ACORN’s troubles grow as it mounts counteroffensive

The troubles of a community group with close ties to the Democratic Party continued on multiple fronts on Wednesday, providing Republicans with fresh fodder and Democrats with new areas of discomfort.

Even as the community group mounted a defense, Republicans increased their attacks and an ally criticized the group.

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Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who has supported the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) on low-income housing issues, said he would have voted to strip federal funding for the group last week if he had been present. Frank was attending a White House Medal of Honor ceremony for a soldier from his state killed in action when the House approved the funding cuts.

“I am very disappointed in the actions that were taken by members of ACORN, and I do not believe that ACORN’s response has been adequate for an organization that has received public funding,” Frank said in a statement.

Frank in a lengthy memo said his support and Judiciary Chairman John Conyers’s (D-Mich.) backing of an inquiry by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) into ACORN did not constitute support for the group, and may have been shortsighted.

“A number of factors, one of which in particular is my own fault, have contributed to my position on ACORN being unclear,” Frank’s lengthy statement read. “My biggest error was to sign a letter to the Congressional Research Service which I had not thoroughly read and which does not accurately represent my own position in all aspects.”

Frank and Conyers on Tuesday asked CRS for a “careful and objective analysis of a number of issues concerning ACORN.” Among their questions was whether Congress’s votes to bar ACORN from federal money were themselves constitutional.

Frank explained that he “cosigned the letter because I do think it is important that we get accurate and complete information on ACORN funding.”

ACORN, which has received $53 million in federal dollars since 1994, has been a source of embarrassment for Democrats since the emergence last week of privately recorded videos allegedly showing ACORN employees providing advice on evading federal tax and housing laws. The videos featured two conservative activists portraying a pimp and a prostitute seeking assistance from ACORN employees.

Republicans continued their attack on Wednesday, as Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, criticized as inaccurate all other Democratic efforts to look into ACORN.

Issa and Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) on Wednesday asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether ACORN misused federal funds, writing GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to look into whether taxpayer dollars “may have been used to support criminal efforts by the organization,” a reference to the video footage of ACORN employees at the center of the storm.

In the Senate, David Vitter (R-La.) called Democrats’ approach to the ACORN investigation lukewarm and “almost Orwellian.” He then requested that the Justice Department open a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) investigation into ACORN’s business practices.

A probe of that magnitude — potentially the most aggressive investigation requested by any ACORN critic to date — would permit investigators exceptional leverage in rooting out criminal wrongdoing.

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Vitter and 27 of his GOP colleagues already had requested that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) instruct committee chairmen to investigate ACORN’s conduct. Reid dismissed the request on Tuesday and charged Vitter with “politicizing” the entire investigation process. Frank also criticized Republicans for playing partisan politics.

ACORN on Wednesday launched a vigorous defense, announcing an internal investigation and revealing its cooperation with criminal investigations by the FBI and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, both of which were spurred by the multiple hidden videos.

The group also filed a lawsuit against James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, who posed as a pimp and a prostitute and video-recorded their experience at ACORN’s Baltimore office, as well as conservative pundit Andrew Breitbart, who posted the video on his website.

The lawsuit alleges that the videos caused “extreme emotional distress” to the ACORN employees on the video.

In a conference call late Wednesday afternoon, ACORN said it had tapped former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger to conduct what Harshbarger called a “no holds barred” probe of the group.

“There’s no bigger critics of ACORN than its members and its board,” said CEO Bertha Lewis. “Poor people in this country deserve to have a strong organization. And it needs to be strong within and outside.”

But Lewis also opened up yet another rift, claiming in that same call that the termination of ACORN’s relationship with the IRS was her undertaking, not that of the IRS, as the agency had indicated in a Wednesday afternoon statement.

“Let me be very clear: The first thing I did was to terminate those employees,” Lewis said. “Second, I shut down all programs for all new intakes. Third, the board said we will do no more tax preparation services.”

Terry Lemons, an IRS spokesman, responded by saying: “Last Wednesday we announced we were conducting a thorough review, and today we issued the statement [of termination].”

Lewis vowed to sue the makers of the videos, and said the organization has been issued no subpoenas.