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Bush Administration Makes DOJ a Partisan Political Machine

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Weekly News Update

This an entry in a series of articles to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.

Featured Stories of the Week:
Did Justice look at GOP ties in hiring? Former department lawyers suggest top official filled jobs on a partisan basis – McClatchy Newspapers, Sacramento Bee

Congress probes allegations of politicized hiring - CNN

Gonzales likely to face new questions on firings: Lawmakers are expected to press him for details about the replacement of two other attorneys from key election states – Los Angeles Times

McKay: White House had us fired – The Seattle Times

Karl Rove's big election-fraud hoax: Republican manipulation of the polls long predates the U.S. attorneys plot -- and the U.S. voting system needs an overhaul – Salon

The story of the political subversion of the U.S. Justice Department continues to unfold. This week reporters uncovered more evidence ranging from allegations that DOJ officials scrubbed resumes during the hiring process to declarations by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that US Attorneys “work for the White House”. All this effort was directed at one thing: gaining partisan advantage in elections using the machinery of the Department of Justice. .

Monday, McClatchy Newspapers reported the illegal hiring of voting rights lawyers based on political affiliations in the Department of Justice. Two former lawyers claim they were told by senior civil rights official, Bradley Schlozman, to remove their Republican affiliations from their resumes: “He wanted to make it look like it was apolitical,” lawyer Ty Clevenger said.

"The whole hiring process had been changed to put the decision-making in political appointees' hands, and it was clear it was being politicized in that manner," said former chief of the Civil Right's division voting rights section Joe Rich in this CNN story. Political appointees in the Justice Department overruled career lawyers' recommendations on hot button issues like Georgia's voter ID law and redistricting efforts in Texas and Mississippi in 2002: "There wasn't any formal statement that we were doing this to help the Republican Party, but certainly all of the circumstances behind the reviews indicated that," Rich said.

Fired US Attorney from Washington, John McKay, told the Seattle Times in an interview Wednesday that Gonzales told US Attorneys that they work for the White House. “McKay said he thought at the time, 'He couldn't have meant that speech,' given the traditional independence of U.S. attorneys. 'It turns out he did.'” He is one of eight fired attorneys, some of whom reportedly lost their jobs for not vigorously pursuing allegations of voter fraud.

Although reports last week questioned Schlozman's decision to bring vote fraud cases, including a lawsuit against the State of Missouri that his predecessor Todd Graves refused to support, the Justice Department said they were brought “on evidence, not politics.” However, the federal judge who heard the case found no evidence of voter fraud, according to Thursday's issue of the Los Angeles Times, dismissing the lawsuit as “baseless”. On Monday, leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Schlozman to appear before the committee on May 15 to answer questions about the cases, writing that they wanted to “gain a better understanding of the role of voter fraud may have played in the administration's decisions to retain or remove certain U.S. attorneys,” according to the CNN report.

Salon named the alleged issue of “voter fraud” as part of the agenda “that Republicans are trying to perpetrate in order to gain control of the country's voter lists” by keeping “minorities, young people, and the poor” from the polls through intimidation tactics and even anti-voter-fraud legislation, such as restrictive voter ID requirements.

Writer Garrett Epps cites Missouri's 2006 voter ID law after years of voter fraud investigations by John Ashcroft, who became Attorney General after losing his Senate seat “in a close election in which the votes of African Americans from St. Louis [Missouri] were crucial.” The ID law was declared unconstitutional before the Nov. election.

“On Nov. 7, Democrat Claire McCaskill defeated incumbent Republican Jim Talent by fewer than 50,000 votes out of more than 2 million cast. The voter-ID law would've required about 170,000 registered voters to apply for a new ID just to be allowed to vote again,” he writes.

Epps notes that while legislation to restrict voting rights is widely accepted, Congress has considered “only a few measures to protect the right to vote,” including a bill introduced by Sen. Barack Obama to outlaw voter deception and suppression practices. But, he said, this amounts “to little more than swatting shark's noses” and requires innovative legislation that sets a precedent in protecting voting rights, such as the narrowly passed Oregon law that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1970. This victory led ultimately to the 26th Amendment. The Salon writer, an Oregon resident, continues to suggest a national vote-by-mail system for its convenience, paper trail and lack of “voter fraud.” Project Vote, however, is skeptical of VBM as a possible solution to realize “the right of every American citizen to vote, the right of the people to choose their rulers, rather than the reverse,” but the underlying analysis of the partisan subversion of the Department of Justice and its connection to voter suppression activities is strong.

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