It's not everyone who gets accused by a presidential candidate of "maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."
That's how John McCain described the grassroots group ACORN in last Wednesday night's debate. The next day, two officials from the Justice Department leaked details of an FBI multi-state probe of ACORN.
And now the Obama campaign shoves back, hard. Campaign lawyer Bob Bauer said this afternoon that the McCain campaign and DOJ have formed "an unholy alliance of law enforcement and the ugliest form of partisan politics." Their goal isn't to stop ACORN, said Bauer, but to suppress the vote that ACORN is promoting. "It's a war on the voters," he said.
Those would be the 1.3 million young, low-income and minority voters registered by ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — and the reason the group has been knocked around for months by Republicans.
Thousands of registration forms gathered by ACORN canvassers have turned out to be bogus. Critics say the group plans to turn out droves of illegitimate voters on Election Day. The Republican National Committee calls ACORN "a quasi-criminal organization." On Friday, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said he has "concerns of rampant voter fraud in registrations."
The group's defenders say that a few canvassers cheat, and ACORN identifies fraudulent forms — but by law in most states, it has to submit all of the forms it collects. There are investigations in about 12 states, although they seem to be targeting individual canvassers, not ACORN as an organization.
The GOP wants to hang the tainted ACORN on Obama's shoulders, while the Obama campaign has found another way to link McCain with the Bush administration....
Republicans are demanding more details about ties between grassroots group and candidate. In 1995, he represented ACORN in a lawsuit over voter registration; an ally was the Justice Department. Earlier this year, Obama's campaign paid $832,000 to a consultant who hired ACORN for campaign work.
The Obama counterattack is legal. Bauer asked federal special prosecutor Nora Dannehy to look into alleged coordination by DOJ, the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee. Bauer says it's "precisely the same as" the politicized situation that led the Bush administration to oust eight U.S. attorneys in 2007. Several of the prosecutors had investigated voter fraud cases and then declined to prosecute them.
Dannehy was brought in as a special prosecutor because that case is too hot for DOJ to handle itself.
And in a couple of other twists and turns today:
The Pennsylvania Republican party sued ACORN and the Pennsylvania secretary of the commonwealth. State party chairman Robert Gleason Jr. said, "We don't believe that we can trust the results of this election."
And ACORN itself, responding to a McCain campaign attack earlier this week, asked to meet with two campaign officials.
Respected former senators John Danforth (MO) and Warren Rudman (NH) head an Honest and Open Election Committee on McCain's campaign. The ex-senators said Tueday that Obama has "a responsibility to rein in ACORN's efforts and to work aggressively against wide-scale voter fraud."
In its letter today, ACORN leaders said they'd like to talk with Danforth and Rudman about Americans' constitutional right to vote. They also said when it comes to ACORN's voter registration activities, Danforth and Rudman never tried to find out how things work and don't know what they're talking about.
But ACORN's letter didn't phrase it quite that way. The leaders wrote that they "would be delighted to walk you through all of our procedures, and clarify for you how we manage an effective and professional operation."