Conyers Seeks Special Counsel in Phone Jamming Investigation

Senate Judiciary Committee Minority Leader John Conyers (D-MI) has written this letter (pdf) asking Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to appoint a special counsel in the phone jamming investigation.

Conyers wrote: "A special counsel outside of the Department is needed, however, because there are possible connections between the plot and the White House, as well as potential federal electionlaw violations stemming from state Republican Party reporting of Native American tribedonations connected with Jack Abramoff, that have yet to be examined."

Here's the basics of the phone-jamming case from Conyer's press release (received by e-mail, thus no link.)

In 2002 in New Hampshire, Governor Jeanne Shaheen (D) and U.S. Rep. John Sununu ® were running against each other in a closely-contested campaign for the U.S. Senate. It has now become clear that, in order to suppress Democratic voter turnout, Republican officials orchestrated a phone-jamming scheme for election day. The scheme involved hiring an Idaho telemarketing company, Milo Enterprises, to flood Democratic get-out-the-vote phone banks in New Hampshire with phone calls so that potential voters would not be aware of where or when to vote.

While the Department has obtained three convictions and one indictment against political operatives who were involved in the plot1, outstanding issues remain. First, it has been uncovered that New Hampshire Republican officials, and a national Republican official convicted for his role in the scheme, called the office of Ken Mehlman, then the White House Political Director, twenty-two times in two days leading up to the election.2 Mr. Mehlman has denied that his office knew of or was involved in the plot, but the Republican National Committee has avoided efforts at discovery regarding this issue, including testimony from Mr. Mehlman, in a civil suit filed by New Hampshire Democrats against the Republican Party.3 In fact, there are reports that the Justice Department itself has attempted to halt discovery in the civil suit.4

Second, the Republican National Committee, which Mr. Mehlman now heads, has paid at least $2.8 million in legal fees for one of the defendants in the Justice Department prosecution, James Tobin. It is confusing why the Republican Party would pay the fees for an official who acted illegally and allegedly without authorization. Finally, there are new indications that the scandal may be connected to another Department investigation. In the days leading up to the election, the New Hampshire State Republican Committee received donations from Rep. Tom DeLay's political action committee and two Native American tribes connected to Jack Abramoff, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and the California Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.5 The contributions from the three groups approximately added up to the $15,000 cost of the phone jamming plot.6

On a related note, Talking Points Memo has the Government's sentencing memorandum in the Tobin case. The Government is seeking an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines.

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