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Justice official revises testimony in voter-fraud case

Story Highlights

• Schlozman was interim U.S. attorney when indictments brought
• Indictments targeted members of a Democrat-leaning advocacy group
• Indictments led to guilty pleas
From Terry Frieden
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Justice Department official has "clarified" Senate testimony regarding a Missouri voter-fraud case, saying the decision to seek voter registration fraud indictments shortly before an election was his and not that of career staff.

Bradley Schlozman sought indictments against members of the Democratic-leaning advocacy group ACORN while serving as the interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2006. Under questioning from Democratic senators last week, Schlozman said he was "directed" to bring the cases by career officials in the Justice Department's public corruption section in the weeks before last November's elections.

But Schlozman, a Republican political appointee still working at the Justice Department, has sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee revising that testimony. Schlozman now says he consulted the department's Public Integrity Section but was not directly advised to proceed.

"I want to be clear that, while I relied on the consultation with and suggestions of the Election Crimes Branch in bringing the indictments when I did, I take full responsibility for the decision to move forward with the prosecutions related to ACORN while I was the interim U.S. attorney," Schlozman wrote.

Justice Department regulations urge federal prosecutors to be "extremely careful" about conducting voter fraud probes in the weeks before an election, warning that such probes could become campaign issues. Schlozman insisted his actions were proper and that no policy required him to delay the indictments.

But Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, blasted Schlozman's revisions.

"It is deeply troubling that after weeks of preparation Mr. Schlozman appears to have misled the committee and the public about his decision to file an election eve lawsuit in direct conflict with longstanding Justice Department policy," Leahy said.

And Sen. Charles Schumer, another Judiciary Committee member, said, "Once again, a Justice Department official is changing his tune."

"When the head of the Justice Department is unwilling to be forthright with Congress, it's not surprising that others would follow suit," Schumer, D-New York, said in a written statement. Schumer, who unsuccessfully pushed for a vote of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, repeated his calls for Gonzales to resign.

The Democrats' statements prompted a strong reaction from the Justice Department in Schlozman's defense.

"Suggestions that the department's policy forbids the filing of any charges around the time of an election are wholly inaccurate," said Justice spokesman Dean Boyd. "The Justice Department policy cited, which focuses on investigative activities and not on charging decisions, does not apply to every case related to the election process."

Boyd said the critics choose to overlook the fact that the indictments led to guilty pleas.

"It is noteworthy and a matter of public record that the four defendants charged in the ACORN case at issue have pleaded guilty," Boyd said.

The controversy stems from the firings of U.S. attorneys in at least eight cities in 2006. Testimony about the dismissals has led to allegations that Republican officials pressed some of the fired prosecutors to bring voter fraud cases in hard-fought races.

Schlozman was called before the Senate committee last Tuesday because Democrats charge his predecessor in Kansas City, Todd Graves, was a ninth victim of the shakeup.

Bradley Schlozman says he consulted with Justice Department officials but was not directed to bring indictments in a voter fraud case.



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