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Profile: Steve Bell
Steve Bell was a participant or observer in the following events:
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
New Mexico’s US Attorney, David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001), meets with state Republican Party chairman Allen Weh after he learns that Weh and the party are unhappy with the results of his 2004 election fraud task force (see [September 7 - October 6, 2004). Iglesias is aware that he cannot ethically respond directly to such complaints, and he cannot provide information about ongoing investigations. However, he wants to reassure his fellow Republicans that he will prosecute “provable” voter fraud cases, but will not bring a case if it does not stand a good chance of winning a conviction. He first passed that message along to New Mexico Republicans through a friend in the party, but when the message produced little positive results, he arranged to meet Weh for coffee near Weh’s home. At the meeting, Iglesias attempts to explain to Weh that he can only prosecute voter fraud cases if he has sufficient evidence to do so. Weh is unmoved by Iglesias’s explanations. He asks if Iglesias is “in trouble” with the New Mexico Republican Party. He will later claim that Iglesias tries to blame the FBI for the lack of voter fraud prosecutions. And he tells Iglesias that he needs to do something concrete about voter fraud, and should have already done so. Shortly after the meeting, Weh complains about Iglesias to Scott Jennings, a White House official working for White House political chief Karl Rove. A 2008 investigation of the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008) will find that Weh has been pressuring Iglesias since at least August 2004 to pursue voter fraud allegations (see September 23 - October 2004). Weh will tell the investigators that he was not convinced by Iglesias’s explanation, that he felt Iglesias was unqualified to be US Attorney, and had deliberately ignored credible evidence of voter fraud in New Mexico. He will say that many New Mexico Republicans feel the same way. These feelings are why he chose to complain to Jennings about Iglesias. He conveys his perceptions to Jennings and recommends that the Bush administration fire Iglesias. He will also send an email to Jennings about Iglesias and voter fraud in August 2005 (see August 9, 2005). Other Republicans in New Mexico will complain to the White House about Iglesias as well, including the chief of staff to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Steve Bell. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011]
New Mexico Republican Party chairman Allen Weh, convinced that US Attorney David Iglesias is an incompetent who is deliberately refusing to prosecute voter fraud cases (see May 6, 2005 and After and May 12 - June 9, 2005), sends an email to Scott Jennings, an official in the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA). He copies the email to Jennings’s supervisors Karl Rove and Sara Taylor (see Late January 2005), Republican National Committee official Timothy Griffin, and Steve Bell, the chief of staff to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). Weh writes in part: “We discussed the need to replace the US Atty in NM several months ago. The brief on voter fraud at the RNC [Republican National Committee] meeting last week reminded me of how important this post is to this issue, and prompted this follow up. As you are aware the incumbent, David Iglesias, has failed miserably in his duty to prosecute voter fraud. To be perfectly candid, he was ‘missing in action’ during the last election, just as he was in the 2002 election cycle. I am advised his term expires, or is renewed, in October. It is respectfully requested that strong consideration be given to replacing him at this point.… If we can get a new US Atty that takes voter fraud seriously, combined with these other initiatives we’ll make some real progress in cleaning up a state notorious for crooked elections.” Griffin responds in an email to Rove and Taylor: “I have discussed this issue with counsel’s office [the White House counsel’s office, headed by Harriet Miers]. I will raise with them again. Last time I spoke with them they were aware of the issue, and they seemed to be considering a change on their own. I will mention again unless I am instructed otherwise.” Twenty minutes later, Rove responds by telling Griffin, “Talk to the counsel’s office.” Griffin replies, “Done,” and adds a bit about setting up a meeting with someone unrelated to the Iglesias-Weh discussion. Rove responds, “Great.” He will later testify that he may have been responding to Griffin about the unrelated meeting. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 ] One of Weh’s Republican colleagues, lawyer Patrick Rogers, recommended that state and national Republicans use voter fraud as a “wedge issue” before the November 2004 elections, and has himself complained about Iglesias’s record on voter fraud investigations (see September 23 - October 2004).
Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, David C. Iglesias, Allen Weh, Harriet E. Miers, J. Timothy Griffin, Sara Taylor, Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, White House Office of Political Affairs, J. Scott Jennings, Republican National Committee, New Mexico Republican Party, Steve Bell
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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