Faces Extremely Pointed Questions from Committee Members, Furious About Recent Comments Reported by The BRAD BLOG...
By Brad Friedman on 10/30/2007, 7:25am PT  

We're up before the West Coast dawn this morning to monitor the hearings in the U.S. House Judiciary's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties featuring John "Minorities Die First" Tanner. His recent objectionable comments were originally video-taped and reported by The BRAD BLOG several weeks ago.

The most objectionable of those comments including his contention that it was a "shame" that elderly voters might be disenfranchised by a 2005 Georgia Photo ID poll restriction that he approved on behalf of DoJ and against the advice of four out of five of his career staffers, minorities would somehow benefit from it. His twisted reasoning was that "because our society is such that minorities don't become elderly. The way white people do. They die first."

Tanner, incredibly, is still the Chief of the Voting Section in the DoJ's Civil Rights Division.

It's being carried live and webcast on C-Span 3, as well as via the Judiciary Committee's own webcast.

Major points in our story so far...

Beyond that, Progress Report has an excellent round up of Tanner's "Erosion of Voter Rights" during his tenure.

The hearings have now ended, but our notes from our Live-Blogging of today's hearings are below, along with video clips of the key, and most pointed exchanges...

Chair of the sub-committee Rep. Jerrold Nadler (R-NY) concerned about "recent statements made by Tanner concerning Voter ID issues."

Ranking Member, Rep Trent Franks (R-AZ) concerned about "Illegal non-citizen voters voting" of course. He quotes from the Baker/Carter Commission on Election Reform and their call for "Real ID". Please note, the Baker/Carter Commission was a private, phony group put together by the phony GOP "voting rights" group, American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR).

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the elderly, not-dead first, African-American Chairman of the main Judiciary Committee notes Tanner's "wife and daughter are present today, so perhaps we may have to be nicer than we might otherwise want to be".

He notes that DoJ cases filed under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act are at an all-time low, with only one case having been filed so far this year. Will ask about concerns about management issues on Section 5 of the VRA pre-clearance of laws such as Georgia's Photo ID laws, choosing where to file cases as based on travel wishes by a Dept. member, and concerns about Tanner's "investigation" of the 2004 Presidential Election in Ohio.

John Tanner is sworn in, begins his opening statement, noting his apology to members of the Latino National Congresso as reported yesterday for his comments. To wit:

I want to apologize for the comments I made at the recent meeting of the National Latino Congreso about the impact of voter identification laws on elderly and minority voters. I understand that my explanation of the data came across in a hurtful way which I deeply regret. The reports of my comments do not in any way accurately reflect my career of devotion to enforcing federal laws designed to assure fair and equal access to the ballot...

Says that he's been working hard for many years to protect the voting rights of minorities.

"Since I became chief (of Voting Rights Unit) cases filed under Voting Rights Act have doubled" (He doesn't note that few, if any, were on behalf of African-Americans, who the VRA was originally created to protect from disenfranchisement).


Nadler asks about Georgia Photo ID law which Tanner approved against the advice of 4 out of 5 of his staff recommendations.

Tanner says he had looked at the case, originally, believing the DoJ could not pre-clear it under the Voting Rights Act, but then decided it wouldn't disenfranchise voters, so he approved it.

Tanner says he "cannot discuss internal deliberations" as to why he chose to not listen to the advice of his staffers, in response to questions by Nadler.

Nadler says that's nonsense, because the internal memorandum from staffers had already been made public.

NOTE: After those memos about staffers recommending rejection of Georgia ID laws were made public, Tanner changed the rules so that no such memos would be written, so they can't be exposed in the future.

Tanner says number of people with ID in GA was more than the census numbers says actually made up population in Georgia. And that more minorities had ID, than white people, and thus "the statistical burden" was met to ensure minorities would not be disenfranchised by the law.

Nadler says that Tanners numbers are "quite erroneous".

Tanner: "Only thing we can look at, under Section 5...is whether it would make things worse for Minority voters than for White voters"

Tanner: "I've been reaching out to minority groups, all kinds of minority groups to work with us"

Franks (R): Wonders what's being done to protect 2008 election and asks very tough question: "what are your greatest accomplishments under your tenure?"

Franks again quotes from the phony Baker/Carter commission's use of data from the now-defunct front group ACVR (outed in some detail here!). Concerns about people double-voting and double-registered. The same old ACVR garbage.

Tanner says enforcement on those concerns comes out of Criminal Div. of DoJ, not out of his Civil Rights Div.

UPDATE: Video of the following questioning by Rep. John Conyers, is now posted at right.

Conyers: "One of those hearings with two different sets of facts" where there are concerns, notes there wouldn't have been any Georgia Voter ID law if your dept. had followed the recommendations of your career lawyers. Because you overturned their work and decided to something differently. Because of that, we not only have Georgia voter ID, but other screaming about 'voter fraud'," despite very few cases of actual "voter fraud" having been found.

Conyers: "I hope that you will take what is directed at you as constructive, because the one thing I am concerned about is that we stop having happen what has happened since the 2000 elections. And then you come here to stagger our imagination by telling us that ‘it’s never been better,’ its never been worse!"

Conyers: We held hearings in Ohio after the 2004 election, and "I never met so many hundreds of people furious about the process" of how the elections were all. People of all races "all furious" about the misstatements, deception practices, etc. during that election. Refers to letter from Tanner on DoJ "investigation" which whitewashed the concerns about what happened in Ohio.

Refers to his report "What Went Wrong in Ohio", pointing out massive problems that existed. Only problem pointed out by Tanner's "investigation" was one that nobody brought up during Conyers entire investigation.

Conyers: You come here to "stagger our imagination by telling us things have never been better. [But] it's never been worse!"

Tanner Responds to Conyers: Thanks Conyers for his leadership and report. Says that report spurred the one done by DoJ. Stands by claim that there were more voting machines per capita for minorities in Franklin County OH (only one he looked at) than for white voters.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN): Thanks Tanner for his apology about objectionable comments at National Latino Congreso. Points to thank you letter from Arab-American community on behalf of Tanner and puts it in record. Asks what Voting Rights section has done for 2008 to avoid the many problems and complaints from 2004.

Tanner: Thanks Arab-Americans, says they me the "most vulnerable" and "we have a particular obligation to protect them."

Nadler: Notes "one of giants from Civil Rights Movement" Rep. John Lewis (of Georgia, was beaten during Selma-Montgomery March) is sitting in on the hearings. I'm sure Tanner feels great about that, as he's not even a member of the committee!

UPDATE: Video of the following questioning by Rep. Artur Davis, one of the most pointed of the day, is now posted at right.

Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL): Notes apology but "not sure what he's making it for", whether it was the data or his comments. Asks about comments specifically. "Did you say 'Our society is such that elderly do not become elderly as white people do. They die first.' Is that an accurate statement?"

Tanner: "Life expectency in Georgia anyway, is lower than..."

Davis: "That's not what you said, is it accurate? "Is it accurate that minorities do not become elderly the way white people do?"

Davis drills Tanner on turn-out by elderly black voter turnout in his state, Alabama. Notes turnout by minorities and minority elderly is actually higher than for Whites in his state.

Drills him on comments about minorities more likely to use check-cashing business, but points out that he has no data on that, is generalizing on data, can't offer statistical basis on that.

Davis: "If you are basing your conclusions on stereotypes and facts, it suggests someone else can do the job better than you are doing it"

Tanner tries to defend numbers in Georgia. Davis cuts him off, asking him to cite numbers to support his conclusions about minority

"Did you look at the percentage of elderly minority voters in Georgia?", he asks over and over as Tanner trieds to not answer the question!

Tanner admits, (finally! ): "No" he didn't look at that data!

UPDATE: Extended transcript from the above exchange, courtesy of Jesse Lee...

Rep. Davis: “You also make the comment, by the way, that blacks are more likely to go to check cashing at some point in Georgia. Did you make that observation?”

Tanner: “In addressing the Georgia…”

Davis: “Don’t give me a long answer because I don’t have the time. Did you make the comment or did you not make it?”

Tanner: “I made a comment about that…”

Davis: “OK, now this is the point, Mr. Tanner, that I think we want to drive home. Do you have any statistics about how many blacks visit check cashing business versus the number of whites who do?”

Tanner: “I do not have any with me, I believe that statistics about the number of un-banked persons here in the United States, by race, would be available through the office of the comptroller…”

Davis: “Do you know those numbers?”

Tanner: “I do not know those numbers.”

Davis: “Well this is the problem. Once again you engaged in an analysis without knowing the numbers. And the point, Mr. Tanner, you’re a policy maker, sir. You are encharged with enforcing the voting rights laws in the country. And if you are not fully informed about things that you are talking about and pontificating about, if you’re basing your conclusions on stereotypes and generalizations that raises a question in the mind of some of us whether or not you are the person best positioned to be making these choices. You said that minorities don’t become elderly the way white people do, that they die first. And you say ‘well that was a horrible generalization on my part,’ you say you don’t know how many elderly minorities vote versus the number of whites who vote who are elderly. You make observations about people going to check cashing places and you suggest that ‘well, because blacks go to check cashing places they surely must have photo ID’ and then I ask you if there is a statistical basis for that and you say you don’t know it. If you are basing your conclusions on stereotypes rather than facts, then it suggests to some of us that someone else can do this job better than you can.”

Rep. King (R-IA): If the facts support your statement, then why do you think you're here before this committee?

Tanner admits he phrased his comments "in clumsy way".

King ready to accept apology and move on.

King: "Should the law be color blind, Mr. Tanner?" (trick question!) He's pointing to the Voting Rights Act which, he says, "the Voting Rights Act is not color blind, do you agree or disagree?"

Tanner: VRA recognizes discrimination...

King (cutting him off): We don't have time for answer. Moves to questions about illegal immigrants and whether groups representing immigrants have met with him.

Tanner seems mystified at King's questions tying groups who deal with immigrants to requests for investigations. (The groups he points to may have spoken to Tanner, but not on behalf of "illegal immigrants", but that's clearly King's point to try and conflate illegal immigration to the groups who also advocate in favor of minority voting rights)

UPDATE: Video of the following questioning by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schult is now posted at right.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL): Asks to put NYTimes article "Scant evidence of Voter Fraud" into record.

She notes low rate of "voter fraud" cases over last 5 years and that DoJ has turned up very little evidence of same, and has seemed to target Dems for these cases. Convictions included many who didn't even vote, but had registered to vote in error.

Says pursuit of "voter fraud" cases is out of proportion from the problem, while low income registration that you've completely abdicated duty to do, and which is part of your mandate by law.

Tanner notes that "voter fraud" issues are not part of Civil Rights Div. mission, but rather part of Criminal Dept.

Wasserman Schultz is concerned about vote caging issues, purges from voter rolls, etc. and the cases brought by DoJ for "voter fraud" instead of voter purging!

Tanner claims Missouri law suit purpose was to stop state from removing voters from rolls (NOTE: huh??? What's he talking about? Wasserman Schultz notes the complaint was meant to purge folks, NOT keep them from being purged!)

UPDATE: Video of the following questioning by Rep. Keith Ellison, along with Davis' as noted above, the most pointed and contentious of the day, is now posted at right.

Great questions from Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MI):

Ellison: Exactly what are you apologizing for?

Tanner: I hurt people.

Ellison: How did you hurt people?

Tanner: Reaction people had was that they were hurt.

Ellison: What was "clumsy" about what you said?

Tanner: What I was thinking...

Ellison: No, what was clumsy about what you said?

Tanner: I was addressing narrow statistics about the law, with a clumsy tone.

Ellison: You're apologizing for your tone?

Tanner: I certainly had a bad tone?

Ellison: Is it true that minorities die sooner, so the voter ID laws don't hurt minorities? ... Could you please help me understand, if you're statistically correct, why are you apologizing?

Tanner: If I make remarks that people misinterpreted...

Ellison: So people misinterpreted what you said?

Tanner: I worry that people misinterpreted...

Ellison: 'Minorities don't become elderly the way white people do'. My dad is 80-years old. He's elderly.

Tanner: I was trying to address the presumptions that I made...

Ellison: Right, "presumptions" which is similar to assumptions. Which is similar to stereotypes.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA): Do I understand the Voting Rights Section is subject to an employment discrimination complaint?

Tanner says "I'd be happy to discuss that in a more appropriate venue". Won't respond to direct question about whether complaint has been made.

Scott: True that there has been 4 out of 5 staffers who recommended against Georgia ID law?

Tanner: "I believe there's been public record comment to that effect" (He won't admit it himself!)

Scott: Points to fact that only Joshua Rogers agreed to go along with law, after being out of law school for just three months. He points to fact that Rogers was recently given an award.

(NOTE: Though it was not discussed, The BRAD BLOG has learned from insider DoJ sources that recently all of the Section 5 analysts in the department recently received awards. All of them, that is, except for the only two African-American analysts in that department! More on that, hopefully, in the near future. As well as more on Rogers!)



New Witnesses...

Laughlin McDonald - Director ACLU Voting Rights Project, ACLU Southern Regional Office
Toby Moore - Former Geographer/Social Science analyst, CRT Voting Section
Robert N. Driscoll - Alston and Bird
Julie Fernandes - Senior Policy Analyst & Special Counsel, Leadership Conference for Civil Rights

Laughlin McDonald statement: Partisanship trumps efforts to enforce voting rights at DoJ. Photo ID laws in Georgia passed to combat so-called "voter fraud", despite fact that not a single incident of in-person "voter fraud" could be pointed to. He notes staff recommendation being overridden on George Photo ID law. And cooperation of Hans von Spakovsky in that matter. DoJ's preclearance of the Georgia Photo ID act "underminded, seriously, the effective enforcement of the Voting Rights Act".

Toby Moore statement: Uncomfortable testifying, since he had a very good relationship with Tanner when he worked there. Public comments could be overlooked if they were merely off the cuff remarks. Unfortunately, the comments are a fair assessment of Tanner's understanding and enforcement of the law. Direct result of political appointments such as Hans von Spakovsky and Bradley Schlozman. Has undermined mission of department. Says, 2005 Georgia Photo ID law was a "nasty piece of legislation" and "discriminatory". Tanner was trying to please von Spakovsky and Schlozman.

Says Tanner's assertions were wrong. (He was the one who analyzed data Tanner was referring to). Was not true that African-Americans had more Photo ID than white voters. Not true that minority voters die before they get old.

Says they were reprimanded, called into office, and told behavior on the Photo ID recommendations were unacceptable. "Mr. Tanner needs to correct that statement" (He must have earlier said they were not reprimanded, though we haven't seen that comment ourselves.) "How long will the DoJ tolerate mismanagement merely to save face?"

Bob Driscoll statement: Career appointees (such as Tanner, who has been there for 30 years) can be partisan as well as political appointees. Just because they're partisan, doesn't mean they can't properly enforce law. It's extremely risky to bring career employees like Tanner before this panel to ask him questions as he was asked during the first panel today.

Julie Fernandes statement: "Every week, it seems, there's another article in the news calling into question the managers of the Voting Rights Section and the laws they chose to enforce...In many ways, the Voting Section has become the best example of Civil Rights gone wrong at the Dept. of Justice...In recent years, the Civ Rights Division has turned away from it's mandate." Has only brought two cases on behalf of African-Americans. One originally brought by previous administration. NO CASES brought to protect African-Americans in deep south. Only case in past six years in deep south, was a case involving White voters!

Instead of promoting access to the polls, the Div. has used it's efforts to keep people from having access to the polls.

Blames von Spakovsky and Schlozman for "draconian" Georgia Photo ID laws. Division has rejected numerous requests to enforce voting roll and purge issues. "Voter Integrity" effort of Ashcroft began in 2001 and unhealthily co-mingled Criminal and Civil Rights division to enforce so-called "voter fraud" issues. ... "Laws must be enforced without fear or favor, and there must be accountability when they don't."

Nadler asks about reports of "thousands" of voters double-voting in different states. McDonald says there's no evidence of anybody voting illegally, in person (in such a way that Photo ID polling place restrictions would have stopped) at the polls.

Nadler asks about number of folks who have left division under Tanner. Moore says he understands from colleagues since he lef that there are "hostile working conditions" and that it's currently a "very unhappy place to work"

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ): Objects to comments against Tanner.
Nadler: I think they were generous.
Franks: Says remarks might have been "clumsy" but they've been "pretty twisted here". Had to point that out.

Franks refers, again, to Carter/Baker commission pointing that hundreds of countries use Photo ID restrictions at polls.

As we reported in great deatail, back in 2005, the sham Carter/Baker commission was created for exactly that purpose! To push the Republican agenda for Photo ID! By Thor Hearne and his phony GOP front group, ACVR!

Driscoll (clearly the witness called by the Republican) believes the "Benefits of Voter ID outweigh the downsides by far."

Franks quotes comments of "Mark Hearne" --- That would be Mark F. "Thor" Hearne! The man who has been discredited as a GOP propagandist by The BRAD BLOG! See our "Special Coverage Page" here!

Conyers recommends holding an additional hearing, due to time-constraints. Wants to closely review testimony due to "Two views of this" where one group says everything is "going great, hunky-dory" at Voting Rights Section, with another group calling for the head of the section to be fired.

Says, one thing I'm here for now: "Where do we go from here, ladies and gentlemen?" Our mission is to examine the management and see if changes need to be made. And to see if the mission of the department is correct. Says "my bill, the Moter Voter bill was second signed by Clinton once in office and now it's being used to keep people from registering to vote."

Fernandes points out that if people are registered in both FL and NY (as ACVR and Franks claims) that "no Voter ID law is going to keep them from voting in both places".

Ellison says that even if 26 people have been indicted in the past 6 years for voting under a diffferent name, how many correctly registered voters will be kept from voting under these Photo ID laws?

Fernandes: 10's of thousands, perhaps 100's of thousands, depending on how the laws are written. "We're talking about whipping up a frenzy around that practice, which isn't a particularly effective way of stealing an election".

Ellison: Isn't that a felony?

Fernandes: Yes.

Ellison: I have enough trouble getting people to vote who are registered properly.

Under questions from Bobby Scott, Toby Moore says: Memo, recommending against Georgia ID law, as published by WaPo was doctored by DoJ to reverse staff recommendations and many of our key findings.

Scott: Is Tanner a career or political appointment?

Moore: That's a good question.

(Driscoll tosses in snarkily: "That's a good question for you too.")

Nadler thanks witnesses, says we may have more hearings at an additional time. Says 5 days will be given to witnesses to add to, or correct their testimony.


UPDATE 10/31/07: Check out Dana Milbank/WaPo's brutal post-hearing video take-down of Tanner...