Saturday, October 16, 2004

Bush official accused of fraud resigns his job

By ERIK STETSON, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. — James Tobin, the Maine man who is in charge of President Bush's New England campaign, stepped down after New Hampshire Democrats implicated him in election fraud, which he denied. Tobin, who was born in Windham, educated at Bates College in Lewiston and lives in Bangor, released a statement though a Bangor law firm Friday as Democrats and Republicans fought in court over whether Democrats could question GOP officials about Tobin's role in illegal phone jamming on Election Day 2002.
"The Democrats' allegations against me are without merit," Tobin said.
"But to avoid any harm to the campaign from their underhanded tactics, I elected earlier this week to step down from my voluntary position with the campaign," he said.
The 2002 jamming consisted of computer-generated calls to get-out-the-vote phones run by Democrats and the nonpartisan Manchester firefighters' union. More than 800 hang-up calls tied up phones for about 1 1/2 hours.
Last summer, Chuck McGee, the former executive director of New Hampshire's GOP, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and admitted paying $15,600 to a Virginia telemarketing company that hired another business to make the calls. GOP consultant Allen Raymond also pleaded guilty.
State Democrats have said they believe Tobin might have put McGee and Raymond together.
In 2002, Tobin was Northeast political director for the Republican Senatorial Committee, the party operation that worked to elect Republicans to the Senate. Among the races affected by the phone-jamming was the U.S. Senate contest between Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican U.S. Rep. John E. Sununu. It was considered a cliff-hanger, though Sununu ended up winning by about 20,000 votes.
At plea hearings in U.S. District Court, McGee and Raymond both acknowledged speaking to an unidentified official with a national political organization about the jamming. Democrats say they believe Tobin was the official.
In his statement, Tobin said he will fight the allegations and is confident he will win. "It is disappointing, indeed, to see the opposition party manipulate the court system in a blatant effort to influence the election," he said.
Tobin, whose father is state Rep. David Tobin, R-Windham, founded a communications and political consulting company in Bangor before getting into GOP politics. Before his latest jobs, he was national political director for Steve Forbes' presidential campaign.
Tobin has also been an adviser to former U.S. Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, and to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.
New Hampshire Democratic Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan has said the public should know Tobin's role in the phone jamming, and that of any other high GOP officials. In pursuit of that goal, the party won an order in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester on Wednesday saying it could proceed with depositions of GOP officials.
But a deposition set for Thursday was abruptly called off when the Justice Department said it would seek a delay until federal criminal proceedings ended.
In a motion filed Friday in Superior Court, federal prosecutor Todd Hinnen said the people Democrats want to question were likely witnesses in the criminal case.
The questioning "would inevitably disclose the substance of ongoing matters occurring before the federal grand jury and would permit the targets of the criminal investigation to obtain access to information which they would not otherwise be entitled to at this time regarding the investigation and the United States' likely witnesses," the motion said.
Democrats accused the Justice Department of colluding with the state GOP, which the GOP denied.


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