Schlozman takes the stand, Leahy gets angry

The former interim U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, Bradley Schlozman, faces contentious questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Published June 5, 2007 7:32PM (EDT)

On March 21, in an article about the role claims of voting fraud and voting fraud prosecutions may have played in the controversial dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, Salon was the first to discuss former interim U.S. attorney for the Western District Bradley Schlozman and how he may have fit into the emerging scandal.

Tuesday, at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Schlozman is facing questioning from an angry group of senators. First up was committee chairman Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt. Leahy repeatedly asked Schlozman about indictments in voting fraud cases he obtained less than a week before the 2006 midterm elections, in which Missouri was one of the tightest Senate races.

As Salon reported in its March 21 article, those preelection indictments were for four workers hired by ACORN, a group that conducts voter registration drives in poor and minority urban neighborhoods (i.e., areas of Democratic strength) and has been a subject of repeated voter fraud claims by the right. The workers were accused of having submitted false voter registrations.

"This national investigation is very much ongoing," said Schlozman in a statement issued Nov. 1. The indictments were trumpeted by myriad conservative blogs and national outlets such as Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times.

As Leahy noted today, the indictments -- at least on their face -- appear to contradict Justice Department guidelines that call for prosecutors to, when possible, hold off on bringing indictments that could possibly affect the outcome of an election. Schlozman said that he was aware of those guidelines, and so directed the assistant U.S. attorney investigating the case to contact Craig Donsanto, director of the Justice Department's election crimes branch, and ask whether to proceed. "His response," Schlozman said, "was if you've got the investigation ready to go, go ahead and indict, there's no reason to wait until after the election." Schlozman emphasized that there was "nothing unusual, irregular or improper" about the indictments.

But as Leahy continued to question Schlozman on the case, it was clear that the senator was becoming increasingly angry with, even condescending to, Schlozman. "Why didn't you just wait a couple weeks more? Wasn't it obvious to you ... that just the bringing of the charges could have had an effect on the election?" Leahy asked. And when Schlozman responded that he felt the indictments would have no effect on the election and that no person would be disenfranchised, Leahy quipped, "That's not my question at all, Mr. Schlozman, and you know it." "I didn't think it was going to have any effect on the election at all, no, Senator," Schlozman clarified, prompting Leahy to exclaim, "Amazing!"

Finally, when Schlozman asserted that "the Department of Justice does not time prosecutions to elections," Leahy outright yelled at him in response.

"Yes, they do!" Leahy said. "That's what the manual says, and you -- rather reluctantly, I felt -- admitted that you read it."

Following Schlozman will be his predecessor in the Western District of Missouri, Todd P. Graves. In May, Graves revealed that he had been asked to step down from his post in January 2006, exploding Justice Department claims that the list of fired U.S. attorneys ended at the eight known about to that time.

We'll be following the hearing as it continues. A live webcast is available here.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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