By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
White House officials, in providing new explanations of how and why several U.S. attorneys were fired in December, have said that President Bush mentioned to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in October that he had heard complaints from Congress that some federal prosecutors were lax in pursuing voter fraud.
In attributing the firings at least partly to an inattentiveness to voter fraud, the White House is invoking a contention that has gained prominence in Republican circles starting with the 2000 presidential election, as both political parties have become aggressive in trying to leverage election law into Election Day victories.
The GOP allegation, repeated in several swing states where voting margins have been narrow, is that Democrats have illegally ratcheted up their tallies by permitting ballots to be cast by felons, by residents without proper identification, or by people who forged signatures on absentee ballots.
Democratic-leaning groups reject that allegation and counter by accusing Republicans of blocking fair elections by suppressing the votes of some eligible citizens.
Glimpses of the role those charges and countercharges have played in firings of at least some of the U.S. attorneys have begun to emerge in recent days. Yesterday, Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, told reporters accompanying Bush in Mexico that "over the course of several years, we have received complaints about U.S. attorneys, particularly when it comes to election-fraud cases." Bartlett said those complaints have stemmed from New Mexico, where U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias was fired, as well as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
A former U.S. attorney in a fourth state, Washington, testified on Capitol Hill last week that he had received a call from the then-chief of staff to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), inquiring about whether there was an investigation of potential voter fraud in the 2004 gubernatorial election, which Democrat Chris Gregoire won by fewer than 150 votes.
John McKay, the former prosecutor, testified that the concern resurfaced last September when he met with then-White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers and other administration officials about a possible nomination for a judgeship. Miers, McKay told legislators, asked him why he had "mishandled" the 2004 governor's race. He was not nominated.