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Coincidence or October surprise?

From NBC's Pete Williams
The timing of today's Justice Department announcement of a multi-state fugitive sweep has raised some eyebrows, coming five days before the midterm elections. But officials insist there was no political motive. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales joined the US Marshals service in revealing that nearly 11,000 fugitives -- including almost 1,700 sex offenders -- were swept up last week in a 24 states. It was the third installment of the Marshals Service's "Operation Falcon," in which federal agents team up with state and local police in an intense effort to pick up fugitives.

The two earlier roundups, in 2005 and 2006, were conducted in the spring. And this one concentrated on mainly eastern states, where many competitive political races are hotly contested. But the Marshals Service says the timing of this year's operation was based on the budget and the weather. Knowing that money was earmarked in the budget for this operation, they wanted to launch it as soon as the fiscal year began in October, before it begins snowing. The operation, including the states to be targeted, was planned several months ago, the marshals say. In the past two years, they add, money for the operation was derived from existing programs. A Justice Department official says, moreover, that the Marshals Service decided the timing, including the date for the announcement, and that DOJ headquarters had no role in the scheduling of the operation or today's announcement.