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Special Reports Last Updated: Mar 11th, 2008 - 23:57:21

Myth of voter fraud focus of Senate hearing
By Jason Leopold
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Mar 11, 2008, 00:48

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Last year, during the height of the congressional investigation into the firings of US attorneys David Iglesias and John McKay, two of the nine federal prosecutors who were ousted, revealed that they were pressured by Republicans to bring charges of voter fraud against people who intended to vote for Democrats in separate elections in New Mexico and Washington state several years ago.

Iglesias and McKay said they investigated the allegations but did not find evidence to support charges of voter fraud leveled by Republicans. Both men believe their refusal to convene a federal criminal grand jury to pursue the allegations led to their ouster.

There is no concrete evidence of voter fraud in the United States. Many election integrity experts believe voter fraud is a ploy by Republicans to suppress minorities and poor people from voting. Historically, those groups tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Raising red flags about the integrity of the ballots, experts believe, is an attempt by GOP operatives to swing elections to their candidates as well as an attempt to use the fear of criminal prosecution to discourage individuals from voting in future races.

Now a Senate panel chaired by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein is investigating whether the myth of voter fraud has led to "disenfranchisement" among individual voters.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration is scheduled to hold a hearing to explore the matter. Iglesias is one of the witnesses who will testify about the issue. In an interview, he said he intends to recount how his office was pressured by a close confidant of former White House political adviser Karl Rove to file criminal charges against Democrats for voter fraud.

Iglesias said that he had set up a task force and 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. 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.

The other witnesses scheduled to testify Wednesday include Robin Carnahan, the Secretary of State of Missouri, Robert Simms, and Georgia�s deputy secretary of state. Republicans have pushed through controversial voter identification bills in those states that appear to make it difficult for people who don't have driver�s licenses to vote. Federal courts blocked the measures. Additionally, Justin Levitt, an attorney and expert on voting issues who teaches at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, and Jeff Milyo, a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia Department of Economics, will also be on hand to testify.

In a column published in the Washington Post last year, Levitt said, "The notion of widespread voter fraud . . . is itself a fraud. Evidence of actual fraud by individual voters is painfully skimpy."

A common thread among Republican claims of voter fraud in New Mexico and Missouri that will be discussed during Wednesday's hearing is the work conducted in Missouri and New Mexico by a now defunct group called the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR), formerly headed by Mark "Thor" Hearne, a Republican operative who served as the national election counsel to the Bush/Cheney presidential campaign. Hearne worked closely with Rove and the Republican National Committee to raise issues of voter fraud in battleground states during the 2004 presidential election. Hearne's organization touted itself as an organization that sought to defend voter rights and increase public confidence in the fairness and outcome of elections. However, evidence has surfaced that showed Hearne's group played a major role in suppressing the votes of people who intended to cast ballots for Democrats in states where Republicans faced tough reelection campaigns.

Additionally, Hearne and his associates are believed to have played a direct role in Iglesias's firing as well as the forced resignation of Todd Graves, the former US attorney for Kansas City, Missouri.

Graves was forced to resign in March 2006, Mckay, the former US attorney for the Western District of Washington, believes, because he would not file criminal charges of voter fraud against four employees of ACORN, a group that registers low-income individuals who tend to cast votes for Democrats, nor would he bow to pressure from Hearne and a Justice Department official to file a civil suit against Carnahan, Missouri's secretary of state, on charges that Carnahan failed to take action on cases of voter fraud. The DOJ's Civil Rights Division filed the civil suit against Carnahan, which was later dismissed by a federal court judge who ruled, "The United States has not shown that any Missouri resident was denied his or her right to vote as a result of deficiencies alleged by the United States. Nor has the United States shown that any voter fraud has occurred."

Graves was swiftly replaced by Bradley Schlozman, the former head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division's voting-rights section, who had regularly clashed with Graves about cases of voter fraud and who spoke to Hearne regularly about US attorneys who allegedly refused to pursue such cases.

McKay said that when Schlozman was selected to replace Graves as US attorney, "many eyebrows were raised."

"Many US attorneys were concerned when Mr. Schlozman was appointed," McKay said in an interview last year. "He was the deputy in the [Justice Department's] civil rights division, but I don't think he had the sort of background and experience we would have expected as a United States attorney," McKay told me. "So I would say it would be true that many eyebrows were raised when he was first appointed. Of course, we didn't know that Todd Graves had been forced to resign . . . and it appears that he was forced to resign at least in part because Mr. Schlozman himself was trying to push the prosecution of voter fraud cases."

Schlozman filed federal criminal charges of voter fraud against members of ACORN on the evening of the November 2006 mid-term election. The case was later dismissed and Schlozman came under fire for his actions. Justice Department policy states that charges related to voter fraud should not be close to an election. Schlozman testified before a Senate committee last year that he received approval to file the voter fraud charges from a Justice Department official who was instrumental in drafting the guidelines urging that US attorneys avoid filing charges claiming voter fraud at the height of an election.

Hearne also took part in a conference call during the 2004 presidential campaign with several high-ranking Bush administration officials who discussed strategies for suppressing votes in battleground states, such as Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, where Bush was trailing Democratic nominee John Kerry.

An email, dated September 30, 2004, and sent to a dozen or so staffers on the Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC, under the subject line "voter reg fraud strategy conference call," describes how campaign staffers planned to challenge the veracity of votes in a handful of battleground states, such as Ohio, in the event of a Democratic victory.

Emails between Ohio Republican Party official Michael Magan, Coddy Johnson, then national field director of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, and Timothy Griffin, reveal the men were given documents that could be used as evidence to justify widespread voter challenges if the Bush campaign needed to contest the election results. Johnson referred to the documents as a "goldmine".

The documents Hearne and his counterparts obtained were lists of registered voters who did not return address confirmation forms to the Ohio Boards of Elections. The Republican operatives compared this list with lists of voters who requested absentee ballots. In the opinion of one of the strategists, the fact that many names appeared on both lists was evidence of voter fraud. "A bad registration card can be an accident or fraud. A bad card AND an Absentee Ballot request is a clear case of fraud," former Bush-Cheney campaign staffer Robert Paduchik wrote in a 2004 email.

But Christopher McInerney, a RNC researcher, warned his colleagues at the time that if "other states . . . don't have flagged voter rolls, we run the risk of having GOP fingerprints."

In New Mexico, Iglesias said in an interview that 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.

Rogers worked for Hearne's AVCR group. 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 when Iglesias was fired.

Rogers has not responded to emails seeking comment. But in prior email correspondence he has insisted that he did not play a role in Iglesias's firing and categorically denied that he pressured Iglesias to bring charges of voter fraud against Democrats.

Recently, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which is investigating the US attorney firings with particular attention being paid to Iglesias's dismissal, interviewed Rumaldo Armijo, Iglesias's former executive assistant, to find out whether he was pressured by Rogers and Barnett to file criminal charges of voter fraud in the state in 2006. During his tenure in the US attorney's office, Armijo was in charge of voter issues and worked with Iglesias�s task force to probe the matter, Iglesias confirmed.

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.

Weh told McClatchy Newspapers that he followed up with Rove personally in late 2006 during a visit to the White House.

"Is anything ever going to happen to that guy?" Weh said he asked Rove at a White House holiday event that month, according to McClatchy's report.

"He's gone," Rove said, according to Weh.

"I probably said something close to 'Hallelujah,'" said Weh.

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

For his part, McKay believes his firing was due to the fact that Republicans were angry that he did not convene a federal grand jury to pursue allegations of voter fraud related to the 2004 governor's election in the state, in which Democrat Christine Gregoire defeated Republican Dino Rossi by a margin of 129 votes.

In an interview, McKay said there were some Republicans in his district with close ties to the White House who demanded he launch an investigation into the election and bring charges against individuals -- Democrats -- for vote-rigging. He believes his refusal to haul "innocent people before a grand jury" was the reason he was not selected for a federal judgeship by local Republicans in Washington state in 2006.

McKay said that, at the time, he felt he was not being treated fairly, and requested a meeting with then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers to discuss the issue, as well as his application for US district judge in his home state

"I asked for a meeting with Harriet Miers, whom I had known since work I had been involved in with the American Bar Association, and she immediately agreed to see me in August of 2006," McKay said. He added that when he met with Miers and her deputy William Kelley at the White House, the first thing they asked him was, "Why would Republicans in the state of Washington be angry with you?"

That was "a clear reference to the 2004 governor's election," McKay said in characterizing Miers and her deputy's comments. "Some believed I should convene a federal grand jury and bring innocent people before the grand jury."

"All of my actions as United States attorney had been coordinated with the Department of Justice," McKay told me. He said he explained that to Miers and Kelley, and informed them that there was no evidence of voter fraud to support launching a federal inquiry into the election.

McKay said he believes the meeting he had with Miers and Kelley directly led to his name being placed on a list of US attorneys selected for dismissal in December 2006.

� 2008 Jason Leopold

Jason Leopold is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Mr. Leopold is also a two-time winner of the Project Censored award, most recently, in 2007, for an investigative story related to Halliburton's work in Iran.

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