The White House's "Voter Fraud" Fraud

I've had some experience with the Bush administration's pursuit of election fraud. So I was intrigued, way back on March 14, 2007, when the number of White House rationales for the U.S. Attorney purge was still in single digits, "election fraud" was revealed as the source of all the trouble. In the Washington Post, White House counselor Dan Bartlett declared that "over the course of several years, we have received complaints about U.S. attorneys, particularly when it comes to election-fraud cases."

In the week or so since Bartlett's declaration, the "election fraud" rationale has remained one of the few consistent talking points in the Buster Keaton/Harold Lloyd production that has overtaken Bush's presidency. We've heard the case of John McKay in Washington State, who mismanaged the close gubernatorial election won by Democrat Christine Gregoire, failing to indict a single Democrat. Similarly, David Iglesias in New Mexico famously failed to produce election fraud charges in a timely and responsible manner -- a case of prosecutorial foot-dragging that so infuriated Republican Senator Pete Domenici that he phoned Iglesias before the November, 2006 election to determine whether indictments of Democrats would be coming in time to achieve the desired result.

Yet I know of one complaint of election fraud that flew right past the lackluster U.S. attorney ranks and went straight to the desk of former Attorney General John Ashcroft. The complaint originated in Florida of all places, home of butterfly ballots, Jews for Buchanan and other electoral oddities, not least the supreme appointment of George W. Bush to the White House in 2000.

In 2002, in the final days of Jeb Bush's gubernatorial reelection campaign, I got the sort of phone call everyone who works on campaigns gets sooner or later. I was a consultant to Democrat Bill McBride. We were losing the race to Jeb but apparently not by a wide enough margin for Team Bush to let well enough alone. Bush was running radio ads across conservative North Florida claiming that McBride would take away everyone's guns -- a blatant lie, but surely one that falls under the all-purpose Bush family rubric of "just politics."

Then one night, dragging my sorry self home from my office in Washington's Dupont Circle, I got a call from a friend about a slightly more exotic Bush tactic. It seems my friend's mother had a good friend in Florida, an elderly Democrat, who had received a strange phone call at home that week. The call informed her that she could conveniently cast her vote by mail and skip the hassle of going to the polls. Funny thing was, she was told to cast her vote AFTER the date of the election.

The last week of a campaign is almost always an extended witching hour for Republican dirty tricks. If you work in politics long enough, you become inured to it. Money is short, time is shorter and the press almost never follows up. The chances that anything would come of the information I received were slim; I forgot about the call and went home to bed.

Two days later, however, the phone call had a new life. It turns out that another Florida "senior" had complained about receiving the same anonymous encouragement to vote after the election. This one was named Bob Poe and he was chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. What's more, Poe had saved the telephone number of the call center in California from which the call originated.

Poe fired off a letter to General Ashcroft detailing the skullduggery. He provided the telephone number, tantamount to fingerprints and a business card left at the scene of a crime. The fact that the alleged fraud occurred over the telephone and across state lines might well have added some additional legal spice to an already compelling case.

But there was apparently nothing compelling about it to the energetic fraud fighters at Justice. Instead Poe's letter was dropped into the void and never seen again. Jeb Bush was reelected. The press, true to form, didn't bother pursuing an election story once the election was over.

Given the growing backlog of scandals waiting to be investigated by Waxman, Leahy, Conyers and company, I know this one probably doesn't count for much. But when the desperadoes behind the White House sandbags shout "voter fraud" in an attempt to justify their crude politicization of every nook and cranny of our government, I hope Bob Poe's experience with Bush justice will not be totally forgotten. When a cry of "fire" goes out from this White House, you can be all but certain you've just heard the voice of arson.