Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Department of Curious Omissions: Last Friday in National Review Byron York wrote yet another article on purported "massive" South Dakota voter fraud scandal ("The South Dakota Vote Scandal: How High Does It Go?"). The article strongly implies that the State's Attorney General Mark Barnett is covering up evidence of Democratic voter fraud abuses. Never once in the article does York identify Barnett as the Republican State Attorney General. (He ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination earlier this year.)

How high does the Democratic voter fraud scandal go? Apparently all the way up into the Republican party. Now that's massive!

Back during the South Dakota Senate campaign we devoted lots of space to trumped-up Republican charges that Democrats had turned the state's Indian reservations into hotbeds of voter fraud. At some point I want to devote a long post to all the ins and outs of what happened in the voter fraud pseudo-scandal. But for now it's enough to remember that Republicans made a series of wild-eyed allegations of 'massive voter fraud.' Those charges were then amplified by a number of local reporters who turned out to be working in embarrassingly close coordination -- in one case, cohabiting -- with the Republican operatives who ginned up the accusations in the first place.

The whole thing was a rather shameless attempt to stymie efforts to get more people to exercise their legitimate right to vote -- and stir up politically-helpful racial animosity too. The 'massive fraud' charges eventually collapsed under the weight of their own ridiculousness, though this didn't stop Republican candidate John Thune and the RNC from a series of scurrilous ads and mailings accusing Democrat Tim Johnson of having a hand in the fraudulent voting.

On election day Johnson beat Thune by a minuscule margin of 524 votes. The Thune campaign grumbled about voter fraud. But in the absence of any evidence, Thune took the high road and conceded the race.

But there turned out to be an interesting division of labor: While Thune was taking the high road, his Republican operatives -- working for the RNC -- fanned out across the state's Indian reservations collecting affidavits purporting to prove widespread voter fraud -- enough to have cost Thune the election.

These affidavits were turned over to the State Attorney General Mark Barnett and, helpfully, to Byron York of the National Review and a number of other conservative news outlets. York's piece, which was based on the 50 RNC-collected affidavits, made the cover of the current issue of the National Review with the headline "South Dakota's Invalid Senator: How the Democrats Stole a Senate Seat."

As you might expect, the charges got lots of play in DC, reviving the claims of voter fraud. But if you were reading the South Dakota press you'd see that the state's Republican Attorney General, Mark Barnett, found the affidavits a good deal less impressive than York did. On December 10th he told the Rapid City Journal ...

Realistically, many of the things set out in those affidavits are not crimes. They are what I would call local election-board management problems. A fair number could be read as complaints about how effective the Democratic get-out-the-vote effort was. They had people watching, then jumping on the phone to one of their drivers.
Barnett didn't think any of the allegations would have changed the result of the election. But he said he would open investigations into "two or three affidavits out of 50" which included allegations of vote buying.

A few days later Barnett came back with the results of his investigation, recounted here in December 13th AP story ...

Barnett dismissed allegations in three affidavits, purportedly from people who were offered rides to the polling place in a Johnson van and offered $10 to vote. One of the people could not be located, and the others said they did not vote and were not offered money to vote. One said his signature had been forged on his affidavit, and the other said she signed hers because a friend told her to.

"These affidavits are either perjury or forgery, or call them what you will. They are just flat false," Barnett said.

So Republican attempts to substantiate their own charges of fraud and forgery end with RNC operatives caught filing perjurious or forged affidavits to prove their phony case. At least, so says South Dakota's Republican Attorney General.

Trent Lott's career is currently swirling down the drain in part because he has a long-standing association with a white supremacist group called the Council of Conservative Citizens and because he gave a 1984 interview to a crypto-racist magazine called the Southern Partisan. Attorney General John Ashcroft is going on Larry King Live tomorrow night. Ashcroft also has at least some connection with the very same group and he gave an interview to the same magazine only four years ago.

Is Larry going to ask him about it? If not, why not? Should Ashcroft get a pass for some of the same stuff that's ending Lott's career?

His Larryness has his own website. And down in the lower lefthand corner there's a link where you can send an email suggesting a question for a guest ...

Coming tomorrow: the final nail in the coffin of the Republican South Dakota voter fraud smear.

Poor word choice of the day watch. Senator Richard Shelby on CNN's Late Edition: we should not "lynch" Senator Lott.

This graf from an excellent and telling article in Sunday's Washington Post certainly has the smell of death about it.

In an indication of White House wariness about getting squarely behind Lott, sources said Lott sought statements of support last week from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell but was rebuffed. Both are African American. Some White House officials said it was clumsy of Lott to ask.
Grasping for straws. Not finding many straws.

Last night we held an impromptu contest to see which reader could identify the nationally-prominent Republican politician who told Southern Partisan magazine ...

Your magazine also helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and [Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda. (See last night's post for the full post)
Now, the truth is that hundreds of readers wrote in with the correct answer: Attorney General John Ashcroft ("Missouri's Champion of States' Rights and Traditional Southern Values" according the headline on the interview's front page) who sat down with the Southern Partisan in 1998. That was when he was thinking of running for president and eager to burnish his standing with the ... well -- what shall we call it? -- the racial traditionalist crowd?

In any case, it's hard to announce a winner when there are so many winners and hard to give a prize for the same reason. So probably the best thing to do is just add the entire Ashcroft interview to the TPM Document Collection. You can find the quote above on page three of the interview. And don't miss what comes right after that quote, where Ashcroft says how real Missourians were part of the Confederacy too and bemoans the fact that the national history standards released in the early 1990s "make no mention of [Robert E.] Lee's military genius!" Or on page four where the interviewer gushes at Ashcroft after hearing what a staunch defender he is of the states' rights cause.

Southern Partisan: That's great. I did not realize that you'd been such a big part of fighting the states' rights fight.

Senator Ashcroft: Well, frankly, there aren't any big parts. There are just a lot of soldiers, and I happened to have been one of the soldiers at whom they fired a shot...

Oh golly gee ...

How about another quote from the Post article mentioned below...

The [White House] officials said Bush and his aides believe Democrats are hypocritically exploiting the issue out of partisan opportunism, and that the absence of news from the war on terrorism last week contributed to the focus on Lott. The officials said Bush would oppose any effort by Democrats to undermine Lott.
To an extent, the second clause of the first sentence is simply a statement of fact. But it's also, I think, a kinda revealing statement of how much the White House has to come rely upon and use the war on terrorism to muffle down domestic political problems.

You can believe in the necessity of the war on terrorism and still recognize how crassly the White House sometimes exploits it for the narrowest political purposes.

As longtime readers know, TPM sometimes likes to leaven the seriousness of political talk with an occasional contest or game. So how 'bout this one.

One of the things Trent Lott has gotten in trouble for was a 1984 interview he gave to the 'neo-confederate' magazine Southern Partisan. That -- in case you don't remember -- is the magazine which has questioned whether the non-white races are capable of democratic self-government and taken what you might call a rather too open-minded attitude toward whether or not the murder of Abraham Lincoln was a good thing. Happily, henceforth the bar will be set higher, it seems: any cavorting with crypto-racist whackjobs will simply be beyond the pale.

Now, which very-nationally-prominent Republican politician, as recently as 1998, told Southern Partisan ...

Southern Partisan: On the local and national front, we have another effort at twisting meanings and twisting history. It's this idea of national history standards ...

Republican Politician X: Revisionism is a threat to the respect that Americans have for their freedoms and liberty that was at the core of those who founded this country, and when we see George Washington, the founder of this country, called a racist, that is just total revisionist nonsense, a diatribe against the values of America. Have you read Thomas West's book 'Vindicating the Founders'?

Southern Partisan: I've met Professor West, and I read one of his earlier books, but not that one.

Republican Politician X: I wish I had another copy: I'd send it to you. I gave it away to a newspaper editor. West actually disassembles all of these malicious attacks the revisionists have brought against our founders. Your magazine also helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and [Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.

P.S. Extra credit points for identifying the mysterious 'perverted agenda'.