By Lynn Sweet
Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON -- Federal and state prosecutors were asked Monday to investigate whether a staffer for U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk violated laws when she tried to get a prominent backer of Kirk's opponent, Democrat Dan Seals, to back down.
The request for a probe was made in letters sent to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine by Abner Mikva. As a Democrat, Mikva once represented the 10th Congressional District in the north suburbs -- where Kirk serves -- and is a former White House counsel and federal judge.
The staffer, Caryn Garber, sent an e-mail last July attempting to get the president of Tel Aviv University to pressure Seals supporter Robert M. Schrayer, the national chairman of the Tel Aviv University American Council.
She said that Schrayer's support for Seals could have a "bad effect" on the university. Kirk reprimanded her and told her she would be fired if she did it again.
'Overt threat of revenge'
Mikva said Garber's note was "an overt threat of revenge against Mr. Schrayer and the university" and may have violated state and federal law "that criminalizes intimidating, threatening or coercing members of the public in an attempt to thwart the free expression of their vote."
The Kirk-Seals race has created deep rifts within the Jewish community.
Asked to reply to Mikva's letter to Fitzgerald and Devine, a Kirk spokesman sent a statement from Chicagoan Robert H. Asher, the former president of AIPAC, the leading American pro-Israel lobby -- which Garber once worked for. Asher, who is on Kirk's fundraising committee, said that the Garber note "does not threaten any action, particularly not a congressional action."
Kirk is a member of the House Appropriations Committee's Foreign Operations subcommittee, which handles grants to entities in Israel and other countries.
The north suburban district has a substantial Jewish population, and both candidates are strong supporters of Israel.