Watergate Revisited?

AP photo Bush Campaign operative, James Tobin. Convicted in phone-jamming scheme

This story has been floating about since 2002.

…In New Hampshire in 2002, the state Republican party hired an Idaho company to knock out the phones of the Democratic get-out-the-vote operation on election day by placing hundreds of automated hang-up calls to their phone banks.

Idaho readers might remember the story because of the Idaho connection. The telemarketing firm, Mylo Enterprises, was based in Sandpoint, Idaho. This March, Shaun Hansen, co-owner of Mylo, was the fourth person to be indicted for the scheme. According to the March, 27th press release from the Department of Justice:

WASHINGTON, DC – Shaun Hansen, former co-owner of Idaho-based telemarketing firm Mylo Enterprises, appeared in a federal court in New Hampshire today to face charges for conspiring to commit, and aiding and abetting the commission of, interstate telephone harassment relating to a scheme to jam several New Hampshire telephone lines on Election Day, 2002, the Department of Justice announced today.The two-count indictment was returned under seal on March 8, 2006, and unsealed today upon his appearance in court. Hansen, 34, is charged with conspiracy to commit telephone harassment and aiding and abetting telephone harassment.The indictment alleges that Hansen was contacted by others involved in the scheme and asked to assist in making harassing phone calls to five telephone numbers associated with the New Hampshire Democratic Party and one number associated with the Manchester Professional Firefighters Association on Election Day, November 5, 2002. Hansen allegedly agreed that, in return for $2,500, employees of Mylo Enterprises would place repeated hang-up calls to those numbers on that day. The indictment charges that, at Hansen’s direction, employees of Mylo Enterprises in Idaho placed several hundred hang-up calls to those New Hampshire telephone numbers on that morning before the scheme was discontinued.

If convicted, Hansen faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, and a maximum penalty of two years in prison on telephone harassment charge.Hansen is the fourth individual charged in the Justice Department’s investigation into the phone jamming scheme. Allen Raymond, former president of a Virginia communications consulting company, and Charles McGee, former Executive Director of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, have each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit telephone harassment. McGee was sentenced to seven months in prison and Raymond was sentenced to three months. James Tobin, former New England Regional Chairman of the Republican National Committee, was convicted after a December 2005 jury trial on for conspiring to commit, and aiding and abetting the commission of, interstate telephone harassment. Tobin will be sentenced on May 17, 2006.

The story has gained renewed interest the last couple of weeks because the small-time “dirty tricks” operation seems to lead directly to the White House with names like Jack Abramoff and Ken Mehlman, Chairman of the Republican National Committee involved.

Today’s New York Times has an article that draws comparisons to Watergate.

The Internet is a great breeding ground for political conspiracies, and there is a new one lighting up computer monitors across the country. Bloggers are fascinated by what they see as eerie parallels between Watergate and a phone-jamming scandal in New Hampshire. It has low-level Republican operatives involved in dirty campaign tricks. It has checks from donors with murky backgrounds. It has telephone calls to the White House. What is unclear is whether it is the work of a few rogue actors, or something larger.In 2002, there was a hard-fought Senate race between Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat, and John Sununu, the Republican. On Election Day, Democratic workers arrived at five get-out-the-vote offices to find their phone lines jammed. It turned out that the jamming was being done by an Idaho telemarketing firm that was being paid by a Virginia consulting group. The fee for the jamming, reportedly $15,600, was paid by New Hampshire Republicans.The executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party and the president of the Virginia consulting group pleaded guilty for their part in the scheme. James Tobin, who was the New England political director for the Republican National Committee, went to trial and was convicted of telephone harassment last December.

Now, Jack Abramoff and his Indian tribe clients have joined the cast of characters, and some records of phone calls to the White House have turned up, though the significance of both of these revelations is hotly disputed. The evidence that the phone-jamming scandal goes higher than Mr. Tobin remains scant. But the watchdogs are right about this: the news media, prosecutors and the general public should demand more information about what happened.

Just this week, the following stories have appeared:

The Washington Post 4/14/06.

The Boston Globe 4/13/06. (free registration required)

CBS News 4/12/06.

The Associated Press 4/10/06.

Just one more reason for headlines like the following:

Anger at Bush May Hurt GOP At Polls Washington Post 4/17/06

Congress Approval at 12-Year Low The Gallop Poll 4/17/06

Descent into anger and despair The Boston Globe 4/17/06 (free registration required)


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