September 29, 2009

Rachel Maddow talks to former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias about the pressure put on him to go after ACORN for voter fraud allegations and how Karl Rove wanted to use the issue of voter fraud as a wedge issue to win elections. As Rachel notes sadly, that plan is still paying dividends with the Democrats being all too happy to cave into political pressure by the Republicans instead of standing up for ACORN.

MADDOW: We have previously reported on this show how corporate interests opposed to ACORN`s really successful efforts to raise the minimum wage targeted the group using Republican-allied P.R. firms that proudly specialized in demonizing their opposition.

But ACORN has not just been targeted by corporations who worry that ACORN`s advocacy for living-wage ordinances and an increased minimum wage will hurt their corporate bottom line. ACORN has also been the subject for years of a purely political smear campaign, a campaign engineered by Republicans who are threatened by ACORN`s work to register young and poor and minority voters.

The American voter is typically older and more wealthy than the typical American, and that tends to give the Republicans an electoral edge among voters as compared to the preferences of the populations at large. But ACORN`s registration drives have gone some distance to changing that. Over the past five years, ACORN registered close to 2 million voters. And, yes, the groups of people that ACORN typically registers tend to vote for Democrats.

Over the last few election cycles, fear of a younger, less wealthy, and, frankly, less white electorate led Republicans, especially in swing states, to go after ACORN aggressively, and, in fact, to try to gin up charges against them, to try to make their voter registration efforts in general seem suspect and perhaps to bring down the group entirely. And when I say "ginned up," I`m not exaggerating.

Do you remember the U.S. attorney scandal, the alleged fire ring of U.S. attorneys because of U.S. political considerations? Recall what that scandal was really about. In 2006, nine U.S. attorneys were fired, surprisingly and suddenly, by the Department of Justice under George W. Bush.

Former U.S. attorney David Iglesias -- one of those U.S. attorneys who lost his job despite positive job reviews -- maintains that his pink slip came after he resisted pressure from Republicans to pursue bogus voter registration cases involving ACORN. The pressure began as early as 2002 when Mr. Iglesias says in his book "In Justice," he received an e-mail from the Department of Justice in Washington, quote, "suggesting, in no uncertain terms" that U.S. attorneys "offer whatever assistance we could in investigating and prosecuting voter fraud cases."

Mr. Iglesias says he received similar e-mails from the Department of Justice in 2004 and again in 2006. Hmm. What happens on even years in American politics? Oh, right. Elections.

According to documents released by the House Judiciary Committee in June 2005, Karl Rove`s political aide Scott Jennings wrote to another White House aide that Mr. Iglesias should be removed. Quote, "I would really like to move forward with getting rid of New Mexico`s U.S. attorney," because Republicans in New Mexico are "really angry over his lack of action on the voter fraud stuff. Iglesias has done nothing. We`re getting killed out there."

Bush`s White House counsel, Harriet Miers, told the House Judiciary Committee in closed door testimony that she received a call from Karl Rove personally in which he said that the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, Mr. Iglesias, was, quote, "a serious problem, and that he wanted something done about it." Miers told the committee, quote, "My best recollection is that he was very agitated about the U.S. attorney in New Mexico."

Why was David Iglesias such a serious problem? Why was he getting the attention not only of the Department of Justice but of the White House, of Karl Rove specifically? Why was Karl Rove so agitated about him? Because of dubious voter fraud cases in New Mexico which have they been prosecuted successfully might have helped the Republicans politically.

An e-mail in January 2007 from Karl Rove`s aide to Mr. Rove suggested a possible replacement for Mr. Iglesias. Quote, "Rogers would be the dream but won`t do it." Rogers was Pat Rogers, a New Mexico Republican activist who had deemed voter fraud, quote, "the single greatest wedge issue ever." Wedge issue, Karl Rove, Bush`s Justice Department. You see where this is going.

Karl Rove`s own interpretation of this incident?


KARL ROVE, FORMER PRES. BUSH ADVISOR: I passed on to the White House counsel`s office to pass on to the Justice Department complaints about the performance of the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, that he failed to go after ACORN and clear cases of vote fraud. I was not in a position.


MADDOW: The rub, of course, was that Mr. Iglesias didn`t go after ACORN because there weren`t clear cases of vote fraud. In fact, he found no wrongdoing by the organization that he could prosecute when he looked into it.

He writes in his book "In Justice," quote, "Republicans had wanted splashy headlines trumpeting voter fraud indictments, and when they didn`t get what they wanted, they were only too ready to assign blame. After an exhaustive examination of the facts, I felt that I had dispelled the phantoms of voter fraud in New Mexico. But some people had wanted a different result whether or not it was warranted by the facts."

ACORN was and remains a flawed but legitimate organization which helps register low-income Americans to vote. No accusation has ever been substantiated that anyone registered by ACORN ever voted fraudulently. The Bush White House viewed voter fraud as the mother of all wedge issues. It`s paying its dividends today. And remarkably, Democrats are playing right along with it.

Joining us now is David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico who was allegedly fired for failing to prosecute ACORN for voter fraud. Mr. Iglesias is also the author of "In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration."

Mr. Iglesias, thanks very much for being here today.

IGLESIAS: Thanks, Rachel. Good to be back.

MADDOW: In the lead-up to the `04 elections, in terms of the climate in New Mexico, the political climate, was ACORN very active in registering voters in New Mexico?

IGLESIAS: Oh, sure. They were working in Albuquerque and throughout the state. There was tremendous local media attention on what they believed to be massive, systemic voter fraud.

MADDOW: In terms of what those specific allegations were, I understand that some Republican activists and Republican elected officials started making noise about alleged voter fraud around that time. What were they alleging and how did you look into it?

IGLESIAS: Well, they were alleging primarily ACORN was registering people who did not have the right to voter, including underage people, including foreign nationals who were not entitled to vote. And I found out about it directly through e-mail sent to my U.S. Justice Department account. Some of those e-mails you can see on the official Justice Department investigation.

So, I mean, it wasn`t just this nebulous pressure. It was direct contact with me and my office.

MADDOW: So, you were receiving direct pressure, not only just through the media in terms of these complaints being made public, but you were receiving direct pressure from Washington to go prosecute these cases.

IGLESIAS: Right. From the Justice Department and also from local political operatives.

MADDOW: When you looked into those cases, did you find that there were -- there was grounds to go forward? They were asking you not just to look into things but to bring indictments and bring them quickly.

IGLESIAS: Right. As a matter of fact, I set up one of only two voter fraud task forces in the country. I worked with state and local officials. I worked with the FBI. I worked with the Justice Department in Washington. And we took over 100 complaints. We set up a hotline.

I mean, I believe there to be prosecutable cases, but I wasn`t going to make up evidence. And at the end of two years, I couldn`t find one case I could prosecute.

MADDOW: You write in your book about the experience of other U.S. attorneys who experienced similar pressure to go after voter fraud cases that really turned out not to be warranted by the case, including one U.S. attorney who was a friend of yours in Missouri. Could you describe that for us briefly?

IGLESIAS: Right. There was a gentleman named Brad Schlozman who had been the acting director of civil rights. He went and was the acting U.S. attorney in Kansas City. And he, in fact, did file some voter fraud cases at the exact wrong time.

According to long-standing DOJ policy, you can`t file something that would affect the outcome of the election. That`s precisely what Brad did. And he -- those cases were eventually dismissed, and Brad had to leave his position as U.S. attorney.

But, again, that was a direct example of politicizing a federal prosecutor`s office.

MADDOW: And Mr. Schlozman was moved into the office after previous U.S. attorney also appointed by George W. Bush had decided not to pursue those cases. Is that also right?

IGLESIAS: Well, that`s right. In fact, his predecessor looked at the evidence like I did and couldn`t find anything he could prove. Therefore, he didn`t file anything -- and that partial basis for his removal.

MADDOW: The reason that I wanted to talk to you about this tonight is because we`re in the midst of a real -- what I hope is a sort of apex, what I hope is sort of a peaking of this national campaign, media campaign, political campaign and P.R. campaign against ACORN, and it seems to me that whatever ACORN`s flaws are, you`ve done a lot to illuminate how they were targeted unjustly on voter fraud.

How many times has voter fraud successfully been documented just in terms of public corruption and public integrity cases? Is it something that frequently happens in the United States? Is it something that really does need to be cracked down on?

IGLESIAS: It`s incredibly infrequent. In fact, the numbers I recall from my Senate testimony from 2008 is something in the order of 14 in the past several years. So, out of the many hundreds of thousands of cases the Justice Department prosecuted during that period of time, 14.

MADDOW: Would you describe the political pressure about ACORN as both an effort to make voter fraud seem like a bigger deal than it is but also to try to destroy the credibility of that organization? Because it had been effective at registering voters.

IGLESIAS: Well, in a state like New Mexico, what you have to remember, Rachel, is a minority/majority state. It has been for a number of years. A lot of the folks -- these low-income folks were people of color, and they tended to vote for Democrats. And the Republican Party at large and also, especially, locally there in New Mexico wanted to disable as much of that as possible.

So, they were looking at numbers, didn`t like the demographic tidal wave that was coming their way. So, they wanted to engage the machinery of the Justice Department to stop that wave.

MADDOW: David Iglesias, former U.S. attorney from New Mexico and author of "In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration," which remains -- even just on the issue of ACORN, which is a small part of the book -- remains one of the most important primary texts that we`ve got as a country in terms of understanding this political campaign against this group. Mr. Iglesias, thank you for speaking up. Thanks for joining us tonight.

IGLESIAS: My pleasure.

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