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Profile: Mickey Barnett
Mickey Barnett was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Bush presidential campaign demands, and receives, a manual recount in New Mexico. Democrat Al Gore had an early, if narrow, lead in the state during the November 7 returns, but a programming error was found that gave Bush a slim lead. New Mexico’s five electoral votes were withdrawn from the Gore column and the state was classified as “too close to call” (see November 10, 2000). Bush picks up 125 votes on the recount of Roosevelt County. Although the Bush campaign and its Republican allies staunchly oppose manual recounts in Florida (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000, November 8, 2000, November 9, 2000, November 9, 2000, 11:35 p.m. November 9, 2000, November 11, 2000, November 11-13, 2000, and November 12, 2000), GOP lawyer and national committeeman Mickey Barnett says in a New Mexico court filing that there is, “of course, no other way to determine the accuracy of this apparent discrepancy, or machine malfunction, other than the board reviewing the votes by hand.” Barnett secures a recount of Roosevelt County’s “undervotes” (ballots that supposedly recorded no preference for president), noting that the county recorded 10 percent of its voters as registering no preference. Barnett and the Bush campaign do not ask for manual recounts of much larger undervotes in three largely Democratic counties. In 2010, columnist Eric Alterman will write: “The only conceivable reason why the GOP cared enough about New Mexico’s five electoral votes as late as December 1 was the fear that if it carried Florida by legislative fiat—in defiance of the courts (see 11:45 a.m. November 30, 2000)—it might lose individual electors in other states. New Mexico would have been a cushion against such defections.” Towards the end of the recounts, another error is found that gives Gore a 500-vote advantage. Gore receives New Mexico’s electoral votes. The final tally: 286,783 votes for Gore and 286,417 for Bush, with a difference in favor of Gore of 366 votes. [Leip, 2000; CNN, 11/13/2000; US Constitution (.net), 2010; Center for American Progress, 12/9/2010]
The US Attorney’s Office (USAO) of New Mexico, headed by David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001), announces the formation of a state and federal task force to address the issue of voter fraud in the state. Iglesias forms the task force in part because of complaints by Republican lawmakers and state party officials about what they term “rampant” voter fraud in the state that is, they say, affecting elections (see August 17, 2004), and as a response to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s stated goal to ramp up voter fraud investigations throughout the nation. “It appears that mischief is afoot and questions are lurking in the shadows,” Iglesias tells local reporters.
'Suspicious' Registration Forms - According to Nancy Scott-Finan of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Affairs, Iglesias opens the task force after hearing from Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrara, a Democrat, who wanted to discuss some 3,000 “suspicious resignations” with him. He has also received a letter from Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, a Republican, about “thousands” of “questionable” voter registrations—the same 3,000 “suspect” forms—turned in by voter-outreach groups working primarily on behalf of Democrats. (Iglesias was invited to take part in what New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh called “the [New Mexico Republican P]arty’s voter fraud working group” a month ago, but declined. Weh forwarded the invitation to a number of prominent New Mexico Republicans, including Senator Pete Domenici, Representative Heather Wilson—see August 17, 2004—and others. Domenici’s chief of staff Steve Bell called the issue a “critical matter.” Iglesias did not join the group, and no evidence exists that the group was actually formed.) Iglesias wants to avoid the perception of partisanship in his task force, so aside from Republicans on his task force, he asks Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron (D-NM) to join; she assigns a member of her office to serve in the organization. Officials from the New Mexico Department of Public Safety (the state’s law enforcement agency), the US Veteran’s Administration Inspector General’s Office, the FBI, and the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section (PIN) also agree to participate. Two days after the announcement, Iglesias announces that a voter fraud hotline for the task force has been activated, and says that all allegations of fraud will be thoroughly investigated. Rumaldo Armijo, Iglesias’s executive assistant, and two other Assistant US Attorneys are assigned to the task force.
New Mexico Republicans Critical of Task Force - However, some New Mexico Republicans complain that the task force’s bipartisanship renders it useless. Mickey Barnett, a powerful state Republican, writes an email to Iglesias informing him that “[m]ost of us think a task force is a joke and unlikely to make any citizen believe our elections and voter registrations are honest.” New Mexico attorney Patrick Rogers, another prominent state Republican, says of the State Department representative that he has “includ[ed] the target on the task force.” White, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in New Mexico who will later tell reporters he was brought on by the Bush-Cheney campaign in order to help win Bernalillo County, later says he would have preferred the USAO to investigate and prosecute cases without the involvement of state agencies, and he believed Iglesias’s concerns about bipartisanship to be misguided. Vigil-Giron will also question the task force, saying: “This is just an attempt to let people know that Big Brother is watching. It may well be aimed at trying to keep people away from the polls.” Iglesias meets with the task force members several times before the November 2 elections, and reminds them that Justice Department policy forbids his office from indicting people on voter fraud charges before upcoming elections, in order to avoid the perception that the indictments are being filed to impact the elections.
Almost All Complaints Minor, No Criminal Cases Developed - Almost all of the complaints received by the task force are quite minor—complaints of yard signs being stolen, harassing phone calls, and non-criminal registration issues. These complaints are forwarded to local election officials. Several more serious complaints, including the complaints from Republican lawmakers and state officials, are forwarded to either the FBI or the Department of Public Safety. Iglesias will say that when he began the task force, he thought it would develop cases worth prosecuting, but after months of work, he found that it was unable to develop a single criminal case. The task force will stop meeting after the November elections and will conclude its efforts in January 2005, but will not officially disband until 2006, after the FBI completes the last of its investigations. The Justice Department will recognize Iglesias’s task force as an example to other offices as to how voter fraud investigations should be handled, and Iglesias will give an address to a department-sponsored symposium on voter integrity (see October 2005). [Washington Post, 9/20/2004; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Atlas, 2010, pp. 213-216] On September 30, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) calls the Justice Department to ask about Iglesias’s task force. He speaks with Assistant Attorney General William Moschella. He says he is concerned about voter intimidation, and says he has heard no allegations of widespread voter fraud. He also says the local FBI told him the task force “was on thin ice,” apparently meaning that it is not finding anything of consequence. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ]
Iglesias Refused 'Show Trials,' Says Reporter - Investigative reporter Greg Palast will say of Iglesias’s voter fraud task force: “That’s where Iglesias drew the line in the sand. He said a press conference is one thing, which he probably shouldn’t have done, but literally handcuffing innocent voters for show trials—and then, of course, then you drop the case later—that is one thing he absolutely was not going to do.” [Democracy Now!, 5/14/2007]
Entity Tags: Jeff Bingaman, William E. Moschella, Heather A. Wilson, David C. Iglesias, Darren White, Allen Weh, US Department of Justice, Greg Palast, Steve Bell, Rebecca Vigil-Giron, Nancy Scott-Finan, Mickey Barnett, Mary Herrara, New Mexico Republican Party, Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, John Ashcroft, Rumaldo Armijo, Patrick Rogers
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico arranges for lawyer Patrick Rogers, a prominent Republican in the state, to meet with an FBI supervisory special agent assigned to work with Iglesias’s voter fraud task force (see September 7 - October 6, 2004).
Citation of 'Fraudulent' Registration - Rogers complains that large number of voter registration forms in the state are fraudulent and must be investigated. He cites the case of 13-year-old Kevin Stout, who received a voter registration card in the mail and apparently completed it. Police soon discovered that the card was the result of a forged voter registration form apparently filled out by Christine Gonzales, a former canvasser for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) who was being paid on a per-registration basis; that organization had identified Gonzales three months earlier, fired her, and reported her to the authorities. (Stout’s father is Republican activist Glen Stout, who contacted New Mexico Republicans before contacting law enforcement.) A federal judge refused Republican efforts to change the state registration laws in response to the ACORN issue, and as a result hundreds of presumably Democratic voters registered by ACORN retained their registrations. New Mexico Republicans are furious. Citing the Stout case, state Representative Joe Thompson (R-NM), who was one of the Republicans contacted by Glen Stout, displays Kevin Stout’s registration form to reporters and proclaims, “We have proof” of massive and systematic voter fraud in New Mexico. He announces a lawsuit he and Glen Stout will file against New Mexico’s Democratic Secretary of State, Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Rogers brings the Stout issue to Iglesias’s attention. Rogers’s colleague, lawyer and Republican activist Mickey Barnett, will later say that he and other Republicans hired a private investigator to identify and locate Gonzales, but the private investigator failed to find her.
Republicans Demand More Information on Voters before Elections - Four days later, Rogers tells Iglesias and Rumaldo Armijo, Iglesias’s executive assistant, in an email that because New Mexico Democrats are casting doubt on the validity of his voter-fraud claims, he wants to “dig up all past info” and asks if there is “any easy way to access the public info related to voter fraud from the [US Attorney’s Office] (public) files? Asap? Before Nov 2?” Rogers is referring to the date of the upcoming state and federal elections. (Barnett also sends emails demanding that Iglesias investigate the canvasser, whose identity he does not know.) Iglesias promises to look into Rogers’s request and “let you know what is publicly available.” Iglesias soon finds a case prosecuted in the early 1990s and provides Rogers with the public information about that case.
No Prosecutable Cases; Republicans Outraged - The FBI will later identify and interview Gonzales. Both Iglesias’s office and the Justice Department will find that there is insufficient evidence of criminal behavior in the matter to warrant her prosecution. Iglesias will later say that this case is the strongest one to come out of the entire task force’s proceedings, and even it does not meet the standard for criminal prosecution. New Mexico Republicans are frustrated, having intended to use the Gonzales case to further the Thompson/Stout lawsuit. Barnett complains that Iglesias “appoint[ed] a task force to investigate voter fraud instead of bringing charges against suspects.” Matt Henderson, ACORN’s lead organizer for New Mexico, tells reporters that the lawsuit is “no different from what was going on in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. This is about a set of people trying to stop another set of people from voting.” [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Atlas, 2010, pp. 214-216]
Allegations Collapse under Scrutiny - Even before Iglesias begins his investigation, the allegations of voter fraud had begun to unravel. Several voters admitted accidentally filling out two registration forms. A large majority of the 3,000 “suspect” forms, upon examination, actually showed legitimate attempts by citizens to register to vote. On September 7, a district judge dismissed the suit against Vigil-Giron. ACORN member Yolanda Pena told the press of attempts to make false claims of voter fraud, and showed the press a copy of Kevin Stout’s registration card—it appeared to have been filled out by a child, not an ACORN worker, and seemed to have been done as a prank and not as an attempt to fraudulently register a young boy. “Instead of taking responsibility for this boy’s prank,” Pena told reporters, “the Republicans used it to try to ram a lawsuit through the courts that would have made it harder for minority voters to vote.… We are delighted that [the Republicans] lost in court. Their dirty tricks are racist and un-American.” Another ACORN representative tells reporters that he cannot understand why Gonzales’s name is on Kevin Stout’s registration form, as he had already fired Gonzales for altering other canvassers’ cards to falsely claim credit for having voters fill them out. Gonzales could not have helped Stout fill out his card or filled it out on his behalf.
Lawsuit in Response - New Mexico Republicans were enraged at the suit’s dismissal and the ACORN press conferences, and attempted to file a criminal suit against Henderson, alleging that he had broken the law by keeping photocopies of submitted registration forms. (In 2000, Henderson and ACORN chapters in New Mexico had indeed kept such photocopies. At the time, that was a legal practice. Since then, the law has been changed and ACORN, like other voter-registration groups, has ceased keeping those forms. Rogers will also insist that Iglesias file felony charges against Gonzales.) New Mexico Republicans will demand that Iglesias aggressively investigate Henderson and ACORN, charging Henderson with “perjury” and “suspect” practices (see September 23 - October 2004). Iglesias will later say of Gonzales, “It appeared that she was just doing it for the money.” [Atlas, 2010, pp. 215-216]
'Gin Up Voter Fraud Publicity' - In 2008, Iglesias will tell reporters that even though he found no evidence of voter fraud, he was ordered by the White House to, the reporters will write, “illegally prosecute baseless cases against innocent citizens, just to gin up voter fraud publicity.” Iglesias will say, “We took over 100 complaints” from New Mexico Republicans. “We investigated for almost two years, I didn’t find one prosecutable voter fraud case in the entire state of New Mexico.” Iglesias will blame his refusal to prosecute those cases for his 2006 firing (see December 7, 2006). “They were looking for politicized—for improperly politicized US Attorneys to file bogus voter fraud cases,” he will say. [Huffington Post, 10/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Joe Thompson, David C. Iglesias, Christine Gonzales, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Glen Stout, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Yolanda Pena, Rumaldo Armijo, Patrick Rogers, US Department of Justice, Matt Henderson, Kevin Stout, Mickey Barnett, Rebecca Vigil-Giron
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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