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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Again And Again

by digby

This is now completely out of hand.

The FBI is investigating whether the community activist group ACORN helped foster voter registration fraud around the nation before the presidential election.

A senior law enforcement official confirmed the investigation to The Associated Press. A second senior law enforcement official says the FBI was looking at results of inquiries in several states, including a raid on ACORN's office in Las Vegas, for any evidence of a coordinated national effort.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Justice Department regulations forbid discussing ongoing investigations particularly so close to an election.

Two spokesmen for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, on Thursday said the FBI has not contacted the group.

It's hard to believe they are doing this again, but they are. You'll recall that this was done back in 2004 as well. And one of our heroes in the US Attorney's scandal, David Iglesias, was still on the team then giving juicy quotes to the media:

Voter Probes Raise Partisan Suspicions
Democrats, Allies See Politics Affecting Justice Department's Anti-Fraud Efforts

By Jo Becker and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 20, 2004; Page A05

Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in New Mexico launched a statewide criminal task force to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the upcoming presidential election. The probe came after a sheriff who co-chairs President Bush's campaign in the state's largest county complained about thousands of questionable registrations turned in by Democratic-leaning groups.

"It appears that mischief is afoot and questions are lurking in the shadows," Iglesias told local reporters.

But Democratic Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, named to the task force to allay concerns that the probe was politically motivated, said the investigation is unnecessary.

"This is just an attempt to let people know that Big Brother is watching," Vigil-Giron, New Mexico's chief electionsofficial, said in an interview. "It may well be aimed at trying to keep people away from the polls."

The probe is one of several criminal inquiries into alleged voter fraud launched in recent weeks in key presidential battlegrounds, including Ohio and West Virginia, as part of a broader initiative by U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft targeting bogus registrations and other election crimes. The Justice Department has asked U.S. attorneys across the country to meet with local elections officials and launch publicity campaigns aimed at getting people to report irregularities.

But that wasn't good enough. In January, right after the election Iglesias said:

Most of the complaints were completely without basis. At the end of the day we decided we did not have any cases we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt ... we cannot prosecute rumor and innuendo.

Rove was not happy about that and it got Iglesias on the hit list. He could have avoided that if he'd played ball like the Milwaukee US Attorney:

The exterior facts are these. We know that Steven Biskupic, the U.S. Attorney in Milwaukee, was initially put on a list of those to be fired by Karl Rove’s office. Then suddenly Mr. Biskupic got deeply engaged in a series of truly dubious cases, all of which had a distinctly Rovian political flavor. First, Biskupic became one of the nation’s most enthusiastic participants in the “voting fraud” fraud. He brought an array of insane cases, including one against a grandmother, which were detailed by The New York Times in an acid review of Biskupic’s mercenary political style. These cases generally involved voters who made honest mistakes about registration, but were prosecuted anyway (with many convicted). The targets were always Democrats who were from the major threat communities publicly identified by Rove—minority groups from the inner city. And the prosecutions were transparently pursued for purposes of voter suppression (i.e., an arguably criminal agenda).

I suspect they were trying to build a Justice Department case that there was a massive voter fraud conspiracy by bringing a bunch of cases against individuals in order to establish a "pattern." Unfortunately there just aren't very many cases of legitimate voter fraud by individuals or anyone else.

(Iglesias' explanation in his book for his original words is somewhat unsatisfying, but in the end he didn't follow through. And his treatment by the Bush administration, after being a good soldier, but not corrupt enough to illegally indict people, ended up radicalizing him.)

I don't actually blame the Bush administration for continuing their voter fraud fraud and calling in the FBI in the month before an election. Why shouldn't they? Nothing really happened as a result of their corrupt practices before, so what could possibly happen to them now that they are lame ducks? And I'm sure they feel pretty confident that the Obama administration isn't going to want to keep this controversy on the front burner by investigating why the FBI decided to engage in partisan politics in October of 2008. The Obama administration will have its hands full trying to deal with the mess Bush has left and is unlikely, in any case, to want to feed the meme.

The only problem is that this is going to become a rallying cry on the right. Obama and his terrorist friends "ACORN" (which I guess is now kind of like S.P.E.C.T.R.E. or C.H.A.O.S)stole the election. they will use every argument we used against Bush's installation over the past eight years and will twist us into pretzels explaining why it isn't the same at all. It will keep the character assassins well employed, with underground DVDs, books and talk radio shows. And it will give justification to the neanderthal base of the Republican party to go completely insane --- and keep the pressure on the Republicans to obstruct with everything they've got.

You would have thought after a bogus impeachment and dubious elections in both 2000 and 2004 the Democratic party would have stopped ignoring this ongoing (and increasingly successful) propaganda campaign against non-existent voter fraud and its vote suppression effects. It's not like the Republicans have been afraid to use whatever means they have at their disposal to seize power or cripple the other side with phony scandals and character assasination. Obama may win big and he should have a mandate. But this meme could cost him some much needed credibility when he needs it the most. The press is swallowing this story in big huge gulps and the pushback is inadequate.

Some folks are stepping up with the right message:

People for the American Way (PFAW) will take out a full-page ad (PDF link) in The New York Times charging the right wing with misleading the public in the ACORN voter registration controversy. The ad also challenges the press for failing to examine the fabrications made against the voter registration group and turning a blind-eye toward the right wing’s ongoing effort to disenfranchise voters.

The media’s frenzy surrounding the situation has now reached a fever pitch and enabled John McCain’s outrageous and baseless comments in last night’s presidential debate accusing ACORN of “maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”

“What’s really threatening to destroy the fabric of our democracy are right-wing efforts to suppress millions of newly registered voters, both Democrats and Republicans around the country,” said Kathryn Kolbert, President of People for the American Way.

“ACORN should be commended for registering 1.3 million Democrats and Republicans to vote in this historic upcoming Presidential election,” said Kolbert. “Instead, CNN and other typically independent news outlets have focused on sensationalistic stories about a few bad apples instead of investigating the systematic voter disenfranchisement that the right wing has engaged.”

Oh and if you wonder if the Republicans are actually engaged in intimidation and vote suppression, here's the latest from Milwaukee:

The Wisconsin Republican Party has issued a call for volunteer poll watchers for Election Day, and the criteria is a little specific, seeking especially folks made of sterner stuff.

Jonathan Waclawski, the party's election day operations, wrote in a Sept. 8 e-mail that he needed contact information for people "who would potentially be willing to volunteer ... at inner city (more intimidating) polling places. Particularly, I am interested in names of Milwaukee area veterans, policemen, security personnel, firefighters etc. ... If you have any connections with such organizations, please pass that information on."

The e-mail fell into the hands of an Obama supporter, who passed it to the Obama campaign, who released it today after a news conference with its campaign director and general counsel, who discussed voter registration, voter education and voter protection.

The Obama team pointed to Waclawski's e-mail as ground-level tactics that could create concerns among voters.

"This is much ado about nothing. I don't see anything wrong with this," said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman with the Wisconsin GOP. "Intimidating was referring to the polling places, not to poll watchers who would be intimidating," she said. "The way I read this we are looking for people to go to intimidating places.

They aren't even trying to cover their tracks.

Update: for a nice primer on the DOJ rules about investigating "voter fruad" in the days before an election, here's Paul Kiel at TPM. More here at TPM about today's action.