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Bush White House Broke Elections Law, Report Says
The report by the Office of Special Counsel finds that the Bush administration's Office of Political Affairs - overseen by Karl Rove - served almost as an extension of the Republican National Committee, developing a "target list" of Congressional races, organizing dozens of briefings for political appointees to press them to work for party candidates, and sending cabinet officials out to help these campaigns.
The report, based on about 100,000 pages of documents and interviews with 80 Bush administration officials in an investigation of more than three years, documented how these political activities accelerated before the 2006 midterm elections.
This included helping coordinate fund-raising by Republican candidates and pressing Bush administration political appointees to help with Republican voter-turnout pitches, particularly in the 72 hours leading up to the election when Democrats took control of the House and Senate for the first time in a dozen years.
The Office of Special Counsel, a relatively obscure federal agency, is charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. Certain members of the White House political staff - including the top aides at the Office of Political Affairs - are exempt, as are the president, vice president and members of the cabinet. But the law still prohibits the use of federal money, even by these officials, to support political causes.
The report found that during the Bush administration, senior staff members at the Office of Political Affairs violated the Hatch Act by organizing 75 political briefings from 2001 to 2007 for Republican appointees at top federal agencies in an effort to enlist them to help Republicans get elected to Congress.
Mr. Rove and Ken Mehlman, who was the director of the office until the end of 2003, did not respond Monday to requests for comment.
Former employees of the office in the Bush administration told investigators that they saw these "political briefings as no more than informational discussions about the political landscape." The investigators found that most of these briefings took place in federal workplaces or while the employees were on duty.
"These briefings created an environment aimed at assisting Republican candidates, constituting political activity within the meaning of the Hatch Act," the 118-page report said.
According to PowerPoint slides the investigators collected, the briefings highlighted the importance of the "G.O.P. ground game" and talked about the "Republican Offensive," in certain states, while detailing the "Republican Defense" in others.
The investigators also found evidence that the Bush White House improperly classified travel by senior officials as official government business, "when it was, in fact, political," and the costs associated with this travel were never reimbursed.
A spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel said Monday that because the administration officials had left office, it no longer has jurisdiction to file any charges. It also said that it had not made a formal referral to the Justice Department to ask it to pursue any possible charges.
A Justice Department official on Monday declined to comment when asked if it might file charges based on the report.
The Obama administration, just last week, announced that it was terminating its own version of the Office of Political Affairs, as Mr. Obama decided to move his re-election campaign operation to Chicago, with the duties of the political office being taken up by the Democratic National Committee.