No Comment — December 22, 2007, 7:43 pm

It Happened in New Hampshire

A number of my readers in New England are miffed. “You spend too much time looking at Justice Department criminality south of the Mason-Dixon line,” writes one. “But there’s plenty to write about up here in Yankee-land.”

They’re right—and the press of other things, including an over due feature piece—kept me from cataloguing all the Justice Department escapades that unraveled in the course of the last week. Let me start this excursion with a comment. Most of this mischief still dates back to the time of the Gonzales Justice Department—some of it even goes back to the Ashcroft Justice Department. So for the most part at this point we’re not dealing with serious wrongdoing that occurred on the watch of Michael Mukasey.

But Mukasey promised to put an end to political mischief at the Justice Department. Has he done that? He has made a couple of gestures. First, he secured the resignation one of the most horrendous of the new U.S. attorney appointments, in Minneapolis. Second, he pulled back dramatically on the highly abusive Gonzales order that allowed even low level White House employees the right to meddle in criminal investigations. Both good steps. But both easy steps. After all, in Minnesota, even the Republican congressional delegation was pushing to get rid of the new U.S. attorney; she was a horrendous embarrassment. And the anti-meddling rule was a simple restoration of pre-Bush norms.

There are a great number of fires that need addressing that involve seriously misbehaving Justice Department personnel. No action on any of them yet, as far as I can see. So join this to Mukasey’s high visibility role on telecom immunity, his disingenuousness on waterboarding, and his failure to take the steps obviously called for on the Watergate-like destruction of the tapes. Count me seriously disappointed.

So on the key promise: to stop political mischief? As far as I can see, it’s going full throttle. No meaningful change from the days of Gonzo. I hope I’ll be proved wrong on that. But I’m still waiting for the evidence.

Now let’s look at what has surfaced from New Hampshire. We’ve got a couple of things. One is an insider account. A well-known Republican electioneer who specializes in these vexatious robocalls, Allen Raymond, has a new book out entitled How to Rig an Election. I’ll get into it in more detail later, hopefully with a review or an interview with the author. But one of the really captivating aspects of the book is its description of the New Hampshire phone-jamming scam, the role played by the Republican National Committee, and how the Department of Justice dealt with it. A quick summary of Raymond’s book would be to say: remember all those suspicions you’ve harbored about Republican campaign techniques? The sleaze, the race-baiting, the dishonesty. They can’t actually be doing that, you think. Well, wake up. It’s actually still worse than you ever imagined. Machiavelli himself would be robbed of his breath.

When you work your way through his account of the New Hampshire shenanigans, you definitely emerge with a new understanding of the relationship between the Justice Department and the Republican National Committee. You may have thought that one was a law-enforcement agency, and the other a political party. Well, you’re right on the second half.

The Justice Department’s conduct does not reflect that it views law enforcement as its primary mission. Perhaps not even a part of its mission. It might be more accurate to say that it views its role as law retardant—assuming of course that the criminal law is getting in the way of the highest objective of the Government, which is to win elections for the Republican Party.

But most of the Justice Department consists of dedicated, career employees. So how is this is accomplished? As Karl Rove proudly announced to Republican operatives in Alabama in connection with his scheme to embroil Governor Siegelman in a criminal case, it’s all done by “resource allocation.” You assign a lot of young prosecutors and FBI men to a case and pressure them to bring in an indictment, and given time, they’ll inevitably cook up something, especially if you let them know that their career depends upon it. Of course, in the Rovian system you also take care to vet the agents and prosecutors you use to be sure they are politically loyal and properly motivated. And conversely, when you want to block law enforcement you take just the opposite direction. You withhold investigators and tell the assistant U.S. attorney this is a low, low priority. Nothing happens, or at least, nothing happens very quickly.

And this is how the game was played in New Hampshire. The RNC operative was caught red-handed, the crime was obvious, but the Republican Party doesn’t want this to get in the way of the 2004 election—you just withhold prosecutorial resources. In this case, of course, the RNC’s involvement occurred at a very high level and there are dozens of calls to the White House, a large number of them on election day just as the illegal phone jamming is going on. Karl Rove, is that your number? In any event, there was never any question as to the nerve center of this criminal operation: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. And note that there’s never been an investigation into who at the White House was answering those phones and giving directions.

By the way, how does money get allocated to run the operation? That’s simple. Ask Jack Abramoff. And presto!, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians writes a check. (Note by the way, the intersection with Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi: the same characters, the same techniques.)

So what did the Justice Department do that was so wicked? That’s simple, and the McClatchy Washington Bureau report loads it right up front in its story:

The Justice Department delayed prosecuting a key Republican official for jamming the phones of New Hampshire Democrats until after the 2004 election, protecting top GOP officials from the scandal until the voting was over.

An official with detailed knowledge of the investigation into the 2002 Election-Day scheme said the inquiry sputtered for months after a prosecutor sought approval to indict James Tobin, the northeast regional coordinator for the Republican National Committee. The phone-jamming operation was aimed at preventing New Hampshire Democrats from rounding up voters in the close U.S. Senate race between Republican Rep. John Sununu and Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Sununu’s 19,000-vote victory helped the GOP regain control of the Senate. Would Sununu have won without the RNC-enabled basket of dirty tricks? Hard to say.

Note again: it’s a question of election-related crimes and frauds. To the extent that state officials were involved, this was for the curiously named Public Integrity Section, the group within the Justice Department which specialized in political prosecutions. So not only was it rabidly pursuing Democrats on flimsy evidence (5.8 Democrats for every Republican, according to the one university study), it was also putting the brakes on criminal investigations and prosecutions of Republicans, like this one. In fact it assigned a single, part-time agent to look at the case, and clearly never pushed him to produce.

This is how you win elections the old fashioned way. You cheat. And when the Justice Department turns itself into an accessory after the fact, you even get away with it.

Judiciary Chairman John Conyers has been demanding answers about this for some time. Acting Attorney General Keisler just stiffed him. And Mukasey? Now Conyers is pressing the issue with him as well. Of course, it’s easy to understand the Justice Department’s reluctance to respond. If you were guilty as charged, you’d be stalling and delaying as much as possible, too. Maybe, some day, we’ll have a Justice Department that sits on the enforcement side of the law instead of the criminal defense side. It sure would be a relief.

Update

The McClatchy report also gave some detail on the personnel involved within Justice in the slow-walking of the Tobin matter for overt electoral purposes.

Hinnen then sought approval from Malcolm’s successor, Laura Parsky, to prosecute Tobin but wasn’t told until late summer to write a formal, detailed prosecution memo, which he did in early September.

On Oct. 1, 2004, Hinnen got the green light to prepare an indictment, but was directed to first give Tobin lawyer O’Donnell a chance to make his client’s case. O’Donnell requested delays and then told Hinnen, Parsky and other senior officials that an unidentified lawyer had advised Tobin that the jamming was legal.

The key role therefore appears to have been played by Laura Parsky. An alert reader in California reminds me that Parsky is another one the hyper-partisan figures imported by Michael Chertoff to the Criminal Division. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Parsky is exiting the Justice Department to take a judicial appointment furnished by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California:

As for Parsky, her father is a GOP kingmaker in California with long-standing ties to President Bush. He’s currently a member of the UC Board of Regents and for years was a major power in the state Republican party. Laura Parsky, 37, has been working for the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., in recent years, where she was a protege of Michael Chertoff, the former high-ranking Justice Department official who’s now head of Homeland Security.

The soon-to-be judge has been a regular on Capitol Hill, where as a deputy assistant attorney general she has been the government’s point person on such high-profile issues as cybercrime, electronic surveillance and other technology issues. A graduate of Yale University with a law degree from UC Berkeley, Laura Parsky will become a Superior Court judge in San Diego County.

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