Sheriff Joe Arpaio has turned to a heavy-hitting former Bush Justice Department official and veteran Washington lawyer to help thwart a federal civil-rights probe of his controversial law-enforcement tactics.
Since March, investigators with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division have been looking into allegations of racial profiling and related issues in connection with Arpaio’s enforcement of immigration laws. Between 2004 and 2007, Arpaio reportedly had 2,700 law suits filed against his office — 50 times the number of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston combined.
Arpaio first pledged to cooperate with the probe. But since then, he appears to have turned to Washington lawyer Bob Driscoll to help slow-roll it.
In an interview with TPMmuckraker, Driscoll suggested that DOJ is motivated by something other than the impartial administration of justice. “They clearly don’t like Joe,” he said. “They don’t like his politics, they don’t like his immigration policy.”
Driscoll has filed a series of what some call frivolous complaints against the Justice Department, which appear designed to throw sand in the gears of the investigation.
• In May, Driscoll wrote to Obama administration officials suggesting that the decision to probe Arpaio had been driven by “political rivalries and score settling.” Driscoll charged that the Justice Department had violated ethics rules by working with the Department of Homeland Security — which was pursuing its own probe — to gather documents and witness statements, without giving enough notice to Arpaio’s office. He called for an investigation by the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into the issue.
• Then in July, Driscoll filed a formal complaint with the OPR on a different issue, arguing that DOJ investigators acted unethically by contacting a a federal community relations employee about the case, because communication between the sheriff’s office and the employee is protected by federal statutes.
(Arpaio suggested that impugning DOJ broke his heart, declaring that “after serving with the Department of Justice for nearly 30 years as a ranking official with the Drug Enforcement Administration, it is difficult for me to ask for an investigation into the Department of Justice.” But, he said, “I must take a stand and not bow down to the federal government like every other law enforcement agency that has been intimidated by investigation.)
• And in October, Driscoll filed another complaint with OPR, after Arpaio accused Justice Department personnel of posing as reporters to sneak into a news conference. DOJ said their agents identified themselves as Justice Department employees and left when told the press conference was closed to the public.
Driscoll told TPMmuckraker that, unlike the Civil Rights division, he had never been sanctioned for frivolous filings in his career: “There are two sides of this case. One of them has been repeatedly sanctioned for frivolous filings, and it’s not me.” That’s a reference to sanctions filed against the Civil Rights Division in unrelated cases.
There’s no doubt Driscoll, who’s currently at the powerhouse DC law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird, has the right the resume for the job. From 2001 to 2003, he served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division — the same unit probing Arpaio.
Since then, Driscoll has taken on a several pressing GOP legal causes. In 2004, he represented a Senate clerk, working for Sen. Orrin Hatch’s Judiciary committee, who was accused in the “Memo-Gate” scandal of hacking into Democrats’ private computer files “on an almost daily basis,” and forwarding potentially damaging information to Republican operatives. And in 2007, Driscoll signed on with Michael Elston, the Justice Department official who played a key operational role in the U.S. attorney firings.
Driscoll also has given support to GOP efforts to stoke fears about voter fraud. During congressional testimony in 2007, he warned that “honest voter registration lists are a requirement to ensure that honest votes are being cast.” Driscoll continued: “If an outdated or inaccurate voter registration list is used, this could result in allowing someone to vote who should be not voting. This effectively results in the disenfranchisement of honest votes.”
Still, Driscoll will have his hands full fending off the Feds. After pressure from Arpaio’s critics, the Justice Department’s interest in Arpaio may have expanded in scope. Last month, a Phoenix TV station reported that the FBI was probing whether investigations brought by Arpaio are designed to settle political vendettas, rather than enforce the law. And just last week, Arpaio may have added to the evidence on that score by announcing charges against a judge who appears to have done little more than make rulings Arpaio disagrees with.
And DOJ recently set up a hotline for Maricopa County residents to report suspected wrongdoing by Arpaio’s office, related to “crime sweeps, traffic stops, and immigration raids.” Within days, both the English and Spanish mailboxes were full.