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Justice Department lawyer accused of partisanship resigns

Jamie Rose/MCT

WASHINGTON — Former acting civil rights chief and U.S. attorney Bradley Schlozman, who was a central figure in the controversy over alleged partisan decision-making in the Bush Justice Department, has resigned, a department spokesman said Wednesday.

While acting chief of the department's civil rights division in the latter half of 2005, Schlozman allegedly drove liberal-leaning employees from the unit and hired partisans to replace them.

Later, during his one-year stint as interim U.S. attorney for Kansas City, he allegedly brought politically motivated vote-fraud indictments days before the 2006 elections.

After he was replaced as U.S. attorney by John Wood last spring, Schlozman was shifted to a senior post in the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys at Justice Department headquarters.

On Wednesday, department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse confirmed a report, first circulated by the Internet blog TPM Muckraker, that Schlozman had left that post on his own volition. He declined to elaborate.

Schlozman becomes at least the sixth department official to resign in the wake of a furor over partisanship that grew from last year's firing of nine U.S. attorneys. He couldn't be reached for comment.

McClatchy Newspapers earlier this year laid out allegations from former division employees that Schlozman was a leading player in a Republican strategy to use the Justice Department and U.S. attorneys' offices to enhance the party's election prospects. The strategy allegedly included drumming up fears of voter fraud to build support for voter-identification restrictions that would suppress the turnout of Democratic-leaning minorities.

Perhaps Schlozman's two most controversial decisions involved a Georgia voter-identification law and the Kansas City, Mo., indictments of four voter-registration workers for the liberal-leaning Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Schlozman contended that he merely backed up the division's voting rights chief in approving a Georgia law that required every voter to produce a photo ID card. A federal judge later struck down the law as unconstitutional, likening it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax.

Critics assailed the timing of the Kansas City registration fraud indictments as inconsistent with a department policy that discourages bringing indictments close to an election if the cases might influence the outcome.

Shortly after Schlozman announced the indictments, the Missouri Republican Party issued a press release trumpeting the indictments of ``Democrat-linked ACORN members.'' Schlozman denied to the Senate panel that the cases were politically motivated and said he brought the indictments before the election at the direction of Justice Department officials, but he later revised his testimony and admitted he decided the timing.

Since the controversy broke, the department has revised its election fraud policy manual to eliminate language stating that prosecutors ``must refrain'' from any conduct that might influence an election, that ``most, if not all'' such cases should be brought after the election and that indictments ``must usually involve a systematic and organized pattern of abuse.''

Gerald Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, an election watchdog group, said in a Web posting Wednesday that the policy changes are "troubling."

Hebert said that prosecutors will no longer face ``inhibitions in pursuing investigations or indictments of alleged voter fraud against individuals on the eve of an election and doing so for political purposes.''