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Gonzales Should Answer Questions on Voter Fraud

When Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, came before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) brought up the issue of voter fraud. Sampson stated that he “had received a complaint” from White House aide Karl Rove about U.S. attorneys in three jurisdictions, including New Mexico, the substance of which was that those prosecutors weren’t pursuing voter fraud cases aggressively enough. Leahy responded by asking: “And where did those complaints come from?” Sampson dropped a bombshell when he told the committee under oath that “I believe, to the best of my recollection, I learned of them from the attorney general.” [IMGCAP(1)]

Gonzales, who is scheduled to testify Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, has some explaining to do. After months of conflicting statements and hiding behind all sorts of excuses, Gonzales should be prepared to clarify his role in the firings and dismissals of the eight U.S. attorneys. While members of the Judiciary Committee are sure to hone in on Gonzales’ role (what meetings did he attend, did he sign off on the evaluation, etc.), the civil rights community is waiting to hear his explanation for the firings of those U.S. attorneys who believe they were let go for not pursuing voter fraud cases aggressively enough to satisfy the administration’s “strategy” to clean up the electoral system.

Former U.S. Attorneys David Iglesias of New Mexico and John McKay of Washington both contend that they were targeted because they refused to prosecute cases of voter fraud where extensive investigations did not turn up sufficient evidence to prove a violation occurred. In short, both prosecutors refused to bring cases they couldn’t win because they lacked the evidence. Iglesias, in an opinion piece published last month in The New York Times, stated that “much has been made of my decision to not prosecute alleged voter fraud in New Mexico. … What the critics, who don’t have any experience as prosecutors have asserted is reprehensible — namely that I should have proceeded without having proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The public has a right to believe that prosecution decisions are made on legal, not political, grounds.”

Iglesias is correct. In fact, on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) was asked to respond to a report in The Albuquerque Journal that stated that Iglesias was placed on the list for dismissal late in the process after he had received a call from Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). Now, it would appear that Gonzales should respond to questions about the pressure he was under from the president or Rove to remove Iglesias. Did the president call him? Did Rove? The civil rights community wants to know.

The circumstances behind McKay’s firing are eerily similar. After a very close gubernatorial race in which the Democratic candidate won by the barest of margins, McKay refused to move forward on alleged voter fraud cases. He says he lacked the evidence to bring a solid case and the decision “made not to go forward was a really unanimous decision with the Seattle division of the FBI” for that reason. He further says “if they put me on” the list of prosecutors targeted for forced resignation “because I wasn’t aggressive enough in ensuring that the Republican candidate for governor was elected, then that’s a terrible thing.”

A terrible thing indeed.

Once again, the Bush administration has allowed political concerns to trump the right of every eligible citizen to participate in the political process. Not only has the Justice Department purged from its ranks committed and accomplished prosecutors for partisan gain, it has weakened the policies that have guided voting rights enforcement for decades. Gonzales, in his own testimony, addresses the department’s Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative. Just what is it? And what role, if any, did the implementation of this program play in leading to the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys in question?

The civil rights community has every right to know since the Justice Department has reversed long-standing guidelines designed to protect the integrity of election systems in favor of drumming up “evidence” of voter fraud that can then be used to justify legislation that results in disenfranchisement of thousands of otherwise eligible, and often largely Democratic, voters.

It’s time for the Senate Judiciary Committee to probe the attorney general to learn more about these voter fraud investigations and prosecutions. The only information available to the public comes from the department’s summary press releases. But let’s find out more about the 95 indictments brought under the Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative, from October 2002 to September 2005. It’s time the public knows the truth — something the attorney general needs to acknowledge now that he’s on the hot seat.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.

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