The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Missouri attorney a focus in firings

Missouri attorney a focus in firings
Senate bypassed in appointment of Schlozman

By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | May 6, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Todd Graves brought just four misdemeanor voter fraud indictments during his five years as the US attorney for western Missouri -- even though some of his fellow Republicans in the closely divided state wanted stricter oversight of Democratic efforts to sign up new voters.

Then, in March 2006, Graves was replaced by a new US attorney -- one who had no prosecutorial experience and bypassed Senate confirmation. Bradley Schlozman moved aggressively where Graves had not, announcing felony indictments of four workers for a liberal activist group on voter registration fraud charges less than a week before the 2006 election.

Republicans, who had been pushing for restrictive new voting laws, applauded. But critics said Schlozman violated a department policy to wait until after an election to bring voter fraud indictments if the case could affect the outcome, either by becoming a campaign issue or by scaring legitimate voters into staying home.

Schlozman is emerging as a focal point of the investigation into the firing of eight US attorneys last year -- and as a symbol of broader complaints that the Bush administration has misused its stewardship of law enforcement to give Republicans an electoral edge.

No stranger to election law controversy, Schlozman previously spent three years as a political appointee in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, where he supervised the voting rights section.

There, he came into conflict with veteran staff over his decisions to approve a Texas redistricting plan and a Georgia photo-ID voting law, both of which benefited Republicans. He also hired many new career lawyers with strong conservative credentials, in what critics say was an attempt to reduce enforcement of laws designed to eliminate obstacles to voting by minorities.

"Schlozman was reshaping the Civil Rights Division," said Joe Rich , who was chief of the voting rights section until taking a buyout in 2005, in an interview. "Schlozman didn't know anything about voting law. . . . All he knew is he wanted to be sure that the Republicans were going to win."

Schlozman declined to be interviewed. In a statement, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd denied that the timing of the election-eve indictments violated department rules and said politics has played no role in Civil Rights Division hiring decisions.

"Political orientation is not a criterion solicited or considered in the hiring process," Boyd said in an e-mailed response.

But the complaints about Schlozman dovetail with other allegations of political bias at the Justice Department. Last week, the department was forced to acknowledge that a key player in the US attorney firings, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's former White House liaison Monica Goodling , is under internal investigation for allegedly taking party affiliation into account when hiring career assistant US attorneys, contrary to federal law.

Schlozman -- a replacement US attorney with a controversial hiring record of his own -- might be asked to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, at the request of Missouri's new Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill.

A native of Kansas, Schlozman graduated from George Washington University law school in 1996, clerked for three years, and worked as a lawyer for two more. In November 2001 he became an aide in the office of the deputy attorney general.

At the time, the Bush administration was starting to take a greater interest in voting laws because of the photo-finish 2000 election. Control of Congress and the White House was turning on a handful of votes in battleground states -- and thus on issues such as districting maps and turnout rates among party loyalists.

Republicans claimed that ineligible voters were a major problem and pushed for laws to require photo IDs. Democrats said there was no evidence of widespread fraud and that such requirements suppress turnout among legitimate voters who are poor or disabled, and thus less likely to have driver's licenses.

The Justice Department's voting rights section referees disputes over the fairness of state election requirements. Under federal civil rights law, the section must sign off on redistricting maps and new voting laws in Southern states to ensure that changes will not reduce minority voting power.

Schlozman stepped into this fray in May 2003, when he was promoted to deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division. He supervised several sections, including voting rights. In the fall 2005, he was promoted to acting head of the division.

Schlozman and his team soon came into conflict with veteran voting rights specialists. Career staff committees recommended rejecting a Texas redistricting map in 2003 and a Georgia photo ID voting law in 2005, saying they would dilute minority voting power. In both cases, the career veterans were overruled. But courts later said the map and the ID law were illegal.

Bob Kengle , a former deputy voting rights chief who left in 2005, said Schlozman also pushed the section to divert more resources into lawsuits forcing states to purge questionable voters from their rolls. One such lawsuit was against Missouri, where he later became US attorney. A court threw the Missouri lawsuit out this year.

Schlozman also moved to take control of hiring for the voting rights section, taking advantage of a new policy that gave political appointees more control. Under Schlozman, the profile of the career attorneys hired by the section underwent a dramatic transformation.

Half of the 14 career lawyers hired under Schlozman were members of the conservative Federalist Society or the Republican National Lawyers Association, up from none among the eight career hires in the previous two years, according to a review of resumes. The average US News & World Report ranking of the law school attended by new career lawyers plunged from 15 to 65.

Critics said candidates were being hired more for their political views than legal credentials. David Becker , a former voting rights division trial attorney, said that Schlozman's hiring of politically driven conservatives to protect minority voting rights created a "wolf guarding the henhouse situation."

Asked to respond on behalf of Schlozman, the Justice Department said it considers job applicants with a wide variety of backgrounds and insisted that politics has played no role in hiring decisions.

After the 2004 election, administration officials quietly began drawing up a list of US attorneys to replace. Considerations included their perceived loyalty to Bush and a desire by White House political adviser Karl Rove to increase voter fraud prosecutions, documents and testimony have shown. Most of the proposed firings were for US attorneys in states with closely divided elections.

Among those later fired was David Iglesias , from the battleground state of New Mexico, where many of his fellow Republicans had demanded more aggressive voter fraud probes. Iglesias has accused his critics of making the "reprehensible" suggestion that law enforcement decisions should be made on political grounds.

Missouri is another closely divided state. According to McClatchy Newspapers, Graves appeared on a January 2006 list of prosecutors who would be given a chance to resign to save face. He abruptly resigned in March 2006. Gonzales quickly installed Schlozman as Grave's replacement, bypassing Senate confirmation under new law that had been slipped into the Patriot Act.

That summer, the liberal activist group ACORN paid workers $8 an hour to sign up new voters in poor neighborhoods around the country. Later, ACORN's Kansas City chapter discovered that several workers filled out registration forms fraudulently instead of finding real people to sign up. ACORN fired the workers and alerted law enforcement.

Schlozman moved fast, so fast that his office got one of the names on the indictments wrong. He announced the indictments of four former ACORN workers on Nov. 1, 2006, warning that "this national investigation is very much ongoing." Missouri Republicans seized on the indictments to blast Democrats in the campaign endgame.

Critics later accused Schlozman of violating the Justice Department's own rules. A 1995 Justice election crime manual says "federal prosecutors . . . should be extremely careful not to conduct overt investigations during the preelection period" to avoid "chilling legitimate voting and campaign activities" and causing "the investigation itself to become a campaign issue."

"In investigating election fraud matters, the Justice Department must refrain from any conduct which has the possibility of affecting the election itself," the manual states, adding in underlining that "most, if not all, investigation of alleged election crime must await the end of the election to which the allegation relates."

The department said Schlozman's office got permission from headquarters for the election-eve indictments. It added that the department interprets the policy as having an unwritten exception for voter registration fraud, because investigators need not interview voters for such cases.

On Nov. 7, 2006, Missouri voters narrowly elected Democrat McCaskill over the Republican senator, James Talent . The victory proved essential to the Democrats' new one-vote Senate majority.

Last week, McCaskill told NPR that she'd like Schlozman to testify before Congress: "What this all indicates is that more questions need to be asked, and more answers under oath need to be given."

As the controversy over the US attorney firings started building, the Bush administration picked someone else to be western Missouri's US attorney. Unlike with Schlozman, the administration first sent the nominee to the Senate for confirmation.

In April, when his replacement was confirmed, Schlozman got a new job. He now works in the Justice Department office that supervises all 93 US attorneys, where he is handling sentencing matters and cybercrime.


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