By Ben Cohen: I met Vanity Fair‘s contributing editor Craig Unger over a year ago in his apartment New York City while he was researching his recently published book Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power. Unger outlined the premise of the book to me and detailed some of the things Karl Rove had been involved in during the 2004 Presidential election and my jaw literally dropped to the floor. I sat there for over an hour listening to Unger’s exhaustive research into allegations of election rigging in Ohio wondering why there wasn’t a massive criminal investigation and an attempt to hold Rove accountable for what appears to be a compelling case against him.
I kept in touch with Unger as he continued to compile evidence and shape his book, waiting eagerly for the information to be made public. Now it’s out, it should be required reading for anyone concerned with direction of the American democratic system, the corrupting influence of money, and the criminal behavior of operatives like Rove who wield enormous power and influence behind the scenes.
In the book Unger covers Rove’s political comeback after departing from politics during the controversy over the firing of nine U.S attorneys and the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, and details how he has maneuvered himself back into a position of extreme power within the Republican party.
Unger describes a ruthless, calculating figure whose benign public persona is nothing like the Machiavellian operator who thinks nothing of tampering with democracy via voter fraud and suppression that the evidence shows him to be.
If you follow Unger’s narrative, a dark, disturbing picture emerges of a man who essentially controls who gets into political office and who doesn’t – and through any means necessary. According to Unger, John Kerry was very plausibly cheated out of the Presidency in 2004, and after a few years in the wilderness, Rove is back to dethrone President Obama through equally underhand and illegal activities.
I spoke to Unger about his book and the discoveries he made about Rove – an enlightening experience that highlighted just how serious a threat to democracy Karl Rove is to America and why he must be stopped.
“It was surprising, you know, what was most surprising was the techniques he uses and how he wields power because he’s highly, highly visible,” Unger told me. “So people have the feeling they think they know him. And the truth is the vast, vast majority of what he does goes on underneath the surface and its done with no finger prints and its very very hard to tie it to him.”
“I interviewed a former CIA agent who’s been a source of mine for many years, Larry Johnson,” he continued. “And one of the first things he said was ‘The CIA could learn a lot of things from Karl Rove’.”
One of the most disturbing part of Unger’s research was the evidence he uncovered about Smartech, a technology service company funded by known Rove associates that was hired by Ohio to provide a fail safe voting server for unlikely occasion that network problem occurred. By itself, this isn’t particularly controversial, but in Ohio, there was no significant failure and voting data was inexplicably switched over to SmarTech after the news networks called Florida for Bush. The shift coincided serious anomalies that saw an increase in votes favorable to Bush. Explained Unger, “One of the frustrating things of course if you want to make an absolutely conclusive case forensically what you find is that so much of the evidence has disappeared, so I should have that caveat up front. At the same time. the sequence of events was highly highly disturbing.”
“For one thing, Smartech, as I said — its genesis goes back to the people who were loyal big time financial supporters of George W. Bush and Karl Rove and they later left the company, but once Smartech was up and running it was transformed from the high tech operation to a real political operation serving the technological needs of this huge range of right wing groups, whether it was George W. Bush, the Republican Party, the Swift Vote Veterans for Truth or whatever. So what was striking was that this highly highly partisan company ends up getting the contract with the Secretary of State for Ohio to host something that should be done, the Presidential elections in Ohio, which of course should be done by a truly non-partisan corporation.”
For those who paid attention to the exit poll projections in 2004, they will remember that in Ohio, the results showed John Kerry winning reasonably comfortably. Of course if they were accurate it would have meant that Kerry would have won the Presidential election, putting an end to the horrors of the Bush administration.
“I don’t rely on the methodology on exit polls alone to make this case,” said Unger, “But what happened on election night was that as the returns came in, the last two states that were really important were Florida and Ohio. And around 11 O’clock the networks called Florida for George W. bush, then the eyes of the nation were turned on Ohio. Whoever won Ohio would win the Presidential election. So it was now around 11 O’clock and everyone in the country wanted to know what Ohio’s returns were and logged on to what were the Secretary of State’s computers. Traffic went up by around 700% in just a few minutes and when that happened at 11:14 p.m. that meant the servers at Smartech which were contracted to be the the so called ‘ fail over servers,’ they clicked into action.”
Unger went over the election returns with experts who had spent years analyzing them and uncovered some extremely disturbing trends.
“I gave them the states that filed before 11:14 p.m. and they said that without exception these last 10 states the numbers were clean. There was no problem with them,” he said. “And then I gave them the next 14 states that came in just after 11:14 p.m. and they said that without question all those states had serious anomalies, and the anomalies always favored George W. Bush.”
I asked Unger whether all of these were being served from Smartech.
“Right,” he answered.
Given the debacle in 2000 when Al Gore did not cede the presidency to George Bush for several weeks until a recount took place in Florida, although Democrats were aware of the voting irregularities in ’04, they decided not to pursue action against the Republican Party a second time around.
“John Kerry didn’t believe that he had conclusive evidence and really had to make a split decision as to whether to pursue it,” said Unger. “And he chose not to.”
“There was a civil suit filed in Ohio,” he continued. “And this is where the evidence began to disappear. For one thing, in 2006 a Democratic secretary of state was elected, Jennifer Brunner, and I interviewed her and she replaced Ken Blackwell who had been the Republican Secretary of State and as it happened co-chairman of the Bush Cheney campaign of Ohio, and Jennifer Brunner vowed that she wanted to investigate and about a week before she took office she happened to go past the Secretary of State building and drop by unexpectedly, and when she got there she saw that all of Ken Blackwell’s staff was busy shredding documents, thousands of documents. So what you started to see happen was the evidence that disappeared again and again. The civil suit managed to get a court order which called for the impounding of all the ballots on the election in Ohio in 2004. But that court order was violated, and again and again ballots were destroyed, missing, or damaged and you saw this type of thing happen repeatedly.”
It is because of this that Unger believes it is unlikely that we’ll ever see justice done. But there are lessons to be learned, particularly in regards to the upcoming election where Rove has again played a disproportionate role in Romney’s success through his funding of Super PACs and influence with the money men in the GOP. Unger warns that the groundwork has been done to again tamper with the vote in order to get his man into the White House.
“You’re going to see this on a large scale in the upcoming election,” he explained to me. “That is Karl Rove who is the father of voter IDs and voter suppression. He started a campaign, he started it before 2004 in Ohio saying that there’s widespread voter fraud, people who a registering are Mickey Mouse and so forth, or they are dead people being registered to vote en-masse and as a result we need voter IDs. But the fact of the matter is that this type of thing happens very very rarely.”
“Brennan Center for Justice and NYU law school did a very thorough investigation of this and they found that there are only a dozen or so examples of this so called voter fraud in the first 12 years of this century out of hundreds of millions of votes,” he went on. “Yet Rove and his colleagues started campaigns in more than 30 states that would require voter IDs and somehow restrict the hours on voting and so forth. You see many different techniques — there’s a technique called “caging” which voters are challenged, their registrations are challenged at the polls, they have to get provisional ballots, the provisional ballots are often not counted, they try to shorten voting hours in certain precincts, actually in heavily Democratic precincts.”
“In Ohio you saw that in the Christian evangelical districts there would be dozens of voting booths so no one would have to wait more than 5 minutes in line, but in the African American districts which vote heavily Democratic people had to wait in line to vote for more than 12 hours before they could vote.”
In typical Rovian fashion, his attempts to destroy voting rights in America have been marketed as an attempt to enhance them.
“The language that Rove uses is quite extraordinary,” said Unger. “When he talks about reform, he is curtailing rather than enhancing rights. Whether he’s talking about tort reform or voting reform, voter ID laws — which he says are to protect the integrity of the process — actually it goes back to Jim Crow where blacks were no allowed to vote or they were given ridiculously absurd tests, like they would have to read something in Greek or Latin before they were allowed to vote.”
Rove, a careful and insightful strategist has long understood that the Republicans face a demographic ticking time bomb. There are around 50 million Hispanics in America today, and there will be about 70 million in about 2020. In Texas alone there are roughly 10 million Hispanics, and they vote about 2:1 for Democrats. Rove is extremely worried that if they were to start voting in large numbers states like Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico will turn blue, and he’s working diligently on strategies to keep voter turn out low.
“It’s also been called ‘Juan Crow’ because of the challenges the Republican face demographically,” said Unger. “The answer has been to keep these people from voting. And they do that again and again. They do it in the black districts in Ohio, in Cleveland, in Cuyahoga County — I itemize this in my book, but the lack of voting machines, and I refer to the technique of cross over voting where blacks were shunted to the wrong voting booths deliberately and when that happens you’re using punch cards, you may not know it but if you vote for the Democrat, the vote actually goes to the wrong candidate.”
Given all Unger has learned about how Karl Rove operates and just how effective he has been in manipulating events to fulfill his nefarious ambitions, I was eager to understand what he thought the Democrats should do to counter Rove’s insidious effect on the Democratic process. I asked him whether the Democrats should try to beat Rove at his own game given how much money the Republicans are throwing at Romney in order to beat Obama.
“No. I don’t think they should engage in similar type of behavior,” said Unger quickly.
“When I was at the Democratic convention, one line that was heard was, you know, you don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water. And when they put out lies, you put out the truth.”
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.