Florida Democrats prepare to subpoena records

Enquiring Demos want to know: Why was the Bush war room in Katherine Harris' office? And what about Jeb Bush's involvement? The White House press corps officially doesn't care.

Published July 16, 2001 4:39PM (EDT)

Big Buzz

While the New York Times story examining Florida ballots has dominated the world of Red vs. Blue Monday, the general media wasn't interested. At a press conference Monday, not a single reporter asked White House spokesman Ari Fleischer about the Times story.

But the Times story has raised some new questions about the Florida standoff. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit was buried in the Times story: an intriguing reference to the Bush campaign's "Tallahassee war room" located, according to the Times, in the offices of Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

"[T]he Republicans poured their energy into the speedy delivery and liberal treatment of likely Bush ballots from abroad," the Times explained. "In a Tallahassee 'war room' within the offices of Ms. Harris, veteran Republican political consultants helped shape the post-election instructions to county canvassing boards."

But the fact that the Bush team set up shop in Harris' office appears to, if nothing else, highlight some of the possible conflicts of having the state's top elections officer as a campaign co-chairwoman. It also gives more ammo to partisan Democrats eager to seize on the Harris conflict as some larger coordinated plot to "steal" the presidency. You'd think the Bush forces might have found some office space somewhere -- anywhere -- else.

Florida Democrats are preparing to subpoena documents from the war room under the state's liberal public records laws. Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palimeri said the state party is expected to file suit against Harris soon about those documents.

Harris' office could not be immediately reached for comment.

"It's outrageous," said Palimeri. "The secretary of state was running a Republican war room out of her office with the presidency of the United States at stake? It's just outrageous. The media has become anesthetized to this type of activity from the Bush campaign and aren't paying as serious attention we think this story deserves."

Palimeri says the media has taken a pass because the Times story seems to indicate that the final outcome of the election was not altered.

The results of Sunday's Times exposi on Florida ballots found that "overseas ballots were judged by vastly different standards depending on where they were counted ... one expert told The Times that if the flawed ballots had not been accepted, Mr. Bush's margin of victory would have dropped from 537 votes to 245 votes, not quite enough to have tipped the state to Al Gore."

It seems to be the response of the Republican side is that they think even if they hadn't cheated, we'd still have won, so somehow it's OK," she said. "I think that cheating is still a concern."

But the Times story did little to change opinions online.

"Egregious left-wing nonsense from Pravda on the Hudson. The NYT is being cheated by the DNC; the paper really should be receiving funds from the Dems, inasmuch as it's so transparently a Democratic Party broadsheet," writes one Lucianne.com poster.

Online Democrats, of course, made the story the focus Monday. The Democrats.com headline reads: "NY Times Exposes GOP Absentee Ballot Fraud That Stole 292 Votes for Bush -- Just Enough to Win." (Bush's margin of victory was 537 votes.) "The Presidency Was Stolen By A Fundamentally Corrupt Bush Campaign. They Mugged Democracy," screams the headline at Buzzflash.com.

Since the Times story broke, Democrats also honed in on a separate story, which also appeared in the Times last weekend, about Gov. Jeb Bush's role in the election standoff. Jeb Bush's reelection fight is sure to be the battle royal in 2002, and Democrats are already in full campaign mode. Just witness this letter from state Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe:

Dear Gov. Bush:

Many Floridians well remember your public recusal from the State Canvassing Board during the aftermath of the 2000 election. So it is undoubtedly troubling to those same Floridians that there are fresh news reports of nearly 100 phone calls made from your office to the George W. Bush campaign, its attorneys and supporters.

It is likely to be of little comfort and very disturbing that it took seven months from the time those calls were made for you and your staff to decide you needed to reimburse Florida taxpayers. Your decision to belatedly pay for the calls raises more questions than it answers.

Did the Governor or his staff illegally work on the George W. Bush campaign on state time? Did the Governor and his staff illegally use state equipment to benefit the George W. Bush campaign? Why did you wait until the calls were uncovered by the media to reimburse the state for phone calls made to the George W. Bush Campaign?

While your responses to date have been less than forthcoming, I sincerely hope, Governor Bush, that you will provide the people of Florida with a full accounting of your office's actions in this matter.

In addition, as you are most likely aware, Secretary of State Katherine Harris' attorneys have acknowledged the destruction of public records, which is a likely violation of the state's Sunshine Laws. I strongly urge you to ask the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate potential illegalities in the office of Secretary Harris.

Floridians are prepared to move on, but your office and the office of Secretary Harris appears to have hidden important facts from them. Full disclosure on your part and on the part of Secretary Harris is long overdue.

Yours truly,
Bob Poe

By Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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