Rove Protégé May Dig for Dirt on Obama

Timothy Griffin, a central figure in the U.S. Attorney scandal and a protégé of Republican political guru Karl Rove, reportedly has been hired to dig up dirt on likely Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

FirstRead, a political Web site of NBC News, cited a Republican source as confirming that Griffin was being brought onboard by the Republican National Committee to handle opposition research on Obama.

Griffin hung up on me when I contacted him at his home and asked him to comment about the report. An RNC aide told me he could neither “confirm nor deny the report.”

Griffin’s return to the RNC as an opposition researcher — a post he held during the Bush-Cheney campaigns — would seem to mark a return to a “dirty tricks” style of campaigning that John McCain has vowed to avoid.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Griffin handled “oppo” on Al Gore and, according to several RNC staffers, hung a poster behind his desk that paraphrased a line from “Gladiator”: “On my command — unleash hell on Al.”

In 2004, Griffin also performed opposition research for the Bush-Cheney campaign and participated in an apparent Republican scheme to trap voters who had possible errors in their registration forms, so-called “caging.”

A Rove favorite, Griffin then was installed as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas in 2006. His predecessor as U.S. Attorney, Bud Cummins, was one of nine federal prosecutors forced to resign in an unusual purge orchestrated by George W. Bush’s White House.

Griffin got the U.S. Attorney job via a little known provision slipped into the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005, authorizing the Attorney General to appoint emergency U.S. Attorneys without Senate confirmation.

However, after congressional Democrats – and some Republicans – complained about politicization of the Justice Department, Griffin resigned rather than face a regular confirmation process.

Griffin also stepped down as details began to emerge about his role in “vote caging,” a controversial tactic that has been used to suppress the turnout of minorities by having their names purged from the rolls when they fail to respond to registered mail sent to their homes.

[Karl Rove] 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.

Documents released last year implicated Griffin and other Republican operatives in a broad effort to “cage” votes during Election 2004 in battleground states, such as New Mexico, Nevada, Florida and Ohio.

E-mails among Ohio Republican Party official Michael Magan; Coddy Johnson, then national field director of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign; and Griffin showed that the men received documents that could justify widespread voter challenges if the Bush campaign needed to contest the election results.

Johnson referred to the documents as a “goldmine.” Like Griffin, Johnson worked at the White House as a political aide to Rove.

The documents were lists of registered voters who did not return address confirmation forms to the Ohio Board of Elections. The Republican operatives compared the list with lists of voters who requested absentee ballots.

“A bad registration card can be an accident or fraud. A bad card AND an Absentee Ballot request is a clear case of fraud,” argued Bush-Cheney campaign staffer Robert Paduchik.

”I have already tasked our IT [information technology] person with creating a match list between the Board of Elections return mail list and the Absentee Ballot request list,” according to an e-mail from Christopher McInerney, a Griffin colleague and a RNC researcher.

However, McInerney cautioned about having “GOP fingerprints” on the challenges.

“I would think we are less worried about ‘fingerprints’ if we have decent evidence that fraudulent ballots are being cast,” responded GOP strategist Christopher Guith. “I think the intent is to take the Board of Elections’ list and challenge absentee ballots? At that point, isn’t it more important to stop absentee ballots that we have a high certainty of fraud than avoid the hit?”

Griffin responded, “I guess we have to make sure we have bodies. It seems like it always comes down to bodies. Why don’t you ask your peeps in each state at issue if they have the resources to do this? Then, I might/can put some resources in the states that are lacking.”

Last July, in a letter to the Justice Department, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, protested Republican use of these tactics.

“Caging is a reprehensible voter suppression tactic, and it may also violate federal law and the terms of applicable judicially enforceable consent decrees,” the Whitehouse-Kenney letter read.

In a forthcoming book, In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration, former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, one of the nine federal prosecutors fired, said Republican officials in his state were far less interested in election reforms and more intent on suppressing votes.

“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.”

The controversies over the prosecutor firings and the alleged “voter caging” led Griffin to resign from his post as acting U.S. Attorney rather than undergo a bruising confirmation hearings.

But the RNC appears to value Griffin’s political talents enough to bring him back onboard to look for derogatory information that might damage Barack Obama’s campaign.

Griffin is “one of the best political operatives in the country,” a Republican source told NBC’s FirstRead.

Jason Leopold is an investigative reporter and a two-time winner of the Project Censored award. He is the author of the National Bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir, and he has launched a new online investigative news magazine, The Public Record. Read other articles by Jason, or visit Jason's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. evie said on May 24th, 2008 at 6:24am #

    Dirt isn’t hard to find, just ask the right people in Chicago. The tapes from Tony Rezko “operatives” are now available, I ‘spect they’ll be using that soon.

  2. Rich Griffin said on May 24th, 2008 at 6:31am #

    More to the point, it will be easy for the Repubs thugs to paint this inexperienced relatively unknown candidate with whatever lies they choose – and have a mainstream media that will report it without question. If you look at the early polling now, we might very well get a surprise in November: a McCain presidency! The Dems are making the single biggest mistake EVER in giving the nomination to Obama.

    Vote third party; end the “catch 22” of viability.

  3. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 25th, 2008 at 6:51am #

    evie. Is it ever going to be time for you to start being constructive?

  4. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 25th, 2008 at 6:52am #

    cf: your post to Ron Jacob’s most recent.