Democracy and Elections

Another Washington Whitewash: The IG Report on Bush's U.S. Attorney Firings

A noted Democratic Party election lawyer says the recent Justice Department inspector general report skips the hard questions.
The Department of Justice Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility’s Report on the U.S. Attorney firings is not a full-dress treatment of the topic, having been hampered by key witnesses’ refusal to submit to interviews.

It is a measure of the crudity and clumsiness of these firings that, on only the information that could be gathered, a clear picture of illicit motives and grubby tactics emerges. In this election season, as we hear more about "fraud", the report is a reminder of the raw politics behind these assertions

The chapter of the report on the firing of former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias shows all the main pieces, neatly fitted together, of this politics.

Process
We have on display here, in senior Republican circles, a conviction of widespread fraud that cannot be shaken -- not by evidence, nor by the lack of evidence, nor by the investigation conducted by Iglesias that his Republican critics dismissed only because it did not deliver the goods. Iglesias assembled a Task Force to look into the allegations but he mistakenly assumed that it should have a varied and bi-partisan membership. This was all that was necessary for Republican Party officials and "anti-fraud" activists to eye him with a suspicion soon to harden into disdain. Process did not suit these crusaders: they knew what they knew, and Iglesias, with his emphasis on investigation and evidence, clearly did not have the mettle for the job.

Evidence
One hilarious passage deals with the "evidence" that Iglesia’s detractors were relying on. Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM) noted, and referred for investigation, an "unusual" number of mailings from her office that were returned as undeliverable. There you have it: the mindset of the "cager." The FBI looked into the charge, and this is what its agents found:

[T]he correspondence from her office to newly registered voters had been returned as undeliverable because of incomplete addresses on voter registration cards, errors made by Wilson’s office in addressing the envelopes, or because the voters, many of whom were college students, had changed addresses since registering. (Report at 163.)

But Iglesias was dealing with those who knew what they knew.

Politics
Another piece, the cornerstone, is made of purely political material, a belief that whatever the evidence, charges of vote fraud are excellent "wedge" ammunition. This is explained in a frank manifesto issued by Patrick Rogers, a former Party lawyer still active in the anti-fraud campaign, to Iglesias and "more than 20 persons associated with the New Mexico Republican Party". (Id. at 161-162.)

He said this:

I believe the [voter] ID issue should be used [now] at all levels—federal, state legislative races and Heather [Wilson]’s race...You are not going to find a better wedge issue....I’ve got to believe the [voter] ID issue would do Heather more good than another ad talking about how much federal taxpayer money she has put into the [state] education system and social security...This is the single best wedge issue, ever in NM. (Id. at l62.)

Iglesias was eventually fired but the true reasons were not disclosed. Excuses about his management were manufactured. None of them impressed the IG and OPR investigators who put the story together and concluded that Iglesias' sin was his failure to turn up the fraud or to prosecute whatever he could call by that name. (He also did not satisfy his critics with his management of public corruption cases against "a prominent Democrat." Id. at 191.)

One question, not really asked by the IG and OPR, is: why did the plotters-in-chief lie about their purposes here?

They might have said: well, yes, we fired Iglesias because he would not prosecute fraud. Yet they had no fraud with which to illustrate Mr. Iglesias' failings, and he found none he could have been charged with letting pass. Subtract that and you have the remainder: the politics of fraud, the "wedge issue."

Of course, this could never have been admitted.
Bob Bauer is a longtime Washington election lawyer representing Democrats. He is counsel to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and editor of the More Hard Money Soft Law blog.
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