Did Rove Want Wisconsin U.S.A. on Purge List?

Here’s what the evidence shows. Karl Rove wanted evidence that there had been a Democratic criminal conspiracy to stuff the ballot box in Milwaukee and New Mexico in 2004. But the U.S. attorneys there didn’t deliver. In the case of New Mexico’s David Iglesias, that likely cost him his job. Wisconsin’s Steve Biskupic only avoided being fired by the skin of his teeth.

Iglesias and Biskupic were the only U.S. attorneys in the country to have launched task forces to investigate voter fraud in the 2004 elections. There’s arguably not another U.S. attorney in the country to have so thoroughly investigated such allegations. A review of Biskupic’s manifold efforts demonstrates that without a doubt.

Despite that fact, Karl Rove and President Bush himself passed along complaints to Alberto Gonzales in October 2006 about Biskupic’s and Iglesias’ performance on voter fraud. Iglesias was fired. Biskupic, for some reason, wasn’t. But it looks like it was a very close call.

Here’s a look at Biskupic’s long-running investigation into voter fraud in the 2004 election, Karl Rove’s longstanding preoccupation with it, and Biskupic’s near escape from being fired.

In the 2004 election, John Kerry took Wisconsin by a scant 11,813 votes. The Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee (72% for Kerry) was key to that effort. But there were problems with the records in Milwaukee — large discrepancies between the numbers of voters and votes. Republicans screamed bloody murder, saying that the faulty records provided a prime opportunity for fraud.

So in response, Biskupic formed his Joint Election Fraud Task Force in January of 2005. The U.S. attorney’s office, the FBI, the District Attorney, and the metropolitan police department teamed up to investigate. Over the following two years, they’d identify individual cases for prosecution and determine whether there had indeed been a broad-based conspiracy by Democrats to stuff the ballot.

Even as Biskupic was investigating, Republicans kept the pressure on. In August of 2005, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Republicans Rick Wiley sent a letter to Biskupic outlining nine voter fraud cases that demanded prosecution. Biskupic replied with a letter (pdf) knocking down all nine of Wiley’s pet cases.

At about the same time, in the middle of 2005, Wiley had one of his staff members prepare a lengthy memo (see page 10) called “Fraud in Wisconsin 2004: A Timeline/Summary.” According to Daniel Bice of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the report was prepared for Karl Rove.

But Rove was already interested. We know this because one of the documents released by the Justice Department last month appears to be a printout from his computer of a February 2, 2005 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article about the city’s voter records. A study by the paper had found sizeable discrepancies between the number of votes and voters in the records for more than a dozen wards.

How can we tell that this was printed off of Rove’s computer? Well, though the letters are cut off, you can see “ROVE_K” among the file information at the bottom (click to see the whole page):

Rove was clearly interested, circling words (like Milwaukee) in the piece and scribbling in the margin “Discuss w/ Harriet” (see image on the right) — Harriet presumably referring to White House counsel Harriet Miers.

So as early as February of 2005, Rove was paying close attention to Milwaukee.

But Biskupic would disappoint him. In December of 2005, Biskupic announced in a press conference that his investigation had yielded no evidence of a broad conspiracy. He said that his office would pursue isolated cases of suspected fraud (see the note below for those results) — ultimately, eighteen cases.

All that didn’t stop Rove from harping on voter fraud in Milwaukee. In April of 2006, during a speech before the Republican National Lawyers Association, Rove touched on voter fraud, and the case of Milwaukee in particular. When an audience member, saying that the Democratic Party “rests on the base of election fraud,” asked about the issue, Rove said, “yes, this is a real problem. What is it — five wards in the city of Milwaukee have more voters than adults?” (Actually the article he’d printed out showed that seventeen wards had had more votes than voters.)Come October, the issue was still burning in Rove’s mind. And so that month, both President Bush and Karl Rove passed along complaints about Biskupic’s pursuit of voter fraud. Those complaints might very well have put Biskupic on the list of U.S. attorneys to be fired.

Let’s look at Bush’s complaints. Both White House counselor Dan Bartlett and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said last month that the White House’s legislative affairs, political affairs and chief of staff’s office had received complaints “from a variety of sources about the lack of vigorous prosecution of election fraud cases in various locations, including Philadelphia, Milwaukee and New Mexico.” The complaints, she said, were passed on to the Justice Department or White House counsel Harriet Miers. And the president himself, she said, had a conversation with attorney general Alberto Gonzales about it in October of 2006.

Here’s how Bartlett described the conversation:

The President did that briefly, in a conversation he had with the Attorney General in October of 2006, in which, in a wide-ranging conversation on a lot of different issues, this briefly came up and the President said, I’ve been hearing about this election fraud matters from members of Congress, want to make sure you’re on top of that, as well. There was no directive given, as far as telling him to fire anybody or anything like that.

Karl Rove had a similar conversation with Gonzales at about the same time. According to Kyle Sampson’s testimony, Rove had complained to Gonzales “about U.S. attorneys in three jurisdictions, including New Mexico, and the substance of the complaint was that those U.S. attorneys weren’t pursuing voter fraud cases aggressively enough.”

Sampson did not say in his testimony what those other jurisdictions were, but it’s apparent from Bartlett’s comments and Justice Department documents what they must be.

Take, for instance, that printout from Rove’s computer and the dossier on Wisconsin voter fraud that had been sent to Rove. How did they end up at the Justice Department (they were, remember, turned over as part of the Justice Department’s document production)?

Well, it looks like Rove sent it over in an envelope addressed to Kyle Sampson. On the envelope is the handwritten date October 17, 2006.

That would seem to be a significant date. In his testimony, Sampson said that “sometime after October 17th but before November 7th,” the department “went back” and looked at the list of U.S. attorneys to be fired and ” asked the question: ‘Is there anyone else who should be added?'”

Four names “came forward,” according to Sampson. All of them were “close cases,” because “they weren’t specific policy conflicts or significant management challenges.” One of them was Iglesias’. Sampson would not say during his testimony who the other three were, saying that he “was not a hundred percent sure” that he remembered.

But think about it. On October 17th, or thereabouts, Rove sent over a dossier on Biskupic, just as the department renewed their effort to find U.S. attorneys to fire. And Bush was complaining about Biskupic too.

Only there was something that saved Biskupic in the end. Iglesias, Sampson said, “remained on the list because nobody suggested that he come off.”

So who suggested that Biskupic come off — and why? Does it, for instance, have anything to do with his office’s aggressive pursuit of Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle?

Note: Biskupic’s task force pursued a range of cases — eighteen prosecutions total. The US Attorney’s office prosecuted fourteen individuals. Four were indicted on charges of double voting, all of whom were either acquitted or had charges dismissed. Eight felons were indicted for unlawfully voting. Five of these individuals were eventually acquitted; the others were convicted and sentenced to punishments ranging from fines to probation. In addition, two former felons serving as poll workers were prosecuted for unlawfully voting. Both men received short jail sentences. The office of the District Attorney confirmed their successful prosecution of two individuals who falsified registration cards. Finally, the Journal Sentinel has reported that the District Attorney prosecuted two additional cases of illegal voting by felons.

Will Thomas contributed reporting to this piece.

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