President George W. Bush and Karl Rove, the former White House political adviser, both appear to have helped orchestrate the firing of former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias after receiving numerous complaints from Republican activists that the federal prosecutor would not pursue charges of voter fraud, according to a report on the U.S. Attorney purge released Monday by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog.
The 390-page report is the culmination of an 18-month joint investigation by the Inspector General Glenn Fine and the head of the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility H. Marshall Jarrett. Their report, concluded that Iglesias’s firing was the most “controversial” and that his dismissal was “engineered” by New Mexico GOP lawmakers Sen. Pete Domenici, Congresswoman Heather Wilson and former White House political adviser Karl Rove over complaints about Iglesias’s refusal to secure indictments in voter fraud cases and in a public corruption case.
Many election integrity experts believe claims of voter fraud are a ploy by Republicans to suppress minorities and poor people from voting. Historically, those groups tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Raising red flags about the integrity of the ballots, experts believe, is an attempt by GOP operatives to swing elections to their candidates as well as an attempt to use the fear of criminal prosecution to discourage individuals from voting in future races.
The report said Bush and Rove “spoke with Attorney General Gonzales in October 2006 about their concerns over voter fraud in three cities, one of which was Albuquerque, New Mexico” and concerns Domenici had about Iglesias’s job performance.
“There is conflicting evidence about exactly what was communicated to Gonzales, and what the Department’s response was to these concerns,” according to the report. “Gonzales testified that he recalled mentioning his conversation with Rove to [his former Chief of Staff Kyle] Sampson and asking him to look into the matter. Sampson told congressional investigators that he recalled that after the removals became public, Gonzales told him that he recalled the President telling him in October  that Domenici had concerns about Iglesias.”
“On March 13, 2007, in response to reporters’ questions about the removals of U.S. Attorneys, White House spokesman Dan Bartlett stated that the President had told Gonzales in late 2006 that he had been hearing about election fraud concerns from members of Congress regarding three cities: Albuquerque, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee,” the report says.
In the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election, Bernalillo County in New Mexico had been the target of a massive grassroots effort by the group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to register voters. That led New Mexico GOP to challenge the integrity of some of the names on the voter registration rolls.
Iglesias established an election fraud task force in September 2004 and spent more than two months probing claims of widespread voter fraud in his state. He said he fully expected to uncover instances of voter fraud based on numerous stories that appeared in New Mexico media that said minors received voter registration forms and that “a large number” of voter registration forms turned up during the course of a drug raid.
“Due to the high volume of suspected criminal activity, I believed there to be a strong likelihood of uncovering prosecutable cases,” Iglesias said. “I also reviewed the hard copy file from the last voter fraud case my office had prosecuted which dated back to 1992.
“My intention was to file prosecutions in order to send a message that voter fraud or election fraud would not be tolerated in the District of New Mexico.”
“After examining the evidence, and in conjunction with the Justice Department Election Crimes Unit and the FBI, I could not find any cases I could prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt,” Iglesias said in an interview. “Accordingly, I did not authorize any voter fraud related prosecutions.”
GOP ‘Intent on Suppressing Votes’
In several interviews, Iglesias said that Republican officials in his state were far less interested in election reforms and more intent on suppressing votes.
He recalled that the Justice Department issued a directive to every U.S. Attorney in the country to find and prosecute cases of voter fraud in their states during the height of hotly contested elections in 2002, 2004, and 2006, even though evidence of such abuses was extremely thin or non-existent.
In his recently published book, In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration, Iglesias said in late summer 2002 he received an email from the Department of Justice suggesting “in no uncertain terms” that U.S. attorneys should immediately begin working with local and state election officials “to offer whatever assistance we could in investigating and prosecuting voter fraud cases.”
“The e-mail imperatives came again in 2004 and 2006, by which time I had learned that far from being standard operating procedure for the Justice Department, the emphasis on voter irregularities was unique to the Bush administration,” Iglesias said.
“But there was a more sinister reading to such urgent calls for reform, not to mention the Justice Department’s strident insistence on harvesting a bumper crop of voter fraud prosecutions. That implication is summed up in a single word: ‘caging.’
“Not only did the [Bush] administration stoop to such seamy expedients to press its agenda in 2004,” Iglesias wrote. “It had the full might and authority of the federal government and its prosecutorial powers to accomplish its ends.”
Vote caging is an illegal tactic to suppress minorities from voting by having their names purged from voter rolls when they fail to respond to registered mail sent to their homes.
The Republican National Committee signed a consent decree in 1986 stating it would not engage in the practice after it was caught suppressing votes in 1981 and 1986.
In July 2007, in a letter to then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said, “caging is a reprehensible voter suppression tactic, and it may also violate federal law and the terms of applicable judicially enforceable consent decrees.”
Documents released last year showed that Republican operatives engaged in a widespread effort to “cage” votes during the 2004 presidential election in battleground states, such as New Mexico, Nevada, Florida, and Ohio, where George W. Bush was trailing his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry.
The efforts to purge voters from registration rolls were spearheaded by Tim Griffin.
Coddy Johnson was another Republican operative involved in the effort to cage votes during the 2004 presidential election. Johnson worked as the national field director of Bush’s 2004 campaign and spent time in the White House as an associate director of political affairs, working under Karl Rove. Johnson’s father was Bush’s college roommate at Yale.
Iglesias said Republicans in New Mexico expected him to put loyalty to the Republican Party above the law.
“Only one case of the over 100 referrals had potential. ACORN had employed a woman to register voters. The evidence showed she registered voters who did not have the legal right to vote. The law, 42 USC 1973 had the maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.
“After personally reviewing the FBI investigative report and speaking to the agent, the prosecutor I had assigned, Mr. [Rumaldo] Armijo, and conferring with [a Justice Department official] I was of the opinion that the case was not provable. I, therefore, did not authorize a prosecution.
I have subsequently learned that the State of New Mexico did not file any criminal cases as a result of the” election fraud task force.
Complaints Begin in 2005
Steve Bell, Domenici’s chief of staff, “began complaining about Iglesias to the White House sometime in 2005.”
Bell lodged his complaints with Scott Jennings, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Political Affairs. Jennings told the IG and OPR investigators that “that shortly after joining the White House in early 2005, he received criticism of Iglesias’s erformance as U.S. Attorney from Bell.”
“Jennings said Bell told him on a periodic basis that he was unhappy with Iglesias’s response to complaints about voter fraud, among other issues, and that the White House should replace him. Jennings said he passed that information along to his immediate superiors at the time, [White House Director of Political Affairs Sara] Taylor and [Tim] Griffin.”
Taylor reported directly to Rove. Griffin was a former Republican National Committee opposition researcher and close friend of Karl Rove.
Bud Cummins, the former U.S. Attorney for Little Rock, Arkansas, was fired and Griffin was given his job. Griffin resigned from his post as interim U.S Attorney last year when details of his role in vote suppression during the 2004 election was reported.
Monday’s report by the Justice Department’s IG and OPR said, “After Cummins was instructed to resign and Griffin was announced as his replacement, senior Department leaders made a series of conflicting and misleading statements about Cummins’s removal.”
Jennings told IG and OPR investigators that “sometime in 2006 Bell told him that Senator Domenici was going to call the White House Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten, about Iglesias.
“Jennings notified Taylor and Rove so that Bolten could be given a heads-up. We do not know whether this call was made, and if so what was discussed,” the report says.
The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten last year to testify about the role the White House played in the decision to fire nine U.S. attorneys in late 2006. Additionally, the committee sought documents from Bolten and Miers related to the attorney purge.
Bolten and Miers were instructed by President George W. Bush to ignore the subpoenas and advised not to appear before the committee. Bush claimed Bolten and Miers were immune to congressional subpoenas and any information they may have related to the firings was protected by executive privilege. The House voted to hold Bolten and Miers in contempt of Congress. It was the first time in 25 years a full chamber of Congress voted on contempt of Congress citation.
Additionally, New Mexico Republican party chairman Allen Weh also complained to Jennings about Iglesias’s refusal to pursue voter fraud cases.
“Weh said he complained about Iglesias to Scott Jennings in the White House sometime in 2005, and told Jennings that Iglesias should be replaced,” the report says. “E-mail records we obtained from the White House confirm that Weh wrote to Jennings about Iglesias on August 9, 2005. His message to Jennings, which was copied to Karl Rove, Sara Taylor, Tim Griffin, and Steve Bell, stated:
We discussed the need to replace the US Atty in NM several months ago. The brief on Voter Fraud at the RNC meeting last week reminded me of how important this post is to this issue, and prompted this follow up. As you are aware the incumbent, David Iglesias, has failed miserably in his duty to prosecute voter fraud. To be perfectly candid, he was ‘missing in action’ during the last election, just as he was in the 2002 election cycle. I am advised his term expires, or is renewed, in October. It is respectfully requested that strong consideration be given to replacing him at this point …. If we can get a new US Atty that takes voter fraud seriously, combined with these other initiatives we’ll make some real progress in cleaning up a state notorious for crooked elections.
Just a few months earlier, Iglesias had reached out to Weh after hearing from a friend that the New Mexico Republican Party was unhappy with his handling of voter fraud cases.
“Iglesias said he wanted to get the message out to his fellow Republicans that he would prosecute “provable” voter fraud cases but would not bring a case unless it could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to the report. “In a further attempt to defuse the situation, Iglesias called state Republican Party Chairman Weh, and the two met briefly for coffee near Weh’s home on May 6, 2005. Iglesias said he tried to explain to Weh that he wanted to prosecute provable voter fraud cases but could not go forward without sufficient evidence.”
Weh told IG/OPR investigators that “Iglesias began the meeting by asking if he was ‘in trouble’ with the Republican Party, and that he tried to blame the lack of prosecutions on the FBI’s failure to commit resources. Weh also said he told Iglesias that Iglesias needed to do something about voter fraud and that he should have already done something about it.”
“Weh said that although his meeting with Iglesias was cordial, he remained unconvinced by Iglesias’s explanation,” the report says. “Weh told us that he also thought Iglesias was unqualified for his position as U.S. Attorney, and Weh said he had concluded by then that Iglesias had failed to adequately investigate and prosecute voter fraud crimes. Weh added that his opinion of Iglesias was widely shared by New Mexico Republicans, and that he made his views known to many people.”
As the 2006 elections approached, “Patrick Rogers, the former general counsel to the New Mexico state Republican Party and a party activist, continued to complain about voter fraud issues in New Mexico,” according to the report. “In a March 2006 e-mail forwarded to Donsanto in the [DOJ’s] Public Integrity Section, Rogers complained about voter fraud in New Mexico and added, “I have calls in, to the USA and his main assistant, but they were not much help during the ACORN fraudulent registration debacle last election.”
In June 2006, Rogers sent Iglesias’s Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Rumaldo Armijo an email:
The voter fraud wars continue. Any indictment of the Acorn woman would be appreciated. … The ACLU/Wortheim [sic] democrats will turn to the camera and suggest fraud is not an issue, because the USA would have done something by now. Carpe Diem!
“Carpe Diem” was a reference to the Chairman of the New Mexico Democratic Party at the time, John Wertheim.
“In June 2006, [GOP activist] Mickey Barnett said he asked… Jennings to set up a meeting for Barnett and Rogers at the Department of Justice to discuss Iglesias’s performance,” the report says. “According to Barnett, he had complained to Jennings about Iglesias approximately 5 to 10 times by that point.”
On Oct. 2, 2006, Rove received an email from Mickey Barnett, an attorney who worked on Bush-Cheney’s reelection campaign. Barnett complained about the slow pace of the results of a task force Iglesias set up to investigate allegations of voter fraud. The email to Rove had not been disclosed prior to the publication of the DOJ’s report.
“We still await the results of the task force Iglesias convened about this time two years ago on the clear Acorn fraudulent voter registrations,” Barnett wrote Rove. “We were told it would look to [sic] “political” to indict anyone that close to the election. Then we never heard anything else.”
On Nov. 7, 2006, the day of the midterm elections, Bell emailed Rove about problems with ballots at a precinct in New Mexico and said “we worry about the [U.S. Attorney] here.”
Rove responded to Bell’s Nov. 7, 2006 email by saying that Domenici should “call the Attorney General about this.”
According to the report, Iglesias’s name was placed on a termination list around this time.
“It appears that Sampson put Iglesias on the remova list sometime after October 17  based largely on complaints about Iglesias’s handling of certain voter fraud and public corruption investigations in New Mexico,” according to the report. “Sampson said he knew that New Mexico Republican Senator Pete Domenici had called Attorney General Gonzales on three separate occasions in 2005 and 2006 to register complaints about Iglesias’s performance.”
“The White House would not provide us any internal documents and e-mails relating to the removals of Iglesias or the other U.S. Attorneys,” according to the report. “Our investigation was also hindered by the refusal of Senator Domenici and his Chief of Staff to agree to an interview by us. In addition, we were not able to interview [former DOJ White House liaison] Monica Goodling, who also declined to cooperate with our investigation “As a result, important gaps remain in the facts regarding Iglesias’s removal as U.S. Attorney.”
Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, to continue the investigation. DOJ IG Glen Fine and OPR’s H. Marshall Jarrett, the principal authors of the report, said they were unable to fully investigate the firings of the nine U.S. attorneys “because of the refusal by several former key White House officials, including Harriet Miers and Karl Rove, to cooperate with our investigation.”