What's wrong with this picture?
Federal grand-jury indictments into allegations of a public corruption kickback scheme during the 2004 construction of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse were released Thursday. Current acting U.S. Attorney Larry Gomez, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, right, and Federal Bureau of Investigations Albuquerque’s Field Office Special Agent in Charge Thomas McClenaghan announced the indictments, naming four people.
Under indictment for: conspiracy, frauds and swindles (mail fraud), money laundering and laundering of monetary instruments, are former Senate Pro-tem Manny Aragón, below left, former Metropolitan Court Administrator Toby Martinez and his wife Sandra Mata Martinez and electrical sub contractor Raul Parra.
Former Albuquerque Mayor Ken Shultz, above right, who is shown lobbying a couple of weeks ago at the State Legislature, architect Marc Schiff and contractor Manuel Guara, have agreed to enter guilty pleas and testify against those indicted.
What’s a wing nut you ask?
It is a hardware fastener that wraps around a hex-nut and is made for temporary use and designed to come off and go on with ease. Once started onto a bolt, a flick of the finger will start it spinning. When it gets to the point it is meant to hold, it can only be torqued finger tight. When one wishes to remove the nut, backing it off to a point of looseness, a flick of the finger in the reverse direction causes the wing nut to spin right off.
A wing nut is also a name attributed to far right wing political operatives who engage in high levels of rhetoric, spinning their message as suits the moment.
Now, I don’t normally like calling folks names, however titles are another thing.
There are two particular wing nuts that I have been watching with some degree of interest in the local area. I’ve introduced them before, in the “Can we see Laura” posting of Dec. 5, 2006. They are Whitney Cheshire, The Wednesday Morning Quarterback, http://www.wednesdaymorningqb.com and Mario Burgos, http://www.marioburgos.com/.
Cheshire is President of Cheshire Communication Strategies, a professional campaign management and public relations firm, http://www.cheshirestrategies.com/. She has made it her recent mission to attack former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias for what she claims was his inability to obtain voter fraud convictions and the failure to open the sealed indictments that were released this week.
I have not met either one, but as a matter of fair disclosure, I have done work for a candidate that Cheshire had as a client at the same time.
Cheshire’s apparent effort has been to provide cover to Rep. Heather Wilson and Sen. Pete Domenici for their questionable phone calls to Iglesias, late in last year’s political campaign. Some believe the calls appeared to have been an effort to get Iglesias to release indictments into allegations of a public corruption kick back scheme during the construction of the courthouse.
Iglesias was asked to resign on Dec.7, 2006, with seven other U.S. Attorneys around the country. Since their release, questions about the motivation for their firings have surfaced. The Department of Justice and White House, in what they have admitted was a poorly handled affair, claimed the former U.S. Attorneys of being released for performance reasons.
The former U.S. Attorneys, and Iglesias in particular, took umbrage with an attack on the professional staff in his office. In DOJ performance review documents, recently released to congress, Iglesias had been rated in the top 10 of the 93 U.S. Attorneys.
Iglesias and other U.S. Attorneys recognized that they serve at the pleasure of the president. However, questions of the true motives surfaced because there was some indication the fired prosecutors might have been released for other reasons; political reasons.
Political observers surmise that the early release of indictments, against the suspected participants, could have been used as political ammunition, against Wilson’s challenger, then New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid.
Ethics and public corruption were major issues during the campaign. Iglesias’ office was prosecuting an ongoing fraud trial involving two former Democratic state treasurers. Republicans attacked Madrid for not having started the investigation. Democrats contended that the Attorney General had started an investigation, but the FBI had taken over the case.
Iglesias’ office, using involved participants who were offered plea agreements to testify against former State Treasurer Robert Vigil, went to trial. A mistrial was declared, caused by a hung jury. Vigil was subsequently retried in Federal District Court and convicted of a single count of attempted extortion from the 24 remaining counts of the original indictment.
Cheshire suggests, there is nothing wrong with elected officials calling a prosecutor about an ongoing politically charged criminal investigation with sealed indictments, in the midst of a heated election campaign. She contends that it is right and proper.
Cheshire asserts that after viewing a couple of local news stories, that she has posted on her site, about allegations of possible voter fraud, it is sufficient evidence to prosecute unknown perpetrators. She claims to have seen the “evidence.” It apparently did not meet any rigorous legal test as evidence. Just because something looks bad, does not mean that one may attach it to an individual who then can be convicted of a crime.
She ignored the fact that there was a case, where a paid voter registration drive worker apparently copied names from the telephone book. One of the names, registered as a Democrat by the worker, was Republican Bernalillo County Commissioner Tim Cummins. Cummins filed a criminal complaint with Republican Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, who initiated an investigation, identified a suspect and acquired an arrest warrant alleging voter fraud. The suspect absconded from the state before the warrant could be served.
Cheshire also attributes the failure of any voter fraud prosecutions solely on Iglesias. She ignores the fact that a prosecutor is dependant on law enforcement to present them with a case. They must make decisions on the sufficiency of the evidence and credibility of the witnesses and determine the likelihood of a successful outcome at trial. Prosecutors are granted extraordinary power to make such determinations.
Cheshire also posted a letter to DOJ officials by New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer that questioned the progress of an investigation and compared it to what Wilson and Domenici did. There are differences. Schumer went through DOJ, in writing, not directly to the local prosecutor by phone.
However, if Schumer’s contact was improper, it doesn’t make Wilson and Domenici’s contacts proper. Any student of law or law enforcement who has taken the basic ethics class knows that you don’t approach the prosecutor except to bring them evidence or information about the case.
Though one might accept Wilson’s lack of legal training, and I won’t assert the fact that she is married to a lawyer, as reason for her not to know what is inappropriate, Domenici is a lawyer and should know better. Domenici has since said he regrets making the call. Wilson claims her call was appropriate and done only after an unnamed constituent asked her to make the inquiry.
Years of operating in the political morass that exists inside the Maryland-Virginia branch of I-495, known as the Washington Beltway, could make one forget that picking up the phone and seeking information might cross the line. Wilson and Domenici are accustomed to accomplishing things through political power by picking up the phone, whether the calls were intended as influence, pressure or not.
Clearly, the result of the Wilson/Domenici phone calls and the other calls for Iglesias’ firing have escalated into the biggest political storm, involving New Mexicans at the national level, since the 1922 Teapot Dome Scandal.
Burgos is also a professional public relations and marketing consultant. He is a strident Republican. He makes no apologies for his full time defense and support for Wilson.
Burgos’ wife is from a long line of New Mexicans, while he proudly hails from New York City. He ran for a State House seat for the East Mountains district and was defeated. Just last week, he ran for Bernalillo County Republican party chair, but lost to incumbent Fernando C de Baca.
Not withstanding Burgos’ Hispanic roots, critics are more concerned with the short time he has lived in the land of enchantment and call him a “Damn Yankee.”
Now I know a little about being a “Damn Yankee,” having arrived 40 years ago after 16 years of living in four different states and another country, I too was a “flatland foreigner.” It took many years for me to settle into and to be accepted as a New Mexican. It didn’t matter that I thought myself a New Mexican; it wasn’t until the natives, even those born after I arrived, accepted me. Some still don’t.
Education, knowledge, experience and political astuteness aside, acceptance into New Mexico politics, both Democratic and Republican, is gained slowly.
Together, Cheshire and Burgos have been teamed up to become the darlings for the left/right political punditry format on local television; they represent the right of course – far right. One or the other is regularly seen in KNME’s, “The Line,” when Cheshire replaced John Dendahl, after he was elevated to be the Republican gubernatorial candidate last year.
Burgos wrote Friday, “What a World of Difference a Change Can Make(?)” attributing the release of the federal indictments on the new temporary U.S. Attorney. “Now, anyone still wonder why neither the former U.S. Attorney or Attorney General have a job. Yeah, I didn't think so,” Burgos wrote.
Steve Terrell, left, of the New Mexican with contribution from the Associated Press reported that, “Guara, who signed his plea agreement Tuesday, said Raul Parra recruited his company, Datcom Inc., as a subcontractor on technology work at the courthouse.”
So what's wrong with this picture?
When I was an adjunct university professor, teaching public administration, my pupils and I examined a number of historic and current topics of public concern. I encouraged open discussion and often we had heated debates.
There were only a couple of ground rules: accurate statement of fact before opinion and that I might change sides, at any time, if I thought the rhetoric needed challenging or that some other viewpoint was overlooked or ignored.
I had an open challenge with the students and told them that, “if you can determine my actual position or opinion, please let me know what it is.” I learned as much from these discussions as did the students.
U.S. Attorney David Iglesias acquired a single count conviction of attempted extortion against former State Treasurer Robert Vigil and obtained guilty pleas from all the other co-conspirators.
Rep. Wilson and Sen. Domenici admitted making phone calls to Iglesias, but denied that they were trying to pressure or intimidate him.
Documentation provided to the Senate Judiciary committee looking into the firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys show that Domenici had made repeated complaints of Iglesias to the White House and Department of Justice.
Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers, right, who has represented Wilson and the Republican Party in the past, also admitted speaking with Iglesias about the stalled indictments and he later contacted members of the Bush administration about removing him. Another Albuquerque attorney, Mickey Barnett, who at one time was a Washington based Domenici aide, later sat on the Republican National Committee representing New Mexico and currently is a presidential appointed Postal Service Governor, also complained about Iglesias to the Justice Department according to e-mails released to congress.
To answer Burgos’ question, “Now, anyone still wonder why neither the former U.S. Attorney or Attorney General have a job.” Madrid was blocked from running for her position by term limits, not by losing that race. She lost her challenge to Wilson’s New Mexico 1 Congressional seat by less than 900 votes.
The emphasis in Terrell’s story is on the fact that Guara signed a plea agreement last Tuesday. It appears that contrary to all the calls for the release of the indictments last year, the confidence in the evidence for the U.S. Attorney to proceed to trial may not have come together until as recently as last week.
Attorney Randi McGinn told Albuquerque Journal investigative reporter Mike Gallagher in a Nov. 23, 2006, copyrighted story, that she represented former state District Judge W. John Brennan, left, who had been questioned by the FBI in an investigation into the construction of the Bernalillo County District Courthouse. Brennan had been chief judge during the planning and construction of the building. Brennan’s name did not appear in the recently released indictments. McGinn said Brennan was only questioned as a witness.
There is some indication through Journal reports that there may be at least two other public buildings constructed in the past few years: the District Courthouse, the Metropolitan Detention Center and possibly the National Hispanic Cultural Centre, where the Manny M Aragón Torreon is located and named after the defendant.
Of course, the wing nuts could simply be engaging in hyperbole, balderdash or humbug, all age old and honored journalistic traditions.
The only problem with that possibility is, if one holds themselves out to be taken seriously, then they don’t engage in hyperbole, balderdash or humbug, for it attacks their own credibility.
It may also be beyond their grasp that facts and statements that seem in stark opposition to each other may not be. The concept of holding more than one radically different idea at the same time should not be discounted. It is possible that when Wilson and Domenici made their phone calls, they did not think they were or would be interpreted as trying to influence, interfere, or pressure Iglesias. It is also possible that Iglesias chose not to report his mentor and political allies out of a sense of loyalty to them. Perhaps he thought he could put his feelings of being pressured aside, and through his own convictions, find a way through it.
It seems easier for wing nuts to engage in attacks of personal destruction, demonizing those who do not march in lockstep with them.
It is my humble opinion that public relations and political consultant professionals along with advertisers seem to have skipped, slept through, forgot or simply ignored what is taught in any basic ethics class.
The administration of justice is predicated upon the independence of the prosecutors’ offices, at every level. When one can’t see that it is not appropriate for an elected official or anyone else to make an inquiry into the status of an ongoing criminal investigation, then the elected official or public figure runs the risk of crossing more than the ethical line and might interfere in the administration of, or even obstruct justice.
Ultimately, I believe these events will remain in the political arena and not move into the criminal sphere for a couple of reasons. Though there might be a political component, it is the duty of the FBI and the DOJ to pursue them. We already know that these cases lead inside the White House. It is easier for those who wish to continue this matter to do so as a classic congressional – executive branch battle, therefore political in nature.
If the White House persists in resisting open and on the record sworn testimony of presidential aides before congress, the appointment of an independent counsel is not out of the question. The last time the White House faced an independent counsel, Patrick Fitzpatrick, look at them, they lost Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who recently was convicted of lying to the FBI.
It’s not that I object to opinions being stated; it is that they are not based on the accurate stating of facts.
Bernard Baruch may have said it best, “Everyone has the right to his opinion, but no one has a right to be wrong in his facts.”