McClatchy finally gets to Rove's speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association that I've been writing about for some time:
The administration's interest in replacing some U.S. attorneys, in voter fraud and in voting rights has sometimes had a political tinge, however.
Bush has acknowledged hearing complaints from Republicans about some U.S. attorneys’ “lack of vigorous prosecution of election fraud cases,” and administration e-mails have shown that Rove and other White House officials were involved in the dismissals and in the choice of an aide to Rove to replace one of them. Nonetheless, Bush has refused to permit congressional investigators to question Rove and others under oath.
Last April, while the Justice Department and the White House were planning the firings, Rove gave a speech in Washington to the Republican National Lawyers Association. He ticked off 11 states that he said could be pivotal in 2008. Bush has appointed new U.S. attorneys in nine of them since 2005: Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico. U.S. attorneys in the latter four were among those fired.
Rove thanked the audience for “all that you are doing in those hot spots around the country to ensure that the integrity of the ballot is protected.” He added, “A lot in American politics is up for grabs.”
Taken together, legal experts and other critics say, the replacement of the U.S. attorneys and the changes in Justice Department voting rights policies suggest that the Bush administration may have been using its law enforcement powers for partisan political purposes.
Rove talked about the Northwest in his speech last spring to the Republican lawyers, and voiced concern about the trend toward mail-in ballots and online voting. He also questioned the legitimacy of voter rolls in Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
One audience member asked Rove whether he’d “thought about using the bully pulpit of the White House to talk about election reform and an election integrity agenda that would put the Democrats back on the defensive.”
“Yes, it’s an interesting idea,” Rove responded.
(There's much more to this very interesting story at the link.)
I speculated last fall that Rove quite cannily planned to use the electoral integrity meme that had grown up in liberal circles since the 2000 elections and turn it back on the Democrats. He'd certainly had experience with similar strategies.
Here's a case from earlier in Rove's career:
Newspaper coverage on November 9, the morning after the election, focused on the Republican Fob James's upset of the Democratic Governor Jim Folsom. But another drama was rapidly unfolding. In the race for chief justice, which had been neck and neck the evening before, Hooper awoke to discover himself trailing by 698 votes. Throughout the day ballots trickled in from remote corners of the state, until at last an unofficial tally showed that Rove's client had lost—by 304 votes. Hornsby's campaign declared victory.
Rove had other plans, and immediately moved for a recount. "Karl called the next morning," says a former Rove staffer. "He said, 'We came real close. You guys did a great job. But now we really need to rally around Perry Hooper. We've got a real good shot at this, but we need to win over the people of Alabama.'" Rove explained how this was to be done. "Our role was to try to keep people motivated about Perry Hooper's election," the staffer continued, "and then to undermine the other side's support by casting them as liars, cheaters, stealers, immoral—all of that." (Rove did not respond to requests for an interview for this article.)
The campaign quickly obtained a restraining order to preserve the ballots. Then the tactical battle began. Rather than focus on a handful of Republican counties that might yield extra votes, Rove dispatched campaign staffers and hired investigators to every county to observe the counting and turn up evidence of fraud. In one county a probate judge was discovered to have erroneously excluded 100 votes for Hooper. Voting machines in two others had failed to count all the returns. Mindful of public opinion, according to staffers, the campaign spread tales of poll watchers threatened with arrest; probate judges locking themselves in their offices and refusing to admit campaign workers; votes being cast in absentia for comatose nursing-home patients; and Democrats caught in a cemetery writing down the names of the dead in order to put them on absentee ballots.
As the recount progressed, the margin continued to narrow. Three days after the election Hooper held a press conference to drive home the idea that the election was being stolen. He declared, "We have endured lies in this campaign, but I'll be damned if I will accept outright thievery." The recount stretched on, and Hooper's campaign continued to chip away at Hornsby's lead. By November 21 one tally had it at nine votes.
The race came down to a dispute over absentee ballots. Hornsby's campaign fought to include approximately 2,000 late-arriving ballots that had been excluded because they weren't notarized or witnessed, as required by law. Also mindful of public relations, the Hornsby campaign brought forward a man who claimed that the absentee ballot of his son, overseas in the military, was in danger of being disallowed. The matter wound up in court. "The last marching order we had from Karl," says a former employee, "was 'Make sure you continue to talk this up. The only way we're going to be successful is if the Alabama public continues to care about it.'"
Initially, things looked grim for Hooper. A circuit-court judge ruled that the absentee ballots should be counted, reasoning that voters' intent was the issue, and that by merely signing them, those who had cast them had "substantially complied" with the law. Hooper's lawyers appealed to a federal court. By Thanksgiving his campaign believed he was ahead—but also believed that the disputed absentee ballots, from heavily Democratic counties, would cost him the election. The campaign went so far as to sue every probate judge, circuit clerk, and sheriff in the state, alleging discrimination. Hooper continued to hold rallies throughout it all. On his behalf the business community bought ads in newspapers across the state that said, "They steal elections they don't like." Public opinion began tilting toward him.
The recount stretched into the following year. On Inauguration Day both candidates appeared for the ceremonies. By March the all-Democratic Alabama Supreme Court had ordered that the absentee ballots be counted. By April the matter was before the Eleventh Federal Circuit Court. The byzantine legal maneuvering continued for months. In mid-October a federal appeals-court judge finally ruled that the ballots could not be counted, and ordered the secretary of state to certify Hooper as the winner—only to have Hornsby's legal team appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which temporarily stayed the case. By now the recount had dragged on for almost a year.
When I went to visit Hooper, not long ago, we sat in the parlor of his Montgomery home as he described the denouement of Karl Rove's closest race. "On the afternoon of October the nineteenth," Hooper recalled, "I was in the back yard planting five hundred pink sweet Williams in my wife's garden, and she hollered out the back door, 'Your secretary just called—the Supreme Court just made a ruling that you're the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court!'" In the final tally he had prevailed by just 262 votes. Hooper smiled broadly and handed me a large photo of his swearing-in ceremony the next day. "That Karl Rove was a very impressive fellow," he said.
I don't know why people can't wrap their minds around the fact that one of Karl Rove's specialties is stealing elections, but there are piles and piles of evidence that it is. (You'd think 2000 would have been enough to seal his reputation...)
I do not make this argument to suggest that Rove wasn't trying to employ the Justice Department for voter suppression efforts. That's been going on for decades. But I believe that Rove was also taking it to the next level, preparing to use the electoral mistrust caused by the stolen election in 2000 and the shennanigans in Ohio in 2004 to gin up a national GOP campaign to complain of Democratic voter fraud --- and bring into question all close elections in which Democrats prevailed.
Rove understands that these issues are as much about politics and public perception as anything else. That example from Alabama tells you how he subtly influences the legal system through public pressure and ultimately brings it down to sheer political muscle. He either uses the public's existing predjudices or creates new ones to make the people see elections as not a matter of accepted law and practices but rather a function of the political strength of the political machine --- much like the old Big City machines, but on a national level.
Karl Rove meddling with any kind of voter integrity project, pro or con, should set off deafening alarms. Cheating and stealing and dirty tricks are what he does. The minute his name was brought into this scandal, a full and thorough investigation was required.