WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats urged the Justice Department on Monday to investigate whether one of its former prosecutors led attempts to suppress Florida voter turnout during the 2004 presidential election.
The request by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is the latest facet of Congress' ongoing inquiry into whether politics played a role in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.
One of the fired prosecutors, Bud Cummins in Little Rock, Ark., was replaced on an interim basis by Tim Griffin - a protege of presidential political adviser Karl Rove who worked at the Republican National Committee in 2004. The two senators Monday pointed to two e-mails to Griffin - titled "caging" and dated August 2004 - listing nearly 2,000 potential voters in Jacksonville, Fla.
The e-mails were posted on a political Web site critical of the Bush administration, but a White House spokeswoman said the Democrats did not doubt their authenticity.
"Caging" refers to efforts to disqualify voters who fail to sign for registered campaign mail sent to their houses. In theory, the practice identifies homes where voters no longer live. But the Democrats said in a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that "there are many reasons why registered mail might be 'returned to sender' that have nothing to do with a voter's eligibility."
The caging lists targeted predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Jacksonville, the senators said in their letter.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency is "not able to comment on an individual who is no longer a Justice Department employee, nor on allegations about this individual before he became a Department employee."
Griffin stepped down as interim U.S. attorney in Little Rock earlier this month.
The caging controversy also was raised last month by Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's former White House liaison. In House testimony, Goodling said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty was aware of allegations of Griffin working to cage votes in 2004 - but told a Senate panel he was unfamiliar with the case.
Goodling said McNulty "was aware that that was an issue. I told him the day before that it was" and provided him then newspaper stories about the allegations, she testified.
People close to McNulty have said he did not have time to review the media stories before the Senate hearing in February and told lawmakers he did not know enough about the situation to discuss it.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.