"The decision's been made ... to give another person a chance"

Testimony Tuesday reveals more about the saga of two U.S. attorneys.

By Alex Koppelman

Published June 6, 2007 12:22AM (EDT)

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Todd P. Graves, the former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, repeated to the committee the reason he was given for his firing: not because of any performance issues but because, "The decision's been made at the highest levels of government to give another person a chance."

That quote, from Michael Battle, former director of the Department of Justice's Executive Office for United States Attorneys, has been reported before, but it's particularly relevant considering who had testified before Graves: that other person who needed to get a chance, Graves' replacement, Bradley Schlozman.

Before his appointment as U.S. attorney, Schlozman was the head of the voting rights section of the civil rights division of the Justice Department. Given his knowledge of voting issues, Schlozman was in a unique position to investigate voting issues in a state that only months after his appointment played host to a Senate race key to the Democrats' takeover of the Senate in the midterm elections of November 2006.

As Salon noted in an article on March 21 of this year, Schlozman did investigate voting cases soon after his appointment. He ultimately brought indictments against four individuals working for ACORN, a voter registration group that tends to be associated with Democrats, less than a week before Election Day. And as we've already written today, those indictments were one of the major issues brought up by committee members in today's hearing. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., suggested that the indictments had been used for partisan gain, citing a press release put out by the Missouri Republican Party after the indictments were announced.

Committee members focused in particular on two issues surrounding the indictments -- the contradiction between Schlozman's pursuit of those indictments so soon before the election, and DOJ guidelines that would seem to warn against such an action.

Some senators focused especially on the case of Thomas Heffelfinger, the former U.S. attorney for Minnesota. Heffelfinger was apparently particularly interested in claims of voter discrimination against Native Americans; those senators questioning Schlozman today seemed to believe that Schlozman stalled or quashed an investigation into that case, drawing comparisons to the speed in which he pursued indictments in Missouri. Schlozman's explanation was that there were, at the time of the investigation into discrimination against Native Americans, not enough resources to devote to it.

Schlozman also got into an exchange with Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the committee, about why he had told Joseph D. Rich, career head of the DOJ's Voting Rights Section, "not to do anything on the Minnesota Native American issue without [Schlozman's] approval because of the special sensitivity of this matter." Leahy asked Schlozman what was so sensitive about that matter in particular, a question to which Schlozman responded,

"Well, any time we're dealing in a pre-election period and any time the Civil Rights Division is going to be going in and making inquiries on phone calls it immediately alerts the -- I mean, those things make the newspaper, it gets the attention. And we wanted to make sure that we were not going off half-cocked in any jurisdiction."

"Apparently that wasn't the case in Missouri, however," was Leahy's quick rejoinder.

As for the seeming contravention of DOJ guidelines on investigating alleged election crimes, Schlozman shifted most of the blame onto Craig Donsanto, director of DOJ's election crimes branch. Schlozman repeatedly emphasized that he had gone to Donsanto for guidance on whether to proceed, and had been told, "Go ahead and go forward."

TPMmuckraker has already discovered one potential hole in Schlozman's testimony about Donsanto -- an e-mail from David Iglesias, one of the original eight fired U.S. attorneys. In the e-mail, which was released as part of one of the DOJ's dumps of e-mails relevant to the U.S. attorneys scandal, Iglesias wrote,

"The federal members of the [Election Fraud Task Force] should be aware of the DoJ policy of not attempting to influence the outcome of an election through investigation or prosecution. I am not aware of any prosecution which will commence before November 2, 2004. I know Donsanto would not authorize such action because he has stated the same."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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