WASHINGTON -- The Department of Justice skirted federal policy guidelines to allow the indictment of four liberal activists on voter fraud charges shortly before November's midterm elections in Missouri, a former U.S. attorney told a Senate investigative panel yesterday.
Bradley J. Schlozman, who was the interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo., last year, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not think the indictments helped Republicans in the election. Democrat, Claire McCaskill defeated the incumbent, Republican Jim Talent, in the U.S. Senate race in Missouri.
Committee Democrats are trying to show that the White House and Justice Department have played politics with the U.S. attorney's offices. They are investigating the firing last year of eight federal prosecutors and whether the dismissals were part of a plan to replace them with attorneys who were more willing to bring criminal cases that would help Republican causes.
In Kansas City, the U.S. attorney's office had long been investigating the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and its efforts to register liberal voters.
Todd Graves, who earlier was U.S. attorney for the western district of Missouri, testified yesterday that he was aware of the department policy against bringing voter-related charges right before an election.
The policy, spelled out in a red handbook given to all U.S. attorneys, states that such cases "must await the end of the election" so that it cannot be later suggested that prosecutors were trying to influence the vote results.
"I thought it was a bad idea," Graves said of bringing the charges against ACORN before the election. "So we were sort of slow-walking this in the district."
Early last year, he said, he received a phone call from Michael Battle, then head of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and was told to resign.
Graves said he was not surprised. "I long planned to go, and it was the president's prerogative," Graves said. He added that Battle told him there were no performance problems and that the move was being made to "give another guy a chance."
Graves was replaced by Schlozman, then a Justice Department official who had no trial experience. Less than a week before the November election, Schlozman obtained grand jury indictments against four members of ACORN charging them with submitting fraudulent voter registrations.
Schlozman, who now works in the main Justice Department office in Washington, said he sought the indictments after getting approval from department officials, who advised him that the case would not influence the election.
But Schlozman said he also was directed by Washington to release a statement to the news media about the indictments and to include that the charges were part of a "national" investigation into voter fraud.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Republicans in the Justice Department ignored guidelines to advance their conservative ideology.
Holding aloft a copy of the red handbook, Leahy told Schlozman, "You used this more for a doorstop than anything else."
Richard A. Serrano writes for the Los Angeles Times.