TPM News

In the last few days, Norm Coleman, who's in a desperate fight to hold onto his U.S. Senate in Minnesota, has had to answer questions about appearing in a suit filed against one of his supporters, a politically connected multimillionaire named Nasser Kazeminy.

Paul McKim alleges in the suit that last year Kazeminy used Deep Marine Technologies to funnel $75,000 to Coleman, a Republican, through the Hays Companies, an insurance brokerage that employs Coleman's wife, Laurie. McKim was formerly the CEO of Deep Marine, which Kazeminy owns.

The suit claims that Deep Marine last year sent money to Hays in three $25,000 installments. These payments, it alleges, were a way for Kazeminy to get money to Coleman, rather than payments for legitimate insurance services provided by Hays.

Of course, these are only allegations -- one reason we've been wary of rushing to judgment here. But it's worth noting that Hay's owner, Jim Hays, doesn't seem to be strongly denying the charges that his firm was involved in the alleged scheme.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Friday:

Jim Hays, owner of the Hays Companies, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Dan Walseth, said Hays Companies has "a fee arrangement with them [Deep Marine] ... to provide insurance advice with them. I don't want to go any further than that.

And later, the company issued a statement saying that it provides risk management consultation to Deep Marine Technology, and adding, "We stand by our reputation as leaders in our industry and will not engage in empty speculation that is clearly meant to interfere with the election."

If Hays really had performed legitimate services for Deep Marine, you'd expect its owner to simply declare that on the record.

Coleman, too, has yet to offer a detailed denial. At a press conference held Friday to address the issue, Coleman called the allegations "absolutely false" and "defamatory." But the centerpiece of his remarks was a counterclaim that the Al Franken campaign had conspired with the Star Tribune to embarrass Coleman by exposing the contents of the lawsuit.

And Kazeminy has not publicly commented on the allegations.

Coleman and Kazeminy have had a close working relationship. The Star Tribune reports that in 2005, Kazeminy had provided $2,870 in flights for the Colemans, according to Senate disclosure forms.

And as we noted at the time, last month Harpers reported:
I've been told by two sources that [local businessman and political contributor Nasser] Kazeminy has in the past covered the bills for Coleman's lavish clothing purchases at Nieman Marcus in Minneapolis. The sources were not certain of the dates of the purchases; if they were made before Coleman joined the Senate in 2003, he obviously would not be required to report it under senate rules. But having a private businessman pay for your clothing is never a good idea if you're a public official (Coleman was mayor of St. Paul from 1994 to 2002).

In response, Coleman did not directly address the charge, saying that no one other than he or his wife had bought his suits, and adding: "If my friends have shared gifts with me and my family - or I have shared gifts with them - if they rose to the level of having to be reported - they were reported."

So in the absence of exculpatory evidence -- or even a clear and detailed denial of the charges form the principals in the case -- it looks like the claims will continue to dog Coleman, until election day and beyond.

Late Update: The Hays Companies also released the following statement Friday, which again does not directly deny the charges at the center of Coleman's role in the lawsuit -- that Hays acted as a pass-through for Kazeminy to funnel money to Coleman:
Minneapolis -- We believe the allegations in the lawsuit referenced in a story in today's Star Tribune newspaper -- a lawsuit to which we are not a party -- are libelous and defamatory, and we intend to protect our name and our reputation vigorously with whatever means necessary.

The allegations that we are not licensed to perform services in Texas are simply false, as are other allegations contained in this disreputable lawsuit that refers to Hays Companies.

Laurie Coleman, who is fully and legally licensed to sell insurance in Minnesota, has been an Independent Contractor for Hays Companies since 2006.

We are pleased with her work, and we find any allegations that she accepted money for work she was not responsible for to be outrageous and contemptible.

Laurie Coleman receives no compensation related to the services we provide for our client Deep Marine Technology.

In the first half of 2007, we were retained to provide our risk management consulting services, and that work continues at this time.

While Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) and Junior Sen. Russ Feingold (D) have both questioned the state Attorney Gen. J.B. Van Hollen's authority to dispatch state prosecutors to poll watch on Election Day, state Democrats came together again to question Van Hollen's newest move: asking chief district court judges across the state to alert him on Election Day in case he has to "initiate emergency election-related proceedings."

From the AP:

Governor Jim Doyle is one of the Democrats who say they don't understand Van Hollen's intent. Doyle adds that "Looking at this letter, you can only imagine what kinds of things he's dreaming up doing on Election Day."

Chief Judge Sue Bischel of Green Bay asked Van Hollen for more details. She says Brown County doesn't even have "duty judges." Also, she says chief judges don't belong anywhere near politics because the independence of the judiciary is absolutely critical.

On Friday, a Colorado judge was forced to issue a cease and desist order against the Secretary of State Mike Coffman, who had continued to purge voters from the rolls despite an agreement reached earlier in the week with voter rights groups.

Apparently, Coffman still thought he could be removing duplicate registrations and voters who had reportedly died. Needless to say, the judge didn't agree.

And today Coffman -- who by all accounts has complied with the judge's order -- spoke out against the decision that states he will have to reinstate 146 voters, purged since the agreement Wednesday.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous for me to be ordered to go back and reinstate those registrations," Coffman said according to the Denver Post. "Fortunately I think it's late enough in the process that whatever damage that will be done is so marginal it won't compromise the integrity of the election. Had it happened earlier, it absolutely would have compromised the integrity of the election."

We told you yesterday about the Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel's refusal to extend early voting hours after record turnout across the state. Handel claimed her hands were tied because of Department of Justice rules which require Georgia to received DOJ approval before any changes are made to election rules -- a dubious claim given that the DOJ is fully equipped to handle expedited claims in the final hours before Election Day.

But in statement last night from her office, Handel claims that it's not her politicizing early voting -- it's the media, elected officials and activist groups:

Secretary Handel is extremely pleased with early voting turnout and how the overwhelming majority of Georgia's county election offices prepared for and managed the early voting process. Two million Georgians voted early, nearly 90 percent in person with photo ID. This historic turnout will ease pressures on the state's 3,000 precincts on Election Day. County election officials will now spend Saturday, Sunday and Monday making critical final preparations for Election Day, and the Secretary of State's office will deploy election monitors and technicians to assist them.

At the same time, Secretary Handel is disappointed that a handful of elected officials, political party organizations, activist groups and media outlets used this occasion to politicize the early voting process. Their failed attempts to find fault with the Secretary of State's role in election oversight through grandstanding, patently false allegations and biased reporting revealed their desire to create confusion and chaos among voters to further their political agendas.

With just hours to go until Election Day, it looks like Handel has successfully thwarted extending early voting hours -- how that will affect Election Day voting remains uncertain.

A member of John McCain's "Honest and Open Election Committee" has admitted that he can't give a single example of voter registration fraud leading to actual voter fraud.

In an interview with Pro Publica, which was also published on, Ronald Michaelson, a veteran elections administrator, acknowledged:

"Do we have a documented instance of voting fraud that resulted from a phony registration form? No, I can't cite one, chapter and verse."

The Honest and Open Election Committee was set up by the McCain camp to provide a veneer of expertise and non-partisanship to the campaign's efforts to stoke fears about voter fraud. In a September conference call, one of the committee chair's, ex-Missouri senator John Danforth, highlighted reports of faulty registration forms in Michigan, Colorado, and other states, and tried to link ACORN to Barack Obama.

Michaelson also admitted, in Pro Publica's words, that "an election-rigging scheme starting with phony application forms would not make much sense." But he argued that the mere perception of fraud can do damage to the integrity of the election.

Of course, the McCain campaign and other Republicans have been the foremost creators of that perception. Earlier this month in a presidential debate, McCain warned darkly that ACORN -- the community organizing group that Republicans have tried to turn into a voter-fraud boogeyman -- "is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

Pro Publica adds that a McCain campaign spokesman couldn't do much better than Michaelson:
Asked for specifics about the dangers of fake registration, Ben Porritt, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, provided links to 13 news clips and a 2003 Missouri state auditor's report. Eleven of the cases did not involve registration fraud. Two recounted how felons appeared to have cast illegal votes under their own names. The lone example of a forged registration leading to an illegitimate vote comes from The Wall Street Journal's John Fund, who in April 2006 wrote that a community organizer had improperly registered a noncitizen, and then "someone eventually voted in [the noncitizen's] name."

The leaking of information about the immigration status of Barack Obama's aunt appears to directly violate regulations for confidentiality laid out in a US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) memo obtained by TPMmuckraker.

As we reported earlier, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which is the law enforcement arm of USCIS) has begun an internal probe into the leak to the Associated Press, which revealed early this morning that Obama's aunt "is in the United States illegally after an immigration judge rejected her request for asylum four years ago."

The memo, written in 2005 by Joseph Langlois, director of the Asylum Division in the Office of Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations, reads in part:

The federal regulations at 8 CFR 208.6 generally prohibit the disclosure to third parties of information contained in or pertaining to asylum applications, credible fear determinations, and reasonable fear determinations--including information contained in RAPS or APSS1--except under certain limited circumstances. These regulations safeguard information that, if disclosed publicly, could subject the claimant to retaliatory measures by government authorities or non-state actors in the event that the claimant is repatriated, or endanger the security of the claimant's family members who may still be residing in the country of origin.

... According to established guidance, confidentiality is breached when information contained in or pertaining to an asylum application (including information contained in RAPS or APSS) is disclosed to a third party in violation of the regulations, and the unauthorized disclosure is of a nature that allows the third party to link the identity of the applicant to: (1) the fact that the applicant has applied for asylum; (2) specific facts or allegations pertaining to the individual asylum claim contained in an asylum application; or (3) facts or allegations that are sufficient to give rise to a reasonable inference that the applicant has applied for asylum.

It's worth noting again that we don't know for certain the leak came from ICE, since people at other government agenicies could have had access to the information.

Still, from the available evidence, it appears ICE is the most likely source. And Dan Kowalski, a leading immigration law expert, told TPMmuckraker that there's "no question" the leak violated ICE's guidelines as laid out in the memo.

And he identified for TPMmuckraker some additional, pertinent questions, asking:
1. Did the leaker know it was a violation? 2. Was the leak politically motivated? 3. A solo action, or conspiracy of 2 or more? If the latter, who is the boss?

We'll be working to bring you answers...

Add Georgia to the list of states where Republican officials are actively engaged in voter suppression efforts.

In the midst of a record turnout for early voting in Georgia, that has led to long lines, discouraged voters and exhausted poll workers, Secretary of State Karen Handel, a Republican, has claimed federal law ties her hands, preventing her from extending early voting hours.

With just days to go to the election, Democratic politicians demanded yesterday that Handel step in and extend early voting hours -- as has been done in both North Carolina and Florida.

But in an opinion piece published in the AJC on Thursday, Handel blamed her inaction on the issue on federal law which requires Justice Department approval to change voting law.

Ironically, it is Georgia's history of discriminatory voting practices that puts it on a federal "pre-clearance" list, mentioned in Section 5 of the Voter Rights Act of 1965.

While the DOJ can take up to 60 days to review any change that is submitted, it has the power to grant expedited review in emergency situations -- and Georgia's situation would certainly seem to qualify, Gerry Hebert, a former acting head of DOJ's voting-rights section, told TPMmuckraker.

"Georgia has asked and been granted expedited review by the DOJ in the past, so to say because of the voting act, we can't do this -- that's not really accurate," Hebert said. "The DOJ has done this in as little as 24 hours. . . so to use Section 5 as an excuse that this isn't possible, that's someone that really doesn't want to make the change."

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat, issued a statement yesterday that he was writing Attorney General Michael Mukasey urging him to grant expedited review, when -- or if -- it was asked for by Handel.

This isn't Handel's first brush with voter suppression charges. Early last month, voter rights groups brought a suit against Handel after she threatened to purge over 4,500 voters from the rolls because their citizenship had been questioned.

This Tuesday, a panel of federal judges said the 4,500 plus flagged voters must be given ballots -- and that Handel must "make diligent and immediate efforts" to inform those voters that had been challenged.

In compliance with the decision, Handel sent out letters to flagged voters yesterday, telling them they could still vote on election day but with a "challenged" paper ballot.

Handel, however, has reacted to the judges' decision by turning to ordinary Georgians to continue her voter suppression campaign by proxy.

As first noted by the blog, Facing South, in an interview Wednesday with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Handel took pains to remind voters that any voter can challenge another's qualifications to cast a ballot by notifying a precinct poll manager. According to Handel, that voter then would be given a challenge ballot and would have to go before the election board.

Via Ben Smith, a statement from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, on the leak to the Associated Press of immigration information about Obama's aunt.

Early this morning, the matter was refered (sic) to Inspector General and ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility for action. They are looking into whether there was a violation of policy in publicly disclosing individual case information.

We also learned earlier today that internal Justice Department investigators are looking into the leaking of information, earlier this month, about a nationwide FBI probe of ACORN.

To be clear, though ICE appears to be the most likely source of the leak about Obama's aunt, we don't know with 100 percent certainty that that's where it came from. The Associated Press attributed its report to two sources, "one of them a federal law enforcment official." According to Dan Kowalski, an immigration law expert and the editor of the the online newsletter, Benders Immigration Bulletin,, the information would have been available to people at several government agencies, both at the Department of Homeland Security (of which ICE is a part) and the Department of Justice, which would have an enforcement role in immigration proceedings.

The Alaska Bar Association has sought a suspension on Sen. Ted Stevens law license, pending completion of his appeals.

Stevens has claimed that he's not a convicted felon until his appeals are complete, but by state bar association rules, a felony conviction is effective as soon as the jury rules, association counsel Steve Van Goor told the Anchorage Daily News.

From the ADN:

There's no deadline by which the Supreme Court has to decide such a license challenge, said chief deputy court clerk Lori Wade. Stevens has a right to file legal memoranda in his defense.

. . .Any final decision on Stevens' license would wait until his appeals have been finished.

Stevens is not actively practicing law in Alaska now, Van Goor said.

Rep. John Conyers, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has responded to the Bush administration's leak of information on the immigration status of Obama's aunt.

In a hastily written letter, Conyers makes the same connection that we did with the administration's leaking of information on the FBI's nationwide investigation of ACORN. Both leaks went to the Associated Press, and appear to have been done for political purposes.

There's some other news in the letter in regard to that leak about ACORN. Conyers writes:

[I]n recent weeks law enforcement sources leaked information about an alleged investigation of a community services organization, a leak that the Department of Justice informs me is now under investigation by the Department's Office of the Inspector General and Professional Responsibility.

So, two internal DOJ offices are looking into the ACORN leak. That's certainly worth keeping an eye on.

The full text of the letter follows after the jump...

Read More →