what’s the evidence we have to maybe move forward on an obstruction investigation.

Finally, Whitehouse looked toward Carol Lam, the fired U.S. attorney from San Diego.

She answered without hesitation: “Fundamentally the same answer: witness intimidation.” (Emphasis supplied.)

Lara Jakes Jordan adds in this article on June 16, 2007:

“I believe that Elston was offering me a quid pro quo agreement: my silence in exchange for the attorney general’s,” wrote Paul Charlton, the former U.S. attorney in Nevada.

John McKay, former top prosecutor in Seattle, said he perceived a threat from Elston during his call. And Carol Lam, who was U.S. attorney in San Diego, said that “during one phone call, Michael Elston erroneously accused me of ‘leaking’ my dismissal to the press, and criticized me for talking to other dismissed U.S. attorneys.”

A fourth former U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins in Little Rock, Ark., had made a similar accusation in an e-mail released in March. At the time, Elston said he was “shocked and baffled” that his Feb. 20 conversation with Cummins could be interpreted as threatening.

Finally, Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein report in the Washington Post on June 16, 2007:

Former U.S. attorney John McKay of Seattle told Congress that on Jan. 17 — before McKay stepped down — he received a call from Elston that he “greatly resented.” He said Elston attempted to “buy my silence by promising that the attorney general would not demean me in his Senate testimony.”

“My handwritten and dated notes of this call,” McKay told Congress, “reflect that I believed Mr. Elston’s tone was sinister and that he was prepared to threaten me further if he concluded I did not intend to continue to remain silent about my dismissal.”

Paul K. Charlton, who was the U.S. attorney in Phoenix, said that he, too, received a call that day in which Elston offered “a quid pro quo agreement: my silence in exchange for the attorney general’s.” Another former prosecutor, Carol C. Lam of San Diego, said Elston accused her of “leaking” word of her dismissal to the press “and criticized me for talking to other dismissed U.S. attorneys.”

Former U.S. attorney Bud Cummins of Little Rock also recounted a Feb. 20 conversation with Elston that Cummins said contained a “threatening undercurrent” warning that Justice Department officials would retaliate if he or his colleagues spoke to journalists or volunteered to testify in Congress.

As described by fired United States Attorneys John McKay, Bud Cummins, Paul Charlton and Carol Lam and as reported in the public record as noted above, the conduct of Mr. Elston clearly establishes that he committed criminal or deliberately wrongful acts that reflects adversely on the his honesty, trustworthiness and fitness to practice law. Additionally, Mr. Elston clearly engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

Allegation 2:

Michael J. Elston engaged in conduct that was a violation of federal laws that prohibit politicization of hiring within the Department of Justice when he selected candidates for employment based on political criteria.

As described in thisletter to Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, and The Honorable John Conyers, Jr., Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, United States House of Representatives from A Group of Concerned Department of Justice Employees, dated April 9, 2007, Mr. Elston engaged in conduct that was a violation of federal hiring laws:

Needless to say, many people were upset and confused. Why had so many potential interviewees been removed from the list? [Italics in original] Top supervisors requested answers, and on December 5 a meeting was held with Michael Ellston [sic], Chief of Staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Many division attorneys and staff were present, and Mr. Ellston [sic] was offensive to the point of insulting. Claiming that the entire group had not “done their jobs” in reviewing applicants, he said that he had a “screening panel” go over the list and research these candidates on the Internet; he refused to give the names of those on his “panel.” Mr. Ellston [sic] said that people were struck from the list for three reasons:grades, spelling errors on applications, and inappropriate information about them on the Internet, When the meeting attendees protested that these interviewees had excellent grades, Mr. Ellston [sic]replied that a Harvard graduate in the bottom half of the class was more desirable than the top students at a second-tier law schools. Although Mr. Ellston [sic] stated that he would entertain appeals to his decisions, few of these appeals were granted.

When division personnel staff later compared the remaining interviewees with the candidates struck from the list, one common denominator appeared repeatedly: most of those struck from the list had interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for a “liberal” cause, or otherwise appeared to have “liberal” leanings. Summa cum laude graduates of both Yale and Harvard were rejected for interviews. There are also reports that officials at Harvard’s Career Placement Office called DOJ personnel to ask why their students were not getting interviews and also to ask why decisions had not yet been made about the Summer Law Intern Program.

These allegations were confirmed by the United States Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of the Inspector Generals in their report,An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring in the Department of Justice Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program, which provided the following details regarding Mr. Elston’s conduct:

…. However, we believe the most significant misconduct was committed by ELSTON, the head of the Screening Committee. ELSTON failed to take appropriate action when he learned that McDonald was routinely deselecting candidates on the basis of what she perceived to be the candidates’ liberal affiliations. We also concluded that ELSTON deselected some candidates – and allowed the deselection of others – based on impermissible considerations.

* * *

As explained below, we concluded that ELSTON violated federal law and Department policy by deselecting candidates based on their liberal affiliations. First, the data analysis indicates that highly qualified candidates with liberal or Democratic Party affiliations were deselected at a much higher rate than highly qualified candidates with conservative or Republican Party affiliations. Second, ELSTON admitted that he may have deselected candidates in a few instances due to their affiliations with certain liberal causes. ELSTON also was unable in specific cases to give a credible reason as to why highly qualified candidates with liberal or Democratic Party affiliations were deselected.

While ELSTON generally denied that he considered political or ideological affiliations in evaluating candidates, he admitted when questioned about certain candidates that he considered aspects of those candidates’ ideological affiliations in his evaluation. ….

In addition, ELSTON consistently was unable to provide credible explanations as to why he denied the appeals of the highly qualified candidates who had liberal or Democratic Party affiliations. His proffered reasons were also inconsistent with other statements he made or actions he took. ….

Similarly, we did not find credible ELSTON’s explanation that he may have denied the appeal of a highly qualified candidate who had worked for the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military because he concluded the candidate would not “stand up for the law with respect to sentencing and Department policy” due to the statement in her essay that she would be able to exercise prosecutorial discretion as a federal prosecutor. We also did not credit ELSTON’s other explanation for denying this candidate – that she was not academically qualified because she was in the top third rather than the top quarter of her class at Stanford Law – since it was inconsistent with his actions in approving other candidates from lower-tier law schools with lower grades. During his interview, ELSTON also frequently pointed to lines in candidates’ essays that may have been a basis for deselecting candidates because he said these statements could be indications that the candidates would improperly follow their own consciences rather than the Department’s policies. These included statements such as the candidate wanting to work for the Department because the job would allow the candidate “to consider what is best for my country.”

In addition to ELSTON’s failure to provide credible explanations for his actions during his interview, we concluded that ELSTON was not candid with others in the Department who questioned him during the hiring process about why candidates were being deselected. ….

Moreover, ELSTON tried to minimize his role in selecting candidates when he was questioned by others about the Committee’s decisions. ELSTON frequently explained that other Committee members had been responsible for the decisions and described his role as a conduit. However, the evidence demonstrated that he was casting the deciding vote on a significant number of candidates that Fridman had approved and McDonald had rejected.

In sum, we found that ELSTON was aware that McDonald was rejecting candidates based on her perception of the candidates’ political or ideological affiliations and that he failed to intervene, discuss it with her, or stop her from doing so. We also concluded that ELSTON committed misconduct, and violated federal law and Department policy, when he deselected candidates and denied appeals based on his perception of the political or ideological affiliations of the candidates.

* * *

IV. Conclusions and Recommendations

* * *

The documentary evidence and witness interviews also support the conclusion that two members of the 2006 Screening Committee, Esther Slater McDonald and Michael ELSTON, took political or ideological affiliations into account in deselecting candidates in violation of Department policy and federal law. For example, the evidence showed that McDonald wrote disparaging statements about candidates’ liberal and Democratic Party affiliations on the applications she reviewed and that she voted to deselect candidates on that basis.

We also found that ELSTON, the head of the 2006 Screening Committee, failed to take appropriate action when he learned that McDonald was routinely deselecting candidates on the basis of what she perceived to be the candidates’ liberal affiliations. The evidence also showed that ELSTON himself deselected some candidates – and allowed the deselection of others – based on impermissible considerations. Despite his initial denial in our interview that he did not consider such inappropriate factors, he later admitted in the interview that he may have deselected candidates in a few instances due to their affiliation with certain causes. In addition, ELSTON was unable to give a credible reason as to why specific highly qualified candidates with liberal or Democratic credentials were deselected.

We concluded that, as a result of the actions of McDonald and ELSTON, many qualified candidates were deselected by the Screening Committee because of their perceived political or ideological affiliations. We believe that McDonald’s and ELSTON’s conduct constituted misconduct and also violated the Department’s policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on political or ideological affiliations.

However, because both McDonald and ELSTON have resigned from the Department, they are no longer subject to discipline by the Department for their actions. Nevertheless, we recommend that the Department consider the findings in this report should either McDonald or ELSTON apply in the future for another position with the Department.

[Footnote] 59 However, we found evidence that McDonald knew that using political and ideological affiliation was inappropriate, but did it anyway. As noted above, in an e-mail dated October 25, 2006, unrelated to the Honors Program and SLIP, McDonald advised a friend applying for a career position with the Department “there’s not much I can do apart from recommending you because there are legal constraints on career hiring to ensure that it’s not political.”

[Footnote] 60 Although ELSTON stated that he did not know whether McDonald’s no votes were actually based upon the negative comments she was making about the candidates’ liberal affiliations, we found that statement disingenuous. Fridman told ELSTON that McDonald was doing this, and the notations on the applications, which ELSTON recognized as McDonald’s handwriting, showed that McDonald was circling and commenting on these groups. Moreover, many of these candidates had stellar credentials, and there was no other apparent reason for McDonald recommending their deselection.

[Footnote] 61 OPR Counsel H. Marshall Jarrett recused himself from the evaluation of DeFalaise’s conduct.

(Emphasis supplied.)

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Text of the Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct violated by Mr. Elston.

It’s not paranoia if they ARE out to get you, No. 6

At No Comment, Scott Horton continues with his stellar reporting on the politicization of, and abuse of power in, the Department of Justice with this July 23, 2008 post of his Six Questions for Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, Author of In Justice. Mr. Iglesias. one of the United States Attorneys fired by DoJ on December 7 – Pearl Harbor Day – of 2007, explains, in a nutshell, what happened:

One cannot fully comprehend the recent Justice Department meltdown without understanding the belief in New Mexico, Missouri, and Washington State Republican circles, that the 2000 election and subsequent contests were rife with fraud. It set the stage for what followed during the scandal surrounding the forced resignations in 2006 of United States Attorneys John McKay of Seattle, Todd Graves of Kansas City, and me. We were all criticized by Republican operatives for not filing voter or election fraud cases in our respective districts. Each of us examined the evidence and did not find any provable cases, so no indictments were filed. I remember hearing Republican activists allege that the Democrats stole the election in New Mexico during the 2000 presidential election. I heard that illegal immigrants were voting in large numbers. If true this would be criminal, but prosecutors may not base their cases on rumor and innuendo but on admissible evidence they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. * * *

Voter fraud became the bogeyman of New Mexico politics. And what person was best equipped to prevent this alleged problem from happening again? The United States Attorney. Hence in the summer of 2002 the Executive Office of United States Attorney in Washington emailed all 93 U.S. Attorneys asking us to work with state and local election officials to prevent election fraud. * * * That changed dramatically in 2004, when the local media covered numerous instances of apparent voter fraud. * * *

In response, I set up one of only two election fraud task forces in the country. * * *

I also set up a hotline for citizens to call into the local FBI office. I believed that we would find provable cases of fraud that I could prosecute, and I was determined to find them. * * * After almost two years of investigation, we were unable to come up with a single prosecutable case. I conferred with main Justice and with the local FBI office. It was ultimately my call, and I followed the professional staff in finding that there wasn’t enough evidence to support a prosecution. Main Justice and the FBI did not disagree with my assessment.

But local Republican leaders disagreed. They could not believe that the investigation failed to produce a prosecution. During the 2004-06 time period, Rumaldo Armijo and I received numerous phone calls and emails from former state G.O.P. counsel Patrick Rogers. He exhorted us to file cases. We could only tell him what we would tell any member of the public–that we would file provable cases and even then, we would not file a case just before an election if we felt it could affect the outcome of the election. This was policy of the Justice Department, per career attorney Craig Donsanto, who wrote the election fraud manual that all U.S. attorneys used. Significantly, Rogers never told Armijo or me that he was also an official of a group called the American Center for Voting Rights—a G.O.P. organization alleged to be engaged in voter suppression efforts. I did not find this important fact until after I left the Justice Department. I knew Rogers to be involved in the litigation over the voter I.D. law and knew him to be a fiercely partisan Republican. In 2006, I heard from a friend of mine who was active in the state party that the party was upset with me. At one point he implored me, “can’t you file something?” So I heard the rumbling of the party in the 2005-06 timeframe.

I was aware of the simmering discontent of the local Republicans. Just before the 2006 midterm election that discontent boiled over when I received a highly improper phone call from Congresswoman Heather Wilson in mid-October and another call from Senator Pete Domenici in late October. * * * Both Wilson and Domenici were talking about the same investigation. Wilson had used her opponent’s weak record in pursuing corruption cases as part of her attack strategy. I knew that if I told them I was close to indicting the case that would be used by Wilson in connection with her election campaign. I also knew they had no legitimate need to know when I would be filing the indictments. I was put on the list to be fired on November 7, 2006—Election Day. The timeline alone is damning and it was clear to me that I was placed on the list because I would not rush an indictment of a high-profile Democrat in a way that would benefit Wilson in her campaign. * * *

As Mr. Horton notes in his introduction,

His meteoric career is not simply the stuff of movies–after all, some of David Iglesias’s experiences as a Navy JAG at Guantánamo Bay furnished the material for Aaron Sorkin’s play “A Few Good Men,” later converted into a Hollywood blockbuster. (Italics in original.)

Even a stellar career in the Navy that is ‘the stuff of movies’ followed by six (6) years of public service as a United States Attorney was not sufficient to insulate Mr. Iglesias from the Bush administration. And throughout this whole sordid affair, Mr. Iglesias has maintained his professionalism, demonstrated his strength of character and, as a result, provides a model of conduct to which all attorneys should strive to emulate.

Read the rest of the interview here .

Buy David Iglesias’ book In Justice: Inside the Scandal That Rocked the Bush Administration.

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CREW files grievances against Michael J. Elston and Esther Slater McDonald

As far back as 2006, I began contacting various parties – including CREW – to suggest that an organized effort to file grievances would be an effective tactic for responding to the litany of attorneys engaged in questionable ethical conduct. Like most people and organizations I contacted, CREW never responded. Of the few responses I did receive, only one or two were in support of the idea and the rest usually just stated a simple reason or two why the idea wouldn’t work. As attorney after attorney continued to violate their ethical obligations with impunity, my frustration grew that there was no organized effort to promote a grievance strategy. As a result, I launched The Grievance Project in October, 2007.

When the DOJ IG report An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring in the Department of Justice Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program was released, I began preparing a grievance complaint against Michael J. Elston for his conduct described therein as well as for his role in the firing of United States Attorneys, including John McKay, Bud Cummins, Carol Lam and Paul Charlton. When I first saw Marcy Wheeler’s headline today declaring that CREW had filed grievances against Mr. Elston, my initial thoughts were that I just got ‘scooped’ by CREW and that I had wasted a lot time working on my Elston complaint. Almost immediately, I was quite pleased that CREW had finally adopted a (my?) grievance strategy and had filed the complaints.

A few thoughts now that I’ve read both Wheeler’s post and CREW’s press release:

  • Marcy Wheeler notes that this may have an affect on the law firms that have hired Mr. Elston and Ms. Esther Slater McDonald, stating that “[a]t the very least, one would hope this would embarrass the big corporate firms these two alleged law-breakers work for. After all, it appears that Alberto Gonzales still has only temporary employment. If all these hacks found themselves unemployable because of what they did, that’d be a start.” This was precisely my point regarding Hunton & Williams when they hired Kyle D. Sampson .
  • Although Mr. Elston is a member of the Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Virginia Bars, CREW filed a complaint against Mr. Elston only in Virginia and only sent copies of Virginia complaint to the the Illinois, Kansas and Missouri Bars. I believe a stronger approach would not just provide these states with a copy of the Virginia complaint but would also be to file official complaints against Mr. Elston in Illinois, Kansas and Missouri (or .pdf ).
  • CREW’s complaint against Mr. Elston only addresses his violations of his ethical obligations with respect to the issues raised in the DOJ IG report . Because Mr. Elston is also in violation of his ethical obligations due to his involvement with his role in the firing of United States Attorneys, including John McKay, Bud Cummins, Carol Lam and Paul Charlton, I will finish my Elston complaint with respect to to these violations.
  • Now that CREW has adopted a (my?) grievance strategy, I’ve prepared grievance complaints against Alberto Gonzales, Kyle D. Sampson, Lisa Murkowski, Harriet E. Miers, Mark Everett Fuller, and John Yoo that are ready for CREW to simply print and file. If you agree, contact:
    • Naomi Seligman, CREW’s Deputy Director and Communications Director, at 202.408.5565 or nseligman @ citizensforethics.org, and
    • Melanie Sloan, CREW’s Executive Director, at msloan @ citizensforethics.org.

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Alberto Gonzales: Not just unethical, but criminal?

As reported by Jason Leopold at the Online Journal on February 29, 2008, (h/t nonnie9999), Alberto Gonzales not only engaged in unethical conduct, but likely also engaged in conduct that was criminal:

John McKay, the former US attorney for the Western District of Washington who was also fired in late 2006 for reasons that appear to have been motivated by partisan politics, wrote in a lengthy article in the January edition of the Seattle University Law Review [incorrect link in original document] that Iglesias’s firing stands out among the other eight federal prosecutors because it demonstrates “the very real prospect of improper interference with an ongoing criminal investigation involving public corruption and the seeking of political advantage.”

“Violations of the obstruction of justice statute may have occurred and should be investigated,” McKay wrote. “Even as the role of the White House remains shrouded in its claims of executive privilege, 23 certain White House employees appear to have been heavily involved in the dismissal of U.S. Attorney Iglesias. In several e-mails it appears that these officials were reacting directly to the complaints of Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) and the ongoing investigation into public corruption in New Mexico. For example, Deputy White House Counsel Bill Kelley smugly e-mailed Gonzales’ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson to report that Domenici’s office was ‘happy as a clam’ on learning of Iglesias’s ouster. Senior Counselor to the President Karl Rove bragged about Iglesias’s dismissal by proclaiming ‘he’s gone’ to the New Mexico Republican Party Chairman, who had previously complained to Rove about Iglesias.”

* * *

This chain of events troubles McKay who wrote in his law review article that former Attorney General Gonzales ultimately approved Iglesias’s termination with the full knowledge that it was based on partisan politics.

Gonzales admitted “he took multiple phone calls from Domenici concerning [Iglesias], urging that he be replaced, and has admitted that [President Bush] spoke with him about the ‘problems’ with Iglesias,” McKay wrote.
”Gonzales has even admitted that one of the reasons that Iglesias was fired was because Senator Domenici had “lost confidence” in Iglesias. “While these allegations are troubling under any analysis, a thorough and independent investigation is necessary to determine whether criminal laws have been violated,” McKay added. “Among the considerations facing the inspector general is whether the actions of former Attorney General Gonzales constituted obstruction of justice by removing Iglesias.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for justice. No attorney employed by the Michael Mukasey-led Department of Justice will initiate an investigation of and pursue a criminal prosecution against Alberto Gonzales. As Leopold reports, they’re too busy fighting voter fraud:

Recently, the OPR contacted Iglesias’s former executive assistant, Rumaldo Armijo, to interview him about whether he was pressured by Pat Rogers, a Republican attorney in Albuquerque, and Mickey Barnett, a Republican lobbyist, to bring charges of voter fraud against Democrats in the state, Iglesias confirmed when asked about the matter during an interview.

Rogers was affiliated with the American Center for Voting Rights, a now defunct non-profit organization that sought to defend voter rights and increase public confidence in the fairness and outcome of elections. However, it has since emerged that the organization played a major role in suppressing the votes of people who intended to cast ballots for Democrats in various states. Rogers is also the former chief counsel to the New Mexico Republican Party, and was tapped by Domenici to replace Iglesias as US Attorney for New Mexico.

Rogers did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Armijo was also unavailable for comment. During his tenure in the US attorney’s office he was in charge of issues related to voter fraud in New Mexico. Iglesias said in an interview that he launched an in-depth investigation into claims of voter fraud in New Mexico and found the allegations to be “non-provable in court.” He said he is certain that his firing was due, in part, to the fact that he would not file criminal charges of voter fraud in New Mexico. Iglesias added that, based on evidence that had surfaced thus far and “Karl Rove’s obsession with voter fraud issues throughout the country,” he now believes GOP operatives had wanted him to go after Democratic-funded organizations in an attempt to swing the 2006 midterm elections to Republicans.

Armijo spoke to the Senate Ethics Committee last year about numerous telephone calls and emails dating back to 2005 he received from Rogers related to voter fraud, and Iglesias’s alleged failure to investigate the matter while Iglesias was US attorney, Iglesias confirmed.

Last May, House Democrats released a transcript of an interview congressional investigators had with one of Gonzales’s senior Justice Department staffers, Matthew Friedrich, in which Friedrich recounted that over breakfast in November 2006, Rogers and Barnett told him they were frustrated about Iglesias’s refusal to pursue cases of voter fraud and that they had spoken to Karl Rove and Domenici about having Iglesias fired.

“I remember them repeating basically what they had said before in terms of unhappiness with Dave Iglesias and the fact that this case hadn’t gone anyplace,” Friedrich said, according to a copy of the interview transcript. “It was clear to me that they did not want him to be the US attorney. And they mentioned that they had essentially . . . they were sort of working towards that.”

According to media reports, Rogers said he does not recall speaking to Rove about Iglesias.

Additionally, Barnett and Rogers met with Monica Goodling, the Justice Department’s White House liaison, in June 2006 to complain that Iglesias was ignoring voter fraud. Goodling’s meeting with Rogers and Barnett took place at the urging of a colleague. Rogers also drafted a lengthy letter that he sent to Domenici detailing what he claimed were Iglesias’s prosecutorial failures, Iglesias said he had been told.

Allen Weh, the New Mexico Republican Party chairman, told McClatchy Newspapers in March that he urged Rove to use his influence to have Iglesias fired because Weh was unhappy with Iglesias’s alleged refusal to bring criminal charges against Democrats in a voter fraud investigation.

At best, nothing will happen until Attorney General John Edwards(?) can order an investigation on January 21, 2009. But the fact that justice will not be served by the Department of Justice does not mean that justice must be denied:

ANY person residing in ANY state can file a grievance against Alberto Gonzales.

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