In N.H. case, Frist aide tries for jury of partisans

As Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) engages in nuclear brinkmanship with his counterpart, Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Trump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Impeachment will reelect Trump MORE (D-Nev.), one of Frist’s former employees is going on trial in New Hampshire for conspiring to deny the state’s residents of their right to vote. With all the fireworks in the Capitol, you may have missed the latest twists and turns in this story. So let me bring you up to date.

As Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) engages in nuclear brinkmanship with his counterpart, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), one of Frist’s former employees is going on trial in New Hampshire for conspiring to deny the state’s residents of their right to vote.

With all the fireworks in the Capitol, you may have missed the latest twists and turns in this story. So let me bring you up to date.

You probably remember that, more than two years ago, there was a miniscandal over a New Hampshire Republican Party scheme to knock out Democratic and union get-out-the-vote phone banks on Election Day 2002 by bombarding them with thousands of hang-up calls from another phone bank in Idaho.

People on the ground in New Hampshire complained to the police, the police got in touch with Verizon and the whole operation was shut down within a few hours. But in the months after the election, a federal investigation slowly began to make headway in figuring out just who was behind the scam.

The inquiry first led to GOP consultant Allen Raymond, the owner of a Virginia-based telemarketing firm called GOP Marketplace, who eventually pleaded guilty to charges related to his role in the caper. Later, the trail led to Scott McGee, the then-executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party, who also pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the case last year.

But over the course of 2004, word began to leak out that there was a bigger fish federal prosecutors were looking to fry: James Tobin. By last year, Tobin was serving as the New England regional chairman of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. But two years earlier, in 2002, he was the Northeast political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). And that, of course, was the cycle when Frist was running the operation.

Tobin oversaw the vote-jamming escapade to help now-Sen. John Sununu (R) get an edge over Democratic contender Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDesign leaks for Harriet Tubman bill after Mnuchin announces delay Design leaks for Harriet Tubman bill after Mnuchin announces delay Bipartisan senators push new bill to improve foreign lobbying disclosures MORE. (In the event, Sununu’s margin of victory, though narrow, was too great to be the result of the vote-jamming.) Word of Tobin’s involvement surfaced just before the election, and he too was finally indicted Dec. 1.

To date, Frist — Tobin’s boss at the time — has never answered questions about what, if anything, he knew about Tobin’s election-tampering plot at the time, whether he’s been questioned by federal investigators working on the case or whether, in point of fact, he even thinks Tobin did anything wrong.

In recent weeks, Tobin’s lawyers have entered a flurry of motions — so vast as to give new meaning to the phrase “judicial filibuster” — that make it clear that he doesn’t believe he did anything illegal either.

And that wasn’t their only novel legal argument aimed at getting their client off the hook.

In one motion, Tobin’s lawyers claimed that his indictment should be thrown out because the grand jury that returned it may have included Democrats. Here, Tobin was no doubt holding out for that well-known and ancient right to a trial by your partisans.

Federal prosecutors didn’t think much of that claim, insisting that Tobin would have to do more than point out that jurors were registered Democrats to demonstrate their bias against him. But now Tobin’s got another angle. He wants to strip his trial jury of Democrats too.

In his attorneys’ recent petition for expanded voir dire (i.e., jury-selection questioning), they suggest that any jurors who are members of the Democratic Party or who supported Democrats in 2002 are likely to be biased against the attorneys’ client and thus not fit to serve on his jury.

And to go about the work of stripping all but loyal Republicans from his jury, the proposed jury questionnaire Tobin’s attorneys gave the court includes some of these choice questions:

8. Are you now or have you ever been a member of a union?
[ ] YES, I am now
[ ] YES, I was in the past, but am not now
[ ] NO

9. Are you or have you ever been affiliated with a political party? [ ] YES
[ ] NO
If YES, what party?

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19. Do you read any blogs on the internet? [ ] YES [ ] NO If YES, what blogs do you read?

21. Do you watch television shows that deal with politics or government (i.e., Crossfire, McLaughlin Group, Hardball, West Wing)
[ ] Yes [ ] No If YES, which shows do you watch?

22. Which of the following describes you? (Please check all that apply): [ ] Aggressive, [ ] Articulate, [ ] Emotional, [ ] Entrepreneurial, [ ] Intelligent, [ ] Laid Back, [ ] Loyal, [ ] Na