The devil, as always, is in the details. Most of the press passed more or less lightly over the tale of Tom Heffelfinger, who had served for nearly a decade as U.S. Attorney for Minnesota before resigning last year. Since then it has turned out that he bailed out just in time: he was on Bush’s hit list of U.S. attorneys who had shown an unhealthy respect for the rule of law.
Out here in Minnesota, where I’m busy getting a granddaughter properly graduated from high school, the Minneapolis Star Tribune went into some of those details today. It’s no news by now that the president-select has partisanship and patriotism all mixed up in his head, but it can’t hurt to keep piling up the evidence. One out of five Americans, the polls tell us, remain drunk on the Decider’s KoolAid.
At a time when GOP activists wanted U.S. attorneys to concentrate on pursuing voter-fraud cases, Heffelfinger's office was expressing deep concern about a state directive that could have the effect of discouraging Indians in Minnesota from casting ballots.
Citing requirements in a new state law intended to prevent voter fraud, Republican Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer directed that tribal ID cards could not be used for voter identification by Indians living outside reservations. Heffelfinger and his staff feared that the ruling could result in discrimination against Indian voters. Many do not have driver's licenses or forms of identification other than the tribes’ picture IDs.
The issue was politically sensitive because the size of the Indian vote can be pivotal in close Minnesota elections. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has one of the largest urban American Indian populations in the United States. Its members turn out in relatively large numbers and predominantly identify with Democrats…
“I have come to the conclusion that his expressed concern for Indian voting rights is at least part of the reason that Tom Heffelfinger was placed on the list to be fired,” said Joseph Rich, former head of the voting section of Justice's civil-rights division. Rich, who retired in 2005 after 37 years as a career department lawyer -- 24 of them in Republican administrations -- was closely involved in the Minnesota ID issue. He played no role in drafting the termination lists, which were prepared by political appointees…
After reviewing the matter, Rich recommended opening an investigation. In response, he said, Bradley Schlozman, a political appointee in the department, told Rich “not to do anything without his approval” because of the “special sensitivity of this matter…”
After Heffelfinger resigned, his job went to a conservative Justice Department employee, Rachel Paulose. One of her first acts was to remove Lewis, who had written the 2004 e-mails to Washington expressing concern about American Indian voting rights.