David Iglesias, the former US attorney for New Mexico, recalled receiving an email in late summer 2002 from the Department of Justice suggesting "in no uncertain terms" that US attorneys should immediately begin working with local and state election officials "to offer whatever assistance we could in investigating and prosecuting voter fraud cases," Iglesias writes in his forthcoming memoir, In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration, an early copy of which I obtained last week. The book is scheduled to be published in June.
Iglesias was one of nine US attorneys who were fired in December 2006 for reasons that appear to be based entirely on partisan politics. His name was added to a list of US attorneys selected for dismissal on Election Day in November 2006.
Earlier this month, Congress filed a civil lawsuit against Joshua Bolten, President Bush's chief of staff, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, in an attempt to compel them to testify before Congress about the White House's role in the US attorney firings and to turn over documents to a congressional committee. Miers and Bolten were subpoenaed by Congress to testify last year but Bush refused to allow their testimonies citing executive privilege. Last month, Congress held Miers and Bolten in contempt for failing to respond to the subpoenas. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he would not convene a federal grand jury to consider the contempt charges. Congress sued the White House officials shortly thereafter.
In a chapter titled "Caged," Iglesias recounts how the Department of Justice aggressively pushed him and other US attorneys to prosecute voter fraud cases, an issue the former US attorney says the DOJ became unusually obsessed with.
"The e-mail imperatives came again in 2004 and 2006, by which time I had learned that far from being standard operating procedure for the Justice Department, the emphasis on voter irregularities was unique to the Bush administration," Iglesias says.
Iglesias says that Republican officials in his state were far less interested in election reforms and more intent on suppressing votes.
"But there was a more sinister reading to such urgent calls for reform, not to mention the Justice Department's strident insistence on harvesting a bumper crop of voter fraud prosecutions. That implication is summed up in a single word: caging.."
"Not only did the [Bush] administration stoop to such seamy expedients to press its agenda in 2004," Iglesias wrote. "It had the full might and authority of the federal government and its prosecutorial powers to accomplish its ends."
Vote caging is an illegal tactic to suppress minorities from voting by having their names purged from voter rolls when they fail to respond to registered mail sent to their homes. The Republican National Committee signed a consent decree in 1986 stating they would not engage in the practice after they were caught suppressing votes in 1981 and 1986. Last July, in a letter to then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) and Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) said, "Caging is a reprehensible voter suppression tactic, and it may also violate federal law and the terms of applicable judicially enforceable consent decrees." Senators Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Whitehouse have called for a Justice Department probe into the practice, which has not been initiated thus far.
Documents released last year showed that Republican operatives engaged in a widespread effort to "cage" votes during the 2004 presidential election in battleground states, such as New Mexico, Nevada, Florida, and Ohio, where George W. Bush was trailing his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry.
The efforts to purge voters from registration rolls were spearheaded by Tim Griffin, a former Republican National Committee opposition researcher and close friend of Karl Rove. Griffin resigned from his post as interim US attorney for Little Rock, Arkansas, when details of his involvement in vote caging were reported. Griffin's predecessor at the US attorney's office, Bud Cummins, was one of the nine US attorneys forced to resign. Coddy Johnson was another Republican operative involved in the effort to cage votes during the 2004 presidential election. Johnson worked as the national field director of Bush's 2004 campaign and spent time in the White House as an associate director of political affairs, working under Karl Rove. Johnson's father was Bush's college roommate at Yale.
Last week, Iglesias testified before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration probing the "myth" of in-person voter fraud and whether it leads to the disenfranchisement of individual voters.
During his testimony, Iglesias told the panel that he established an election fraud task force in September 2004 and spent more than two months probing claims of widespread voter fraud in his state.
"After examining the evidence, and in conjunction with the Justice Department Election Crimes Unit and the FBI, I could not find any cases I could prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt," Iglesias told the Senate committee last week. "Accordingly, I did not authorize any voter fraud-related prosecutions."
There is no concrete evidence of systemic voter fraud in the United States. Many election integrity experts believe claims of voter fraud are 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.
In his book, specifically in the "Caging" chapter, Iglesias says that right when the Bush-Kerry race began to heat up, some Republicans in Bernalillo County, led by local Bush/Cheney campaign chairman Sheriff Darren White, showed up a the county clerk's office demanding to know if there were any questionable voter registrations on file. White is campaigning for the Congressional seat that will be vacated by Heather Wilson, the Republican Congresswoman who is the subject of a House ethics probe.
In the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election, Bernalillo County had been the target of a massive grassroots effort by the group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to register voters. The effort apparently paid off as registration rolls in the county increased by about 65,000 newly registered voters.
Sheriff White, Iglesias wrote, intended to challenge the integrity of some of the names on the voter registration rolls. Mary Herrera, the Bernalillo County clerk, told White that there were about 3,000 or so forms that were either incomplete or incorrectly filled out. White seized upon the registration forms as evidence that ACORN submitted fraudulent registration forms and held a press conference along with other Republican officials in the county to call attention to the matter.
In testimony before the Senate committee last week, Iglesias said when he announced the formation of his election fraud task force in September 2004 he fully expected to uncover instances of voter fraud based on numerous stories that appeared in New Mexico media that said minors received voter registration forms and that "a large number" of voter registration forms turned up during the course of a drug raid.
"Due to the high volume of suspected criminal activity, I believed there to be a strong likelihood of uncovering prosecutable cases," Iglesias said. "I also reviewed the hard copy file from the last voter fraud case my office had prosecuted which dated back to 1992. My intention was to file prosecutions in order to send a message that voter fraud or election fraud would not be tolerated in the District of New Mexico."
Meanwhile, New Mexico Republicans had filed a civil suit in an attempt to force changes to the state's voter identification statutes.
"The case was duly dismissed," Iglesias wrote his book, "which only served to stoke the fires of voter fraud frenzy."
"My announcement of a dedicated task force notwithstanding, the firebrands were still not placated," Iglesias, wrote. "I got an angry e-mail from Mickey Barnett, an attorney, who, like me, had worked on the Bush-Cheney campaign and who berated me for "appointing a task force to investigate voter fraud instead of bringing charges against suspects."
In his testimony before the Senate committee, Iglesias said the task force received about 108 complaints of alleged voter fraud through a hotline over the course of about eight weeks.
"Most of the complaints made to the hotline were clearly not prosecutable—citizens would complain of their yard signs being removed from their property and de minimis matters like that," Iglesias testified before the Senate committee. "Only one case of the over 100 referrals had potential. ACORN had employed a woman to register voters. The evidence showed she registered voters who did not have the legal right to vote. The law, 42 USC 1973, had the maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and a $5000 fine. After personally reviewing the FBI investigative report and speaking to the agent, the prosecutor I had assigned, Mr. [Rumaldo] Armijo, and conferring with [a Justice Department official] I was of the opinion that the case was not provable. I, therefore, did not authorize a prosecution. I have subsequently learned that the State of New Mexico did not file any criminal cases as a result of the" election fraud task force.
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This story was published on March 17, 2008.