Friday, October 15, 2004

GOP backed election-year phone jamming

GOP backed election-year phone jamming


Associated Press Writer

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Democrats are accusing the Justice Department of playing politics by trying to delay an inquiry into whether President Bush’s New England campaign chief played a role in illegal phone-jamming on Election Day 2002.
The state Democratic Party asked for an immediate hearing Friday to get permission to question GOP officials under oath after a questioning session set for Thursday afternoon was delayed by a last-minute Justice Department request.
In legal filings late Thursday, Democrats said they believe Jim Tobin, New England director of the Bush-Cheney campaign, was involved in the phone jamming, which led this summer to guilty pleas on conspiracy charges by Chuck McGee, former executive director of the state GOP, and a GOP consultant from Virginia. In 2002, Tobin was Northeast political director for the Republican Senatorial Committee, the party operation working to elect Republicans to the Senate.
Among the races affected by the phone-jamming was the close U.S. Senate contest between Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican U.S. Rep. John E. Sununu. Sununu won.
Tobin did not return a phone call to his Washington, D.C., office on Thursday seeking comment.
"The sudden cooperation between the Department of Justice and the New Hampshire Republican Party strongly suggests that the Department of Justice has intervened at this late momnent in an attempt to prevent a Republican Party operative from being publicly identified, disclosed and possibly removed from his position because of his alleged involvement in electoral fraud," Democrats said in a motion filed late Thursday in Superior Court in Manchester.
The jamming involved computer-generated calls to get-out-the-vote phone banks run by Democrats and the nonpartisan Manchester firefighters’ union. More than 800 hang-up calls tied up phones for about 11/2 hours.
In July, McGee admitted paying $15,600 to a Virginia telemarketing company that hired another business to make the calls. Allen Raymond, the former president of GOP Marketplace in Alexandria, Va., pleaded guilty in June to hiring an Idaho firm to make the calls.
While the federal investigation continues, Democrats are suing and seeking to question GOP officials, including Tobin, under oath. The state GOP opposed the depositions, arguing they should wait until the criminal investigation ends. Democrats said civil and federal inquiries often take place simultaneously.
After a hearing Wednesday, at which Justice Department lawyers didn’t present arguments, a judge said the depositions could continue. But 20 minutes before the start of one deposition Thursday afternoon, federal prosecutor Todd Hinnen contacted Democratic and GOP lawyers to tell them he would seek to halt the depositions until the criminal proceedings ended.
Republicans would not say who was going to be questioned at the session, and Democrats didn’t know.
Hinnen, who was traveling, did not immediately return a call to his Washington office Friday morning.
State Democratic Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan said the role of high-level Republicans in the phone-jamming should be public now.
"We want to know the names of everybody involved," she said. "We want to know where the money came from."
Jayne Millerick, state Republican chairwoman, said the party would have participated in Thursday’s in deposition if the federal government hadn’t intervened.
"We were prepared to go forward today," she said Thursday.
Tobin founded a communications and political consulting company in Bangor, Maine, before getting into GOP politics. Before his latest jobs, he served as national political director for publisher Steve Forbes’ presidential campaign.


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