Ex-Prosecutor Says He Didn't Think Charges Would Affect Election
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
A former interim U.S. attorney appointed by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales defended his decision to bring a controversial indictment before last year's elections, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had no idea Missouri Republicans would use the case as part of their campaign against Democrats.
Bradley J. Schlozman, who temporarily replaced dismissed U.S. attorney Todd P. Graves of Kansas City, Mo., also said that career officials in the department's public integrity section approved the case, in which four former employees of a liberal-leaning group were charged with voter-registration fraud.
"I did not think it was going to influence the election at all," Schlozman said.
But Graves, who also testified yesterday, said he would have handled the case differently.
"It would have been my understanding that you would not do that," Graves said. ". . . It surprised me that they'd been filed that close to an election."
The testimony came as part of the Senate panel's investigation of the firing last year of Graves and eight other U.S. attorneys, part of a joint effort by the White House and top Gonzales aides. The Justice Department has launched an internal investigation into whether improper political considerations played a role in the firings or in other hiring decisions.
Schlozman has figured prominently in the inquiry because he replaced Graves in Missouri and because he served previously as a senior official in the Civil Rights Division, from which dozens of career attorneys have left in the wake of conflicts with political appointees over key voting-rights cases.
Schlozman, who served briefly as acting civil rights chief in 2005, testified that he may have boasted about the number of Republicans he had recruited for the division. He also acknowledged telling some applicants for career positions to remove GOP political activities from their résumés, but said that was only because politics should play no role in filling those jobs.
Missouri GOP officials used the voter-registration indictments last fall in campaign literature attacking Democrat Claire McCaskill in her Senate election bid, which she won.
Under Justice Department rules, prosecutors "must refrain from any conduct which has the possibility of affecting the election itself." A department handbook also says that "most, if not all, investigation of an alleged election crime must await the end of the election to which the allegation relates."
A department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the policy "does not mean . . . that the department forbids the filing of any charges, ever, around the time of an election." The Missouri case involved voter-registration efforts, rather than the election itself, the official said.