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Profile: Brian Roehrkasse
Brian Roehrkasse was a participant or observer in the following events:
Deforest B. Soaries Jr. [Source: MSNBC]On July 6, John Kerry named John Edwards as his running mate. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] This produced a slight increase in the opinion polls and a media focus on the Kerry campaign. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Two days later, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warns that “Al-Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.” [Department of Homeland Security, 7/8/2004] Officials cite “alarming” intelligence about a possible al-Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall and admit they are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of an attack. Officials point to the recent Madrid train bombings as an attempt by al-Qaeda to influence the political process in a democratic nation (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Intercepted chatter leads one analyst to say, “they want to interfere with the elections.” It is reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze the necessary legal steps that would permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place. [Newsweek, 7/19/2004] The head of the US Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., confirms he has written to Tom Ridge to discuss this prospect. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Soaries notes that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001 was suspended by the State Board of Elections after the attacks, “the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election.” Soaries advises Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress that would grant such power to the DHS. DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says, “We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election.” [Newsweek, 7/19/2004] A top European spy says of the threat, “I am aware of no intelligence, nothing that shows there will be an attack before the US presidential election.” No attack will materialize and no further information on the threat will be presented to the public. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] Ridge will later concede that he had no “precise knowledge” of the attack he warned against, and he never made plans to raise the color-coded threat level. [Rich, 2006, pp. 146]
The media learns that the Department of Homeland Security has hired former actress Bobbie Faye Ferguson to serve as its liaison to Hollywood’s movie and television industries. Ferguson, who has performed similar duties for NASA for seven years, is reviewing some 14 movie, television, and documentary projects. If she approves a script or idea, DHS will offer advice and technical help to the directors, producers, and actors in portraying what USA Today calls “the nation’s homeland defenders.” Ferguson, interviewed while touring the California-Mexico border, says: “I’ve had dozens and dozens of inquiries. It’s always been a topic they’ve been interested in, but more so now.” Last year DHS provided guidance for the production of The Terminal, a thriller starring Tom Hanks as an immigrant stranded at a New York airport; it has also provided assistance to the television shows CSI: Miami and NCIS. At least six other governmental agencies, most notably the Defense Department, have long employed liaisons between themselves and the film and television industries. But some have long held that agencies such as the Pentagon have used Hollywood as a vehicle for showing the federal government in positive fashions. Each branch of the military has offices in Hollywood; the military has provided assistance in film and television projects since the creation of the Defense Department in 1947. Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says Ferguson will help “give the public a better understanding of how the department… protects the country.” Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense says the money is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars: “Agencies pay for public relations and spin to make the public like them more, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good expenditure.” [USA Today, 3/8/2005] Two months later, the House of Representatives will cut Ferguson’s $136,000 salary from DHS’s 2006 budget (see May 18, 2005).
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge admits to further problems with the terror alert system. In defense of his administration of the Department of Homeland Security, he says that Administration decisions to raise the threat level were sometimes unjustified by evidence and unsupported by his department. “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it,” says Ridge. “Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on [alert].… There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, for that?” Ridge had previously disagreed with Attorney General John Ashcroft on the communication of threat information to the public. These comments mark the first time that dissension among the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a panel made up of business representatives, academic leaders, and security experts appointed by President Bush, is discussed with the press. Reform of the terror alert system is under review by current Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff. Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says “improvements and adjustments” may be announced within the next few months. [USA Today, 5/10/2005] As of 2007, no such announcement have been made.
The House of Representatives, as part of its trimming of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)‘s proposed $31.8 billion appropriations for 2006, cuts the $136,000 allocated for a liaison to Hollywood. The DHS had planned to pay former actress Bobbie Faye Ferguson, a veteran of such television shows as The Dukes of Hazzard and Designing Women, to work with Hollywood producers and scriptwriters to generate films and television shows that would portray the department in a positive light (see March 8, 2005). DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said of Ferguson’s position, “This is a similar function that numerous other federal agencies possess, and is necessary in helping those in multimedia make their projects as accurate as possible.” One example Roehrkasse gave was the propensity for some movies to inaccurately refer to the Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS), which is now part of DHS. But Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) is unconvinced by Roerhkasse’s arguments, noting that the DHS should not be spending its money on Hollywood projects. “We should direct this money to actually help the people who respond and save lives,” she says. “The people of this country have high expectations about their security after being violated on 9/11.” Musgrave successfully proposes that the salary for Ferguson be redirected to funding state and local disaster teams. [Salon, 5/18/2005]
Four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee request that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be investigated for perjury in light of his contradictory testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). “It has become apparent that the attorney general has provided at a minimum half-truths and misleading statements,” the four senators—Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—write in a letter to Solicitor General Paul Clement calling for a special counsel to investigate. “We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside the Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007] (The letter is sent to Clement because he would be the one to decide whether to appoint a special counsel. Gonzales and outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty have recused themselves from any such investigation due to their own involvement in the incidents. The next person in line at the Justice Department, acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, lacks the authority to make such a decision.) [CBS News, 7/26/2007] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who did not sign the letter but supports the request for a special counsel, says, “I’m convinced that he’s not telling the truth.” The call for a special counsel follows earlier testimony by FBI director Robert Mueller that flatly contradicted Gonzales’s testimony (see July 26, 2007), though White House spokespersons denied that Mueller contradicted Gonzales.
White House Denies Perjury Allegation - White House press secretary Tony Snow says the apparent contradictions stem from Gonzales’s and Mueller’s restrictions in testifying in public about the classified program. “The FBI director didn’t contradict the testimony,” Snow says. “It is inappropriate and unfair to ask people to testify in public settings about highly classified programs. The president, meanwhile, maintains full confidence in the attorney general.” And Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse insists that Gonzales was referring during his testimony to a separate intelligence operation that has not yet been revealed, though numerous other sources have contradicted that position (see July 25, 2007). “The disagreement that occurred in March 2004 concerned the legal basis for intelligence activities that have not been publicly disclosed and that remain highly classified,” Roehrkasse says.
Further Instances of Misleading Testimony - Senate Democrats also assert that Gonzales has repeatedly given false and misleading testimony about the US attorney firings, has been part of a White House program to encourage White House aides to ignore Congressional subpoenas, has falsely claimed that he has never discussed the firings with other witnesses (including White House aide Monica Goodling, who recently testified that she discussed the firings with Gonzales), and other instances of deception. Schumer says, “There’s no wiggle room. Those are not misleading [statements]. Those are deceiving. Those are lying.” [Associated Press, 7/26/2007] Schumer says at a press conference later in the day, “The attorney general took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, he tells the half-truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth. And he does it not once, and not twice, but over and over and over again. His instinct is not to tell the truth but to dissemble and deceive.…I have not seen anything like it from a witness in the 27 years that I have been in Congress.” Feingold adds, “Based on what we know and the evidence about what happened in terms of the gang of eight and what he said in that sworn testimony in the committee, I believe it’s perjury.…Not just misleading—perjury.” [US Senate, 7/26/2007] Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) does not sign the letter asking for the investigation, and has instead sent his own letter to Gonzales giving him a week to resolve the inconsistencies in his testimony. “The burden is on him to clear up the contradictions,” Leahy says. Leahy is joined by ranking Republican committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA), who says the call for a special counsel is premature. Specter accuses Schumer of “throwing down the gauntlet and making a story in tomorrow’s newspapers.” [Associated Press, 7/26/2007] Specter has suggested that Gonzales resign instead of continuing as attorney general. [USA Today, 7/26/2007]
'Linguistic Parsing' - Justice Department aides acknowledge that Gonzales’s self-contradictory testimonies have caused confusion because of his “linguistic parsing.” [New York Times, 7/26/2007]
Entity Tags: Paul J. McNulty, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Tony Snow, Sheldon Whitehouse, William W. Mercer, Paul Clement, Patrick J. Leahy, Russell D. Feingold, Monica M. Goodling, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Brian Roehrkasse, Harry Reid, National Security Agency, Dianne Feinstein
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). [Associated Press, 10/4/2007]
The American Civil Liberties Union learns of another Justice Department memo in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) response that produces a 2003 memo supporting the use of torture against terror suspects (see April 1, 2008). This 2001 memo (see October 23, 2001), says that the Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures—fundamental Fourth Amendment rights—do not apply in the administration’s efforts to combat terrorism. The Bush administration now says it disavows that view.
Background - The memo was written by John Yoo, then the deputy assistant attorney general, and the same lawyer who wrote the 2003 torture memo. It was written at the request of the White House and addressed to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The administration wanted a legal opinion on its potential responses to terrorist activity. The 37-page memo itself has not yet been released, but was mentioned in a footnote of the March 2003 terror memo. “Our office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations,” the footnote states, referring to a document titled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States.”
Relationship to NSA Wiretapping Unclear - It is not clear exactly what domestic military operations the October memo covers, but federal documents indicate that the memo relates to the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). The TSP began after the 9/11 attacks, allowing for warrantless wiretaps of phone calls and e-mails, until it stopped on January 17, 2007, when the administration once again began seeking surveillance warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (see May 1, 2007). White House spokesman Tony Fratto says that the October 2001 memo is not the legal underpinning for the TSP. Fratto says, “TSP relied on a separate set of legal memoranda” outlined by the Justice Department in January 2006, a month after the program was revealed by the New York Times (see February 2001, After September 11, 2001, and December 15, 2005). Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says department officials do not believe the October 2001 memo was about the TSP, but refuses to explain why it was included on FOIA requests for documents linked to the TSP.
No Longer Applicable - Roehrkasse says the administration no longer holds the views expressed in the October 2001 memo. “We disagree with the proposition that the Fourth Amendment has no application to domestic military operations,” he says. “Whether a particular search or seizure is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment requires consideration of the particular context and circumstances of the search.” The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer is not mollified. “The recent disclosures underscore the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power,” he says. “The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” He continues, “Each time one of these memos comes out you have to come up with a more extreme way to characterize it.” The ACLU has filed a court suit to challenge the government’s withholding of the memo. [Associated Press, 4/3/2008] Another civil rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, joins the ACLU in challenging the memo (see April 2, 2008).
Entity Tags: Jameel Jaffer, Brian Roehrkasse, American Civil Liberties Union, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Terrorist Surveillance Program, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Tony Fratto
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Justice Department launches an investigation into whether its former officials acted properly in advising President Bush that his wartime authority trumped domestic law, United Nations treaties, and international bans on torture. The investigation hinges on a March 2003 memo written by then-Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo that approved of Bush officials’ intent to use torture (see March 14, 2003). Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says the investigation will “help us discover what went wrong and how to put it right.” Whitehouse continues, “The abject failure of legal scholarship in the Office of Legal Counsel’s analysis of torture suggests that what mattered was not that the reasoning was sound, or that the research was comprehensive, but that it delivered what the Bush administration wanted.” Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says that the investigation is part of an overall investigation that has been underway for years. [Associated Press, 4/17/2008]
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