GOP Officials Found Guilty in Phone-Jamming Crime
Democratic Lines Were Blocked in 2002 as New Hampshire Elected U.S. Senator
By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 17, 2006; Page A10
October 2002, Charles McGee, executive director of the New Hampshire
Republican Party, was mailed a Democratic flier that offered Election
Day rides to the polls. The circular listed telephone numbers of party
offices in five cities and towns.
"I paused and thought to
myself, I might find out -- I might think of an idea of disrupting
those operations," McGee later testified. A Marine Corps veteran, McGee
approached the situation like a combat operation: "Eventually the idea
coalesced into disrupting their phone lines . . . [it's] military
common sense that if you can't communicate, you can't plan and
When voting began Nov. 5, McGee's plan worked like a charm. For two
crucial hours, an Idaho telecommunications firm tied up Democratic and
union phone lines, bringing their get-out-the-vote plans to a halt. The
effort helped John E. Sununu (R) win his Senate seat by 51 to 47
percent, a 19,151-vote margin.
Well before Election Day ended, however, the scheme began to implode -- in ways that still echo nearly four years later.
and two other participants -- Republican National Committee regional
political director James Tobin and GOP consultant Allen Raymond-- have
been found guilty of criminally violating federal communications law.
Tobin will be sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H.
The New Hampshire Republican Party, burden by legal bills, is virtually broke, with $733.60 in its federal and state accounts.
Republican National Committee, in turn, has paid $3 million in legal
fees in criminal and civil cases growing out of the controversy. The
RNC has paid at least $2.8 million to Williams & Connolly and other
firms for Tobin's defense, and about $150,000 to Covington &
Burling to defend the RNC in a civil suit brought by the New Hampshire
The RNC's legal fees exceed the $2.4 million spent by Sununu, the winner of the U.S. Senate race.
tantalizingly to Democrats, evidence filed in Tobin's trial in December
shows 22 phone calls from Tobin to the White House between 11:20 a.m.
Election Day, two hours after the phone jamming was shut down, and 2:17
a.m. the next day, four hours after the outcome of the election was
Democrats charge that these phone calls and the RNC
payment of Tobin's legal fees suggest possible White House involvement
or knowledge of the phone jamming plan. RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman was at
the time serving as White House political director. He said he had no
involvement or awareness of Tobin's scheme, and that it was not unusual
that there would be lots of calls back and forth to the White House
political office from a crucial state.
But the case has drawn
complaints even from Republicans. By covering Tobin's legal fees, "the
GOP appears to sanction and institutionalize corruption within the
party," Craig Shirley, of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs,
recently wrote in a commentary published by The Washington Post.
The phone-blocking occurred from 7 to 9 a.m. the crucial morning hours when many voters want to go to the polls before work.
phones were starting to ring, and as I would pick up one phone, it
automatically bumped over to another line," testified Manchester
firefighter Jeffery S. Duval, who was working the phones at union
headquarters. "There was nobody on any of the phones. The phone lines
were dead once we went to pick them up. . . . We gave the police
department a call."
The local police began to investigate.
Realizing that what seemed at first like a clever tactic could have
criminal implications, state Republican officials hurriedly called
their telecommunications consultants to stop the jamming, according to
court testimony. But the case was soon turned over to the FBI and the
Justice Department because the allegations involved violations of
federal telecommunications law.
Tobin, a longtime GOP operative,
was later appointed New England chairman for the Bush-Cheney '04
campaign, but resigned when he became a subject of the federal criminal
inquiry. On Dec. 15, 2005, Tobin, 45, was convicted of two counts of
Former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie decided to
pay Tobin's legal fees. "He was accused of doing something in his
capacity as an RNC consultant, and we believed him to be innocent,"
Gillespie said. While the RNC had no contractual obligation, "it's the
custom, not written anywhere, that you covered your people," Gillespie
Gillespie said he informed the White House, but did not
seek formal approval, before authorizing the payments. Mehlman said
that under his chairmanship, consulting contracts now explicitly
declare that independent contractors must be prepared to pay their own
legal costs in civil and criminal cases.
In a pre-sentencing
memo, federal prosecutors are seeking a prison term of 18 to 24 months
for Tobin. "The 2002 U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire was hotly
contested, and one of the main goals of the Republican Party was to
retain that Senate seat," they wrote. "Overcome by his desire for
success in the election, Tobin exercised his considerable authority to
make the phone jamming scheme succeed, rather than to stop it."
lawyers countered that he has suffered enough: "Mr. Tobin is a man with
high ethical standards and a deep love for his family and community.
Seeing his reputation destroyed, his family publicly humiliated and a
profession [politics] he loves made unavailable to him has caused him
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