Dems Target GOP Phone-Jamming Scheme

Bush campaign operative James Tobin of Bangor, Maine, arrives at U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H., Dec. 6, 2005, for trial on charges of helping jam Democrats get-out-the vote phone lines in New Hampshire on Election Day 2002.
AP Photo/Jim Cole
A phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting on Election Day 2002 has moved out of the courtroom and into the political arena, with leaders from both parties trading words on GOP phone calls made to the White House during that period.

Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean sent a letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, asking him whether the White House or the national GOP authorized the scheme.

More than 897 phone calls from a telemarketing firm jammed phone lines sponsored by the state Democratic Party and a ride-to-the-polls line at the Manchester firefighters union for one to two hours. Two GOP officials were convicted of criminal charges in connection with the operation.

Mehlman, who was White House political director in 2002, responded that neither he nor anyone on his staff spoke with Republicans in New England about a scheme to jam the New Hampshire Democrats' get-out-the-vote phone lines.

The statement came after New Hampshire Democrats argued in court they were entitled to find out whether anyone in the White House or at the RNC knew about the phone-jamming.

Mehlman acknowledged that James Tobin, one of those convicted, and other local GOP officials had called Alicia Davis, the White House political operative responsible for the Northeast, in the days surrounding the election. But he said that was because "one of the most competitive" Senate races that year was in New Hampshire.

Polls had indicated the contest between Republican congressman John Sununu and Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen would be a cliffhanger. Sununu defeated Shaheen, 51 percent to 46 percent.

"As White House political director during the 2002 election cycle, my staff and I regularly communicated with competitive congressional campaigns and Republican Party organizations," Mehlman said. "To be clear, none of my conversations nor the conversations of my staff involved discussion of the phone-jamming incident."

Davis is now mid-Atlantic political director for the Republican National Committee.

State Democrats filed a motion in Hillsborough County Superior Court-North last week seeking more information about calls from Tobin, former head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

An analysis by a Democratic group, the Senate Majority Project, show he spoke with state GOP officials on the morning of Election Day 2002, shortly after they halted the phone-jamming, then called the White House Office of Political Affairs and the Republican National Committee. The records also show Tobin placing two dozen calls to the White House in a three-day period around the election.

Tobin, of Bangor, Maine, is among three people convicted on criminal charges in the phone-jamming; he has appealed. He served as President Bush's New England campaign chairman in 2004, but resigned shortly before the election after Democrats first alleged he was involved in the phone-jamming.

Republican lawyers argued Tuesday that federal prosecutors had the phone records, but did not use them during Tobin's trial and have not accused any White House or national Republican officials of wrongdoing.

They said a state judge should dismiss the Democrats' civil lawsuit alleging the Republicans violated voters' rights, arguing it has no legal basis and that it was filed shortly before the 2004 election as a "public relations" stunt to embarrass Republicans.

"Their ulterior purpose was to interfere with our electioneering actions and cast us in a negative light," lawyer Jon Shirley said of the Democrats.

Judge Philip Mangones said he would issue a decision later.

Lawyers for Democrats said they are entitled to more evidence, in light of the timing of Tobin's and other calls and because many went to a government office.

"When somebody who is in the middle of committing a felony repeatedly calls a government office when the crime is falling apart, the people of this country have a right to know whether the conversation involved the crime," Paul Twomey, a lawyer for the Democrats, said after the hearing.

The question of whether White House officials were involved is key to whether the Democrats' lawsuit should be dismissed. One law under which the Democrats sued requires them to show government involvement in harming voters' rights; the Republicans say the lawsuit has no legal basis because no government officials were involved.

Two other people have pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the phone-jamming operation: the former executive director of the state GOP and a Virginia telemarketer who hired another telemarketing firm to actually place the calls. The owner of the second firm is under indictment.