In a just-released interview conducted earlier this month with the New York Times and the Washington Post, former White House adviser Karl Rove appeared to be attempting to portray his involvement in the December 2006 firing of several US Attorneys as merely “peripheral” and not tied to any particular agenda.
The Times even headlined its story, “Rove Says His Role in Prosecutor Firings Was Small.”
However, all three of the US Attorney firings in which Rove has now admitted playing some role are linked by the common theme of allegations of voter fraud and by connections to a GOP front group known as the American Center for Voting Rights, which was formed in early 2005 to press the voter fraud issue. This suggests that Rove’s relationship to those three firings may not be as casual as he now claims.
The David Iglesias firing
“Yes, I was a recipient of complaints, and I passed them on to the counsel’s office to be passed onto Justice,” Rove told the Post, in reference to voter fraud complains which he had received from New Mexico. Rove further noted that the complaints “had the sound of authenticity to me. If what I’m told is accurate, it’s really troublesome.”
According to the Post, the complaints which Rove described himself as having merely passed on to the office of White House Counsel Harriet Miers began in 2005, when “then-Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), his chief of staff, Steve Bell, and GOP lawyers in the state lobbied aggressively to oust the prosecutor.”
However, testimony and analysis from the spring and summer of 2007, when the US Attorney scandal was first breaking, indicate a far deeper involvement on Rove’s part than merely transmitting the complaints of others. That June, for example, Rep. John Conyers wrote:
“The evidence gathered so far also shows significant White House involvement — including by Mr. Rove — in the decision to dismiss David Iglesias as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. We have learned from the testimony of the Attorney General and Mr. Sampson that Mr. Rove directly complained to the Attorney General about concerns that prosecutors were not aggressively pursuing voter fraud cases in districts in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New Mexico. One of these districts was that of Mr. Iglesias, who was added after that complaint to the list of U.S. Attorneys to be replaced.”
The role of Patrick Rogers
What may be a point of even greater interest, however, is that among those “GOP lawyers” mentioned so casually by the Post was “a well-connected Republican lawyer in Albuquerque” named Patrick Rogers. Rogers had invited Iglesias to a lunch meeting some weeks before the 2006 elections at which he raised the issue of voter fraud — as he had been doing periodically since 2004.
“I had a bad feeling about that lunch,” Iglesias told the Los Angeles Times the following spring, saying that he had replied to Rogers by saying that he had reviewed over a hundred complaints on the voter fraud issue without finding any that justified criminal charges.
“Unbeknownst to Iglesias,” the LATimes added, “a few months before that lunch, Rogers and another Republican attorney from New Mexico, Mickey Barnett, had complained about Iglesias at the Justice Department in Washington. The session was arranged with the assistance of the department’s then-White House liaison, Monica M. Goodling, and an aide to White House political strategist Karl Rove, according to e-mails released recently by congressional investigators. One of those they met with was Matthew Friedrich, a senior counselor to Gonzales. Friedrich would meet again with Rogers and Barnett in New Mexico, where, he told congressional investigators, the pair complained about Iglesias. They made it clear ‘that they did not want him to be the U.S. attorney.’”
This May 2007 LA Times story was quickly picked up by emptywheel at The Next Hurrah, who pointed out that Rogers’ name had also come up elsewhere, as someone who had both pressed for Iglesias to be fired and been suggested by Senator Domenici as a possible replacement.
The McClatchy Newspapers added more to the story a few weeks later, writing of Rogers that “a New Mexico lawyer who pressed to oust U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was an officer of a nonprofit group that aided Republican candidates in 2006 by pushing for tougher voter identification laws.”
According to McClatchy, Iglesias had described Rogers as “obsessed” with voter fraud but added that “he only recently learned of Rogers’ involvement as secretary of the non-profit American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund — an activist group that defended tighter voter identification requirements in court against charges that they were designed to hamper voting by poor minorities.”
“That strategy,” the McClatchy article explained, “which presidential adviser Karl Rove alluded to in an April 2006 speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association, sought to scrutinize voter registration records, win passage of tougher ID laws and challenge the legitimacy of voters considered likely to vote Democratic.”
The clear implication of the article is that Iglesias was first pressured and then ousted as US Attorney as part of a concerted “voter fraud” strategy, intended to disenfranchise minorities, in which Karl Rove was a conscious participant.
Jim Dyke and Tim Griffin
The American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR) was created in early 2005 as a supposedly independent organization dedicated to clean elections. One of its founders, however, was Jim Dyke, who had been communications director at the Republican National Committee in 2003-04. Dyke had claimed shortly before the 2004 election that the Democrats were attempting to facilitate “vote fraud,” and he resigned just a few weeks later in order to set up ACVR.
In 2003-04, Dyke’s second-in-command was the RNC deputy communications director, Tim Griffin, who worked with Dyke on stories to discredit Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and was also involved in the “caging” of minority voters.
In February 2004, Griffin was briefly considered a leading candidate to be named as a US Attorney in Arkansas, but he turned the offer down to continue working on the presidential campaign. After the election, however, Rove renewed the push for his appointment. In the newly-published interview, Rove told the New York Times, “I was totally for Tim Griffin. He’s a very smart and bright rising star.”
According to the Times, “Mr. Rove said he was unequivocal in expressing his desire for Timothy Griffin to be named as a top federal prosecutor in western Arkansas, but said he did so believing that H.E. Cummins, then the sitting United States attorney, was weighing a decision to step aside.”
The Post adds that “in a Feb. 11, 2005, e-mail, Rove wrote to deputy Sara Taylor: ‘Give him options. Keep pushing for Justice and let him decide. I want him on the team.’” And in a Feb. 24 email cited by the Times, Rove ordered Taylor, “Hire him.”
Cummins did not, in fact, oblige by stepping aside. Griffin instead joined the White House staff in April 2005 as a special assistant to the president, and by September 2005, he had become an assistant to Karl Rove. That was around the same time that his former boss, Jim Dyke, briefly worked in the White House to help promote the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers.
Not until December 2006 would Griffin receive his appointment as US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, following the abrupt firing of Cummins.
Thor Hearne and Missouri “voter fraud” allegations
Missouri is the third state where Rove has now acknowledged direct involvement in the replacement of a US Attorney, in that case, as noted by the Post, “Todd Graves, who had clashed with one of Rove’s former clients.”
Despite the Post’s seeming certainty as to the cause, there appear to be multiple theories as to the reason for for Graves’ firing, which occurred in March 2006, nine months before that of the other attorneys.
According to one version, it came at the request of staffers for Missouri Senator Kit Bond. Graves himself, however, told Talking Points Memo in 2007 that he he had been fired because “he refused to sign a letter outlining a civil case against the state of Missouri for failing to purge its voter rolls.”‘
Both of those explanations could be true. A 2007 story at Salon notes that Bond had a long-standing involvement in the “voter fraud” issue.
“In Missouri, Republicans have been accusing Democrats of fraud since the 2000 election,” Salon wrote. “That election was a controversial one in Missouri — polls remained open past the official closing time in St. Louis, a city dominated by African-American Democrats. This infuriated Republicans, especially Sen. Kit Bond, who delivered a podium-pounding denunciation of alleged voter fraud at the Missouri GOP’s victory party on election night. Bond later spearheaded calls for an investigation, pushing Republican lawyers to put together a dossier of allegations that was then delivered to the outgoing, Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney for the Eastern District.”
As it happens, the co-founder of ACVR was a GOP lawyer named Mark F. “Thor” Hearne, who had been national counsel to the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign. Prior to that, Hearne had a long history of raising voter fraud allegations in his home state of Missouri, going back to 2000, when he represented the Bush campaign in a lawsuit involving the poll-closing dispute noted by Salon.
Missouri continued to be a particular target of voter fraud allegations by Dyke and Hearne’s ACVR. According to the same 2007 McClatchy story cited earlier:
“One target of the American Center was the liberal-leaning voter registration group called Project Vote, a GOP nemesis that registered 1.5 million voters in 2004 and 2006. The center trumpeted allegations that Project Vote’s main contractor, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), submitted phony registration forms to boost Democratic voting. In a controversial move, the interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City announced indictments against four ACORN workers five days before the 2006 election, despite the fact that Justice Department policy discourages such action close to an election.”
That interim US attorney in Kansas City was Bradley Schlozman, formerly the acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, who had been appointed the previous March after the firing of Todd Graves.
Schlozman gave up the US Attorney position just a few months later, in April 2007, to work at the Justice Department office that oversees all the US Attorneys. He soon become embroiled in the growing scandal, however, and was forced to resign in August, just two weeks before Rove himself left the White House..
Schlozman’s extreme politicization of the Civil Rights Division came under intense scrutiny at that time. According to Talking Points Memo, “Former employees say that, in tandem with Hans von Spakovsky, Schlozman gutted the voting rights division’s efforts to protect African-American voters and made sure that the group did not oppose voter ID laws. The two also punished lawyers and other employees who did not toe the line.”
Last winter, the US Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia — which at that time was still headed by Bush appointee Jeffrey A. Taylor, who had himself played a role in the US Attorney scandal — formally declined to prosecute Schlozman for perjury stemming from his denial during Senate testimony that he had politicized the Civil Rights Division. It was recently reported, however, that Attorney General Eric Holder is reconsidering the possibility of bringing charges.