WASHINGTON — A longtime protege of President Bush told former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias that he was fired for political reasons and that he shouldn't fight his ouster, Iglesias says in a new book.
"This is political," Iglesias recalls Texas U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton telling him shortly after he was ousted. "If I were you, I'd just go quietly."
Iglesias, a former U.S. attorney in New Mexico, is one of nine federal prosecutors whose firings triggered a yearlong controversy at the Justice Department and led to the resignations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and 11 other Justice Department officials.
Iglesias cites the exchange with Sutton in his upcoming book, "In Justice," as further evidence that he was forced out because Republicans were displeased with his refusal to prosecute Democrats.
"I couldn't believe what I was hearing: a U.S. attorney all but admitting that a colleague was being hung out to dry for reasons that had nothing to do with performance or professionalism," he wrote in a draft of the book, which McClatchy obtained.
Sutton, who's the top U.S. attorney in San Antonio, didn't return phone calls Thursday seeking comment.
As a result of Iglesias' and several other prosecutors' accusations that they were fired in December 2006 for improper political reasons, the Justice Department turned over thousands of documents, and Congress forced top officials, including Gonzales, to testify.
No one has determined who decided which prosecutors should be fired and why. Democrats say that must mean the White House was calling the shots, while the administration has said it demonstrates that the firings were blown out of proportion.
Iglesias said he asked Sutton how he knew about his firing.
"I saw your name," he quoted Sutton as saying.
Iglesias said in an interview that Sutton refused to elaborate, "but to have one of the most powerful U.S. attorneys tell me my firing was political was confirmation, in my view, that I was fired for the wrong reasons."
During a congressional investigation of the firings, department e-mails revealed that Sutton was given a heads-up about the firings because he was the chairman of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys.
Justice Department officials said they couldn't comment on Iglesias' account because of an ongoing probe of the firings by the department's inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility.
"The department is cooperating with that investigation and has no further comment," said spokesman Peter Carr.
Sutton, whose ties to Bush date back to the president's Texas gubernatorial campaign, has been singled out himself by Republican critics who have called for his resignation. So far, he's weathered the political storm.
The critics have accused Sutton of leading an overzealous prosecution of Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, each sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for shooting a Mexican drug courier as he was trying to flee back to Mexico.
"The type of protection from political pressure that Johnny has gotten was the kind of protection that I thought we would get," said Iglesias, who said he bears Sutton no ill will. "And we didn't get it, I think largely because we didn't have a personal relationship with the president."
Iglesias' book, co-authored by Davin Seay, is due out in early June.
McClatchy Newspapers 2008