Now this is what a partisan witch hunt looks like.
On an overcast Monday afternoon, officers in bulletproof vests swept into a house on Houston’s north side. The armed deputies and agents served a search warrant. They carted away computers, hard drives and documents.
The raid targeted a voter registration group called Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. It was initiated by investigators for Attorney General Greg Abbott. His aides say he is duty-bound to preserve the integrity of the ballot box.
His critics, however, say that what Abbott has really sought to preserve is the power of the Republican Party in Texas. They accuse him of political partisanship, targeting key Democratic voting blocs, especially minorities and the poor, in ways that make it harder for them to vote, or for their votes to count.
A close examination of the Houston Votes case reveals the consequences when an elected official pursues hotly contested allegations of election fraud.
The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.
And the dramatic, heavily armed raid never was necessary, according to Fred Lewis, president of Texans Together, the nonprofit parent group of Houston Votes. “They could have used a subpoena,” he said. “They could have called us and asked for the records. They didn’t need guns.”
The previously unreported 2010 raid coincided with agitation by a local tea party group and Lewis’ testimony in the trial of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Lewis had filed a complaint against DeLay that, in large part, led to his indictment on corruption charges.
Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, declined interview requests. A spokesman, Jerry Strickland, said the attorney general does not recall being briefed by staff members on the Houston Votes investigation.
“In this investigation — and all other investigations conducted by the Office of the Attorney General — evidence uncovered dictates direction,” Strickland said in an email. “To insinuate there were other factors at work in this case is ludicrous and unfounded.”
Read the whole thing and see for yourself how “unfounded” it is. It’s a toxic mix of True The Vote paranoia, bad practices and bad faith from the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office, and Abbott’s zeal to prove that somewhere, somehow there exists justification for voter ID laws. And then there’s the best part:
Abbott’s office said the Harris County district attorney in October 2011 “declined to accept for prosecution the case as prepared by investigators of the Texas Attorney General office,” according to a court document filed last year.
The document said the case related to a violation of an identity theft law in the Penal Code, which is a felony. It did not list names or details.
Strickland, the Abbott spokesman, said the attorney general’s office does not have jurisdiction to prosecute that section of the Penal Code. As a result, the information was given to the Harris County district attorney’s office, he said in an email.
The News on June 10 filed a public records request with the attorney general for the case file. Abbott’s office, which is in charge of enforcing the state’s open records law, asked itself for a ruling on whether those records must be released. In an Aug. 28 letter, the attorney general’s office ruled that it may withhold the records under state law.
The records are exempt from required release because they pertain to a criminal investigation that did not result in a conviction or deferred adjudication, wrote Lindsay Hale, an assistant attorney general in the Open Records Division.
It’s unclear how often Abbott’s office investigates allegations similar to the ones leveled at Houston Votes.
In response to requests from The News, the attorney general’s office provided a list of 637 potential violations of the Elections Code referred to Abbott since he took office in late 2002.
Strickland said he could not say how many were investigated or how many involved alleged voter registration fraud. “The office does not ‘compile or keep statistics,’” he said.
The Harris County district attorney’s office declined to comment on the Houston Votes case. Terese Buess, assistant district attorney over the public integrity division, told The News that her office doesn’t discuss cases that don’t result in criminal prosecution. But “generally, criminal charges are only authorized when there is evidence that establishes probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed.”
Emphasis mine. So Greg Abbott asked Greg Abbott if Greg Abbott needs to release information about Greg Abbott’s half-baked partisan-driven investigation, and Greg Abbott said that Greg Abbott didn’t have to if Greg Abbott didn’t want to. Makes sense to me. Be sure to read the whole thing, there’s a lot to digest. PDiddie, Nonsequiteuse, and Texpatriate have more.
UPDATE: Definitely read this update from Nonsequiteuse as well.