Voter Fraud and US Attorneys

Voter fraud keeps coming up as a key issue in the U.S. Attorney blow-up. In today's Senate Judiciary Committee testimony on the Hill it emerged that Karl Rove was concerned about voter fraud in three districts. Two former U.S. Attorneys say they believe they were fired because they wouldn't prosecute voter fraud. Now former Justice civil rights attorneys and Democrats are accusing the White House of using the voting section of the Civil Rights Division to influence elections.

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy points to Brad Schlozman – a former top official at the Civil Rights division who one year ago was sent to Kansas City, Missouri, as the interim U.S. Attorney. Kennedy calls Schlozman "a loyal Bush supporter who was willing to use the power of federal law enforcement to benefit the Republican Party."

But Schlozman says, "In my role here and at all times in my tenure at the Department of Justice I have sought only to apply the law fairly." And he adds, "there is absolutely no political motivation to my actions."

Kennedy and others have zeroed in on steps that Schlozman's office took eight months into his tenure and five days before the election: a federal grand jury announcement of four indictments for voter fraud. Some former career civil rights attorneys at Justice say prosecuting voter fraud this close to an election is a no no since it can "chill" voter turnout. Joe Rich, a 37-year Justice civil rights attorney who left the agency, tells CBS News he was surprised that Schlozman "comes into Missouri and prosecutes voters who are poor and low income close to the election which contradicts long time policy."

Rich and others cite a book written by Craig Donsanto, head of the Election Crimes Branch at Justice. One passage reads:

"Federal prosecutors and investigators should be extremely careful to not conduct overt investigations during the pre-election period or while the election is underway."

The book goes on to say:

"It should also be kept in mind that any investigation undertaken during the final stages of a political contest may cause the investigation itself to become a campaign issue."

But Schlozman says Donsanto signed off on his office's voter fraud investigation.

It's unlikely Schlozman will be in office for long -- he's leaving his post to be replaced by John Wood, recently nominated to permanently fill the spot. The Justice Department says Wood's nomination came out of consultation with Missouri Senators. Schlozman, meanwhile, says he never assumed he would become the permanent U.S. Attorney, adding, "I didn't have any expectations."