- Greg Palast - http://www.gregpalast.com -

Senators Demand Justice Dept. Investigation Into Tim Griffin, RNC 2004 Vote Caging Allegations

Sens. Kennedy and Whitehouse Send Letter to DoJ Inspector General's Office Seeking Probe into RNC Voter Supression Tactics
Inquiry Into What Justice Officials Knew About Griffin's Vote Caging Activities When He Was Named as US Attorney for Arkansas

From The BRAD BLOG [1]

Senators Edward "Teddy" Kennedy (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) have sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales demanding a probe by the DoJ's Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility into "allegations that the Republican National Committee engaged in 'vote caging' during the 2004 elections."

The senators' letter, sent today to Gonzales, also requests an investigation into "whether any Department officials were aware of allegations that Tim Griffin had engaged in caging when he was appointed United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and whether appropriate action was taken."

In October 2004, BBC Television Newsnight disclosed that Griffin, then the Bush-Cheney campaign's chief of communications, had targeted 70,000 voters in Florida, and more in others, for potential challenge as "fraudulent" voters. In fact, while subject to the attack on their right to vote, none of those targeted, including homeless persons and soldiers sent overseas, were found to be fraudulently registered.

Griffin, later appointed US Attorney for Arkansas, resigned from that post when the BBC reporter on the story, Greg Palast, announced two weeks ago that the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sought BBC's evidence on the scheme to challenge voters.

The complete Kennedy-Whitehouse letter, and a press release sent along with it, is posted in full at the end of this article.

"The Republican Party has a long and ignominious record of caging – much of it focused on the African American community," Kennedy and Whitehouse explain in their letter which gives details of the RNC using voting caging tactics to suppress minority voters in both 1981 and 1986. After both incidents, the GOP had signed consent decrees that they would not engage in the activity in the future.

Nonetheless, email evidence has shown that in 2004, Griffin created and sent caging lists on behalf of the Bush 2004 campaign as originally reported by the BBC [2] to little American media fanfare, prior to the election. Griffin, who became an aide to Karl Rove, was later appointed by the Bush Administration as the US Attorney from Arkansas after they had fired Bud Cummins. Griffin has since resigned [3] from the post in the wake of the scandal.

In recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, the now-resigned DoJ liason to the White House, Monica Goodling admitted [4] that now-resigned Deputy Atty General Paul McNulty was less than forthcoming in his sworn Congressional testimony concerning his knowledge about Griffin's involvement in vote caging during the 2004 campaign.

In her testimony, given under a grant of immunity from prosecution, Goodling said that McNulty "failed to disclose that he had some knowledge of allegations that Tim Griffin had been involved in vote "caging" during his work on the President's 2004 campaign."

Reporter Palast, who initially covered the story for the BBC and charged that the lists were meant to target minority voters --- many of whom were serving in the armed forces overseas in Iraq --- has opined on Goodling's admissions in an exclusive to The BRAD BLOG [5] filed just after her testimony. Yesterday, in another BRAD BLOG exclusive [6], Palast discussed the recent firing of Griffin and a recent teary-eyed speech given last week in Arkansas.

"This is all made up of whole cloth," Griffin told the assembled crowd [7] during a Q&A session after a speech punctuated by tears. "I didn’t cage votes," he claimed. That, despite the emails he sent in 2004 with spreadsheets listing voters attached along with the subject line "Re: caging."

"Caging is a reprehensible voter suppression tactic, and it may also violate federal law and the terms of applicable judicially enforceable consent decrees," the senators charge in their letter.

"It is very disturbing to think that Department officials may have approved the appointment of a United States Attorney knowing that he had engaged in racially targeted vote caging," write the senators. "Moreover, it is very disturbing to think that senior officials were aware of this practice and did nothing to refer their information to relevant officials within the Department for investigation and a determination as to whether it was a violation of a consent decree or law within the Department’s jurisdiction to enforce."

The letter from the senators, both of who are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has been investigating elements of the U.S. Attorneys Purge, conclude, "At a time when the Department’s political independence and its commitment to enforcement of civil rights statutes have been called into doubt, it is vitally important that the Department thoroughly investigate these allegations of unlawful voter suppression, and the apparent failure of Department employees to forward to the appropriate authorities information they had about this practice."

The press release from Kennedy and Whitehouse, along with their complete letter to Gonzales today, follows in full below...

UNITED STATES SENATE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 18, 2007

CONTACT:
Laura Capps/Melissa Wagoner (Kennedy), 202-224-2633
Alex Swartsel (Whitehouse), 202-228-6293

Senators Demand DOJ Investigation Into Voter Suppression Allegations
Kennedy, Whitehouse Ask Whether Justice Officials Knew Former Rove Aide Allegedly Engaged in Illegal “Vote Caging” Before Naming Him Interim U.S. Attorney

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) today called for a Justice Department investigation into allegations of illegal voter suppression tactics by Republican political operatives, including former Karl Rove aide Tim Griffin, during the 2004 elections. Griffin is now serving as interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

“At a time when the Department’s political independence and its commitment to enforcement of civil rights statutes have been called into doubt, it is vitally important that the Department thoroughly investigate these allegations of unlawful voter suppression, and the apparent failure of Department employees to forward to the appropriate authorities information they had about this practice,” the senators wrote in a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The letter cites voter suppression incidents by the Republican Party in the 1980s. During the 2004 elections, e-mail evidence suggests that Tim Griffin, then a political operative at the Republican National Committee, knew and approved of a program to “cage” voters – sending a political campaign mailing to targeted voters and challenging the right to vote of those whose mail was returned undelivered – in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Jacksonville, Florida. Last year, Griffin was appointed interim U.S. Attorney without Senate confirmation, displacing a federal prosecutor who has testified he was told he was fired to make the job available for Griffin.

Today, Senators Kennedy and Whitehouse demanded an investigation by two DOJ watchdog agencies to determine whether Griffin may have violated the Voting Rights Act or other federal laws, and whether Justice Department officials knew of Griffin’s potentially unlawful activity when he was named U.S. Attorney.

Kennedy and Whitehouse are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is conducting its own investigation into the unprecedented firing late last year of several U.S. Attorneys. Senator Kennedy, a longtime champion for voting rights, will chair a Judiciary Committee hearing this Thursday on oversight of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Whitehouse served as U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island from 1994-1998.

“It is very disturbing to think that Department officials may have approved the appointment of a United States Attorney knowing that he had engaged in racially targeted vote caging,” the senators wrote. “Moreover, it is very disturbing to think that senior officials were aware of this practice and did nothing to refer their information to relevant officials within the Department for investigation and a determination as to whether it was a violation of a consent decree or law within the Department’s jurisdiction to enforce.”

The full text of the letter is below.

June 18, 2007

Alberto Gonzales
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Gonzales:

We write to request that the Department of Justice promptly investigate allegations that the Republican National Committee engaged in “vote caging” during the 2004 elections. We also ask that you investigate whether any Department officials were aware of allegations that Tim Griffin had engaged in caging when he was appointed United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and whether appropriate action was taken. Caging is a reprehensible voter suppression tactic, and it may also violate federal law and the terms of applicable judicially enforceable consent decrees.

Caging is a voter suppression tactic whereby a political campaign sends mail marked “do not forward” to a targeted group of eligible voters. A more aggressive version involves sending mail to a targeted group of voters with instructions to sign and return an acknowledgment card. The campaign then creates a list of those whose mail was returned undelivered and challenges the right of those citizens to vote – on the ground that the voter does not live at the registered address. There are many reasons why registered mail might be “returned to sender” that have nothing to do with a voter’s eligibility. A voter might be an active member of the armed forces and stationed far from home, or a student registered at his parents’ address. Even a typographical error during entry of the voter’s registration information might result in an address that appears invalid.

The Republican Party has a long and ignominious record of caging – much of it focused on the African American community. For example, in 1981 the RNC sent a mass mailing into predominantly African American neighborhoods in New Jersey and used the resulting 45,000 letters marked “undeliverable” to challenge those voters’ eligibility. In 1986, the RNC used similar tactics in an effort to disenfranchise roughly 31,000 voters, most of them African American, in Louisiana. These tactics led to litigation and the RNC’s eventual signing of two consent decrees, still in effect, which bar the RNC from using “ballot security” programs ostensibly intended to prevent voter fraud as a tactic to target minority voters.

In 2004, however, allegations of caging by Republican officials arose again – this time over an effort to suppress votes in Florida. Emails sent in August 2004 by Tim Griffin, then Research Director and Deputy Communications Director of the RNC, demonstrate his knowledge and approval of a spreadsheet listing caged voters in predominantly African American neighborhoods in Jacksonville, Florida. (See attached.) Two years later, Mr. Griffin was appointed, without Senate confirmation, as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Such actions appear plainly to violate the consent decrees signed by the RNC in 1981 and 1986. We ask that you investigate whether in these circumstances Mr. Griffin or others may also have violated the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the mail fraud statute, or any other federal statute.

It also appears that high-ranking officials in the Department knew of Mr. Griffin’s involvement in caging. Monica Goodling recently testified to the House Judiciary Committee that she discussed concerns about Mr. Griffin’s involvement in caging with Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty during a session to prepare for Mr. McNulty’s Congressional testimony. It is very disturbing to think that Department officials may have approved the appointment of a United States Attorney knowing that he had engaged in racially targeted vote caging.

Moreover, it is very disturbing to think that senior officials were aware of this practice and did nothing to refer their information to relevant officials within the Department for investigation and a determination as to whether it was a violation of a consent decree or law within the Department’s jurisdiction to enforce.

We, therefore, ask the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility to conduct an investigation to determine who in DOJ knew about Mr. Griffin’s potentially unlawful activity before he was named interim U.S. Attorney, and whether appropriate action was taken on that knowledge, and to recommend whatever action is appropriate.

At a time when the Department’s political independence and its commitment to enforcement of civil rights statutes have been called into doubt, it is vitally important that the Department thoroughly investigate these allegations of unlawful voter suppression, and the apparent failure of Department employees to forward to the appropriate authorities information they had about this practice.

Sincerely,

Edward M. Kennedy
United States Senator

Sheldon Whitehouse
United States Senator

cc:
Paul D. Clement, Solicitor General
Alice S. Fisher, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division
Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division
Glenn A. Fine, Inspector General
H. Marshall Jarrett, Director, Office of Professional Responsibility