Justice official defends vote-fraud lawsuit
A senior Justice Department official on Tuesday defended his decision to bring a Missouri voter-fraud case just days before the 2006 election...
WASHINGTON -- A senior Justice Department official on Tuesday defended his decision to bring a Missouri voter-fraud case just days before the 2006 election, despite guidelines discouraging such cases because of the potential to influence voting.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said the case was another example of the department acting out of partisan political motives under the Bush administration.
Bradley Schlozman, who now works in the office that oversees all U.S. attorneys, filed the lawsuit when he was serving as interim U.S. attorney for Kansas City, Mo.
"Wasn't the timing of your action, on the eve of [the election] -- filing criminal charges not against a large conspiracy but against a few individuals -- wouldn't that be contrary to the policies that are right here in the book?" Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy of Vermont asked Schlozman, referring to a book given to all U.S. attorneys.
Schlozman denied any political motives in his decision to prosecute four activists from the liberal-leaning group ACORN for allegedly submitting bogus voter-registration forms. He testified he received approval from Craig Donsanto, the head of the department's Election Crimes Branch, before bringing the case.
"I did not think it was going to have any effect on the election in this case, no, senator," Schlozman said.
"You're amazing," Leahy said.
Committee Democrats are trying to show that the White House and Justice Department have played politics with the U.S. attorneys' offices. They are investigating the firing last year of nine top prosecutors, including Seattle's John McKay, and whether the dismissals were part of a plan to replace them with attorneys who were more willing to bring criminal cases that would help Republican causes.
Democrats also contend the Justice Department used Republican Party interests to hire and fire, in possible violation of the law.
Todd Graves, whom Schlozman replaces as U.S. attorney for the western district of Missouri, testified Tuesday that he was aware of the department policy against bringing voter-related charges right before an election. The policy states that this kind of case "must await the end of the election" so it cannot be later suggested that prosecutors were trying to influence the vote results.
"I thought it was a bad idea," Graves said about bringing the charges against ACORN before the election. "So we were sort of slow-walking this in the district."
He said that in early 2006, Michael Battle, then head of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, told him to resign.
Graves said he was not surprised. "I long planned to go, and it was the president's prerogative," he said. He added that Battle told him there were no performance problems in his office but just that "it was to give another guy a chance."
Graves was replaced by Schlozman, then a Justice official in Washington who had no trial experience. Less than a week before the November election, Schlozman obtained grand jury indictments against four members of ACORN.
Lawmakers also grilled Schlozman about his conduct as former head of the department's Civil Rights Division. Some former career attorneys have accused him of politicizing the office.
Schlozman denied that he considered political affiliation in the hiring of career attorneys, though he admitted counseling some applicants to remove references to their political background.
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