The gang's all here.
The Los Angeles Times looks into why Thomas Heffelfinger, the former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, was targeted for removal and finds circumstantial evidence that Heffelfinger might have made himself a marked man by raising objection to the implementation of a voter ID law in the state. Some familiar characters crop up -- namely Bradley Schlozman and Hans Von Spakovsky, the two Republican lawyers who reigned over the Civil Rights Division's voting rights section.
Here's the tale, according to The Times: in the fall of 2004, Minnesota's Republican Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer issued a directive that tribal ID cards could not be used for voter identification by Native Americans living off reservations. On October 19, 2004, an assistant U.S. attorney in Heffelinger's office wrote Joe Rich, the then-chief of the voting rights section in the Civil Rights Division, to raise the alarm about Kiffmeyer's move. The directive might disproportionately affect Native Americans' ability to vote, the AUSA wrote, and was a matter of "deep concern" to Heffelfinger.
Rich, a near 40-year veteran of the Civil Rights Division, who retired in 2005 and has been fiercely critical of the division's political leadership, recommended opening an investigation. The division, after all, is charged with protecting minorities against possible discrimination. But things went downhill from there:
In response, he said, Bradley Schlozman, a political appointee in the department, told Rich "not to do anything without his approval" because of the "special sensitivity of this matter."
Rich responded by suggesting that more information be gathered from voting officials in the Twin Cities area, which includes Minnesota's two most populous counties.
A message came back from another Republican official in the department, Hans von Spakovsky, saying Rich should not contact the county officials but should instead deal only with the secretary of state's office.
Von Spakovsky indicated, Rich said, that working with Kiffmeyer's office reduced the likelihood of a leak to the news media.
The orders from Schlozman and Von Spakovsky, who wielded unusual power in the civil rights division, effectively ended any department inquiry, Rich said.
So Schlozman and Von Spakovsky, in their own typically creative way, spiked the investigation. (A suit by the ACLU eventually blocked Kiffmeyer's directive from being implemented.)
Now, this was in October of 2004. And Heffelfinger, along with twelve other U.S. attorneys, appeared on Kyle Sampson's first list of U.S. attorneys in February of 2005 -- that's the one where "strong" U.S.A.s were ones who had "exhibited loyalty" to the president. Heffelfinger appeared again on a January, 2006 list and stepped down the next month. He's said he was not asked to step down.
Heffelfinger's lack of enthusiasm for Kiffmeyer's voter ID measure has long been floated as the real reason for his being placed on the list -- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) even asked Monica Goodling about it during her hearing last week. Goodling denied knowing anything about that, instead saying she remembered hearing something about how Heffelfinger spent too much time on Native American issues -- Heffelfinger was the chairman of the subcommittee of U.S. attorneys that deals with American Indian issues. Her response didn't seem to convince Rep. Ellison.
The question here is whether, or how, Heffelfinger's disloyalty was communicated to the leadership in the Justice Department or the White House. Voter fraud, we know, is an issue close to Karl Rove's heart. Did Schlozman or Van Spakovsky complain to Rove's shop or someone else? Fortunately, both Schlozman and Von Spakovsky will be put under oath in the near future -- Schlozman this coming Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee (as part of the U.S. attorney firings investigation) and Von Spakovsky before the Senate Rules Committee (a confirmation hearing for his spot as a commissioner at the FEC) on June 13th. Let's hope they get some questions about this.