I don’t know that I’ve ever mentioned it here, but Jason Tolbert is the one Arkansas conservative/Republican from any form of media that I read consistently; the rest, I read only when Google or a reader points me in the direction of something that I should see. I will go so far as to say I enjoy reading The Tolbert Report, even if I disagree with 99% of his positions, because, unlike the rest, Tolbert makes actual arguments, argues from logic, and doesn’t regurgitate national Republican talking points.
That’s what makes his statement yesterday regarding Timmy! Griffin’s record all the more confusing. Tolbert wrote:
Dumas then regurgitates the standard drivel floating around the internet, most of which simply points to an ambitious politician and also most of which has been debunked. (emphasis added)
The Ernie Dumas piece to which Tolbert was referring was this one, and the “standard drivel” therein was:
Griffin made the group’s list of delinquent aspirants for his part in a sleazy scheme to keep blacks and other potential Democratic voters in Florida away from the polls in the 2004 presidential election when he was an operative for the Republican National Committee and for his unsavory role in the U.S. attorney scandal in 2006, which forced the resignation of seven top Justice Department officials, including the attorney general of the United States.
Tolbert says this stuff has been debunked? After the jump we’ll take a closer look at both incidents. Spoiler Alert: They haven’t been debunked.
As Dumas notes in the above-linked article, Griffin’s antics in the 2004 election did not get much in the way of airtime from Arkansas media, so let’s begin at the beginning.
Voter caging is the act of getting voters bumped from voter rolls if they were unable to sign for registered mail marked “do not forward” and sent to addresses where they were not present (including, say, those absent because they are in college or in the military). The returned letters are then used as “proof” to prevent the voters from obtaining a ballot at their respective polling places or to prevent absentee voters ballots from being counted. While there is nothing per se illegal about this act, it is illegal under the National Voting Rights Act of 1993.
Which brings us to Griffin.
In 2004, when Timmy! was a Karl Rove sycophant research director for the RNC, he sent out an email to other Republicans, the subject line of which read simply “Caging,” and attached to which were excel spreadsheets full of voters’ names and addresses. How do we know this? Because Timmy! sent them to addresses ending in “@georgewbush.org,” rather than “@georgewbush.com.” GeorgeWBush.org was a parody site, and the owner forwarded the emails to BBC Television Newsnight, where Greg Palast broke the story.
Here is one of the emails (click to enlarge):
Here’s where it gets sticky (and theoretically criminal): if you plot the addresses in the attached Excel spreadsheet, you quickly realize that there’s a racial component involved. As TPM explained (emphasis added):
The result? Our comparative analysis of the spreadsheet with Duval County voter rolls shows that most names were of African-Americans. (For more on the analysis, see below.) Such a finding, voting rights experts told me, strengthened allegations that Griffin, working for the Republican National Committee, was involved in an effort to target African-American voters. “It is difficult to explain other than an effort to target Democrats and by extension, minority voters,” Toby Moore, a former political geographer with the Justice Department, said.
Michael McDonald, an Associate Professor at George Mason University and an expert on elections statistics, said that the chance that the list is randomly so different from the population is less than 1 in 10,000. It is illegal to target voters based on their race under the Voting Rights Act. Griffin resigned earlier this month as the U.S. attorney for Little Rock after a six-month stint.
Griffin’s defense against these allegations falsely claimed that there was “not even a scintilla” of proof, did not explain the emails bearing his name, and basically attempted to attack the message by attacking the messenger.
Astute readers will note that Griffin claimed not to even know what “caging” meant, despite the fact that he sent emails with “Caging” as the subject and “caging-1.exl” as an attachment. Weird, that. I generally don’t title emails and Excel files with words that I don’t know the meaning of, but my methods may vary.
As mentioned above, this story didn’t get a lot of play in Arkansas for whatever reason. That said, I would not go so far as to claim that it was “debunked.” Timmy! never explained the emails, nor did he even claim they were forgeries or were sent by someone other than him, and he did not offer an explanation for the racial bias inherent in the caging lists. All he did was offer a ridiculous and implausible denial in which he cast himself as the martyr.
U.S. Attorney Scandal
In Timmy!’s denial, he mentioned that the caging allegations did not come to light until he “became embroiled in the U.S. Attorney thing.” That “thing,” as he puts it, was the sudden firing of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Bud Cummins, and his replacement with Timmy! Griffin as “interim” U.S. Attorney. (Similar firings and replacements in other states occurred around the same time, which is what the whole thing noteworthy.) These new appointments came after the USA PATRIOT Act was re-authorized with changes to the appointment process — the 120-day limit on “interim” U.S. Attorneys was removed and was replaced with a provision that would have let Griffin remain in the post for the remainder of President Bush’s tenure without ever being confirmed by the Senate — and this timing was no coincidence. Even Timmy! knew that he was appointed in this way so as to avoid confirmation hearings, according to Bud Cummins.
Alberto Gonzales and others at the Justice Department have been desperately claiming for months that they’d never intended to circumvent the Senate in the confirmation of U.S. attorneys.
But apparently Timothy Griffin, the former aide to Karl Rove who was appointed as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock, didn’t know it was so taboo.
In written response to questions from Congress made public today, Griffin’s predecessor Bud Cummins says that Griffin had been telling a number of people in Arkansas that he would remain as the U.S. attorney there for the remainder of Bush’s term whether he was confirmed by the Senate or not. An obscure provision in the Patriot Act reauthorization bill, of course, had made just such a thing possible.
Cummins writes of a conversation he had with Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, in late January, the day after Alberto Gonzales had testified to the Senate. Gonzales had said, among other things, that the Justice Department would seek a presidential nomination for the U.S. attorneys in every district. Cummins had called Elston to contest this idea, because “it appeared to [him] that there was no intention to put Tim Griffin through a nomination.” Elston disagreed…
Elston rejected that notion and assured me that every replacement would have to be confirmed by the Senate. I told him if that was the case, then he had better gag Tim Griffin because Griffin was telling many people, including me, that officials in Washington had assured him he could stay in as USA pursuant to an interim appointment whether he was ever nominated or not. Elston denied knowing anything about anyone’s intention to circumvent Senate confirmation in Griffin’s case. He said that might have been the White House’s plan, but they “never read DOJ into that plan” and DOJ would never go along with it. This indicated to me that my removal had been dictated entirely by the White House. He said Griffin would be confirmed or have to resign. I remember that part of the conversation well because I then said to Elston that it looked to me that if Tim Griffin couldn’t get confirmed and had to then resign, then I would have resigned for nothing, and to that, after a brief pause Elston replied, “yes, that’s right.”
Remember that emails show that Kyle Sampson didn’t want Bud Cummins testifying to Congress because he worried that Cummins would testify that Griffin had been blabbing about the Patriot Act provision.
Griffin took over the post from Cummins in December 2006, though the caging-related whispers continued. Senator Pryor said that he was concerned with how Griffin was appointed sans confirmation, as it was nothing more than a ploy to avoid having Griffin’s legal and political background thoroughly vetted. Other blurbs about the incident, especially as it related to the attorney firings, continued to bubble up from time to time thereafter. However, in May 2007, the wheels really began to come off for Timmy!. First, Monica Goodling, who had worked alongside Griffin at the RNC before taking a position at the Attorney General’s office, testified before the House Judiciary Committee that Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty had not been 100% accurate in his testimony to that same committee. Goodling stated:
Despite my and others’ best efforts, [Deputy Attorney General, Paul McNulty]’s public testimony was incomplete or inaccurate in a number of respects. As explained in more detail in my written remarks, I believe that the Deputy was not fully candid about his knowledge of White House involvement in the replacement decision, failed to disclose that he had some knowledge of the White House’s interest in selecting Tim Griffin as Interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, inaccurately described the Department’s internal assessment of the Parsky Commission, and failed to disclose that he had some knowledge of allegations that Tim Griffin had been involved in vote “caging” during his work on the President’s 2004 campaign.
I don’t … I believe that Mr. Griffin doesn’t believe that he, that he did anything wrong there and there, there actually is a very good reason for it, for a very good explanation.
So, in sum, Goodling said that Griffin had possibly been involved in vote caging, that she thought Griffin thought that his actions were legal, and that Dep. A.G. McNulty both knew and misrepresented to the House committee about Griffin’s actions. This led John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to request the aforementioned caging emails from the BBC as part of the Committee’s investigation.
Less than 24 hours after learning of Conyers’s request, Griffin announced that he was resigning as interim U.S. Attorney, noting that going through confirmation would “be like volunteering to stand in front of a firing squad in the middle of a three-ring circus”. Maybe it’s just me, but those sound like the words of someone who knows that some questionable stuff would come out during his confirmation. But I digress.
Anyway, despite ongoing looks into caging as well as who knew what, and when, vis-a-vis Karl Rove and any voter caging plans, little has ultimately been done about the firings. Thus far, Griffin’s quick resignation has managed to save him from the scrutiny he so clearly hoped to avoid. Yet, again, I don’t know how anyone can say that allegations against Griffin and his role in the U.S. Attorney scandal have been “debunked.” Because, as Donald Rumsfeld told us in the run-up to an unnecessary war, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”