No one minds if I talk about politics, right? • 15 May 2007 • The SnowBlog

No one minds if I talk about politics, right?


I'm sure politics isn't everyone's cup of tea, as we say here in Edwardian Britain, but it's something I think about a lot, so I thought maybe I'd start sharing the occasional snippet of interest that I come across. If your politics are anything like mine, you might even enjoy that - although you're probably living in a commune without Internet access, so good luck to you. And if your politics aren't like mine, I'm going to put this here green 'P' next to the post to warn you off.

So today's story is about American politics - something I follow much more closely than the British scene - probably for the same reason that a lot of people prefer to watch 24 rather than Time Team. As you may know, one of the many Republican scandals gradually oozing out into the daylight at the moment concerns eight United States Attorneys (USAs) who were fired at the end of last year. USAs prosecute federal cases and are in positions of considerable power, in that they handle matters like, oooh say, instigating prosecutions of fraudulent politicians and deciding whether allegations concerning election irregularities should end up in court. There doesn't seem to be any good reason why any of the eight were fired - in fact a number of very bad reasons have come to light - mainly their reluctance to do the White House's bidding by going easy on Republican politicians, harrassing Democratic politicians and initiating election-related court-cases timed to a Republican agenda. One of the big pushes from the Republicans, come election time, is the claim that lots of people are voting illegally; either they vote when they're not eligible, or they're voting multiple times. To combat this, Republicans have been purging voter lists using a number of criteria: anyone registering from an incorrect address, for instance. One way to establish this is to write them a letter and if they don't respond then conclude they don't actually live there. In the past they've also purged anyone who has a criminal record, or has a similar name to someone with a criminal record. And in certain districts (you can guess for yourselves which ones) they've disallowed the votes of anyone who brings the wrong sort of ID with them on polling day. All this is possible because in several states the commisioner of elections is also a Republican party official. Dirty tactics that skew elections their way, but at least they're being tough on voter fraud. One interesting thing to note, though, is that there's actually no evidence of a voter fraud problem in the U.S. It almost never happens and almost no one has ever been prosecuted for it. But it is a great pretence for tightening or changing rules - often without telling anyone in advance - so that lots of votes can be discarded. And by targeting black and hispanic voters it's easy to make sure most of the votes discarded are for Democrats.

And the fact that no one actually commits voter fraud didn't stop the White House nudging the Department of Justice to get rid of any USAs who weren't cracking down on this non-existent crime. Officially, the eight USAs were dismissed for ill-defined performance-related reasons, but since six of them had superb prosecution rates and had historically received excellent appraisals, it was never a justification that bore close scrutiny. And of course, until the Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections last year, there wasn't any close scrutiny. When pushed about their reasons, the White House has fallen back on the notion that U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President and so he can fire them if he wants to - doesn't need a reason - but I don't think anyone really believes they were fired just to give the President something to do.

Where the story gets a little bizarre, is that one of the fired attorneys is David Iglesias. He was fired for poor performance and the fact that he had a number of long absences from work. What is remarkable about him is that he's the guy the 1992 movie A Few Good Men was based on; he's the Tom Cruise character who wanted the truth, but was firmly told that he most likely couldn't handle the truth. You wouldn't think they'd make Hollywood movies about below-average attorneys, but there you are. Mind you, even if you give him the benefit of the doubt regarding his job performance, there's still the matter of his absences from his post. Except that there's a very good reason he was absent: he was on active duty with the U.S. Naval Reserve. In other words, the government summoned him to serve and then fired him for obeying. And just to be clear, there are laws against firing someone for performing military service.

So if he wasn't fired for being bad at his job, and they're not allowed to fire him for serving in the Navy, why was he really fired? Well, a couple of months before he was fired he got a phone call from a Republican Senator, Pete Domenici, asking him if he was going to make some arrests for voter fraud soon. Iglesias had been pushed on this before and had agreed to look into it despite not seeing much justification. The Republicans had managed to purge many tens of thousands of predominantly Democratic voters, but they wanted some arrests to make their crackdown on voters look legitimate. Domenici didn't say that was why he was calling, he simply asked - utterly improperly - for an update on those cases, and Iglesias said - as he was required to do - that he couldn't really talk about them. The Senator then asked if he thought any of those ongoing cases might result in arrests before November (which was when the midterm elections were to be held). When Iglesias said 'no' the Senator hung up. Not long after, Iglesias was fired.

So who fired him? Well, various subpoenas have been issued to get to the bottom of that, because no one at the Department of Justice seems to be sure - and it's the Department of Justice (DoJ) who administer such things. One DoJ manager says that it was the White House who told the DoJ which attorneys to cut. If so, there would be e-mails to prove it... but one fly in the ointment is that a number of high-ranking White House officials seemingly took it into their heads not to use their work e-mails to communicate with the Department of Justice; they used e-mail addresses belonging to the Republican Party instead - and regrettably all those e-mails have gone missing. No backups. Nothing. Imagine.

Well I say all of those e-mails are missing, but actually investigative journalist Greg Palast has some of them. Apparently some of the e-mails were wrongly addressed; instead of going to the Republican-run domain they were accidentally addressed to, which is not run by the Republicans; it's run by some sympathetic people who handed those e-mails over to Mr Palast. And he says they show it was Karl Rove - the political mastermind of the current administration - and his assistant Tim Griffin who drew up the list of attorneys to be fired, in each case replacing them with someone obedient to Republican policy - and in several cases choosing someone dubiously qualified for the job. And, once Rove and Griffin had arranged for Iglesias to be fired, does anyone want to guess who they got to replace him? The answer, which along with the Hollywood movie connection is the reason I thought this story was interesting, is that Tim Griffin - Karl Rove's assistant - arranged for himself to take over from David Iglesias. So if there has been any wrongdoing, he would now be in charge of investigating it. It's so reprehensible it's positively poetic.


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