The Department of Justice�s internal watchdogs are
investigating who told the Associated Press that the Association of Community
Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a grassroots group that has registered
hundreds of thousands of new voters, is under federal investigation for alleged
voter registration fraud, according to John Conyers, the Democratic chairman of
the House Judiciary Committee.
The DOJ�s inspector general and Office of Professional
Responsibility, according to Conyers, are probing the leak.
Conyers disclosed the two separate probes in a letter he
sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey to inquire about another leak to the
AP: that Sen. Barack Obama�s aunt has been living in the United States
illegally and had made a donation to this presidential campaign. Federal
election law prohibits foreigners from making political donations.
�I was startled to read in today�s Associated Press that a �federal
law enforcement official� has leaked information about an immigration case
involving a relative of Senator Obama,� Conyers wrote. �Even more troubling,
the AP reports that it could not �could not establish whether anyone at a
political level in the Bush administration or in the McCain campaign had been
involved,� a very disturbing suggesting [sic] indeed. This leak is deplorable
and I urge you to take immediate action to investigate and discipline those
�I note that this is not the first leak of law enforcement
information apparently designed to influence the coming Presidential election
-- in recent weeks law enforcement sources leaked information about an alleged
investigation of a community services organization, a leak that the Department
of Justice informs me is now under investigation by the Department�s Office of
the Inspector General and Professional Responsibility.�
The AP, citing law enforcement officials, reported two weeks
ago that the FBI launched a probe into ACORN to examine evidence that the
organization committed voter registration fraud around the country.
The reported FBI probe followed a clamor from the right-wing
news media and Republican operatives over ACORN�s voter registrations, making a
campaign issue out of voter-registration forms with fake names like �Mickey
For its part, ACORN has insisted that its own quality
control flagged many of the suspicious registration forms before they were
submitted to state officials and that state laws often require outside
registration groups to submit all forms regardless of obvious problems.
Conyers complained to Mukasey and FBI Director Robert
Mueller about the leak to the AP in a letter he sent to them earlier this
�As an initial matter, it is simply unacceptable that such
information would be leaked during the very peak of the election season,�
�I know it has become a right-wing cottage industry to cry
wolf over alleged �voter fraud� during an election season (only to have such
claims evaporate after the election has concluded).
�One would hope the Justice Department and FBI would more
skeptically examine such sensational accusations than some cable news outlets.
And this is particularly true where the allegations, even given their fullest
reading, simply do not support such alarmist and unreasonable claims.�
Federal investigative guidelines strongly discourage
election-related probes before ballots are cast because of the likelihood that
the inquiries will become politicized and might influence the election
�In most cases, voters should not be interviewed, or other
voter-related investigation done, until after the election is over,� according
to the Justice Department�s guidelines for election offenses as revised in May
2007 during Gonzales�s tenure as attorney general.
Even though those May 2007 guidelines watered down even
stricter language in previous editions, the Gonzales-era rules still cautioned:
�Overt investigative steps may chill legitimate voting activities. They are
also likely to be perceived by voters and candidates as an intrusion into the
election. Indeed, the fact of a federal criminal investigation may itself
become an issue in the election.�
The investigations launched against ACORN have raised
concerns that Republicans are flogging this issue in an effort to stir up
anger, to revive McCain�s campaign, and to intimidate new voters.
Trying to salvage his campaign, John McCain has jumped into
the ACORN case, too, citing it at the third presidential debate. He declared
ACORN �is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in
voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.�
The McCain campaign�s attempt to politicize the ACORN
investigation in the closing days of Campaign 2008 has striking parallels to
the Bush administration�s use of the same issue in 2004 and 2006.
In October 2004, Marc Racicot, chairman of the Bush-Cheney
2004 presidential campaign, called on Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John
Kerry to demand that ACORN and other voter registration groups stop engaging in
voter registration fraud.
Racicot said these registration efforts would �ultimately
paralyze the effective ability of Americans to be able to vote in the next
Two weeks before the 2004 presidential election, Republican
National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob
Bennett announced the formation of a media campaign to counter what they
claimed was voter registration fraud in nine Ohio counties.
�The reports of voter fraud in Ohio are some of the most
alarming in the nation,� Gillespie said on Oct. 20, 2004.
Ohio was one of the battleground states in the 2004 election
where tens of thousands of voters were purged from the registration rolls and
where there were widespread reports that votes intended for Kerry went to Bush.
In Florida, another battleground state in the 2004
presidential election, where President Bush�s brother Jeb was governor, the
state�s Department of Law launched a statewide probe into voter registration
fraud just two weeks before the presidential election.
A press release issued by the Department of Law cited ACORN,
which registered more than 212,000 new voters in the state.
In the two weeks before Election 2004, GOP officials raised
similar concerns in Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.
Documents have since surfaced showing how GOP operatives
recognized the value of this strategy.
An e-mail, dated Sept. 30, 2004, and sent to a dozen or so
staffers in 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.
E-mails -- among Ohio Republican Party official Michael
Magan; Coddy Johnson, then national field director of the Bush-Cheney 2004
campaign; and Rove associate 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 were lists of registered voters who did not return address
confirmation forms to the Ohio Board of Elections.
David Iglesias, the former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, was
fired in 2006 after he refused to prosecute what turned out to be
unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud leveled against ACORN.
In an interview, Iglesias said he was surprised that the FBI
would have agreed to investigate ACORN now and that the inquiry must have
received a green light from high levels of the Justice Department.
Iglesias said that in September 2004, when he set up an
election fraud task force, he met professional resistance from the FBI.
�The FBI in [New Mexico] was skittish when I raised the
voter fraud task force that I formed back in 2004 because the SAC [Special
Agent in Charge} said the FBI General Counsel said such investigations were
discouraged due to the appearance of being too �political,�� Iglesias said.
�I had to twist their arms for them to get involved and only
after I assured them that no prosecutions would be filed before the election. .
. . I wonder why the FBI went from being skittish back in 2004 to being forward
leaning now. Who is pressuring them and why?�
Iglesias said Bush�s Justice Department issued a directive
to all U.S attorneys to find and prosecute cases of voter fraud in their states
during the hotly contested elections in 2002, 2004 and 2006, even though
evidence of such abuses was extremely thin or nonexistent.
In his book, In
Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration, Iglesias
said in late summer 2002 he received an e-mail from the Justice Department
suggesting �in no uncertain terms� that U.S. attorneys should immediately begin
working with local and state election officials �to offer whatever assistance
we could in investigating and prosecuting voter fraud cases.�
When Iglesias faced similar pressure again in 2006 -- and
refused to bring cases he considered inappropriate --- he found himself on a
list of U.S. attorneys targeted for dismissal.
According to a report by the Justice Department�s inspector
general, �Patrick Rogers, the former general counsel to the New Mexico state
Republican Party and a party activist, continued [before the 2006 election] to
complain about voter fraud issues in New Mexico.
�In a March 2006 e-mail forwarded to [Craig] Donsanto in the
[Justice Department�s] Public Integrity Section, Rogers complained about voter
fraud in New Mexico and added, �I have calls in, to the USA [U.S. attorney] and
his main assistant, but they were not much help during the ACORN fraudulent
registration debacle last election.�
Donsanto was the author of the updated May 2007 Federal
Prosecution of Election Offenses manual that softened the warnings about
investigating and prosecuting voter fraud cases before an election.
In June 2006, Rogers sent Iglesias�s Executive Assistant
U.S. Attorney Rumaldo Armijo an e-mail: �The voter fraud wars continue. Any
indictment of the Acorn [sic] woman would be appreciated. . . . The
ACLU/Wortheim [sic] democrats will turn to the camera and suggest fraud is not
an issue, because the USA would have done something by now. Carpe Diem!�
John Wertheim was then chairman of the New Mexico Democratic
Iglesias said he now believes GOP claims of voter fraud have
been �unique to the Bush administration.�
The DOJ�s inspector general and Office of Professional
Responsibility released a lengthy report last month that concluded Iglesias was
fired because he did not pursue voter fraud cases.
Leopold is the author of �News Junkie,� a memoir. Visit
for a preview. His new website is The