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Feds were involved in ACORN raid in Nevada, officials say
Brad Jacobson
Published: Wednesday March 18, 2009

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US Attorney allegedly involved appointed after US Attorney firings

Federal agencies were involved in the decision to raid the office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in Nevada last October, just weeks before Election Day, the offices of Nevada’s Secretary of State and Attorney General say.

The allegations raise questions of whether politics played a part in the raid and calls into question assertions by the US Attorney’s office that they were uninvolved. Federal guidelines instruct agencies investigating election fraud to avoid action that might impact the elective process.

Bob Walsh, a spokesman for Nevada’s Secretary of State, and Edie Cartwright, a spokeswoman for Nevada’s Attorney General, said that not only were the Nevada US Attorney’s Office and the FBI involved in investigating Nevada ACORN on allegations of voter registration fraud but that all four agencies jointly made the decision to conduct the raid. Both the investigation and the raid were conducted as part of the joint federal-state Election Integrity Task Force announced last July, the spokespersons said.

In initial conversations with Raw Story, Walsh wouldn’t specify the federal agencies involved in the decision to raid the ACORN office. But after being presented with previous statements he'd made in which he said the US Attorney and the FBI were involved, he said, “My comments don’t come with an expiration date.” Asked to confirm if that meant he did indeed stand by every statement he made in an earlier report, Walsh added, “Yeah.”

Cartwright corroborated Walsh’s two main assertions: that Nevada's US Attorney and the FBI were involved in the investigation of Nevada ACORN as part of the joint federal-state Election Integrity Task Force, and the decision to raid the ACORN office was made between these four agencies. Asked to confirm that her office agreed with Walsh, Cartwright answered without hesitation, “Yes, that’s right.”

Their statements appear to contradict those previously made by Nevada US Attorney Greg Brower's spokeswoman Natalie Collins. In October, Collins said the US Attorney’s office and the FBI “have not been, and are not, at the present time, involved.” Collins later said she was misquoted. (Brower is pictured above right.)

Told of the alleged involvement of the Nevada US Attorney’s Office and the FBI in the ACORN raid, Justin Levitt, an election law expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, expressed concern.

“The manual governing how federal prosecutors are supposed to act with respect to election crimes says you should do everything in your power to conduct your investigation so that the investigation does not become an issue in the election,” Levitt told Raw Story in a recent interview. “The raid is certainly not that.”

“Exactly how much input the federal government had, or exactly how much direction the federal government had in making the raid happen,” Levitt continued, is “going to determine exactly how outraged people should be at the federal government’s participation.”

He added, “And it’s not like they hadn’t had warnings that this was going to be a sensitive issue.”

In 2007, for example, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) excoriated former interim Missouri US Attorney Bradley Schlozman for announcing the indictments of four former ACORN workers on charges of voter registration fraud just five days before the 2006 election.

Gerry Hebert, an election law expert who spent over twenty years as a Justice Department attorney prosecuting voting rights cases, pointed to specific guidelines in the Department’s Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses manual that raise questions about the federal agencies’ role (cited from page 12): “In most cases, election-related documents should not be taken from the custody of local election administrators until the election to which they pertain has been certified, and the time for contesting the election results has expired,” the manual says. “This avoids interfering with the governmental processes affected by the election.

“Another limitation affects voter interviews,” the manual continues. “Election fraud cases often depend on the testimony of individual voters whose votes were co-opted in one way or another. But in most cases voters should not be interviewed, or other voter-related investigation done, until after the election is over. Such overt investigative steps may chill legitimate voting activities. They are also likely to be perceived by voters and candidates as an intrusion into the election. Indeed, the fact of a federal criminal investigation may itself become an issue in the election.”

Hebert said the Justice Department’s Office of Public Integrity is supposed to be consulted prior to “any voter interviews in a pre-election period. That’s in the US Attorneys’ Manual.”

The Nevada US Attorney’s spokeswoman, Natalie Collins, would not comment on the alleged involvement of her office or that of the FBI, saying it was Justice Department policy “not to confirm or deny the existence of investigations.”

The Nevada field office for the FBI did not return calls for comment.

Speaking on behalf of the Department of Justice, Laura Sweeney of the Office of Public Affairs declined to comment on whether the Nevada US Attorney’s office and FBI were involved in the ACORN investigation and raid. She also declined to answer questions on whether Nevada US Attorney Gregory Brower consulted with and attained approval from the Election Crimes Branch of Public Integrity before proceeding.

Conflicting statements

Last October, Nevada US Attorney spokeswoman Collins denied the involvement of the Nevada US Attorney’s Office and the FBI in the ACORN raid and claimed that the investigation into ACORN in Nevada was not conducted as part of the Election Integrity Task Force.

“The task force was formed to facilitate coordination between agencies, but not every investigation is a ‘task force’ investigation,” Collins told The Huffington Post. “The subject investigation is being pursued by the state (SOS office), and the US Department of Justice (FBI and USAO) have not been, and are not, at the present time, involved with it.”

In the same article, Nevada Secretary of State spokesman Walsh disclosed the involvement of the US Attorney’s office and the FBI in the ACORN raid. According to Walsh, after he told the Huffington Post that federal agencies were involved, Collins contacted him and expressed displeasure and “made it abundantly clear” that he was not to speak for the Nevada US Attorney’s office in the future.

Raw Story confronted Collins about her earlier statements to the Huffington Post. In response, Collins said that the publication had misquoted both her and Mr. Walsh and had subsequently issued a correction.

Yet no correction was issued by the Huffington Post and Raw Story confirmed with both the reporter on the story, M.S. Bellows, and the managing editor of Off The Bus (Huffington Post’s special 2008 campaign section), John Tomasic, that neither Walsh nor Collins was misquoted and no correction or retraction was issued or warranted.

Bellows stood behind all statements obtained for his article, as did Bellows’ editor. In addition, Walsh contends that all comments he had made to the Huffington Post were accurately reflected.

Raw Story’s attempts to contact Nevada US Attorney Gregory Brower for clarification of Collins’ discrepancies were denied and redirected to Collins, who subsequently did not return calls.

Connection to US Attorneys scandal

Nevada US Attorney Gregory Brower, a Bush appointee, replaced Daniel Bogden, one of the US Attorneys purged in the prior administration’s Department of Justice scandal that is still under investigation by Special Prosecutor Nora Dannehy.

The US Attorneys scandal involved the firing of eight attorneys who had failed to prove their loyalty in pursuing Bush administration objectives. Various reasons for their dismissal appear to have included probing Republicans for corruption, refusing to initiate investigations into Democrats and declining to prosecute unfounded claims of “voter fraud.”

The internal Justice Department investigation completed last September by the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility clearly found that former New Mexico US Attorney David Iglesias, asked to resign on the same day as Bogden, was purged for partisan political reasons after he had set up an Election Integrity Task Force in 2006 similar to the one in Nevada last year but had failed to prosecute any cases of election fraud. The report notes that the task force targeted ACORN in New Mexico. But Iglesias found no grounds for prosecution.

As Iglesias wrote in his 2008 book, In Justice, Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration (p. 89): “After an exhaustive examination of the facts, I felt 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.”

Absent from the Inspector General report is that Bogden, an independent who claims no Party affiliation, had reportedly opened a corruption probe during his US Attorney tenure into Nevada Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons. Gibbons was alleged to have accepted payments and gifts while serving in Congress from his friend Warren Trepp, owner of Reno-based eTreppid Technologies LLC., in return for helping to secure defense contracts for Trepp’s company.

Charges were never brought against Gibbons during Brower’s tenure as US Attorney. According to Gibbons’ lawyer, Abbe Lowell, the probe ended on November 2, two days before the Democratic victory in the 2008 Presidential election, which quickly led to sweeping changes in the Department of Justice.

The day after the Nevada ACORN raid, Governor Gibbons issued the following press release.

“Our voting system is very simply the greatest in the world and is the basis of what makes this country great,” Gibbons said. “The allegation that an organization that’s main purpose is to register new voters was doing so fraudulently is very troubling. I believe that requiring a photo ID to vote is a very reasonable protection for our voting system and should be enacted as law by the 2009 Legislature.”

Gibbons' use of the ACORN raid to possibly further a political agenda is similar to other cases of alleged political prosecutions, such as the case of Mississippi lawyer Paul Minor and the use of his indictments and conviction to paint Democrats as corrupt.

Joe Rich, the former Chief of the Voting Section at the Justice Department, who spent nearly forty years at the DOJ, said the overt actions taken against Nevada ACORN strongly suggest that DOJ policy may have been violated.

“Certainly, doing a raid on an organization that is trying to register voters is terribly intimidating,” Rich said. “I mean that’s much more intimidating than interviewing voters or people from ACORN.”

Rich said he was familiar with the Oct. 16, 2008 Associated Press report of an anonymous Justice Department leak which revealed a national investigation into ACORN on allegations of systematic voter registration fraud – noting that the leak itself was against Department policy. Its timing, he added, could amount to another breach of guidelines in the Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses manual.

But he had heard little about the events in Nevada.

“I find it unusual that the federal government, given its policies, would jointly do an investigation like this, this close to an election,” Rich said. “It certainly indicates that what was going on back then was much more of an intrusion into the election than the initial reports showed.”

Brad Jacobson is a contributing investigative reporter to Raw Story.
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