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Monday, May 26, 2008

Recounting Recount

by digby

I don't know about you but last night after watching Recount, I had nightmares. Nightmares of screaming at the television for 30 days at the shameful spin of the Bush people. Nightmares of watching a purely political power game lay bare the rickety foundations of our democracy. Nightmares of Tim Russert and that stupid goddamned tote board of his.

It certainly brought back all the memories. As I'm sure is true with most of you who watched it in real time, it was obvious to me from the moment Gore retracted his concession that the Republican establishment and the Bush Florida machine had more levers of power to work with in a battle like this. But it wasn't obvious to me that they would use it so blatantly, with the media egging them on with endless hand wringing about the "uncertainly" weakening the fabric of the country. Like all the Democrats in the movie, I completely dismissed the idea that the US Supreme Court, when put to the test, would end up as the final enforcer for the Republican Party. (I would say the last of my naivete died then --- but that would be wrong. A little more of it reveals itself in its death throes every single day. It seems my idealism ran more deeply than I thought.)

It was interesting in the movie to see how the Bushies avoided the appearances of collusion with Katherine Harris's office. I have a little detail, which I wrote about once before, that some of you who watched the movie last night might enjoy reading:

It seems that every day we hear of another example of the Bush administration politicizing the Justice department. Today we hear from a former career prosecutor in the civil rights division, filling in another piece of the puzzle:

I spent more than 35 years in the department enforcing federal civil rights laws — particularly voting rights. Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies — from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.

Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.

Here's another article debunking the "voter fraud" trope.

No surprise there. What is a surprise is how nobody seems to have seen this coming. The rough outlines were available when I wrote about what I saw as an emerging "illegal aliens are voting" theme almost a year ago. I thought they were preparing to use it for last November but I was a premature anti-purger.

But since I first started writing on-line, one of my recurring themes is that the modern Republican party has become fundamentally hostile to democracy.(And we already knew they were crooks.) This was first made obvious to me back in 1994, when Republican leader Dick Armey famously stated "your president is just not that important for us." They went on to impeach that president against the clear will of the people.

But the biggest clue about what they were up to came in 2000 with the Florida recount. I know it seems like ancient history to go back to that but it is extremely important to remember just how outrageous their tactics were: the Gore campaign used legal tactics and the Bush campaign didn't. There was the "bourgeois riot" and dirty trickster Roger Stone directing the street theatre from a van. (Here's a list of what the Village Voice termed the five worst Bush recount outrages.) They used every lever of power they could to count illegally cast overseas ballots. They operated a hypocritical and situational media campaign that the press completely failed to properly analyze until it was too late. And after they did they helpfully told those who objected to "get over it." And I guess we did.

The Republicans have been remarkably good about keeping their mouths shut about the Florida shennanigans, pretending that Jeb Bush's electoral apparatus gave them no unusual help. Still, I was surprised to see a former Florida recount icon show up on the Lehrer News Hour last week to argue that the US Attorney firings were completely above board. His name is Michael Carvin and he was the lawyer who argued the Bush case before the Florida Supreme Court. Here's his picture. I'm sure many of you will remember him:

The Newshour failed to identify him as one of the Florida recount team and instead named him merely as a former Reagan official. But he didn't fail to carry the Bush water one more time:

MICHAEL CARVIN: I really think this is much ado about very little. I'm not saying that they haven't mishandled this from a public relations perspective. They clearly have.

But the notion that firing eight U.S. attorneys with White House personnel involved is somehow shocking is like saying you're shocked to discover there's gambling in Casablanca. I don't know where these people have been.

There's not one member of that Judiciary Committee who hasn't called the White House or the Justice Department and said, "My cousin or my law school roommate wants to be a U.S. attorney."

So the notion that these kinds of appointments and removals in Walter's administration -- they fired all 93 in one slot -- the notion that is isn't influenced by the fact that the president needs his team in place, both at the main Justice Department and in the field, is really quite silly and quite counterfactual.

This would be typical Carvin. For instance, here's something he said after Bush v Gore was decided:

The new deadline for all recounts to be submitted to Katherine Harris was 5 p.m. Sunday, November 26. Now, that Sunday afternoon you could watch any of the television coverage and see that Palm Beach was still counting. And by late afternoon you heard various officials in Palm Beach acknowledging that they were not going to be finished by five. Now, we maintain that was completely illegal, because the law said you had to manually recount all ballots. [See Village Voice top five outrages for why this is such a slimy position for him to take.]

But as five o'clock approached, we heard that the secretary of state was going to accept the Palm Beach partial recount --- even though the Palm Beach partial recount was blatantly illegal. We were told that the secretary of state's view was that unless Palm Beach actually informed her --- in writing or otherwise --- that the returns were only a partial recount, she could not infer that on her own.

So we made some calls to a few Republicans overseeing the Palm Beach recount. We told them to gently suggest to the canvassing board that it might as well put PARTIAL RETURN on the front of the returns that were to be faxed up in time for the deadline. The reason we gave was clarity --- that the words PARTIAL RETURN would distinguish those returns from the full count that would be coming in later that night. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I think the Palm Beach board did in the end write PARTIAL RECOUNT on the returns. We all know that the Secretary of State, in the end, rejected them. [By rejecting them, he means that she said that a partial return missed the deadline altogether and all the previously uncounted votes that were counted in the partial recount were never added to the tally. This had the effect of never allowing Gore to take the lead.]

I think the board members probably agreed to write the PARTIAL RECOUNT notation for two reasons. First of all, I think they hadn't slept in 48 hours, so I think they'd sort of do anything. Second of all, I don't think they or anybody else would have suspected that it would actually make any difference. Who would imagine that without the simple notation of PARTIAL RETURN the partial count would have been accepted as a complete count by the secretary of state? Even while the television showed them still counting?

But I don't think it was Machiavellian to suggest to the board that it write PARTIAL RECOUNT, because that is what it was. I think it would have been sort of Machiavellian to suggest to pretend they were not partial returns. [Talk Magazine, March 2001, p. 172]

I know that virtually nobody cares about this anymore, if they ever did, but this was so full of nonsense that it amazed me that he got away with saying it. And the tale he tells, bad as it is, is still obviously not the whole story.

They were clearly colluding with Katherine Harris' office throughout and they determined that she could reject all of the Palm Beach county votes they had counted by 5pm with this little gambit. Everything depended on not allowing Al Gore to ever take the lead or their whole PR campaign would start to fall apart.

It's a small thing, I know, and probably one of thousands of such small acts of illegal and inappropriate collusion between Jeb Bush and the campaign during the recount. But it happened and we knew it happened. And it was done by people like Michael Carvin, former Reagan Justice Department official who now implies that the US Attorney scandal is nothing because everyone knows that the Bush Justice department is an enforcement arm of the Republican Party and that's perfectly normal.

That is just how these people think. It's why they hunted Clinton and Reno like dogs for eight years, determined to find evidence of wrongdoing. They either assume everyone does it because they do or they know they can innoculate themselves against accusations of their own bad acts by getting to the punch first. (And harrassing Democrats is rewarding in and of itself.)

I wrote to reporters Don Van Atta and Jake Tapper about this Carvin tid-bit when they were covering the media recount for the NY Times and Salon (and Tapper was writing a book about it.) Tapper was uninterested, but Van Natta called me and I told him where to find the quote. (Talk Magazine is not on lexis-nexis.) Then came 9/11, the recount story was pretty much shelved and the entire country was told we had to gather around the president.

But then, we had been told that from the beginning, hadn't we? The media were complicit in this, helping the Republicans along every step of the way during the recount with constant rending of garments about a constitutional crisis and fantasies about tanks in the streets if things weren't settled instantly. (The deadlines! My god, the deadlines!) And when it was all done, they told us repeatedly to get over it.

And here we are, six years later, actually debating whether the Bush White House has been manipulating the electoral system. For god's sake --- of course they have been. This administration was installed through crude manipulation of the rigged levers of power in the Bush family's political machine and they see such outrageous conduct as perfectly legitimate. Indeed, I'm sure they believe "it's not Machiavellian" to use the Department of Justice to rig the vote --- it would be Machiavellian not to.

Update: Here's a nice little update from 2005 on the Bourgeois Rioters.

Update II: And lest we forget, Tim Griffin, the houseboy Rove insisted replace the Arkansas US Attorney was on the Florida recount team. So was Kyle Sampson.

It's pretty to think that this is all ancient history and we can move on. Maybe we can. But just this week, Tim Griffin was hired to run the RNCs Obama opposition research team. And the voter fraud apparatus that Rove and others before him have built, which includes Republican lawyers like Carvin and Griffin, is still up and running. Maybe they are spent and useless now. I hope so.