Hatching The Plot
When Karl resigned earlier this week, I mused that if he was about to go down, I thought it might be because of the most prosaic crime of all: violation of the Hatch act.
Here's more from McClatchy tonight on just what a slick political operation they had:
Top Commerce and Treasury Departments officials appeared with Republican candidates and doled out millions in federal money in battleground congressional districts and states after receiving White House political briefings detailing GOP election strategy.
Political appointees in the Treasury Department received at least 10 political briefings from July 2001 to August 2006, officials familiar with the meetings said. Their counterparts at the Commerce Department received at least four briefings — all in the election years of 2002, 2004 and 2006.
The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether the White House's political briefings to at least 15 agencies, including to the Justice Department, the General Services Administration and the State Department, violated a ban on the use of government resources for campaign activities.
Under the Hatch Act, Cabinet members are permitted to attend political briefings and appear with members of Congress. But Cabinet members and other political appointees aren't permitted to spend taxpayer money with the aim of benefiting candidates.
As part of the probe, committee investigators found that White House drug czar John Walters took 20 trips at taxpayers' expense in 2006 to appear with Republican congressional candidates.
In a separate investigation, the independent Office of Special Counsel concluded that GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan violated the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of government employees. Witnesses told investigators that Doan asked at the end of one political briefing in January 2007 what her agency could do to help GOP candidates. Doan has said she doesn't recall that remark.
In the months leading up to the 2002 election, then-Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Bush's former campaign finance chairman, made eight appearances or announcements with Republican incumbents in districts deemed by White House aides either as competitive districts or battleground presidential states.
During the stops, he doled out millions of dollars in grants, including in two public announcements with Rep. Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican in a competitive district.
Republicans ultimately regained control of the Senate and expanded their majority in the House of Representatives in the 2002 elections.
In 2006, Evans' successor, Carlos Gutierrez, and his aides also made public announcements with several Republican congressional incumbents, including in the battleground states of Missouri, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. Weeks before the 2006 election, Gutierrez and Congresswoman Wilson announced $3.45 million in grants for Albuquerque organizations. Also in the weeks before the election, a deputy secretary and Republican Sen. Rick Santorum announced that the department would be investing $2.25 million in Philadelphia.
The same year, then-Treasury Secretary John Snow and Santorum announced an award of millions in tax credits to Pennsylvania organizations. Santorum later lost his seat.
Snow and his aides also made appearances in 2006 with Republican incumbents or doled out grants in Virginia, Iowa and Ohio, states seen as crucial to the GOP retaining control of Congress.
Bush's first treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, stuck mainly to giving speeches praising President Bush's economic policies rather than appearing with candidates. O'Neill was unceremoniously dumped after disagreeing repeatedly with the White House.
Commerce Department spokesman Dan Nelson described the meetings as merely "informational."
"They were not a call to action," he said.
From the LA Times article I quoted in my earlier Rove post:
Interior Department employees describe regular visits from Rove's staff during Bush's first term. On one occasion, Rove visited a retreat for the 50 top Interior Department managers. The lights dimmed in an agency conference room as Rove went through a PowerPoint presentation showing battleground races in the 2002 midterm election, and occasionally made oblique but clearly understood references to Interior Department decisions that could affect these races. By stopping short of explicitly calling on the Interior Department officials to take action, Rove stayed within the rules against exerting improper political influence.
"These visits are a reminder of what's important," said one agency manager who attended one of the sessions. "They didn't need to say anything explicitly. We already knew what to do."
But, you know, it isn't just the power point parades or the pep rallies or the largesse being doled out to GOP candidates in trouble that's being investigated for Hatch Act violations. There's this, and if it has traction, it could open up a very interesting avenue into the big crimes:
...fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias revealed key new details about the Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) probe into Karl Rove and other White House officials reported today by the Los Angeles Times.
Iglesias said that on April 3, he filed a Hatch Act complaint with the OSC, charging that Karl Rove and others may have violated the law by firing him over his failure to initiate partisan-motivated prosecutions.
These Hatch act investigations may end up being more potent than anybody realizes. Remember, Watergate started out as a third rate burglary.