June 7, 2007
Senate Judiciary Committee Looks Into the Firing of the Ninth U.S. Attorney
In all the tumult over the sentencing of I. Lewis Libby on June 5, lost in the shuffle was another hearing on Capitol Hill on the firing of U.S. Attorneys in 2006, this time focusing on Todd Graves, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. Graves has been added to the list of U.S. Attorneys fired for no apparent reason, having been asked to step aside in January 2006 in a manner remarkably similar to that used with the other eight U.S. Attorneys in December 2006: a telephone call from the head of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) saying, in effect, "clear out your office." The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Graves and his replacement, Bradley J. Scholzman, who came from the Civil Rights Division and is now the head of EOUSA. Scholzman generated some controversy in October 2006 when his office filed criminal charges against four members of a liberal voter registration group called ACORN for voting fraud. Scholzman defended the decision to file the charges in his prepared testimony (here):
These cases, which were brought under the anti-fraud provisions of the National Voter Registration Act, were assigned to an experienced career Assistant United States Attorney, who consulted with the career leadership in the Department’s Election Crimes Branch in accordance with the U.S. Attorney’s Manual in conducting the investigation. The Department has adopted an informal policy of not interviewing voters during the pre-election period, which is intended to avoid actions that could conceivably have a chilling effect on voting. The policy clearly does not mean, however, that the Department forbids the filing of any charges around the time of an election. While the ACORN matter arose in October, Department policy did not require a delay of this investigation and the subsequent indictments because they pertained to voter registration fraud (which examined conduct during voter registration), not fraud during an ongoing or contested election. Consequently, the Department’s informal policy was not implicated in this matter. In sum, there was nothing unusual, irregular, or improper about the substance or timing of these indictments. Three defendants have pled guilty and a fourth is scheduled to plea this week.
While the testimony generated few fireworks, it is part of the case being built in the Senate to try to push out Attorney General Gonzales. A vote on the "no confidence" resolution on Gonzales may come up during the week of June 11, but whether that has any effect on his tenure remains to be seen. (ph)
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