More on the USAs and the Voter Fraud Question
Cross-posted from PoliBlog:
Via the LAT, Minnesota case fits pattern in U.S. attorneys flap:
A hint at why Heffelfinger’s name was on termination lists that Justice Department officials and Bush political strategists put together emerged when Monica M. Goodling, the department’s former White House liaison, testified last week before the House Judiciary Committee about the firings.
Goodling said she had heard Heffelfinger criticized for “spending an excessive amount of time” on Native American issues.
Her comment caused bewilderment and anger among the former U.S. attorney’s supporters in Minnesota. And Heffelfinger said it was “shameful” if the time he spent on the problems of Native Americans had landed him in trouble with his superiors in Washington.
But newly obtained documents and interviews with government officials suggest that what displeased some of his superiors and GOP politicians was narrower and more politically charged — his actions on Indian voting.
About three months after Heffelfinger’s office raised the issue of tribal ID cards and nonreservation Indians in an October 2004 memo, his name appeared on a list of U.S. attorneys singled out for possible firing.
The evidence continues to mount that what was going on with the US Attorney firings and maneuverings was to try and use the offices to create electoral advantages for Republicans. That is simply wrong and is the kind of thing that happens when partisan political concerns begin to outweigh the fact that what administrations are supposed to do is govern once in office, not simply worry about how one’s party will win the next election.
We keep coming back to this issue of voter fraud–indeed, a few weeks back I noted that at least half of the USAs targeted for replacement had been criticized for not going after enough voter fraud cases. It is important to understand that “voter fraud” is almost always an phrase used by Republicans concerned about a situation that affects them, just as Democrats tend to worry about “voter suppression.” I think that part of the reason that a lot of folks don’t think that there is an issue here is that who wouldn’t want to stop voter fraud? However, if the issue is about helping one party to the detriment of the other, we aren’t talking about a crusade to help democracy, we are talking about abuse of power.
Clearly the political arm of the White House (i.e., Rove and company) thought that they needed to use the law enforcement mechanisms of the US government to root out problems that might be adversely effecting the GOP at the ballot box. For example:
Suspicion of Indian voter fraud was strong among Republicans in the upper Midwest in advance of the 2004 election. The GOP blamed what it said was fraud on Indian reservations for the narrow victory of South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson over Republican candidate John Thune in 2002.
Part of the problem, of course, is that suspicions are one thing while evidence that would warrant legal action is quite another. Indeed, if there were serious voter fraud problems out there, they should be pursued and prosecuted. The problem however, is that to date the evidence of a pervasive voter fraud is scant (also here). And, it should be noted, this lack of evidence occurs in the context of an active push by the administration to find it. (Also see Josh Marshall for more on the fraud issue.)
Ultimately there are two ways that voter fraud could be pursued. One is to pursue it in the face of evidence and to do so because it is a crime and it damages democracy. Another way is to pursue voter fraud because one thinks it is damaging one’s own party and therefore one tries to use the law enforcement mechanism of the government to try and find advantages for one’s own party.
The former is good and virtuous, the latter is not.
As a side note, Feffelfinger’s replacement, Rachel Paulose, has been in the news recently over charges that she is in over her head. See here.
An irony here is that according to the above-cited LAT piece, and Monica Goodling’s testimony, Paulose was chosen at least in part for ideological reasons:
On his way out, Heffelfinger recommended that Joan Humes, the No. 2 person in the office, be named interim U.S. attorney. But Humes was rejected by the Justice Department — in part, Goodling testified, because she was known to be a “liberal.”
The job went to a conservative Justice Department employee, Rachel Paulose. She had Ivy League credentials, brief experience as a prosecutor, and as a private lawyer had helped bring election lawsuits on behalf of the Minnesota GOP. She declined to comment for this article.
Now, that the Bush administration would want a “conservative” rather than a “liberal” in the slot makes perfect sense and is hardly sinister. However, what the overall situation continually seems to indicate is that the ideological/political dimension was paramount with the whole qualifications dimension being rather secondary, if not tertiary. It is, after all, possible to hire persons who are both ideological compatible with the administration and qualified for the job–yet, that doesn’t appear to be a priority.
The ultimate problem seems to be that the goal in this whole USA affair has been to help find ways for Republicans to win office in the future, without recognizing that the point of winning elections in the first place is to run the government for a set amount of time. Indeed, it often seems that politicians are so fixated on the next election that they forget why we have the elections in the first place.