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House committee to investigate '02 GOP phone jamming

White House role called in question

WASHINGTON - The House Judiciary Committee says it will investigate a GOP phone-jamming scheme that tied up get-out-the-vote calls on Election Day in New Hampshire in 2002.

While the incident led to several convictions, "serious questions have been raised by members of Congress and the press about the [Justice] Department's handling of this sensitive matter and, in particular, whether politics has improperly influenced the investigation," Representative John Conyers Jr., committee chairman and a Michigan Democrat, said in a letter yesterday to Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler.

Conyers first wrote about the case to former attorney general Alberto Gonzales in May 2006, asking for an independent special counsel to investigate it. The request was denied.

"The most important open issue is whether the possible role of White House officials and Republican Party political leaders has been sufficiently investigated," Conyers wrote. "Twenty-two phone calls were exchanged between New Hampshire Republican officials and the White House Office of Political Affairs starting at 11:20 a.m. on Election Day 2002 and running past 2 a.m. on election night, and 110 calls were placed between James Tobin and the White House in the two months surrounding the election."

The letter pointed out other issues the committee found to be troubling: the Republican National Committee paid millions of dollars in legal fees to defend Tobin, a former official of the committee, apparently made in consultation with the White House, and that funds used to pay for the phone-jamming may have been funneled from Native American tribal donors to the New Hampshire Republican Party by disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and/or the fund-raising machinery of former representative Tom DeLay.

Also, the FBI special agent working the case allegedly was instructed not to follow investigative leads back to Washington, Conyers wrote.

In a separate matter, the committee was interested in looking at a charge that a Republican-connected voter registration firm, Sproul & Associates, engaged in serious misconduct such as declining to register Democratic voters and destroying registration cards collected from Democratic voters in several states prior to the national elections in 2004.

Committee members are requesting answers about the cases by Oct. 19.

Last month, Representative Paul Hodes, Democrat of New Hampshire, asked for a congressional investigation into the phone-jamming scheme.

In March, a federal appeals court reversed the conviction and 10-month sentence of Tobin.

In 2002, Representative John Sununu, a Republican, defeated former Democratic governor Jeanne Shaheen, 51 percent to 46 percent, in the general election.

Now, Sununu is thought to be vulnerable in the 2008 race. Shaheen has entered the race, and former astronaut Jay Buckey is also seeking the nomination.

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