TPM News

Last week, a Wisconsin county court threw out their attorney general's suit against the Government Accountability Board, seeking confirmation on thousands of voter registrations.

But AG J.B. Van Hollen is not going gently into this election night.

Van Hollen announced yesterday that he would be staffing Wisconsin's polls with more than 50 state attorneys and agents to guard against election fraud. He has also "formed a task force with Milwaukee prosecutors to tackle voter fraud cases."

Citing concern over voter fraud, the GOP often sends poll watchers to challenge voters and "gum up the works" at polling places.

Today, Wisconsin Democrats responded to Van Hollen in a statement today, calling him "so desperate to influence the election that he has resorted to sending state prosecutors to intimidate voters at the polls."

Joe Wineke, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, deemed Van Hollen's past actions "hyper-partisan" and charged the AG was pulling " agents away from their real jobs to investigate fabricated stories about widespread voter fraud."

Last week, TPMmuckraker and others reported on an apparent voter intimidation effort launched by a lawyer tied to the New Mexico Republican Party -- which included hiring a private investigator to show up at the homes of Hispanics and question them about their right to vote.

On Friday, hours after our story appeared, Gerry Hebert -- a former top voting-rights official at the Department of Justice, who now runs the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center (and is a frequent TPMmuckraker source) -- forwarded the story, via email, to four current members of DOJ's civil-rights division, which enforces voting laws.

Hebert, who served 21 years at DOJ's civil-rights division, including a stint as acting head of the voting-rights section, wrote in his email, which was copied to TPMmuckraker*: "I believe this conduct, if true, violates both the criminal and civil statutes your offices enforce, and thus warrants investigation by DOJ." He asked the four recipients to acknowledge receipt of his email.

But this afternoon, five days later, Hebert told TPMmuckraker that he had received no response whatsoever.

The four officials to whom Hebert addressed his message were: -Mark Kappelhoff, chief of the division's criminal section. -Mark Blumberg, a deputy chief of the same section. -Christopher Coates, chief of the division's voting-rights section. -James Walsh, an attorney in the division.

Kappelhoff, Blumberg, and Walsh did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Department staff declined to connect TPMmuckraker to Coates directly.

The apparent lack of followup contrasts with DOJ's apparent quick action in launching an investigation into ACORN in connection with voter-fraud, according to an Associated Press report -- attributed to anonymous sources and as yet unconfirmed -- from earlier this month.

Hebert and several other voting experts told TPMmuckraker last week that the activities laid out in our report potentially constitute a violation of federal voting laws.

The ACLU and Project Vote on Monday filed suit against the New Mexico GOP, alleging voter intimidation. The same day, MALDEF, a group that advocates for the rights of Hispanics, filed a similar but separate suit, which names as defendants the GOP lawyer Pat Rogers and the private investigator Al Romero.

Kappelhoff and Walsh, at least, would appear to be unlikely participants in a DOJ scheme to stonewall legitimate voter intimidation complaints. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that both have contributed to Barack Obama's campaign.

Late Update: Scot Montrey, a spokesman for DOJ's civil-rights division, called TPMmuckraker to say: "The department is aware of the allegations and we're looking into them."

* This sentence has been corrected from an earlier version.

Since Democratic Congressman John Murtha made the bone-headed move earlier this month of calling his constituents racists, the GOP has grown hopeful that it might pick up off his southwest Pennsylvania House seat.

The National Republican Campaign Committee last week spent $84,000 to run ads in support of Murtha's Republican challenger, William Russell. That prompted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to go on the air today with an ad supporting Murtha -- one of the most prominent Democrats in the House, and a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

There's no doubt that Murtha's comments have given Russell an outside shot -- this week, the respected political analyst Charlie Cook moved the race into his "Likely Democratic" category, after having previously considered it a Democratic lock.

Perhaps most significantly, Russell appears to have been raking in campaign dollars. Over the weekend, the Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown, Penn breathlessly reported: "When it comes to raising money, political newcomer William Russell continues to outpace his opponent, longtime U.S. Rep. John Murtha."

But it may turn out to be a steeper climb for Russell than the GOP, or some in the press, know.

As we reported in July, Russell is a client of BMW Direct. That's the Republican consulting firm whose business model appears to consist of tapping national lists of GOP donors to raise a lot of money, via direct-mail appeals, for long-shot candidates (which is exactly what Russell was before Murtha's gaffe). Then, BMW charges the candidate nearly the sum total of what it raised, for expenses related to the fundraising effort itself.

For instance, we noted in July, based on FEC filings, that Russell had raised $669,534 from April through June. That's an impressive amount -- until you consider that, after paying expenses to BMW and its various affiliates, Russell came out only $27,431 ahead.

A new look at FEC records suggests that during the July-September quarter, Russell actually walked away with an impressive haul, even after BMW took its cut. But it also shows that he was still paying the firm an unually large amount for coordinating a fundraising appeal. In that quarter, Russell raised a total of $1,592,451, but paid BMW $585,834.33, leaving him with just over a million.

And in the first half of October, Russell raised $302,938, but after paying BMW and its affiliates, was left with $81,571.

In other words, since April, Russell has technically raised over $2.5 million. But after paying BMW Direct for helping raise money, he was left with just over $1.1 million.

To be sure, $1.1 million is certainly nothing to scoff at for a little-known congressional candidate. But given that Murtha has spent over $2 million -- which presumably went to actual campaign activities, rather than self-financing fund-raising efforts -- it's less impressive than some Republicans, and some in the press, may want to believe.

And of course, whether or not Russell pulls it off, BMW will get its cut.

The Department of Justice announced yesterday that, at an annual awards ceremony, it had given an award for "Outstanding Professionalism and Exemplary Integrity" to David Margolis.

Why is that noteworthy?

Margolis, who has been at DOJ since 1965 and now serves as Associate Deputy Attorney General, makes frequent appearances in the report on the US Attorney firings released earlier this month by DOJ's Office of the Inspector General.

By and large, the report depicts Margolis as a respected career DOJ-er, who was largely out of the loop on many of the details of the scheme to fire US Attorneys for political reasons.

But it also shows that right before the firings, Kyle Sampson, the point man on the plan, showed Margolis -- whose informal biography, says the report, listed one of his duties as being a liaison between main DOJ and the US Attorneys -- a list of six of the US Attorneys to be fired. Margolis had earlier recommended to Sampson that two US Attorneys -- Kevin Ryan and Dunn Lampton -- be fired for legitimate performance-based reasons, but neither one appeared on Sampson's list. And yet, says the report, Margolis neither raised any objections, nor asked Sampson about how the list was drawn up.

From the report's conclusion:

In November 2006, when Sampson advised Margolis about the impending removals, he either showed Margolis a list or read from a list of six U.S. Attorneys that Sampson indicated were to be removed. Margolis told us that he was struck more by the names Sampson did not mention than the ones he did. Margolis asked Sampson why Ryan and Lampton were not on the removal list, and Sampson responded that he would look into it. Based on Margolis's and McNulty's suggestion, Ryan was subsequently added to the list.

However, Margolis told us that he did not think to question Sampson about the six U.S. Attorneys who were on Sampson's list. Margolis said he was more focused on the names that were omitted and assumed Sampson had valid reasons for the six slated for removal.

Margolis is the senior career attorney in the Department and someone who had significant knowledge about U.S. Attorneys and their performance. He was involved in panel interviews for the selection of most U.S. Attorneys, and as part of his duties handles misconduct allegations involving U.S. Attorneys. He is highly respected within the Department, and his opinion was valued because of his experience and stature. Yet, prior to the removals, he never questioned Sampson concerning why the specific U.S. Attorneys slated for removal were chosen or what process was used to select them. We believe that under these circumstances - an unprecedented dismissal of a group of U.S. Attorneys at one time allegedly for performance reasons - Margolis should have raised questions about the list and the process used to identify the names to ensure there were no improper reasons and that the Department was following a defensible process for the removals. But Margolis never raised those issues, and instead focused solely on seeking to ensure that Ryan was added to the removal list.

...

We recognize that the decision to remove the U.S. Attorneys was not Margolis's to make. But given his position, we believe he should have asked Sampson, McNulty, or other senior Department leaders about the removal process. This is particularly true given that this removal of U.S. Attorneys was unprecedented, and it did not appear from the names on Sampson's list that the U.S. Attorneys Margolis thought were weak had been included.


The report also quotes from Margolis' subsequent testimony to Congress, in which he acknowledged he should have done more:
I should say that I am a bit exasperated by my role here because I'm the only one of all the people involved who knows how to fire a United States Attorney or a Marshal based on experience. And I was not aggressive enough or vigilant enough, and I should have done a number of things, I should have inserted myself. I was too passive, and I'd like to, I think--and I hold myself accountable for this--that if I had stepped in and said something, that maybe this would have been - we would have handled this better...


The report further concludes:
We believe that given Margolis's experience, position, and stature he was too deferential to others on this important and unprecedented removal of U.S. Attorneys. Had he raised questions, as he acknowledged he should have, the damage to the Department by the fundamentally flawed removal process might have been mitigated.


Margolis was clearly a long way from being the main villain in the US Attorneys saga. But he didn't exactly cover himself with glory in the affair.

And he certainly didn't demonstrate "Outstanding Professionalism and Exemplary Integrity" -- the qualities for which he's just been honored.

On the tail of Sen. Ted Stevens' conviction, the senator's defense team -- clearly in withdrawal that they can't seek mistrials anymore -- requested an investigation into "numerous, serious constitutional violations" by the prosecution.

From the AP:

In the letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, [Steven's attorney Brendan] Sullivan asked that immediate steps be taken to preserve all Justice Department information related to its investigation and prosecution of Stevens. He also asked Mukasey to pull the prosecution team from any further involvement with the case.

"We believe that an impartial investigator looking at this case with an eye toward the administration of justice would be shocked at the conduct of this prosecution team," the letter says.

The attorney alleges in the request that prosecutors knowingly presented false evidence to the jury in Washington, which found Stevens guilty Monday of seven felony counts.

"Senator Stevens' trial was irretrievably tainted by the prosecution team's zeal to convict a high-profile but innocent defendant," the letter says.

The letter was delivered to the attorney general Tuesday morning. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the department would have no comment. Sullivan's office did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

Another day, another land deal. In the late 1990s, John McCain tried to get the U.S. Forest Service to exchange part of the Tonto National Forest for land partly owned by a billionaire McCain contributor connected to Charles Keating. McCain was spurred to action by a developer, who wanted to turn the 2,154-acre Spur Cross Ranch -- desert home to Hopi Indian artifacts and special cacti -- into a golf course. (McClatchy)

Little -- if anything -- is known about a mysterious GOP donor, Shi Sheng Hao, who has given over a quarter million dollars to John McCain's campaign and the RNC. Hao's residence, occupation and current whereabouts are all unknown. But here's what we do know: he declared bankruptcy in 1995, registered to vote after his massive donations began, doesn't live at any of his listed addresses, and eight associates and relatives of Hao have given $130,000 to the RNC since last year. Curiouser and curiouser. . . (Chicago Tribune)

A military judge yesterday threw out the confession of Mohammed Jawad, a young Afghani accused of wounding two U.S. soldiers and their interpreter, saying it was obtained through torture. Jawad's case is already shaky, and prompted the resignation of a military prosecutor last month. (Reuters)

Read More →

The ACLU has written to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, urging him not to have the Justice Department intervene in a voting-rights dispute in Ohio.

The move comes in response to fast-moving recent events. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a bid by Ohio Republicans to require Jennifer Brunner, Ohio's Democratic secretary of state, to provide local election officials with lists of new voters whose registration information did not match that on other government documents.

That prompted House Republican leader John Boehner to write to Mukasey, asking him to require Brunner to hand over the lists. When Mukasey did not respond, Boehner contacted the White House, which said Friday that it had passed his request on to Mukasey, and asked for action.

Voting-rights advocates fear that making Brunner hand over the lists could lead to a slew of GOP challenges, forcing hundreds of thousands of voters to cast provisional ballots.

They also see the White House's involvement as an inappropriate politicization of DOJ. In its letter to Mukasey, ACLU writes of the White House's move:

With the election one week away, this kind of intrusion represents partisan politics at its worst. In addition, challenging -- or purging -- lawfully registered voters in the days before the election invites chaos and undermines the integrity of the democratic process.
Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a good-government group, agreed with that take, telling TPMmuckraker that the White House "is trying to impact the Ohio election." *

She said her organization would be watching to see whether Mukasey -- who was picked to run DOJ after Alberto Gonzales resigned amid accusations that he had overseen inappropriate politicization of the department and misled Congress -- would respond.

A group of Ohio Democrats, led by Sen. Sherrod Brown, has also written to Mukasey, urging him not to intervene in the case.

* This sentence has been corrected from an earlier version.

After 13 months of federal investigation, Massachusetts State Sen. Diane Wilkerson (D) was arrested this morning. In a 43 page long affidavit -- complete with pictures of hand-offs and money being stuffed into bras -- the FBI alleged that Wilkerson took $23,500 in bribes to get a liquor license for the club Dejavu.

Below is the picture from the affidavit exhibits that shows Wilkerson shoving $1000 into her bra. This might beat out TPMmuckraker's favorite photo of Sen. Ted Stevens' bronzed salmon statue, but just barely.



Wilkerson has had a long and sordid history with the law which began in 1997 when she was sentenced to house arrest for failing to pay over $50,000 in income taxes. This afternoon, Wilkerson was stripped of her chairmanship of the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

In September, Wilkerson lost the Democratic primary, in which her candidacy was supported by Gov. Deval Patrick. In a statement following the arrest in the Boston Globe, Patrick said that the "initial reports are both troubling and sad. These are very serious charges and I will trust the judicial process to take them seriously."

Todd Rokita -- the Indiana secretary of state who wants ACORN prosecuted for voter fraud -- may be the gift that keeps on giving.

Earlier today, we reported that Rokita, a Republican, has said he's proud that he was part of the team of GOP activists that descended on Florida and pulled out all the stops to block the 2000 recount and put George Bush in the White House.

Now, a reader points us to this 2007 Associated Press story, which reports:

During a speech Thursday at a Republican event, Todd Rokita said 90 percent of blacks vote for Democrats.

"How can that be?" Rokita said. "Ninety to ten. Who's the master and who's the slave in that relationship? How can that be healthy?"


So: - Committed GOP partisan -- check. - History of racially insensitive comments -- check.

Sounds like just the guy to be running a close election in a year when the first major-party African-American candidate is on the ballot.

Yesterday, in an unanimous decision, the jury in the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens found the seven-term senator guilty on seven count of false statements. The verdict made Stevens, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, a convicted felon and one of only five in all of history to be convicted of a crime, and the first since 1981.

This morning, presidential hopeful and fellow Senator John McCain called for Stevens, embroiled in a close election of his own, to step down.

Fox News caught up with the Senator leaving his office today to return home to Alaska to campaign, and it appeared that becoming a convicted felon hadn't chastened Stevens legendary ornery attitude. At the end of the interview, Trish Turner, the Fox News Senate producer asked the senator, "What is the formula for winning," to which he replied, "Not answering you right now." Take a look.



Also release this morning were scanned versions of all of the notes passed between the jury and Judge Emmet Sullivan, which we've collected here along with the historical official verdict.

TPMLivewire