Official Quizzed on Vote-Fraud Case

Posted June 5, 2007 at 6:37pm

Bradley Schlozman, the former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, testified Tuesday that his superiors in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section approved his plan to bring a voter-fraud case against employees of a nonprofit group less than a week before the 2006 elections. Schlozman — who previously served as the department’s top civil rights official and now works at the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys — appeared at a hearing as the Senate Judiciary Committee continued its inquiry into the influence of political calculations on DOJ decisions.

The 2006 charges were brought against four employees of the Missouri branch of the liberal-leaning Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now for allegedly registering fraudulent voters when Schlozman was interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo.

The Justice Department has a general policy of not prosecuting voting fraud cases right before an election for fear of influencing it.

But under incredulous questioning from Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Schlozman said that policy was “informal” and that the lawsuit was approved by Craig Donsanto, the longtime head of the Election Crimes division.

Schlozman said Donsanto told him that as long as no voters needed to be interviewed, the lawsuit could proceed.

“Why didn’t you just wait a couple of weeks more?” Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked.

“I didn’t think this was going to have any impact on the election,” Schlozman replied.

“Amazing,” Leahy countered.

The hearing was fiercely partisan — no Republicans were there for Schlozman’s testimony, not even Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (Pa.), who has accompanied Democrats throughout the Congressional probe triggered by the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.

Schlozman’s testimony was followed by that of Todd Graves, the former Missouri prosecutor who Schlozman replaced. Last year, Graves became the first of nine U.S. attorneys to be fired by Justice in 2006 in what has triggered an aggressive Congressional probe of Justice and the White House as to their motives for the prosecutor purge.

A Missouri native, Schlozman, the former acting chief of Justice’s civil rights division, said he was not even aware of Graves’ firing until after it happened. He then told Justice officials he was interested in the job. Schlozman now works in the department office that oversees U.S. attorneys.

But some suspect that Graves was ousted because he did not place enough emphasis on voter-fraud cases. For instance, he was reportedly skeptical of the ACORN case, and refused to prosecute a case against the state of Missouri for allegedly having too many ineligible voters on the rolls.

Democrats also questioned Schlozman about whether, as former colleagues and news reports have suggested, he tried to turn Justice’s civil rights division into a Republican stronghold. Schlozman said he “probably had made statements” that amounted to boasting about the number of Republicans filling Justice ranks when he was head of the civil rights division.

Schlozman conceded that he had received recommendations and résumés for candidates for nonpolitical jobs from GOP friends, and said he solicited job candidates from conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. He could not name similarly liberal groups from which he sought job applicants.

But Schlozman denied he ever violated the Hatch Act, which bars government employees from engaging in improper political behavior, and said he never asked, nor heard asked, any improper political questions of applicants for career jobs.

But he did at times tell candidates for career jobs to scrub their résumés of political affiliations because, he said, that information would be considered irrelevant.

Schlozman also admitted he made several personnel changes when he was in charge of the civil rights division. The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that Schlozman was behind the dismissal and involuntary transfer of career officials in the division who were then replaced with Republican loyalists.

But Schlozman denied he had impeded an investigation into Minnesota prosecutor Tom Heffelfinger’s concerns about Native American voting rights.

“I didn’t talk about Mr. Heffelfinger with anyone,” Schlozman insisted.