WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Thursday said he wants to question Justice Department officials who were involved in investigating an Election Day dirty trick in New Hampshire.
In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said he wants to determine whether the department stalled an indictment of James Tobin, a northeast regional coordinator for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, until after the 2004 election "to minimize the political impact . . . on Republican electoral interests."
Conyers cited a McClatchy report on Wednesday that said the department delayed indicting Tobin for his role in a 2002 telephone-jamming scheme to disrupt Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in a tight U.S. Senate race. Tobin was later convicted, but his lawyers won an appeal granting him a new trial, which is pending.
Conyers asked then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last year to appoint a special prosecutor to determine whether higher-ups in the GOP were involved in the phone-jamming scheme. In October, he and three chairmen of Judiciary subcommittees asked Mukasey for details of the department's investigation.
Thursday's letter noted that Tobin would have remained in his post through the entire election cycle if the internet journalism site Talking Points Memo hadn't exposed his role "in this serious Election-Day misconduct" a couple of week before the election.
Conyers, noting that the department has yet to respond to his October letter, requested the names of all present and former Justice Department personnel who had input in the phone-jamming inquiry and all related documents so the committee can conduct "productive interviews" with those involved.
Meantime, a Senate impasse over the nomination of Hans von Spakovsky, accused by Democrats of practicing partisan politics as a Justice Department voting rights lawyer, threatened to cripple the Federal Election Commission heading into a presidential election year. Republicans refused to agree to Democrats' demands for a separate vote on von Spakovsky, insisting that his nomination be considered only with those of three other nominees.
The Senate's inaction means that recess appointments for three of the nominees, including von Spakovsky, will expire at year's end. Unless some of those commissioners choose to work without pay, the six-member commission will be left with only two members, Republican holdover David Mason and Democrat Ellen Weintraub.