By Molly K. Hooper - 10/05/09 11:51 PM EDT
In a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and obtained by The Hill on Monday, House Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) argues that
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has not announced whether it has launched a probe of ACORN, but Smith said any such investigation could be compromised.
“I am very concerned that the president’s previous advocacy on behalf of ACORN, his work with ACORN, and ACORN’s support of his candidacy create, at the least, an appearance of a conflict of interest for Department officials, particularly political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president,” Smith wrote.
Smith is the first lawmaker to call on Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate ACORN, which has been in the hot seat since early September, when reports surfaced alleging that the group was complicit in encouraging tax evasion, prostitution, fraud, conspiracy and human trafficking.
Smith cited several reports detailing the president’s 15-year association with the organization, including his work in 1991 with Project Vote, where he ran a voter-registration drive. Project Vote was subsequently absorbed by ACORN.
A White House aide said that there are a “number of inaccurate claims in Congressman Smith’s letter.”
According to then-Project Vote Executive Director Sandy Newman, ACORN was not in charge of the “nonpartisan drive to increase voter participation,” and the two groups did not actively team up until well after “Obama’s tenure had ended” at Project Vote.
The Obama administration in recent weeks has moved to distance itself from ACORN. The Commerce Department recently announced it would not work with ACORN on the 2010 census. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has called the ACORN employees’ behavior “unacceptable.”
Bertha Lewis, who heads ACORN, is scheduled to appear at a media event at the National Press Club on Tuesday morning.
According to a release, Bertha will address “the future of ACORN, an internal probe into accusations of wrongdoing against the group after the release of hidden-camera videos of ACORN workers advising a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute, ACORN’s lawsuit against the undercover filmmakers … and action in Congress to cut off federal funding of the organization.”
Smith highlighted the ACORN political action committee endorsement of Obama in February 2008, posted on the president’s campaign website, where Obama said
“I’ve been fighting alongside ACORN on issues you care about my entire career. When I ran Project Vote voter registration drive in Illinois, ACORN was smack dab in the middle of it, and we appreciate your work.”
Based on the reports of Obama’s close connection with ACORN and the recent spate of legal controversies involving the group, Smith argued that it “appear[s] to place any investigation of ACORN squarely within the intended use of the Special Counsel regulation.”
In his letter to Holder, Smith says the group has been under investigation in 20 states, its employees were charged with more than 50 counts of “election-related fraud,” and that ACORN has spent more than $1 million on restitution to avoid criminal prosecutions.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracey Schmaler said that the law enforcement agency “will review the letter.”
According to Schmaler, DOJ “typically [does] not comment or confirm investigations.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill last month seized on the political momentum building against ACORN, winning passage of measures in both chambers to strip the group of its federal funding.
ACORN has received $53 million from the federal government since 1995.