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Monday, April 17, 2006

How far will the Republicans go this November to retain power? Here's a clue
Posted by Jill | 6:07 AM
How anyone can still believe that any election involving the Republican Party isn't going to be fraught with chicanery is beyond me. If the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, with their "broken" DRE voting machines in which smartcards were replaced mid-day, voters told that their polling place was closed, minority voters waiting 10 hours to vote only to be told that the election was over, and other forms of intimidation, thuggery, and ineptitude, didn't convince people, perhaps the phone-jamming cromes of the Republicans in New Hampshire will.

Adam Cohen draws the parallels with Watergate:

In 2002, there was a hard-fought Senate race between Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat, and John Sununu, the Republican. On Election Day, Democratic workers arrived at five get-out-the-vote offices to find their phone lines jammed. It turned out that the jamming was being done by an Idaho telemarketing firm that was being paid by a Virginia consulting group. The fee for the jamming, reportedly $15,600, was paid by New Hampshire Republicans.

The executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party and the president of the Virginia consulting group pleaded guilty for their part in the scheme. James Tobin, who was the New England political director for the Republican National Committee, went to trial and was convicted of telephone harassment last December.

Now, Jack Abramoff and his Indian tribe clients have joined the cast of characters, and some records of phone calls to the White House have turned up, though the significance of both of these revelations is hotly disputed. The evidence that the phone-jamming scandal goes higher than Mr. Tobin remains scant. But the watchdogs are right about this: the news media, prosecutors and the general public should demand more information about what happened.

The parallels drawn with Watergate are a good place to start:

1. The return of the "second-rate burglary." The New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal is being dismissed as small-time, state-level misconduct, but it occurred at a critical moment in a tough election.

In November 2002, Republicans were intent on winning a Senate majority so they would control the White House and both houses of Congress. They saw the Sununu-Shaheen race as pivotal. On Election Day morning, the phone lines were jammed at the Democratic offices and at a get-out-the-vote operation run by a firefighters' union. The police were called, and the lines were eventually freed up. The election wasn't as close as expected. Mr. Sununu won, and Republicans retook the Senate.

2. The return of the high-priced lawyer. Aficionados of the Watergate connection like to point out that one of the first clues that the Watergate burglars were not ordinary small-time crooks was the presence of a slick lawyer in an expensive suit at their first court appearance. In the New Hampshire case, Mr. Tobin was represented by Williams & Connolly, a pre-eminent white-collar criminal law firm. The legal bills, which published estimates have put at more than $2.5 million, were paid by the Republican National Committee.


3. The return of "follow the money." (As if it ever left.) New Hampshire Democrats pored over the filings of the New Hampshire Republican Party and found three contributions for $5,000 each, all shortly before the election. One was from Americans for a Republican Majority, Tom DeLay's political action committee. The other two were from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, tribes that were clients of Jack Abramoff. Those checks add up almost exactly to the cost of the phone jamming.

4. Does anybody get to ask: "What did they know, and when did they know it?" Democrats would, of course, like to connect the jamming to the White House, and this month they found a possible link. The Senate Majority Project, a pro-Democratic campaign group, examined the phone records that came out in Mr. Tobin's case and found that he made dozens of calls to the White House's office of political affairs right when he was executing the phone-jamming scheme. Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman who was the White House political director at the time, insists that close contact of this kind between political operatives is the norm on Election Day, and that none of the calls mentioned the jamming.

Of course Republicans will call what happened "simply tough campaigning", as they do with ALL of their thuggish tactics. But how much of a schmuck do you have to be to believe that if the White House political director received calls while this was going on, NONE of the conversations even MENTIONED what was going on?

This White House has been able to get away with pleading ignorance for far too long: We didn't know what Abramoff was doing. We didn't know that the intelligence was bad. We didn't know what was going on in New Hampshire. We didn't know. No one told us. We were kept in the dark.

This Republican party wants to have it both ways -- they want to be this supremely well-oiled, highly-disciplined machine, but when it's tame to be accountable, they want to appear as disorganized and inept as, well, as the Democrats.

That shouldn't be allowed to fly. We have an important midterm election coming up this November, and I for one anticipate more of the kinds of tactics that have worked for Republicans since 2000, such as the South Caroline Senate race in 2002, when Sen. Max Cleland, who had a 12-point lead going into Election Day, lost by six points to chickenhawk Saxby Chambliss -- just one of many oddities of the LAST midterm election to be run by the Bush Junta.
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