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White House Implicated in NH Phone Jamming Case

AP reporter Larry Margasak has written a piece headlined “Phone-Jamming Records Point to White House” by YahooNews. Perhaps a better headline would have been “Republican Operatives Call Political Affairs Office.”

Key figures in a phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting in 2002 had regular contact with the White House and Republican Party as the plan was unfolding, phone records introduced in criminal court show. The records show that Bush campaign operative James Tobin, who recently was convicted in the case, made two dozen calls to the White House within a three-day period around Election Day 2002 — as the phone jamming operation was finalized, carried out and then abruptly shut down. The national Republican Party, which paid millions in legal bills to defend Tobin, says the contacts involved routine election business and that it was “preposterous” to suggest the calls involved phone jamming.

[…]

Democrats plan to ask a federal judge Tuesday to order GOP and White House officials to answer questions about the phone jamming in a civil lawsuit alleging voter fraud.

[…]

Repeated hang-up calls that jammed telephone lines at a Democratic get-out-the-vote center occurred in a Senate race in which Republican John Sununu defeated Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, 51 percent to 46 percent, on Nov. 5, 2002.

[…]

The phone records show that most calls to the White House were from Tobin, who became President Bush’s presidential campaign chairman for the New England region in 2004. Other calls from New Hampshire senatorial campaign offices to the White House could have been made by a number of people. A GOP campaign consultant in 2002, Jayne Millerick, made a 17-minute call to the White House on Election Day, but said in an interview she did not recall the subject. Millerick, who later became the New Hampshire GOP chairwoman, said in an interview she did not learn of the jamming until after the election.

A Democratic analysis of phone records introduced at Tobin’s criminal trial show he made 115 outgoing calls — mostly to the same number in the White House political affairs office — between Sept. 17 and Nov. 22, 2002. Two dozen of the calls were made from 9:28 a.m. the day before the election through 2:17 a.m. the night after the voting. There also were other calls between Republican officials during the period that the scheme was hatched and canceled.

[…]

Virtually all the calls to the White House went to the same number, which currently rings inside the political affairs office. In 2002, White House political affairs was led by now-RNC chairman Ken Mehlman. The White House declined to say which staffer was assigned that phone number in 2002.

It seems highly unlikely that the White House was involved in this illegal, hare-brained scheme to jam a get-out-the -vote call center in a race they were winning handily. Certainly, there’s nothing surprising about high ranking campaign officials coordinating with one another.

Stephen Spruiell agrees, asking “Wouldn’t it be more newsworthy — i.e. more unusual — if Tobin had no contact with the White House that fall?” Indeed, “I would bet my next paycheck that all the RNC regional directors in the country talked pretty regularly with the White House political affairs office in the months leading up to Election Day 2002.”

Joe Gandleman, though, gives this a big “Hmmmmm” and snarks, “This White House would never get involved in any kind of covert phone jamming. The next thing you know people will start suggesting the White House does warrantless surveillance of Americans abroard or even here in the United States.” Because catching al Qaeda terrorists and winning the New Hampshire governor’s race are similar priorities?

Scott Shields contends that “Republican corruption is a huge knot that ties together their entire party. Until it’s untangled, I’m afraid that voters will be left scratching their heads, trying to make sense of it all, without really understanding the connections. But it seems to me that this developing story could go a long way in answering at least a few questions.”

The problem with that assertion is that there were plenty of dirty tricks, including the slashing to tires on buses, on the other side as well. People who volunteer for campaigns are very passionate about politics and often adopt a “good versus evil” view of the parties, which in their mind justifies any means to win a particular race. Professionals at the top of the party hierarchy generally have a more detached view, realizing that getting caught will damage them in the long run.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Phone-jamming schemers linked to White House…

    WASHINGTON — Key figures in a phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats fr…

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  3. mary says:

    any excuse will do

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  4. legion says:

    It seems highly unlikely that the White House was involved in this illegal, hare-brained scheme to jam a get-out-the -vote call center in a race they were winning handily.

    Well, it depends on whether or not you consider Karl Rove to be “the White House”. Let’s face it, sticking a knife in someone who’s already falling down would not be surprising from him…

    But to be fair, all they have right now is an eyebrow-raising pattern of phone calls. Let them run a warrant or two, _then_ we’ll see how interesting (or not) this story is.

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  5. Barry says:

    James, please note that your comment would also apply to Nixon, in the ’72 election.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    Barry: True that. I do think the mentality of that administration in that time, with guys like Gordon Liddy repeatedly asserting we were literally in the middle of a civil war, was sui generis.

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