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Voter-Fraud Complaints by GOP Drove Dismissals

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White House officials also criticized John McKay, then the U.S. attorney in Seattle, for not pursuing an investigation after the disputed 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington state. McKay, who was fired, has said that claim was baseless.

However, it was not clear until last week that Biskupic came close to being fired, that Graves had been asked to resign or that Justice officials had highlighted Nevada as a problem area for voter fraud. New information also emerged showing the extent to which the White House encouraged investigations of election fraud within weeks of November balloting.

Rove, in particular, was preoccupied with pressing Gonzales and his aides about alleged voting problems in a handful of battleground states, according to testimony and documents.

Last October, just weeks before the midterm elections, Rove's office sent a 26-page packet to Gonzales's office containing precinct-level voting data about Milwaukee. A Justice aide told congressional investigators that he quickly put the package aside, concerned that taking action would violate strict rules against investigations shortly before elections, according to statements disclosed this week.

That aide, senior counselor Matthew Friedrich, turned over notes to Congress that detailed a telephone conversation about voter fraud with another Justice official, Benton Campbell, chief of staff for the Criminal Division. Friedrich had asked Campbell for his assessment of Rove's complaints about problems in New Mexico, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, according to a congressional aide familiar with Friedrich's remarks.

The notes show that Campbell also identified Nevada as a problem district. Daniel G. Bogden of Las Vegas was among the nine U.S. attorneys known to have been removed from their jobs last year.

Rick Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School who runs an election law blog, said that "there's no question that Karl Rove and other political operatives" urged Justice officials to apply pressure on U.S. attorneys to pursue voter-fraud allegations in parts of the country that were critical to the GOP.

Hasen said it remains unclear, however, "whether they believed there was a lot of fraud and U.S. attorneys would ferret it out, or whether they believed there wasn't a lot of fraud but the allegations would serve political purposes."

According to Lorraine Minnite, a political scientist at Barnard College who co-wrote a recent study of federal prosecution of election fraud, the states in which U.S. attorneys were dismissed, or put on a tentative firing list, include five of nearly a dozen states that Rove and other Republicans last year identified as election battlegrounds.

In some cases, Justice officials have cited conflicts with the chief prosecutors in those places that were unrelated to election fraud.

Minnesota's longtime federal prosecutor, Thomas Heffelfinger, resigned early in 2006 and has said his departure was voluntary, but sources say his name was included on a January 2006 firing list. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) sent Gonzales a letter last week seeking documents about Heffelfinger's relationship with department officials, including efforts to enforce election laws in that state.

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