Our former U.S. attorney tells some foul-smelling stories.

The Stooge 

Our former U.S. attorney tells some foul-smelling stories.

Kwaim A. Stenson sat at the defense table, waiting for the judge who would sentence him. Dressed in orange prison togs, Stenson passed the time by handling the slack in his waist chains as if it were a Slinky toy.

Three U.S. marshals guarded Stenson, a noteworthy but hardly vicious criminal.

In June, he'd pleaded guilty to a count of voter-registration fraud. Stenson and three other people had been indicted six days before the November 2006 election. The four defendants had been temp workers hired by the Kansas City chapter of ACORN , a liberal advocacy group that paid them $8 an hour to register new voters. Their indictments followed weeks of complaints by Republican election officials in Kansas City, Missouri, and St. Louis about the dubious authenticity of thousands of voter registrations submitted by ACORN.

Grist for Missouri newspapers in the fall became a national story by spring. The indictments of the Kansas City ACORN workers fit into a pile of evidence that the White House had misused the Department of Justice for partisan gains. The scandal culminated with the August 27 resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Stenson appeared in court on September 5. Awaiting his punishment, occasionally muttering to himself, without a friend or family member in the gallery to gaze upon for support, he was far removed from the Washington drama that had claimed the country's top law enforcer.

I marked Stenson's court date because I'd written a column about ACORN's efforts last fall ("With Friends Like These," November 23, 2006). I'd spent a few hours on Election Day with ACORN workers as they knocked on doors in the Ivanhoe neighborhood, coaxing infrequent voters to the polls.

The ACORN people I met seemed earnest and diligent. But I came to the conclusion that ACORN's voter-registration efforts played too much into the hands of Republicans who promote the idea (false, it turns out) that election fraud is widespread. This fear tactic is designed to make it easier to pass voter-ID laws and other measures likely to suppress votes for Democrats. Before he retired this past summer, Ray James, the Republican director of the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners, loved to show off the duplicate, illegible and fake voter registration cards that ACORN's workers had submitted. Fox News even came to town to film them.

The ACORN story took a more interesting turn after Todd Graves, the former U.S. attorney in western Missouri, came forward in May to say that he'd been pushed out of his job because he hadn't done enough to further the political agenda of the White House. Graves' replacement had been Bradley Schlozman, an Overland Park native who had worked in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.

It was Schlozman who brought the ACORN charges, in spite of U.S. attorney guidelines discouraging election-crime investigations until after an election. Schlozman decided instead that haste was the best course. When he replaced Graves, Schlozman had never worked as a prosecutor. The Kansas City Star's meet-the-new-boss profile mentioned that, while at the Justice Department, Schlozman had approved Tom DeLay's Republican-friendly Texas redistricting plan. But the full extent of Schlozman's partisan approach to justice didn't emerge until Graves took his place among the U.S. attorneys fired for disloyalty, and reporters started digging into Schlozman's past.

Schlozman, for instance, supported a voter-ID law in Georgia over the objections of career attorneys at the Justice Department. He also authorized a suit accusing the state of Missouri of failing to purge ineligible voters from the rolls. (A federal judge dismissed the case.)

Put in charge of the voting-rights section of the Civil Rights Division, Schlozman remade it in his image. A May 6 Boston Globe story described how half of the career lawyers hired under Schlozman were members of the conservative Federalist Society or the Republican National Lawyers Association. Schlozman appeared to sacrifice intellect for ideology; the new hires came from lower-ranked law schools than their predecessors. The Washington Post reported that Schlozman and his aides would ask if lawyers handling politically sensitive cases were "on our team."

A hack of the highest order, Schlozman was called to testify on Capitol Hill in June. And like any self-respecting worm, he lied and dissembled.

The laughable moments of Schlozman's testimony included his stated belief that the ACORN indictments weren't going to influence the election. He also claimed ignorance about ACORN's political leanings, even though the indictments stated that the group's mission was to improve low-income and minority communities.

Schlozman continues to spin. In answers to written questions that Senate Democrats recently made public, Schlozman claims to "have no idea" why Graves was dismissed. He also noted that his office did not issue a press release announcing the ACORN indictments. But the story appeared in Missouri newspapers large and small, some with a quote from Schlozman that "this national investigation is very much ongoing." Schlozman threw out that little turd but declined, in his written reply to the Senate, to explain what he was talking about.

Schlozman served as U.S. attorney in western Missouri for about a year before returning to Washington to work again in the Justice Department. He left that post in August and, from what I hear, will join a law firm in Wichita.

As Schlozman was plotting his next career move, Kwaim A. Stenson languished in jail.

He'd reached a plea agreement in June but tested positive for marijuana while out on bond and was kept in custody until his September 5 hearing before Judge Gary Fenner.

Stenson was the last of the ACORN Four to be sentenced. Dale Franklin and Brian Gardner got probation and a $100 fee after entering their pleas. Carmen Davis, who was also jailed for a time between her arraignment and sentencing, was ordered to spend 120 days in a halfway house.

Noting Stenson's time served and his lack of a significant criminal record, Fenner released him to a halfway house in Springfield. Fenner said that Stenson, who turns 20 this year, had been "basically living on the streets."

Stenson accepted the judge's verdict. "I'm just sorry for all this, and I'm ready to get a new start," he said.

Stenson's original crime: submitting one false voter registration application.

I doubt that Schlozman told so few lies.

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