by Greg Palast
for the Daily Kos
Memorial Day 2007
Saturday morning, when most sensible folks were unfurling flags or taking their setters and children for a Memorial Day frisbee toss on the beach, someone using the nom d’puter of “DRATIONAL” was in his big sister’s bedroom furiously typing, “Greg Palast is Dangerous!” on her iMac.
Drat is quite right: I am dangerous, though not for the reasons in Drat’s screed.
So while the twins are off with the dog, let me respond between bites of this bagel, beginning with this immutable distinction:
There’s two kinds of illiterates in this world: those who can’t read, for whom I’m entirely sympathetic — and those who CAN read but WON’T, for whom I have no sympathy whatsoever.
Drat is of the latter. He (she/them/it?) has mounted a full-scale assault on the seven-year-long effort of my BBC and Guardian team investigating systematic suppression of the minority vote by the Republican Party and our latest revelation: ‘caging voters.’ His “evidence” is 100% limited to snippets of my conversations on talk radio or phone interviews, second-hand reports on websites and some musings of one of my good researchers, Zach Roberts, posted to this site.
Nowhere does he suggest he’s bothered reading the one hundred-page description of the attack on voters, including caging, in the new edition of Armed Madhouse. Shame that. Law professor Robert F. Kennedy Jr., using the book as a source, verified by his own corroborative work, found the matter therein convincing enough to call for putting Rove’s right hand man, Tim Griffin, “in prison, not in office.”
Picking up a book won’t hurt you, Mr. Drat, at least until Patriot Act IV goes into effect.
Drat also fails to consult the obvious and original source of the
BBC report: the BBC. On the website is an elucidating exchange between the Republican Party and BBC producer, Meirion Jones — who placed his substantial reputation, and that of the British Broadcasting Corporation, on the line in the defense of our ‘caging’ story based on his complete and close-up knowledge of the facts.
As a former statistician, I’m a bit disconcerted to make this back of the envelope calculation: about ten times as many people will read the posting of Drat written in his jammies one night as have read Armed Madhouse. The book, unlike the blogette, is based on the work of many diligent souls over three years on three continents.
Such is the world. I won’t complain. But the speed of slanders is so fleet, and the work of our investigation so vital, I want to explain our methods in summary, not as a replacement for reading the book, but as a supplementary guide to our team’s work and professional process.
The prime criticism: Drat cannot comprehend how, from the one email and “caging” list shown on my website, we can conclude their was a massive, illegal GOP conspiracy to wipe out the votes of hundreds of thousands of legal, minority voters.
Answer: you can’t. We didn’t. Sorry, Mr. Drat, but an investigation of this type requires more than a desultory evening of noodling on the ‘Net.
When, just after midnight on October 8, 2004, researcher Oliver Shykles sent me the first ‘caging’ memo passed to us from John Wooden, I thought the prankster was pulling our leg, or the emails and lists were just the usual campaign nonsense and blather. Take a look at the confidential Griffin memo, “Subject: caging,” on page 207 of the book. He doesn’t say much, Mr. Griffin, except, “Total as of today is 1834” with the list attached. Names and addresses of voters. Nothing more.
Mr. Drat: that’s not where our investigation ends, but where it BEGINS.
A producer from ’60 Minutes’ had recently come to our office and looked at similar voter lists and said, “My god, it would take you HUNDREDS OF HOURS and you’d have to make HUNDREDS OF CALLS to figure out what this is.” I asked our chief investigator Ms. von Eckardt when she’d last slept. “Sunday.” It was Tuesday.
She began the calling of the ‘caged’ — by now reaching over 50,000 in Florida alone — from the missives we received, while investigators Shykles and Pascarella enlisted the work of volunteers and experts in mapping and analyzing the list against the ‘felon’ purge lists and other data we had, including physical visits to the addresses.
The list was looking very dark indeed, Black precincts, black voters, most with a peculiarity: voters unlikely to live at their home addresses. On a couple of lists (of more than 50), were soldiers including serviceman Randy Prausa. Prausa’s wife, reached by phone, admitted he did not live as his voting registration address: he’d been shipped overseas.
Hmm. We went to the experts, including Ion Sancho, the dean of Florida elections supervisors, and voting rights lawyer Ralph Neas among others. “It could only be a challenge list,” Sancho told us, and by the racial bent of it, “A potential violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said Neas. A felony crime.
As the evidence mounted, BBC authorized us to ask about the emails from the best source: their author, Mr. Griffin, right hand man to Karl Rove. I intended to ask, “Lose something, Mr. Griffin?”
So with our crew from London, we set off to Washington — and were told to scram by the Rove man. We also flew to Tallahassee to confront one of the recipients, the Chairman of the state’s Bush-Cheney campaign. We were blocked at the doorway on our scheduled interview by a duo of PR flaks. They gave us a menu of contradictory answers. The lists were potential donors, one said. Oh, OK. But what about this: the ones registered at the homeless shelter? That failed, we were told the lists were just clerical stuff: “These are newly registered voters we mailed to, where the letter came back — bad addresses.”
Wait. Cleaning up the junk-mail list required confidential missives between Rove’s top man and the chairmen of the state campaigns? I suggested these were, in fact, challenge lists.
The flack-catcher — you have to see her photo holding the lists at page 203 of the book — then said something that combined brilliance and bullshit in two phrases: “This is not a challenge list. That’s not what it’s SET UP to do.”
Her words were crafty. If the lists were USED for challenges (and she admitted they would do that), that’s legal. But if the lists were compiled FOR THE PURPOSE OF targeting these voters, mostly African-American, that’s a crime. A big-time crime.
And she knew it. And most important, Tim Griffin knew it. In fact, the emails show he directed it. And where is Mr. Griffin today? US Attorney for Arkansas, replacement for one of the prosecutors fired six months ago.
Did Rove know that Griffin knew? This was Rove’s right hand man; the campaign was under Rove’s guidance; the caging op cost millions and involved the state chairmen and top planners of the campaign. I think a grand jury should ask; or at least a Congressional Committee. That Griffin knew was grim enough; criminal enough.
And that’s what Monica Goodling dumped before the House Judiciary Committee this past week. She said her superiors lied about their knowledge of Griffin’s knowledge of “caging voters.” She said that only after taking the Fifth and obtaining a grant of immunity.
Goodling didn’t need to take the Fifth to admit she’d looked at someone’s party registration before choosing them for a Justice Department post. But she knew that “caging voters,” and her crew’s knowledge of it and Griffin’s role, required immunity if she hoped to stay out of the pokey.
Because there’s more. Emails that Griffin and Goodling did cough up to the committee tighten the noose around their own necks.
It is both much fun and grandly ironic that one of the self-incriminating emails is Griffin’s complaint to Goodling about that “British reporter … Greg Palast,” including two dated February 5 of this year. One includes a link to an excerpt from Armed Madhouse and a PDF of a blog based on it. (Well, at least someone’s reading the book.)
In this email and others, Griffin pulls the pin out of the grenade — and swallows it. Rather than continue the party line that the ‘caging’ lists were not created to challenge voters, he says, “The real story is this: There were thousands of reported illegal/fake voter registrations around the country, so some of the Republican State Parties mailed letters welcoming new voters to the newly registered voters. … The Republican State Parties ultimately wanted to show that thousands of fraudulent registrations had been completed.”
Uh, oh. Griffin’s now admitted the costly mailings were part of a scheme to hunt down “fraudulent” voters. That conflicts with the official version told us on camera and mailed to BBC TV (posted on the network’s website).
Further, in an August email exchange between Goodling and Gonzales Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson, Goodling strategizes about how to get around a press report that, “…in the Senate confirmation process, [Griffin is] likely to endure some questioning about his role in massive Republican projects in Florida and elsewhere by which Republicans challenged tens of thousands of absentee votes. Coincidentally, many of those challenged votes were concentrated in black precincts.”
“Coincidentally,” my arse. Only 13% of Florida’s registered voters are African-American.
Well, that’s being picky. The key thing is that Griffin’s moaning email of February 5 combined with the others shows that Griffin knew, indeed directed, the ‘caging’ operation; that it was aimed at challenging voters who, disproportionately, are Black.
I have no doubt that when Goodling showed these incredibly ill-considered emails to her lawyer, he said, “Monica, looks like you’re taking the Fifth.”
And note: Griffin’s sending this email to Goodling while he’s a sitting US prosecutor. How dumb can you get? This dumb: He adds, “The Republican State Parties wanted to show that thousands of fraudulent voter registrations had been completed. They ultimately did.”
Oh, no they didn’t. And that brings us full circle: to the prosecutor firings. None of the honest US Attorneys found a single “fraudulent voter” in the hundreds of thousands that were challenged as a result of ‘caging.’ US Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias went on a wild goose chase through 150 cases until the FBI told him to stop wasting their time. He brought no charges — and got the axe from Goodling, Griffin and Rove. Bud Cummins too: not one “fraudulent voter” charged in Arkansas. He also got the heave-ho — and Griffin stepped in himself to take over the hunt for Black voters.
I am writing this on Memorial Day, looking at a list of soldiers on Griffin’s caging list. ‘Coincidentally’ loaded with African-Americans. Coincidentally. Mission Accomplished, Mr. President.
And now back to ‘Drat.’ Karl Rove’s cousin Denny the Rat? I don’t know. I don’t care. He wants all the emails. Sure. There’s several dozen that say, “Caging list” with over 50,000 names. Then what, Mr. Drat? You’ll have to get out of your PJs and do what we did: challenge the Bush-Cheney campaign directly, make hundreds of calls, do a demographic analysis with the experts, endure vicious attacks by the Rove-bots, dismissal by the US press and ignorance of Democratic politicians.
I went through criticisms like Drats when I had the list of so-called “felons” purged from the voter rolls by Katherine Harris in 2000. The same damn griping came from Republican trogs and Internet poseurs: we want the whole list, all your raw data; how do you know these are innocent voters etc. Yes, I made mistakes. My initial investigation disclosed my team’s report that “15%” of the 56,000 so-called felons were innocent. I was wrong. After People for the American Way filed a suit based on our discovery, the state’s contractor, ChoicePoint, admitted it had no solid evidence on 97% of the accused, 97,000 citizens in total. And the state Attorney General told me that there were, out of the thousands disenfranchised, maybe SIX illegal voters. In the end, he charged none.
But Griffin is now in position to bring charges against the voters that Cummins found innocent.
Will that happen? Indeed, the ‘caging’ game of 2004, unchecked, looks like practice for 2008. The voters challenged, ‘coincidentally’ Black, remain subject to challenge today and for next year’s election.
Why haven’t I turned over the evidence to Congressional committees? Who said they’d accept it? Bobby Kennedy’s tried to get their attention. The Congressional White Caucus is pointedly uninterested. I’m told, “Griffin’s just an interim appointment.”
Yes, “interim” through the 2008 election.
Well, as a journalist, it’s not my job to save the Democratic Party from itself.
It is not true, as Mr./Ms. Drat says, that I’ve accused the Democrats of wanting to use Rove’s caging tactics. Democrats have not run a mass challenge operation since the Jim Crow era. However, the party does act like an abused spouse, a group of enablers who evidence symptoms of “beaten party syndrome.”
Nothing I can do about that.
My conversation with the Drats of this world must end here. If you want to debate me, first read my book. If you want to criticize my methods, make sure your method includes some on-the-ground investigative work.
Otherwise, let me spend my one weekend off this month with my kids before I fly off to Washington, Michigan and London where, for BBC, I’ll be meeting with the Justice Department, Chairman Conyers and others — on an investigation even more important than ‘caging,’ persecuted prosecutors, or anything Mr. Drat can imagine … something, Mr. Drat that makes me very dangerous indeed to this regime.
Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestseller, the newly expanded edition of, “Armed Madhouse: from Baghdad to New Orleans — Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild.” Www.GregPalast.com