Thanks to fine print in the renewed USA Patriot Act, 35-year-old Bradley Schlozman, the man presiding over the partisan reshaping of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, was the first federal prosecutor installed without Senate confirmation. He arrived in Missouri eight months before the 2006 election, with one of the closest Senate races in the country on the line.
His timing was remarkable.
Schlozman spent some uncomfortable hours Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, defending the curious use of his prosecutorial privilege. Seems that scant weeks after a few renegade workers for the nonpartisan community organizing group ACORN submitted fake voter registration forms, Schlozman rushed through four federal indictments, even getting one of the names wrong in the hurry. The indictments were announced five days before the election.
Schlozman’s handiwork fed a predictable partisan flurry. His press statement cited ACORN, which was registering voters in Missouri’s poor and minority communities, and announced a vague national investigation that was “very much ongoing.” Local partisans took up the call, attempting to tie the Senate campaign of Democrat Claire McCaskill to the alleged criminal activity. And the Wall Street Journal editorial page took its outrage over ACORN national.
Schlozman knew better.
Specifically, he knew that more experienced prosecutors had long ago set Justice Department policy, forbidding election-eve charges for exactly this reason. As the department’s reference guide explains: “It should…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.” And therefore “most, if not all, investigation of an alleged election crime must await the end of an election to which the allegation relates.”
That last sentence is underlined in the guide. And if investigations are prohibited–with an underline–you’d better believe that high-profile election-eve indictments are off-limits.
In yesterday’s hearing, Schlozman claimed that the policy didn’t apply, offering a tired and conclusively debunked excuse.
More crippling, however, is Schlozman’s own demonstration in Tuesday’s hearing that he was familiar with the utility of pre-election restraint when it suited him. Witness his explanation of why, without his say-so, federal civil rights attorneys could not investigate disenfranchisement of Native Americans through restrictive ID laws in October 2004: “Well, any time we’re dealing in a pre-election period and any time the Civil Rights Division is going to be going in…. I mean, those things make the newspaper, it gets the attention. And we wanted to make sure that we were not going off half-cocked in any jurisdiction.”