Department of Justice officials in Washington, D.C., were concerned that former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger was spending too much time on Indian issues, a former Bush administration aide said on Wednesday.
Heffelfinger wasn't one of the prosecutors who was purged late last year in what has become a political scandal. But his name appeared on an early list of possible targets and Monica Goodling, a former aide to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, explained why.
"There were some concerns that he spent an extraordinary amount of time
as the leader of the Native American Subcommittee,"
Goodling, who resigned as the scandal broke, told the House
Goodling didn't identify who was concerned about Heffelfinger's
"performance," as she put it.
Upon further questioning by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) --
who asked about a federal voting rights lawsuit filed
by the National Congress of American Indians --
she said she wasn't aware of any "specific" complaints.
"The concern that I heard raised was just that he spent an
extraordinary amount of time on the subcommittee business,"
The remarks, for the first time, publicly confirm suspicions
about Heffelfinger's tenure as U.S. Attorney for Minnesota.
News reports have indicated that he was a potential target
but no one from the administration talked about it until
Goodling's appearance, which came only after the committee
granted her immunity.
From his arrival in September 2001 through his departure in February 2006,
Heffelfinger was chairman of the Native American Issues Subcommittee.
He was appointed to the position by former Attorney General John
In an interview last month, Heffelfinger told Indianz.Com that he
received top-level support for his efforts.
"My experience with Attorney General Gonzales that he was very interested in
Indian Country and was very supportive of the work we
were doing to improve public safety issues," he said.
But in an interview with
Minnesota Public Radio
testimony, he said he
was "ashamed" that some "lower-level" officials in Washington were
concerned about his Indian focus.
"If they're telling me I shouldn't have spent time responding to the
tragic shooting at Red Lake High School, then shame on them,"
"If they're telling me I shouldn't have spent time trying to improve the
safety for Native American women and children, who are the most
victimized elements of our population, then shame on them again," he added.
Heffelfinger was a visible figure in Indian Country during his time
as U.S. Attorney. He frequently appeared at tribal meetings
and Indian law conferences to advance his Indian agenda, which consisted
of public safety, drug trafficking, violence against women and children,
Indian gaming and clarification of criminal jurisdiction.
But some of his main allies on those issues were fired last December
by the Bush administration.
They include five federal prosecutors who sat on the Native
subcommittee and who represented states with a significant
Margaret Chiara, the U.S. Attorney from Michigan who took over
Heffelfinger's post as chairman of the subcommittee when he left,
was among those fired.
"She was a tireless advocate as U.S. Attorney for the issues
of women and children, in particular, in Indian Country," Heffelfinger
Chaira took the lead on amendments to the Violence Against
Women Act, which for the first time included an Indian title.
The bill was signed into law in early 2006.
The other fired prosecutors -- including Paul Charlton of Arizona,
David Iglesias of New Mexico -- also played significant roles
on Indian issues.
Charlton helped bust major a methamphetamine ring
and prosecuted high-profile crimes on reservations
while Iglesias took the lead on a bill to resolve criminal jurisdiction
on Pueblo lands.
During a Washington Post
online chat yesterday, someone asked Iglesias if he was fired for
his "Indian gaming connections."
He gave three reasons, including his failure to bring a political
corruption case against a Democrat, but didn't say whether
his tribal work was at issue.
Goodling Testifies Before The House Judiciary Committee
David Iglesias on U.S. Attorney Firings, Goodling Testimony
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