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Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: Karl Rove and the Republican Dark Art of Election Theft

An excerpt from Greg Palast's new book runs through the electoral dirty tricks we've endured at Rove's hands since the Bush years.
 
 
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Photo Credit: by Ted Rall

 

The following is an excerpt from Greg Palast’s new book, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, including a comic book by Ted Rall and an introduction by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (7 Stories Press, 2012).  

Congressman Tim Griffin is a big, BIG supporter of the XL Pipeline. And the Kochs are big, BIG supporters of Congressman Griffin. Koch interests lined up $167,183 for Griffin’s run in 2010. Let me put that in perspective: for $167,183, the average member of Congress would be willing to wash your car—with his tongue.

That kind of money doesn’t come into a GOP candidate’s hands without the helpful hand of Karl Rove.

If you remember, voting-rights attorney Kennedy said Griffin “should be in jail.” A federal prosecutor expressed the same sentiment to me. How Griffin ended up in Congress, not in prison, is the more intriguing story.

It was well after midnight, in the first week of October before the 2004 election, when the e-mails started pouring in.

The chieftains of the George W. Bush reelection campaign were copying me on their most intimate and confidential messages—and Ollie, my research director, pissed me off by waking me in my cheap motel room to tell me this whacky-ass news. I was in the middle of nowhere USA with my election investigation for BBC going nowhere, so I wasn’t in the mood for this bullshit.

But it wasn’t bullshit. It was a miracle. Karl Rove’s right-hand man, Tim Griffin, Bush’s research director (read, smear director), had sent the data for some sick scheme to the chairman of the Bush reelection campaign in Florida, Brett Doster. Griffin, instead of sending copies to GeorgeWBush.com, their internal e-mail domain, sent copies to GeorgeWBush.ORG, to my friend John Wooden’s joke site. Wooden passed them on to us for forensic analysis.

Here was the GOP leadership with their pants around their ankles, exposing their cheat sheets.

Holy Mama! Do I have to believe in God, now?

What we’d been handed proved to be an electronic back door into the darkest corners of a criminal vote-suppression machine.

By the morning, we had booked flights to Washington, DC, and Tallahassee, Florida, while Ms. Badpenny, in charge of our investigations, began the decoding work. We knew there was a scheme afoot, but what exactly was it?

Smoking-gun memos rarely read, “Louie, this is how we cheat the public,” or “Brett, here’s the plan to steal Florida.” If they do say that, they’re fake.

These e-mails’ clues were a bit tougher than most to crack. That pudgy little wad Griffin had written to Doster several e-mails with the cryptic subject line "Caging.xls," with Excel files attached, and terse messages like “Here’s another list.”

Each was a very selective list of voters, names and addresses. What struck me right off were names like Rodriguez, Washington and Goldberg—typically Hispanic, black and Jewish. Badpenny and the crew mapped the addresses, and sure enough, it was a perfect scattergram of poor, minority neighborhoods and townships with Gone With the Wind names like “Plantation, Florida.” There was also that list of Yiddish names from retirement homes: the GOP was certainly targeting the Elderly of Zion.

But for what?

At the Bush headquarters in Florida’s capital, campaign director Doster agreed to an interview. But when BBC required me to disclose we had his “caging” e-mails, Doster fled like a bunny into his Tallahassee offices and sent out his mouthpiece, Mindy Tucker Fletcher, clutching a supersized cup of Coca-Cola as big as a mortar shell. She brought a flunky to nod at whatever she said, and a sneering list of explanations, beginning with a corker: the “caging” lists, she said, were a compilation of Republican donors.

Really? Including these folks? Here were the Bush-Cheney “donors” who all lived at the State Street Rescue Mission: Page after page of names contained residents of homeless shelters.

Want to try again, Mrs. Tucker Fletcher?

A “caging list,” she explained, was a term of art in the junk mail business referring to returned letters. I knew that. The Republicans, she said, didn’t want to send duplicates to wrong addresses.

You don’t say! So Mindy, you’re telling me that Karl Rove’s top attack dog is now running the mailroom via confidential messages to state party chairmen—for address corrections?

Why don’t I give you one more try, Mrs. Tucker Fletcher. Could these, by chance, be lists used to systematically challenge the registrations of voters of color?

Mindy Tucker Fletcher grinned and said, carefully, “This is not a challenge list. That’s not what it’s SET UP to do.”

Bingo.

You see, we’d already made a couple of visits to experts before stopping by Fortress Bush. After sending the lists to America’s junk mail king Mark Swedlund, who’d helped me on many an undercover investigation, I had a damn good idea what these were—an opinion confirmed, without prompting, by Ion Sancho, Florida’s county elections supervisor, the recognized expert on voting systems—and vote heists. “They couldn’t be anything but challenge lists. And if they are, they’re breaking the law.”

More than one law, actually, especially if the targets have a racial or religious profile. And it would be breaking a consent decree: years earlier, the Republican National Committee was caught challenging black voters en masse at polling stations and had promised, under penalty of perjury, not to do it again.

Now it looked like they were doing it again, but in a most sophisticated way. Bobby Kennedy explained the game: “They send out letters to poor black and Hispanic voters, first class, with instructions to return, don’t forward, if the letter is not deliverable. The returned [“caged”] letter is then used as ‘evidence’ the voter’s listed address is fraudulent, and the Republican functionary then gets the name struck from voter rolls, or the absentee ballot, if mailed in, is not counted.”

Targeting the black, Hispanic and Jewish vote this way is not just icky and racist, it’s against the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which Kennedy’s late father Bobby Sr., the US attorney general, and his uncle, President John Kennedy, helped draft. Bobby Jr., looking at the evidence, suggested hard time for Griffin and Rove.

But who was going to prosecute Griffin and company, anyway? Was the Bush Justice Department going to tell Mr. Griffin to “spread 'em"? Mr. Griffin, of the Bush campaign? Mr. Griffin, assistant to the senior advisor to President Bush?

The Hysteria Factory

In early 2004, George Bush was not a popular president, what with wars and his billionaires leaving so little for the rest of us. But if malcontents, black folk, Latinos, and Jews lost their registrations, didn’t get to vote, were afraid to vote, then swing states like New Mexico, Ohio and Florida could be flipped.

A massive attack on voter rolls to remove names, to block voters from casting ballots, and challenging votes cast should do it. Millions of votes are made to disappear by stealth or just sheer incompetence, but Americans are too enamored of the television story of their democracy that they don’t see it and won’t hear of it.

The chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights, Mary Frances Berry, told me, “Elections aren’t stolen in the vote count—they’re stolen in the no count,” a thought perceptive enough to have her removed from the commission by President Bush.

Rove knows that to win in a nation where white voters were becoming the minority, the number of minority “unvotes” simply had to be goosed. Registry purges, ballot rejections, blocked voter drives, ID requirements, you name it: anything to block the voter or their vote was critical to the GOP. If Democrats had “Rock the Vote,” Republicans would need to “Block the Vote.”

Paul Weyrich, cofounder, with $50 million from the Koch brothers, of the Heritage Foundation, while dining with Ronald Reagan, put it bluntly:

“Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome—good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

And his “our” does not include those families in the State Street Rescue Mission.

Now, the best way to steal an election is to accuse the other guy of stealing the election. How else can you get Americans to tolerate the purge of thousands of African Americans from the voter rolls as criminals, to block Hispanic voters at the polls because they don’t have citizenship ID, to throw out mail-in ballots because absentee voters used the wrong color envelope?

The answer: this bonfire of the ballot box—wrongfully purging half a million citizens, not counting 2.7 million ballots, and rejecting 2.9 million registrants—is supposed to stop voter fraud.

“Whether they admit it or not, the Democrats need lawbreakers such as illegal aliens—who are being illegally registered as Democrats—and killers, rapists, and robbers in order to increase their base of far-left voters.”

That’s Mike Baker, Fox News, who spoke with my wingman Ronald Roberts (which isn’t “Ronald’s” real name, but we don’t need every freak we are hunting Googling us).

Baker’s canard of the mama-stabbing Mexican voter wave never stops quacking.

And that was Mindy Tucker Fletcher’s last defense. I asked her, if the voters were not “caged” for the purpose of challenging, would the GOP still use the list to challenge these voters?

Well, of course. “You wouldn’t want someone voting fraudulently, would you?”

No, I wouldn’t, Mindy.

The GOP position is this: If the letters mailed to voters at their registration came back to the cage “undeliverable,” that must mean this schemey voter was using a fake address so they could vote. Or vote twice. Fraud, mass fraud. There were tens of thousands of voters on these lists, so by Republican claims, a tidal wave of criminality.

Who were these fraudulent voters with fake addresses? Al-Qaeda stuffing the ballot box? The Zeta gang from Mexico? Castro’s agents?

Badpenny went sleepless calling every number she could trace, starting with this GOP caging list:

Page after page of felonious voters registered at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville! How evil is that?! Using our own military as a cover for massive vote fraud!

Unless, of course, there was another reason why the seamen and airmen weren’t at home. Badpenny reached one family and asked for the voter.

“Randall’s been posted overseas,” said Mrs. Prausa of her soldier husband.

Oh.

Active military may vote absentee from their US home address. But if GOP functionaries challenge them, their mail-in ballot is rejected—and they don’t even know it.

Go to Iraq, lose your vote. Mission accomplished, Mr. Bush.

Indeed, I went through the lists with experts including Ion Sancho, the elections supervisor. He was getting more and more steamed. Who were the supposed fraudsters? Homeless men who don’t have a name on a bell. Students away at school. Folks who move within their congressional district. And the 20 percent of US voters whose addresses contain typos from entries made by state employees into registry computers.

Every scheme to wipe away the voting rights of a US citizen, every legitimate ballot thrown in the garbage, every legal voter told to scram from the polling station, every diseased means used to defraud the public of the right to vote was justified by the hysterical claim of “VOTE FRAUD”!

But in all fairness, as a journalist, I had to look into the evidence of voter fraud. So I spoke personally with the attorney general of Florida.

The lawman, Bob Butterworth, assured me that if he found an illegal registrant or voter, he would arrest them, jail them. After all, an illegal voter, simply by the act of registering, had committed (another) felony.

I reminded him that Katherine Harris had found over 91,000 illegally registered felons.

How many arrests had he made from her list? “None.” Zero. Bubkiss. Nada.

I don’t get it. Busting them would be easy: After all, we have their addresses on the registrations. And they show up at the polls.

How many cases of vote fraud on that list? “We’ve opened maybe half a dozen cases,” the Florida AG told me.

Six out of 91,000???!!!

And it turns out those six charges were in error and dropped. Fraudulent voters: zero.

And the tens of thousands of caged voters? Hundreds of thousands caged by the GOP nationwide? If they were fraudulent voters, why weren’t the jails filled with these felonious villains?

Because, says Dr. Lorraine Minnite, there is effectively no voter fraud in the US. Minnite, a professor at Rutgers University who actually dug into the crime files, discovered six—six!—convictions of vote fraud a year among 170 million voters.

Here’s your crime wave: Over the entire study period, there were two convictions per year for multiple voting, two noncitizens, and two felons. (They must be the dumbest felons ever, willing to go back to prison just to vote for a school bond.) And that voter ID thief? Doesn’t exist.

The truth is it’s murderously hard to convince folks to register or vote illegally when it’s absurdly easy to get caught and the penalty is long-term prison. Santiago Juarez, who runs voter drives in Mexican American neighborhoods, told me, “How do you organize thousands of people to vote twice? Hell, it’s hard enough getting people to vote once.” Stealing an ID to vote twice ain’t happening.

Professor Minnite summed it up: “The claim of widespread voter fraud is itself a fraud.” In 2012, over five million US citizens will lose their right to vote to prevent a crime committed by 12 individuals.

And the real criminals who are guilty of a couple million counts of violations of the Voting Rights Act, they’re on Fox and PBS or in Congress, aren’t they, Mr. Griffin?

Tears of a Clone

In May 2007, BBC television led the nightly news with my report on new US Attorney Griffin and the “caging” of US soldier voters.

By the next morning, Griffin resigned and turned in his lawman badge.

While the BBC report was, as usual, ignored by US media, it wasn’t ignored by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman John Conyers reached me in London to tell me he would subpoena Griffin.

Griffin held a truly weird press conference, bellyaching about “that British reporter,” bursting into tears, and, despite the fact that his name was on the e-mails sending out the caging lists, he insisted, “I never heard of ‘caging.’”

Really?

No one believed him. No one but me.

If he didn’t send out caging lists, who did? Who would viciously, criminally, attack the rights of soldiers and homeless and old Jewish grandmas?

“Caging” is a technical term used in the direct mail business. So, who knows the direct mail biz and could use Griffin’s personal computer?

Griffin’s boss, Rove, knows about “caging.” A lot. He became rich as owner of a direct mail company and was, in college, the CREEP computer whiz-kid who first introduced computer database mining in politics for Richard Nixon.

And he’s infamously careful never to use his own computer.

So who used your computer, Tim? And then made you resign as prosecutor, shut up about the facts...and get the Kochs to buy you a seat in Congress?

Conyers told me he had loads of questions about this for Mr. Rove—who simply ignored the congressman’s subpoena.

So we’ll never know if the creep who sent out the caging lists was Karl Rove, his Rove-bot Griffin, or, a third possibility, Griffin’s own gofer, Matt Rhoades.

While Griffin is now an Honorable Congressman (or, at least, a congressman), at the time, his career, following the BBC exposé, appeared to be toast. Indeed, John McCain dumped a high post for Griffin in his 2008 presidential campaign after the caging connection was made public.

But there is redemption. In 2012, Griffin’s gofer, Matt Rhoades, was named director of the Romney presidential campaign.

A Few Good Men (Very Few)

Bobby Kennedy may think that Griffin’s scheme to remove legal voters from the rolls was illegal, but Bush’s Justice Department was not likely to bust one of their own.

Nevertheless, Griffin wasn’t taking any chances. Neither was his boss, deputy chief of staff to the president and consigliere to the Bush reelection campaign, Karl Rove.

They feared there might be honest federal prosecutors. They could cause problems with The Plan to cage and challenge voters in 2004, in 2008, and beyond.

So, a directive came down from Main Justice in Washington to federal prosecutors nationwide: hunt for fraudulent voters. However, the lawmen were not told about an unwritten footnote to the directives: unsuccessful hunters would soon find themselves hunted.

I too was hunting for fraudulent voters—a good journalist should give evil the benefit of the doubt. So I went to New Mexico to bag myself a killer-rapist-illegal-alien-ID-thief voter.

But I was having a helluva time finding even one, despite three million having lost their vote to prevent this terrible crime.

But then, in October 2008, a state legislator in New Mexico, Justine Fox-Young, held up two pieces of paper in the capitol building showing, she said, 28 cases of someone voting with someone else’s name. It wasn’t a crime wave, but a kind of gentle ripple. So I called her and told to her to fax me the evidence. She didn’t. I called again and asked the crimebuster politician, “Justine, you’ve uncovered felony criminals.”

“Oh, yes!”

Cool. So did she turn over these villains to the federal prosecutors?

Uh-huh.

So, did the prosecutor arrest them? Lock 'em up?

“Not exactly.”

The answer was, not even remotely. I called the federal prosecutor, a rising star in the Republican Party, US Attorney David Iglesias. He found Ms. Fox-Young’s evidence just a load of bollocks, though he didn’t use those words, I’ll admit.

Iglesias hadn’t arrested one single person in the entire state for voter fraud, despite the fact that the GOP campaign to prevent “fraud” in the state had resulted in the rejection of 28,000 voters and ballots, almost all Democrats.

In other words, the guy in charge of enforcing the law had not and would not bust a single person for the crime that justified his party’s pogrom against Hispanic voters all across the Southwest.

I wasn’t the only one to note that Captain Iglesias (he had remained in the Naval Reserve as one of the Navy’s top adjutant generals) was not busting Bad Voters.

Around the same time, I discovered that Allen Weh, chairman of the state Republican Party, and Pat Rogers, the party’s lawyer, complained to the White House about Iglesias failing to cuff these Hispanic voters after sending him 50 names, likely from the caging lists.

In 2008, Iglesias was able to tell me he “ran all over the plateaus of New Mexico with FBI agents” tracking down these fraudulent voters and found nothing but good citizens.

That wouldn’t do for the party apparatchiks.

The Republican Chairman Weh, and his counsel, Pat Rogers, brought in an enforcer from the White House: Karl Rove.

In my line of business I hear a lot that could make you shiver, but what Captain Iglesias told me that day in 2008 was one of the most chilling things I’d ever heard from a US official.

The GOP honchos, state and federal, he said, wanted him to lock up voters no matter the evidence. They wanted him to indict innocent people to justify their vote-blocking laws.

Iglesias told me, “I didn’t help them with their bogus fraud prosecutions.”

Rove’s buddies leaned on Iglesias, but they picked the wrong guy. Captain Iglesias was one of the models for the Tom Cruise character, the crusading military defense lawyer, in the film A Few Good Men. Iglesias told the Rove-bots to stick their phony prosecution demands where the votes don’t shine.

So, President Bush fired Iglesias. And he wasn’t the only one. Seven other US attorneys, good Republicans but ethical ones, were removed by the White House and replaced by pliant Rove-bots.

At first, the US press didn’t notice. Iglesias was officially fired for “absenteeism”—because he was placed by the president on active duty and sent to Bosnia to address war crimes.

The press asked no questions, but one of my fans did when he watched my London broadcast on caging for BBC. Congressman John Conyers has always kept abreast of our investigations for BBC television. Conyers called me, then called hearings. He had plenty of evidence that the firings were illegal.

But the problem, Conyers told me, was that his fellow congressmen wouldn’t go after the real issue, the motive for the firings: suppressing the vote of minority citizens. Conyers, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, had the problem that while he was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the majority of them were Republicans or other members of the Congressional “White” Caucus.

The committee would concentrate only on the firings as “political,” and a repeat-a-press-release US media covered it that way, never getting to the real motive. And most important, the Bush White House stonewalled Conyers’ subpoena for cage-meister Griffin’s boss, Karl Rove.

Conyers forced Griffin’s cronies at the Justice Department to cough up their files on Iglesias’ firing which included this smoking pistol: Iglesias -- Underachiever in very important district. That’s the failure to bust innocent voters.

Absentee landlord. That’s his 40-day assignment for the Navy. Firing reserve officers on active duty is a crime, but hell, that’s nothing compared to the next felony on the list.

Domenici says he doesn’t move cases. This is Republican Senator Pete Domenici who, said Iglesias, woke him up at home to tell Iglesias to speed up the indictment of a Democrat prior to the election.

Oops. He’s telling a United States attorney to indict citizens, and attacking his failure to “move” when the senator tells him too.

I asked the prosecutor if Rove had him removed as punishment for not bringing the fake cases. “If his intent was, ‘look what happened with Iglesias,’ if that was his intent, he’s in big trouble. That is obstruction of justice, one classic example.”

Iglesias was screwing them bad. The captain and eight other prosecutors were getting all precious about bringing bogus cases. That was undermining the GOP’s attempt to obtain new voter ID laws. The failure to find illegal voters put the lie to their campaign to prove the nation’s top voter registration organization, ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), had registered fraudulent voters. Getting ACORN was Republican operative Pat Rogers’ obsession, which he made into a national cause of the GOP and other politicians in the White Caucus as lawyer for the “nonpartisan” American Center for Voting Rights. It should have been called, American Center Against Voting. Everything the group proposed would cut the number of citizens voting by millions.

I wanted to ask Rogers why he brought in Rove and why he had Captain Iglesias gunned down. But Rogers didn’t want to answer my formal request for BBC TV. But I figured he couldn’t pass up the free champagne they would pour at a GOP victory party. At the soiree to which I obtained press credentials under another name, I caught Rogers in half-sip with an unseen microphone that captured his personal reviews of my reporting skills. “He’s an asshole,” he told a crony before greeting me warmly as the cameras rolled.

“Iglesias was not capable in his job.” Which was, apparently, hunting ACORN.

“ACORN hired a collection of people who fraudulently registered persons who are not eligible to vote. ACORN is working for the Democratic Party,” said Rogers. (He wore a flag lapel pin the party handed to all the champagne sippers. They gave me one of the Republican freebie flags. I still have it in the wrapper. Take a look: Made in China.)

Had Rogers unmasked a conspiracy between ACORN and the Democratic Party—covered up from them by US Attorney Iglesias, a Republican? Wow!

“Conspiracy,” said Rogers mysteriously, “is a loose word.” Rogers is fond of loose words. He’d recently held a press conference waving a list of a half-dozen fraudulent voters registered by ACORN. With his full house of illegal voters, Rogers made a huge splash in the papers. Then Iglesias made a total ass out of Rogers, by not busting even one.

What the hell, even a jerk reporter like me will give Rogers a chance. I checked out all six of these ne’er-do-wells, these fugitives from justice. I began at a diner in Cerritos where I tracked Melissa Tais, notorious for allowing another voter with another signature to use her name so she and her confederate could vote twice.

Actually, what she’d done was fill out one registration form at an ACORN table, but never received the receipt. So, following the law’s requirements, she reregistered, this time signing while holding the form in her hand so the signature was a little shaky—resulting in two admittedly different-looking signatures.

So, did she vote twice? No. County officials hauled her into a hearing and it shook her up so much she wouldn’t vote at all. And that’s what they wanted.

But Iglesias wouldn’t play and ACORN continued to register Hispanic and low-income voters until 2009, when Andrew Breitbart (who has since returned to the bosom of Satan) blew up some cockamamie sting which had nothing to do with voting—and put ACORN out of the registration business. (ACORN’s one-time lawyer, Barack Obama, averted his gaze as the media jackals savaged the poor folks’ group, then paid for his pusillanimity in 2010 when Congress flipped color from Blue to Red.)

The US attorney firings occurred just in time for the 2008 election. Iglesias wasn’t alone, of course. Tom Heffelfinger, Republican US attorney for Minnesota, was on the hit list for defending Native American voters from an attack by the GOP’s Minnesota secretary of state. Iglesias called his buddy in Arkansas who was taken down for similar pangs of conscience, but agreed to step aside without a fight so his friend, President Bush, could make his own choice.

And Bush’s choice was...Tim Griffin.

Now, instead of being prosecuted for crimes, Tim became the prosecutor. At Karl Rove’s behest, Tim Griffin was appointed US attorney for Arkansas.

For more Billionaires and Ballot Bandits visit www.BallotBandits.org.

 

Greg Palast is the author of the new book, Millionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, including a comic book by Ted Rall and an introduction by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (7 Stories Press, 2012). View Palast's reports for BBC TV and Democracy Now! at gregpalast.com