Thursday, May 31, 2007

National Journal: GOP officials were afraid fee office scandal would hurt Talent, other Republican candidates

In a copyrighted article in the National Journal, reporter Murray Waas begins connecting the dots between the push to combat alleged voter fraud in Missouri, the firing of U. S. attorney Bud Cummins, and the fee office scandal surrounding Governor Matt Blunt's administration.

At the center of the story is Lathrop & Gage attorney and Bush operative Thor Hearne:

Last year's neck-and-neck Senate race in Missouri between Republican incumbent Jim Talent and Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill was a high-profile contest for both political parties. Democratic and Republican operatives were looking for any edge they could find in the race, which McCaskill ended up winning narrowly.

Republicans feared that an investigation of the Blunt administration by the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, Bud Cummins, could tar Blunt and hurt Talent and other GOP candidates on the ballot. Blunt himself was not up for re-election. The investigation was spurred by allegations that the Blunt administration had improperly awarded state contracts to political contributors to run privately operated bureaus where Missouri residents obtain driver's licenses and register their vehicles. Because of potential conflicts of interest, the U.S. attorneys in Missouri weren't handling the investigation.

Cummins said in an interview that a former senior Justice Department official from the Bush administration, William Mateja, repeatedly contacted him during the investigation and asked whether Blunt was implicated in the corruption probe. Cummins said he was unaware at the time that Mateja was making his calls at the behest of Hearne, whose law firm had retained Mateja on Blunt's behalf.

The article features considerable information about Hearne, including the fact, mentioned previously in this blog, that Hearne wrote the photo voter ID bill, which Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, has tried to pass for the past two legislative sessions.

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