"The Pre-Christmas Firing Massacre"

(CBS)
December 7th: to many Americans, it's Pearl Harbor Day.

To seven former U.S. Attorneys, it'll also be remembered forevermore as the "pre-Christmas firing massacre".

One by one, last December 7th, each of them received a telephone call giving them their walking papers. It's not that they were swept up in scandals or wrongdoing. Quite the opposite. For example one of them, Carol Lam of San Diego, was best known for successfully leading the high-profile corruption prosecution of Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham.

Now, first you should know that it's not really unusual for federal prosecutors to get fired. U.S. Attorneys are Department of Justice political appointees, serving at the pleasure of whichever party happens to be in the White House. When a President who's a Democrat is replaced by a Republican, the Democrats' U.S. Attorneys are typically replaced with Republicans. It's all part of the job.

What's unusual about the "pre-Christmas firing massacre" is that it wasn't triggered by any change in administration. The Republican administration fired seven of its own Republican-appointed prosecutors. Some of the prosecutors have told us they were left angry or puzzled.

But Republicans-firing-Republicans might have amounted to nothing more than a family squabble if it weren't for all the political innuendos that have been circulating. Maybe, some whispered, these prosecutors hadn't been doing the Republicans' bidding. Maybe they were fired for political reasons. Speculation became something more than that yesterday when one of the ousted prosecutors, David Iglesias of New Mexico spoke publicly and said he might have been fired for refusing to cave in to political pressure.

The way Iglesias tells it, last October he got phone calls from two members of Congress (whom he hasn't publicly identified). In those phone conversations he says he felt pressured to speed up a certain criminal investigation of a certain state Democrat (whom he hasn't publicly identified). He didn't think it was coincidental that this all happened right before the November election. He says he resisted the pressure. Maybe that, he theorizes, is why he got shown the door.

All of it is just far too juicy for Democrats to stay out of. Yesterday, they led a House Judiciary subcommittee vote to subpoena Iglesias and three of the other former U.S. Attorneys. They'll appear at a hearing next week. Some of them, at least, seem eager to talk. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee say they want to hold hearings, too.

Maybe under oath, Iglesias will reveal the names of those two members of Congress who called him about investigating that Democrat. Somewhere, two members of Congress are probably squirming uncomfortably.

U.S. Prosecutors ousted on Dec. 7:

Kevin Ryan in San Francisco
Carol S. Lam in San Diego
John McKay in Seattle
David C. Iglesias in New Mexico
Daniel G. Bogden in Nevada
Paul K. Charlton in Arizona
Margaret Chiara in Michigan
(Bud Cummins in Little Rock was asked to resign in June and also left in December).

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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