On the night of November 1, 2004, Jim Branscome said, he overheard
a man, a guest in the Holiday Inn where Mr. Branscome worked in
Columbus, Ohio, tell someone over the pay phone in the hotel lobby:
"'Look, I know you got out of prison about'...X amount of months
ago...I can't remember how many months he gave, but it was earlier
this year, the year 2004, and he said, 'It's illegal for you to vote
in this state, and if you show up tomorrow at the polls, we're going
to have the FBI there waiting for you, and we're going to haul your
ass right back into the slammer' he told him or into the 'can' or
something like that."
-- From a videotaped interview with Robert Fitrakis and Linda Byrket.
Mr. Branscome said that the man appeared to be making calls from a
list of names and phone numbers. Outraged at what he had heard, Mr.
Branscome said, he approached the man, but the man got on the elevator
and fled to the sixth floor where he had a room. Mr. Branscome
followed him to the sixth floor, but the man returned to the lobby
immediately, with Mr. Branscome following him down and out of the
hotel. Mr. Branscome saw the man turn the corner next to Ohio
Republican Party headquarters, in the same block as the hotel, and he
said he is sure the man went into the state GOP's building.
The hotel desk clerk called the Columbus police about the incident.
The 911 report shows the police responded, but no action was taken,
and there was no record of a report having been written, a clerk in
the records section said.
If Mr. Branscome's report is accurate, the caller violated the Civil
Rights Act of 1957 and the Voting Rights Act of 1968. If convicted,
the caller could be sentenced to one year in jail.
Mr. Branscome has said he believes the caller was a member of a
group staying at the hotel to work on the election calling itself the
Mighty Texas Strike Force (MTSF). The organization has connections
reaching into the White House.
An internet review and an interview with Polly Sowell, Senior
Appointments Manager in the office of Texas Governor Rick Perry and
responsible for recruiting for the MTSF, finds that the organization
originated in 2000 to bring volunteers from Texas and other states
into battleground states such as Florida to work for the election of
George W. Bush. The MTSF was reinstituted in 2004, dispersing about
1,500 volunteers to Ohio, New Mexico, Florida, Iowa, Nevada,
Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
Asked who had the idea for the strike force, Ms. Sowell said it
might have been "Karl". Asked who that was, she said Karl Rove,
Deputy White House Chief of Staff, who, she said, "is a very close
friend of mine." Ms. Sowell said that it had been said in jest that
the MTSF was formed so that all Mr. Bush's friends wouldn't be calling
Mr. Rove everyday asking what they could do to help Mr. Bush get
Ms. Sowell, a long-time worker in the Texas GOP, is extremely
enthusiastic about the MTSF's ability to engage people in the
campaign. "They worked like dogs," she said of the volunteers, "They
worked all day and they played all night." There was so much interest
in the MTSF, she said, that there were 200 to 300 people extra who
couldn't be deployed.
The coordinator of the MTSF, Ms. Sowell said, was Patrick Oxford,
managing partner of the Houston law firm Bracewell and Patterson, a
firm advertising itself as having over 400 lawyers, that once
represented Enron. Texans for Public Justice, a public interest
research group, reports that Mr. Oxford specializes in the energy
industry and in financing corporate and civic deals. He is a Bush
Pioneer, having raised over $100,000 for Mr. Bush in 2000. In 1997,
he was appointed by then-Governor Bush to the Board of Regents of the
University of Texas System, and as a regent was appointed to the
University of Texas Investment Management Company in 1999. According
to Texans for Public Justice, he was appointed after vacancies
developed over a scandal in which the board gave contracts to friends
of a board member and to major Bush donors.
In 2002, the research group said, Mr. Oxford announced that his firm
would sever its ties with Enron. Enron raised conflicts of interest
for Bracewell, which represented major creditors of Enron, the group
reports. Additionally, it said, Bracewell employed "GOP politicians"
who presented potential conflicts with respect to
Enron. For example, it employed Marc Racicot as a lobbyist for Enron,
and others, before Mr. Racicot was named by Mr. Bush as chair of the
RNC. And, Texans for Public Justice report, Mr. Oxford has advised
the Bush Administration on appointments to the Federal bench.
Deployment of the MTSF volunteers was the responsibility, according
to Ms. Sowell, of Karen Johnson, president of Infrastructure Solutions
Inc., a lobbying firm with offices in Austin and Washington, DC. She
is also a Bush Pioneer, and Capitol Inside, a Texas political news
service, lists her as among Texas' "Top Hired Guns". Her resume says
she was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team, serving as
director of the Department of Transportation Advisory Committee.
Ms. Johnson has reported more than $2 million in lobbying income,
according to Texans for Public Justice, with clients including Aetna,
Grumman Northrup, the American Society of Anesthesiologists and Texas
Mr. Oxford and Ms. Johnson did not return calls.
The MTSF was guided in its deployment of volunteers by the
Bush-Cheney Campaign, Ms. Sowell said. There was also apparently
coordination through the Republic National Committee (RNC). Newsweek,
quoting Mr. Oxford, said that the coordination between the MTSF and
the RNC ended several weeks before the election because of what
appeared to be overload for the RNC staffer involved. "Oxford
imagined her (the RNC staffer) overwhelmed by the pressure," the
article said, "'under her desk,' he said chuckling, 'in a fetal
position, sucking her thumb.'"
The article also reported that Mr. Rove made it a point to hold
face-to-face meetings with local organizers during the campaign.
Chris McNutt, Executive Director of the Ohio Republican Party, and
Ms. Sowell said that the volunteers took their work assignments from
the local organizers. Both said that there was never any instruction
to volunteers to conduct intimidating phone calls. "Oh for heaven's
sake," Ms. Sowell said, "I never heard anything like that." On the
contrary, she said, the volunteers were told to "love" the voters and
persuade them to vote for Mr. Bush. Mr. McNutt said that talk of
intimidating phone calls comes from "conspiracy theorists".
Nevertheless, the Republican Party has gotten into trouble on the
issue of voter intimidation back at least to 1981, when a Federal
court directed the RNC to "refrain from undertaking any ballot
security activities in polling places or election districts where the
racial or ethnic composition of such districts is a factor in the
decision to conduct such activities...and where a purpose or
significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters
from voting..." The decree was violated in 1986 in Louisiana and in
1990 in North Carolina. On November 1, 2004, the Federal court in
Newark, New Jersey, said: "The Republican National Committee, its
officers, agents and employees are enjoined and restrained from using
for challenging purposes on November 2, 2004, a list of 35,000 names
prepared for that purpose by the Republican Party in the State of
The reported Holiday Inn intimidation incident is mentioned in
"Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio", published January 5,
2005 by the Democratic Staff of the House Judiciary Committee, under
the direction of the committee's ranking minority member, Cong. John
Conyers Jr. (D-Mich). The report formed the basis for the objections
to the Ohio Presidential election raised in the House and Senate on
Jan. 6, 2005. The incident was also noted in a letter to the U.S.
Attorney General in which Mr. Conyers and other Representatives urged
the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Ohio election.
Mr. Conyers and others have asked that the full House Judiciary
Committee investigate the election. To date there has been no
response from the Attorney General or Cong. F. James Sensenbrenner
Jr.(R-Wis), chair of the judiciary committee. No investigation of
the Holiday Inn incident is known to be underway by any law
enforcement agency, local, state or federal.
On the night of November 1, 2004, Jim Branscome said, he overheard