What’s Behind the Feds’ ACORN Probe?

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It’s worth noting, in response to the news that the FBI has launched an investigation into whether ACORN was involved in a nationwide voter-registration fraud scheme, that the launch of the probe comes at a time national Republicans at several different levels have sought to make an issue out of ACORN — in some cases calling for just such an investigation.

Last week, John McCain told a Florida crowd:

“There are serious allegations of voter fraud in the battleground states across America. They must be investigated.” The GOP standard-bearer has continued to sound the alarm over ACORN since then, and brought it up at last night’s debate.

GOP House leader John Boehner last week called in a statement for ACORN to be de-funded — it is currently eligible for federal housing funds — and charged that over the years, ACORN “has committed fraud on our system of elections, making American voters question the fairness and accuracy of the exercise of their most fundamental right under the Constitution.”

Last week the RNC held at least five separate conference calls with reporters to stoke fears of voter fraud connected to ACORN.

And numerous state- and local-level Republicans have also in the last few weeks called publicly for authorities to look into ACORN.

There’s something else that’s worth keeping in mind as we learn more about what’s behind the current investigation.

At a summer 2007 hearing on the U.S. attorney firings, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) questioned then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about changes made to DOJ’s election crimes manual.

As TPMmuckraker reported at the time:

The new version (pdf), which replaced the 1995 manual, lowers the bar in terms of voter fraud prosecutions — no longer cautioning against pursuing isolated, individual cases of fraud and softening language that had all but prohibited pursuing such cases before an election. “Two and possibly three of the fired U.S. attorneys were fired because they didn’t bring those small cases that might affect an election,” [Feinstein] observed. “Something’s rotten in Denmark.”

The recent inspector general’s report on the U.S. attorney firings concluded that the failure to pursue voter fraud allegations as aggressively as the Bush administration wanted was a factor in several of the the firings.

We laid out the details to the changes in the manual at the time of Feinstein’s questioning.