High-Level White House, DoJ, Rove Operatives Went to Work While now-Fired Prosecutor Bud Cummins Was Building a Case Against Missouri Governor Matt Blunt and the WH Connected MO Law Firm Lathrope & Gage...
By Brad Friedman on 4/23/2007, 4:20am PT  

"You have to firewall politics out of the Department of Justice. Because once it gets in, people question every decision you make," the former U.S. Attorney from Arkansas, Bud Cummins, told the Los Angeles Times in March. "Now I keep asking myself: 'What about the Blunt deal?'"

What about the Blunt deal, indeed.

{Ed Note: See the 5/8/97 update at the end of this story concerning Cummins denial that he ever made that comment to the LATimes}

Last Thursday we began piecing together a few previously unconnected dots in the firing of Cummins. The dots connected appear to lay out a fairly straight arrow into the the highest levels of the White House. At least if you're familiar with some of the players, whom they know, and what they do for a living.

Since we've been reporting on the high-level (just about as high as they get) GOP operative, Mark F. "Thor" Hearne, for some years now at The BRAD BLOG, the connection was made quite easily once we tripped upon a key fact: Hearne's Missouri law firm, Lathrop & Gage LC, was at the center of a criminal investigation by Cummins's office. That investigation had come to public light just before Cummins's sudden --- and still unexplained --- dismissal. He was replaced by Karl Rove aide Timothy Griffin.

While the Republican Punditocracy has been running around desperately repeating the old Scooter Libby-era chestnut "No Underlying Crime!" over the days since Gonzales's woeful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, we've been looking more into the Cummins/Hearne/Rove/White House nexus, which seems to fairly scream out "Underlying Crime!" on just its face.

And others in the blogosphere, it seems, appear to be quite ready to burst as well with news on this element of the U.S. Attorney firings....

Through information from some of those reports along with a few tips, we've been able to connect a few more disturbing dots since Thursday, and are working on still more details, as are the others. But before those new pieces, a quick review of what we've brought to light here so far:

  • In May of 2006, media reports surfaced that Missouri Governor Matt Blunt was under investigation by Cummins's office in connection with a franchising scheme for satellite state licensing fee offices as carried out by Hearne's law firm, Lathrop & Gage.
  • In June of 2006, Cummins was fired without explanation. His firing came prior to the other 7 attorneys who would be dismissed in December of 2006.
  • Hearne had been both Blunt's right-hand legal man for some time; as well as a GOP point man in Florida in 2000 (but who wasn't?); as well as the Bush/Cheney '04 general counsel in Missouri (at the specific, personal request of Dubya's uncle, Bucky Bush, according to Thor himself in Missouri Lawyer's Weekly); before he then became the Bush/Cheney '04 national general counsel; and after the election, he became the founder of the scam "non-partisan" GOP front group calling itself "American Center for Voting Rights" (ACVR); which was, in turn, behind virtually every report, initiative, claim, piece of legislation, Congressional testimony, legal case, "official commission," or public statement concerning the cooked-up case for the mythical epidemic of Democratic "voter fraud" that has been at the heart of the GOP/White House/DoJ attempts at vote-shaving via politicization and suppression at the ballot box since at least 2004.
    (Two years' worth of our reports on the ACVR, from nearly the moment of their first appearance, just three days before Hearne's "non-partisan" testimony as a "long time voting rights advocate" before former Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH) U.S. House Administrative Committee in March of 2005, is found on the BRAD BLOG Special Coverage Page at http://www.BradBlog.com/ACVR.)
  • Further, Hearne has been publicly recognized (though usually in only the RNC-friendliest of locations) for his efforts on behalf of GOP elections by his friend Rove, as well as both Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. See this Lathrop & Gage PDF two-pager including quotes from both Rove and Bush singing Thor's praises. (Don't worry. If that PDF, like so much else of late concerning Thor's activities, including the ACVR website as we reported a few weeks ago, gets scrubbed from the Internets, we've already got a copy saved, along with much of the other Thor-stuff that's been disappearing since the U.S. Attorney scandal broke.)
  • In sum, when news of a criminal investigation into both MO's Governor Blunt (the son of the powerful GOP House Whip, Roy) and Lathrop & Gage surfaced, alarm bells would have gone off from Missouri to D.C. According to several media reports, and a few tips, it would appear they did just that. Quite loudly, in fact...

The Operative's Operative

According to a mid-March report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, shortly after reports began to surface about Cummins's investigation of Blunt and Lathrop & Gage, the prosecutor's phone began ringing. The caller was the powerful white-collar criminal defense attorney William B. Mateja of the D.C./Dallas law firm of Fish & Richardson.

Mateja, according to Cummins, had called --- up to five times --- to inquire if his client, Blunt, was the target of an investigation. Mateja, a Dallas-based principal at the firm, was hired by Lathrop & Gage on behalf of Governor Blunt's campaign, for which Hearne served as general counsel.

A bit more digging into Mateja's resume reveals that he too is well connected to both the DoJ itself and the White House. According to his CV Mateja:

  • "served as Senior Counsel to Deputy Attorneys General Larry Thompson and James Comey at Main Justice in Washington, D.C., where he also served as Point Person for President Bush's Corporate Fraud Task Force while overseeing the Justice Department's corporate fraud efforts";
  • "oversaw the Justice Department's civil and criminal health care fraud efforts";
  • was Bush's Corporate Fraud Task Force "point person", writing and submitting reports to the White House in the first and second years of the program, as well as overseeing "the Justice Department's efforts in a number of high profile corporate fraud prosecutions involving Enron, World Com," and others, and;
  • "was charged with overseeing [DoJ's] violent crime efforts which included oversight over the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Project Safe Neighborhoods, President Bush's comprehensive, strategic approach to reducing gun crime in America."

So here we have a top Dallas-based attorney, well-connected to both the DoJ itself as well as the White House, calling a U.S. Attorney five times on behalf of clients, Blunt and L&G, both well-connected to the White House and DoJ themselves, and who are both under an investigation by that U.S. Attorney who is then terminated, for official reasons still unknown, shortly thereafter.

(UPDATE: Hearne admits to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was behind the hiring of Mateja as clean-up man on this matter. See our follow-up story here for details.)

"No Underlying Crime?"

Howard Beale at Fired Up! Missouri has been keeping an eye on Blunt, Hearne, and company --- as well as the underpinnings of the Fee Office scandal --- for some time in the Show-Me State. He picked up on our reporting last week and added these thoughts from his on-the-ground perspective in our old home state:

[I]t is reasonable to suggest as Brad does that Hearne, given his long service to GOP politics and commitment to running the bogus national "voter fraud" scare program, would have access to key decision makers high inside the Bush Administration. And given also that Thor Hearne would have personal interests greater than mere partisan allegiance implicated in the investigation by virtue of his firm's involvement in the Blunt fee office scheme, Hearne would have tremendous motive for making a move to muck around with an ongoing probe into the fee office operation.

So Thor Hearne, who through his work with the Bush DOJ on hyping voter fraud claims developed strong connections with Main Justice bigwigs, also had quite a bit at stake when the DOJ began investigating his friend Governor Blunt for a scheme his firm helped implement. The U.S. Attorney investigating Blunt, Bud Cummins, then had his legs cut out before the investigation was finished. Few people would have been as well-positioned as Hearne to intervene with the Department of Justice and help scuttle the investigation into Governor Matt Blunt.

In a follow-up report, Beale notes that the Blunt campaign's recent disclosure statements from August 2006 as well as the December 2006 report filed last week with the Missouri Ethics Commission don't seem to fully account for some $20,000 that was paid to Hearne's Lathrop & Gage:

Neither the Governor's office nor Missourians for Matt Blunt has ever answered the question of whether the "legal" fees paid by the campaign to Lathrop & Gage were paid to compensate Attorney Mateja for his work defending Blunt's interests in the fee office investigation. The repeated appearance of unexplained "legal fees" on his most recent finance report should bring renewed calls upon Governor Blunt to explain how those dollars were spent.

As has been suggested on these pages before, Blunt may well have circumvented or contravened Missouri law with regard to how campaign funds may be spent. If indeed the campaign's legal expenditures from August and December of 2006 were made in order to exonerate Blunt's personal legal interests, those expenditures may well represent $20,000 misappropriated from the campaign.

Trouble on the Ground Before Cummins Came into Play

Even before Cummins in Arkansas took over the investigation, alarm bells were already going off in Missouri. The U.S. Attorney for Missouri's Western District, who would have otherwise overseen the investigation, was Todd P. Graves, who would also end up being replaced by a Rove/White House/DoJ sock-puppet in that post.

Graves's wife, as it turns out, "had been given a no-bid contract to run the second most lucrative motor vehicle fee office in Missouri," according to the Missouri Democratic Party, who called for an investigation back in 2005. The contract to the wife of the U.S. Attorney was said to be worth some $2.6 million. Further, Graves's brother-in-law had received a similar no-bid contract from Blunt for $1 million, and two staffers of Graves's brother, Congressman Sam Graves, had also been given two similar contracts.

"[T]his situation amounts to $3.6 million in corruption insurance for Blunt," the Missouri Dems would later write in a petition drive calling for an investigation.

Graves, obviously, would be unable to carry out such an investigation himself, so after he recused himself it ended up going to Cummins, who says he was outside of the loop of Missouri politics and had no idea of the various underlying schemata.

Graves would later be added to the now-infamous list of 10 attorneys set for removal, according to a January 9, 2006 email from Alberto Gonzales's Chief of Staff, Kyle Sampson. Though nobody seems to know, according to Gonzales's Senate testimony last week, who it was who created that list --- which has led to still more focus on the White House as the originators of the hit list.

In March of 2006, Graves resigned instead of being fired. His resignation came "smack in the middle of the period during which U.S. Attorney for Arkansas' Eastern District Bud Cummins was investigating Governor Matt Blunt's award of fee offices to political supporters," Fired Up's Beale reported last month, along with a number of other questions that folks in Leahy's and Conyers' office may want to both read and start asking as well.

(Big hat-tip to CannonFire's Joseph Cannon and his reports here and here for his usual good work and drawing our attention to the details of the Graves matter.)

The interim replacement for Graves would be Bradley J. Schlozman, a key Bush appointee to DoJ's Civil Rights Division. Schlozman had previously overridden the unanimous opinion of 8 career attorneys and staffers in the division who had concluded that Tom DeLay's Texas redistricting scheme had violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The U.S. Supreme Court would later agree with the career employees and overturned several parts of DeLay's redistricting. (35-year DoJ civil rights attorney Joseph D. Rich recently opined on the DeLay matter, and much more of the unprecedented politicization of that office by the "Loyal Bushies." The BRAD BLOG originally discussed the DeLay/DoJ redistricting scandal here and then again here in December of 2005 as the Bush Team's gutting of the beloved 40-year old Voting Rights Act became crystal clear --- at least to us.)

Schlozman had never even served as a prosecutor when he was appointed to take Graves's place just two weeks after the Bush administration had accomplished their PATRIOT Act coup allowing for appointments without Senate approval. He would pick up where Graves left off in a "voter fraud" suit (naturally) against the Missouri Secretary of State. That case was decided in favor of Missouri (naturally), and against the DoJ just last week when the federal judge found "the United States has not shown that any Missouri resident was denied his or her right to vote as a result of deficiencies alleged by the United States...Nor has the United States shown that any voter fraud has occurred."

Naturally, our old friend Hearne had also worked on that failed case, as well as Missouri's restrictive Voter ID legislation, which was also found to be unconstitutional.

We'll take a moment to point out that we're talking about very rare (in all but Ann Coulter's case) matters of "Voter Fraud," unfounded claims which the GOP has been using now for years as the basis for pushing restrictive Voter ID regulations at the polls in order to keep Americans, in Democratic-leaning areas, from being able to cast a vote. That's quite distinct from very real concerns about Election Fraud, where voting systems and access to polls are gamed. Most frequently of late by Republicans.

According to a quick late-night tease tonight from Josh Marshall at TPM, it looks like his crew as well are ready to jump into Schlozman's role in this whole fine mess. We'll look forward to it.

In Conclusion...For Now...

Ultimately, Missouri --- "Ground Zero" for Thor Hearne and his efforts on behalf of the Republican Party's "Democratic Voter Fraud" and Voter ID scams --- has ultimately been a bust. Now, it seems, Hearne and company are running for cover as the spotlight warms up on his role and those of his compadres and their substantial, and direct, ties to the White House in the entire matter.

We hope the folks in both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees might find these pointers useful, even as we hope to offer more in the near future on all of this. "No Underlying Crime"? Only if someone slipped another new provision into the PATRIOT Act making it legal to politically interfere with ongoing criminal investigations.

Ironically, Cummins investigation was wrapped up in October of 2006, with no charges being brought. But we'd suggest there are more than enough grounds for a fresh investigation into the attempts to scuttle the original one in the first place, and the plan that led to Cummins having his legs cut out from under him mid-course.

In the meantime, Beale's report at Fired Up! Missouri, on the heels of our original one last week, sums up the entire mess brilliantly, and so we'll conclude with that for now...

[A] few universal truths about the national Republican Party operation within the Bush DOJ have emerged. The loyal GOP lawyers --whether inside federal government or helping on the outside-- are a sizable but insular bunch. They work together to subjugate the ordinary process and the administration of justice to political need. Loyalty is the currency of the kingdom; truth or rule of law are matters of mere inconvenience.

All of the facts that we have regarding the fee office case and the involvement of Cummins, Hearne, and Blunt in it point to the conclusion that the set of truths were indeed universal. That here in Missouri, we had administration operatives changing DOJ policy and personnel to reflect the specific GOP needs on the ground. Their team, perhaps with Thor leading the rally, got things done.

# # #

CORRECTION: We had initially described "the unanimous opinion of 8 career attorneys" who had been overruled by DoJ Bush appointees on the DeLay redistricting matter. In fact, not all of them were attorneys, even though they were all career staffers. The memo they issued can be read here [PDF] and we thank the DoJ staffer who contacted us with that clarification.

UPDATE 6/8/07: Bud Cummins has contacted us to say that he was misquoted by the Los Angeles Times reporter and had never asked "what about the Blunt deal?" He believes that his removal did not have anything to do with his Missouri investigation, but rather "one or more persons’ desire to give the job to Tim Griffin." He added "let me assure you that I never have asked myself 'what about the Blunt deal?' in relation to my firing" and says that that the Times report is an "incorrect account of my supposed views."

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