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Profile: US Department of Justice
US Department of Justice was a participant or observer in the following events:
Sometime during this month, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testifies a third time to FBI agents as part of the Justice Department’s invesigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak (see February 13, 2004 and June 10, 2004). (In his 2007 testimony in the Lewis Libby perjury trial, Fleischer will claim to have been interviewed three times: January 2004, February 2004, and September 2004. At that time, it will be unclear whether Fleischer is misremembering the dates of his interviews or if there is another reason why his dates do not jibe with the facts.) [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009]
The US Attorney’s Office (USAO) of New Mexico, headed by David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001), announces the formation of a state and federal task force to address the issue of voter fraud in the state. Iglesias forms the task force in part because of complaints by Republican lawmakers and state party officials about what they term “rampant” voter fraud in the state that is, they say, affecting elections (see August 17, 2004), and as a response to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s stated goal to ramp up voter fraud investigations throughout the nation. “It appears that mischief is afoot and questions are lurking in the shadows,” Iglesias tells local reporters.
'Suspicious' Registration Forms - According to Nancy Scott-Finan of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Affairs, Iglesias opens the task force after hearing from Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrara, a Democrat, who wanted to discuss some 3,000 “suspicious resignations” with him. He has also received a letter from Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, a Republican, about “thousands” of “questionable” voter registrations—the same 3,000 “suspect” forms—turned in by voter-outreach groups working primarily on behalf of Democrats. (Iglesias was invited to take part in what New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh called “the [New Mexico Republican P]arty’s voter fraud working group” a month ago, but declined. Weh forwarded the invitation to a number of prominent New Mexico Republicans, including Senator Pete Domenici, Representative Heather Wilson—see August 17, 2004—and others. Domenici’s chief of staff Steve Bell called the issue a “critical matter.” Iglesias did not join the group, and no evidence exists that the group was actually formed.) Iglesias wants to avoid the perception of partisanship in his task force, so aside from Republicans on his task force, he asks Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron (D-NM) to join; she assigns a member of her office to serve in the organization. Officials from the New Mexico Department of Public Safety (the state’s law enforcement agency), the US Veteran’s Administration Inspector General’s Office, the FBI, and the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section (PIN) also agree to participate. Two days after the announcement, Iglesias announces that a voter fraud hotline for the task force has been activated, and says that all allegations of fraud will be thoroughly investigated. Rumaldo Armijo, Iglesias’s executive assistant, and two other Assistant US Attorneys are assigned to the task force.
New Mexico Republicans Critical of Task Force - However, some New Mexico Republicans complain that the task force’s bipartisanship renders it useless. Mickey Barnett, a powerful state Republican, writes an email to Iglesias informing him that “[m]ost of us think a task force is a joke and unlikely to make any citizen believe our elections and voter registrations are honest.” New Mexico attorney Patrick Rogers, another prominent state Republican, says of the State Department representative that he has “includ[ed] the target on the task force.” White, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in New Mexico who will later tell reporters he was brought on by the Bush-Cheney campaign in order to help win Bernalillo County, later says he would have preferred the USAO to investigate and prosecute cases without the involvement of state agencies, and he believed Iglesias’s concerns about bipartisanship to be misguided. Vigil-Giron will also question the task force, saying: “This is just an attempt to let people know that Big Brother is watching. It may well be aimed at trying to keep people away from the polls.” Iglesias meets with the task force members several times before the November 2 elections, and reminds them that Justice Department policy forbids his office from indicting people on voter fraud charges before upcoming elections, in order to avoid the perception that the indictments are being filed to impact the elections.
Almost All Complaints Minor, No Criminal Cases Developed - Almost all of the complaints received by the task force are quite minor—complaints of yard signs being stolen, harassing phone calls, and non-criminal registration issues. These complaints are forwarded to local election officials. Several more serious complaints, including the complaints from Republican lawmakers and state officials, are forwarded to either the FBI or the Department of Public Safety. Iglesias will say that when he began the task force, he thought it would develop cases worth prosecuting, but after months of work, he found that it was unable to develop a single criminal case. The task force will stop meeting after the November elections and will conclude its efforts in January 2005, but will not officially disband until 2006, after the FBI completes the last of its investigations. The Justice Department will recognize Iglesias’s task force as an example to other offices as to how voter fraud investigations should be handled, and Iglesias will give an address to a department-sponsored symposium on voter integrity (see October 2005). [Washington Post, 9/20/2004; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Atlas, 2010, pp. 213-216] On September 30, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) calls the Justice Department to ask about Iglesias’s task force. He speaks with Assistant Attorney General William Moschella. He says he is concerned about voter intimidation, and says he has heard no allegations of widespread voter fraud. He also says the local FBI told him the task force “was on thin ice,” apparently meaning that it is not finding anything of consequence. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ]
Iglesias Refused 'Show Trials,' Says Reporter - Investigative reporter Greg Palast will say of Iglesias’s voter fraud task force: “That’s where Iglesias drew the line in the sand. He said a press conference is one thing, which he probably shouldn’t have done, but literally handcuffing innocent voters for show trials—and then, of course, then you drop the case later—that is one thing he absolutely was not going to do.” [Democracy Now!, 5/14/2007]
Entity Tags: Jeff Bingaman, William E. Moschella, Heather A. Wilson, David C. Iglesias, Darren White, Allen Weh, US Department of Justice, Greg Palast, Steve Bell, Rebecca Vigil-Giron, Nancy Scott-Finan, Mickey Barnett, Mary Herrara, New Mexico Republican Party, Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, John Ashcroft, Rumaldo Armijo, Patrick Rogers
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico arranges for lawyer Patrick Rogers, a prominent Republican in the state, to meet with an FBI supervisory special agent assigned to work with Iglesias’s voter fraud task force (see September 7 - October 6, 2004).
Citation of 'Fraudulent' Registration - Rogers complains that large number of voter registration forms in the state are fraudulent and must be investigated. He cites the case of 13-year-old Kevin Stout, who received a voter registration card in the mail and apparently completed it. Police soon discovered that the card was the result of a forged voter registration form apparently filled out by Christine Gonzales, a former canvasser for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) who was being paid on a per-registration basis; that organization had identified Gonzales three months earlier, fired her, and reported her to the authorities. (Stout’s father is Republican activist Glen Stout, who contacted New Mexico Republicans before contacting law enforcement.) A federal judge refused Republican efforts to change the state registration laws in response to the ACORN issue, and as a result hundreds of presumably Democratic voters registered by ACORN retained their registrations. New Mexico Republicans are furious. Citing the Stout case, state Representative Joe Thompson (R-NM), who was one of the Republicans contacted by Glen Stout, displays Kevin Stout’s registration form to reporters and proclaims, “We have proof” of massive and systematic voter fraud in New Mexico. He announces a lawsuit he and Glen Stout will file against New Mexico’s Democratic Secretary of State, Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Rogers brings the Stout issue to Iglesias’s attention. Rogers’s colleague, lawyer and Republican activist Mickey Barnett, will later say that he and other Republicans hired a private investigator to identify and locate Gonzales, but the private investigator failed to find her.
Republicans Demand More Information on Voters before Elections - Four days later, Rogers tells Iglesias and Rumaldo Armijo, Iglesias’s executive assistant, in an email that because New Mexico Democrats are casting doubt on the validity of his voter-fraud claims, he wants to “dig up all past info” and asks if there is “any easy way to access the public info related to voter fraud from the [US Attorney’s Office] (public) files? Asap? Before Nov 2?” Rogers is referring to the date of the upcoming state and federal elections. (Barnett also sends emails demanding that Iglesias investigate the canvasser, whose identity he does not know.) Iglesias promises to look into Rogers’s request and “let you know what is publicly available.” Iglesias soon finds a case prosecuted in the early 1990s and provides Rogers with the public information about that case.
No Prosecutable Cases; Republicans Outraged - The FBI will later identify and interview Gonzales. Both Iglesias’s office and the Justice Department will find that there is insufficient evidence of criminal behavior in the matter to warrant her prosecution. Iglesias will later say that this case is the strongest one to come out of the entire task force’s proceedings, and even it does not meet the standard for criminal prosecution. New Mexico Republicans are frustrated, having intended to use the Gonzales case to further the Thompson/Stout lawsuit. Barnett complains that Iglesias “appoint[ed] a task force to investigate voter fraud instead of bringing charges against suspects.” Matt Henderson, ACORN’s lead organizer for New Mexico, tells reporters that the lawsuit is “no different from what was going on in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. This is about a set of people trying to stop another set of people from voting.” [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Atlas, 2010, pp. 214-216]
Allegations Collapse under Scrutiny - Even before Iglesias begins his investigation, the allegations of voter fraud had begun to unravel. Several voters admitted accidentally filling out two registration forms. A large majority of the 3,000 “suspect” forms, upon examination, actually showed legitimate attempts by citizens to register to vote. On September 7, a district judge dismissed the suit against Vigil-Giron. ACORN member Yolanda Pena told the press of attempts to make false claims of voter fraud, and showed the press a copy of Kevin Stout’s registration card—it appeared to have been filled out by a child, not an ACORN worker, and seemed to have been done as a prank and not as an attempt to fraudulently register a young boy. “Instead of taking responsibility for this boy’s prank,” Pena told reporters, “the Republicans used it to try to ram a lawsuit through the courts that would have made it harder for minority voters to vote.… We are delighted that [the Republicans] lost in court. Their dirty tricks are racist and un-American.” Another ACORN representative tells reporters that he cannot understand why Gonzales’s name is on Kevin Stout’s registration form, as he had already fired Gonzales for altering other canvassers’ cards to falsely claim credit for having voters fill them out. Gonzales could not have helped Stout fill out his card or filled it out on his behalf.
Lawsuit in Response - New Mexico Republicans were enraged at the suit’s dismissal and the ACORN press conferences, and attempted to file a criminal suit against Henderson, alleging that he had broken the law by keeping photocopies of submitted registration forms. (In 2000, Henderson and ACORN chapters in New Mexico had indeed kept such photocopies. At the time, that was a legal practice. Since then, the law has been changed and ACORN, like other voter-registration groups, has ceased keeping those forms. Rogers will also insist that Iglesias file felony charges against Gonzales.) New Mexico Republicans will demand that Iglesias aggressively investigate Henderson and ACORN, charging Henderson with “perjury” and “suspect” practices (see September 23 - October 2004). Iglesias will later say of Gonzales, “It appeared that she was just doing it for the money.” [Atlas, 2010, pp. 215-216]
'Gin Up Voter Fraud Publicity' - In 2008, Iglesias will tell reporters that even though he found no evidence of voter fraud, he was ordered by the White House to, the reporters will write, “illegally prosecute baseless cases against innocent citizens, just to gin up voter fraud publicity.” Iglesias will say, “We took over 100 complaints” from New Mexico Republicans. “We investigated for almost two years, I didn’t find one prosecutable voter fraud case in the entire state of New Mexico.” Iglesias will blame his refusal to prosecute those cases for his 2006 firing (see December 7, 2006). “They were looking for politicized—for improperly politicized US Attorneys to file bogus voter fraud cases,” he will say. [Huffington Post, 10/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Joe Thompson, David C. Iglesias, Christine Gonzales, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Glen Stout, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Yolanda Pena, Rumaldo Armijo, Patrick Rogers, US Department of Justice, Matt Henderson, Kevin Stout, Mickey Barnett, Rebecca Vigil-Giron
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The FBI prepares a detailed 300-page report in response to follow-up questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about Director Mueller’s earlier testimony on May 20, 2004 (see May 20, 2004) regarding incidents of abuse known by the FBI. However the Justice Department refuses to release the report saying that it must first review it. [Newsweek, 1/6/2005]
Anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill has sued the FBI and Justice Department for violating his privacy and other charges (see August 26, 2003), but the government has been trying to stall the court case, saying it would interfere with the FBI’s anthrax investigation. Responding to the latest request for a delay, US District Court Judge Reggie Walton says the government has stalled enough already. Walton says that Hatfill has “the right to vindicate himself, so he doesn’t have this taint hanging over his head.” He tells a federal prosecutor: “If you don’t have enough information to indict this man, you can’t keep dragging him through the mud. That’s not the type of country I want to be part of. It’s wrong!” Walton is a Republican appointed to the bench by the President Bush. [MSNBC, 10/7/2004] The FBI declared Hatfill a “person of interest” in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002) and will not officially clear him of any link to the attacks until August 2008 (see June 27, 2008 and August 8, 2008).
In a two-pronged attack on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft cast aspersions on Kerry’s ability to fight terrorism, with Ashcroft leaving the impression that God will withdraw his protection from the US if Kerry becomes president. Cheney tells a campaign audience in Ohio that one day soon the US might face terrorists “in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us,” including a nuclear bomb. Cheney says: “The biggest threat we face now as a nation is the possibility of terrorists ending up in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us—biological agents or a nuclear weapon or a chemical weapon of some kind—to be able to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.… You have to get your mind around that concept.” Cheney questions Kerry’s strength of character and resolve to face such a possibility: “John Kerry would lead you to believe he has the same kind of view that George Bush has, that he would be tough and aggressive. I don’t believe it. I don’t think there’s any evidence to support the proposition that he would, in fact, do it.” A Kerry campaign spokesperson retorts that Cheney “has the audacity to question whether a decorated combat veteran who has bled on the battlefield [Kerry] is tough and aggressive enough to keep America safe.… He wants to scare Americans about a possible nuclear 9/11 while the Bush administration has been on the sidelines while the nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, have increased.” Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards, notes: “You don’t keep this country safe by giving a speech. You keep it safe by what you do.” As for Ashcroft, he tells an audience at the US Chamber of Commerce that God has protected the nation from another 9/11-like attack. “For three years, our nation has been blessed,” Ashcroft says. “But the hand of Providence has been assisted by the dedicated men and women of the Department of Justice. In three years, we have compiled a record of achievement that is impressive by peacetime standards.” [New York Times, 10/19/2004] The New York Times will later chide Ashcroft “for suggesting that God had spared America from an attack since 9/11 because President Bush’s team was assisting ‘the hand of Providence,’” and Cheney for being “irresponsible” and “reckless” in “suggesting that a vote for Mr. Kerry is a vote for the terrorists.” The Times writes that a large “part of the government’s role is to maintain the highest possible level of credibility. Turning our fears about a terrorist attack into just another campaign commercial undermines this trust and makes us all more vulnerable.” [New York Times, 10/21/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 147]
In a fax to US District Judge Susan Dlott, Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta, offers the Justice Department’s unsolicited opinion on a pre-election lawsuit that has been filed by Donald and Marian Spencer (see October 29, 2004), elderly African American civil rights activists, who claim that Republican plans to deploy thousands of partisan challengers to Ohio polls on election day violates the US Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights because it targets black neighborhoods in Hamilton County. Copies of the fax are sent to Al Gerhardstein, who is representing the Spencers, and Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro. [Beacon Journal (Akron, OH), 10/31/2004; Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004] Acosta writes in his letter that civil rights lawyers for the Bush administration’s Justice Department see no reason why the plan would be illegal. “[N]othing in the Voting Rights Act facially condemns challenge statutes,” the letter claims. Bush’s Justice Department also argues that “[r]estricting the ability of citizens to make challenges when they have such information would undermine the ability of election officials to enforce their own state laws that govern the eligibility for voting.” [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004; Beacon Journal (Akron, OH), 10/31/2004; Los Angeles Times, 11/1/2004] Gerhardstein says he believes the Justice Department may have breached legal rules by contacting the judge directly. “It is totally unusual, it is unprecedented for the Justice Department to offer its opinions on the merits of a case like that,” he tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “This is the civil rights division saying it is OK for voters to be ambushed when they reach for a ballot.” [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004] Similarly, he tells the Los Angeles Times: “The Justice Department is not a party to the case. They have not filed a motion to intervene in the case or filed an amicus brief. They volunteered information that goes beyond any federal interest.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/1/2004]
The Justice Department’s White House liaison, Susan Richmond, sends an email to all of the department’s presidentially appointed officials, including US Attorneys, reassuring them that the newly re-elected President Bush “will not ask for letters of resignation.” Many had requested clarification as to whether they would be asked to remain or resign during Bush’s second term. Richmond reminds the recipients that “each of us serves at the pleasure of the president.” It is around this same time that Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) becomes involved in discussions with White House counsel Harriet Miers about firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004). Sampson tells Miers that firing all 93 US Attorneys may not be a good idea, and the US Attorneys have an expectation of serving their statutory four-year terms, which do not begin to expire until the fall of 2005. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Notwithstanding the reassurance, Mary Beth Buchanan, the head of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, begins circulating forms for resignation to the US Attorneys. She will later explain, “At the end of the first administration, I was asked to provide United States attorneys with guidance for those who wished to resign at the end of the first administration.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2007 ]
President Bush names White House counsel and close personal friend Alberto Gonzales to succeed John Ashcroft as the new attorney general. Ashcroft submitted a letter of resignation on November 2. [Bloomberg, 11/10/2004]
Congress expands the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) by approving an intelligence spending bill with a provision that gives the FBI the power to subpoena business documents and transactions from a broad range of businesses and entities—including libraries, travel agencies, and even eBay—without court warrants. This reduces oversight of the FBI and shifts power away from the judiciary. The Patriot Act already allows the FBI to acquire bank records and communications records by issuing a National Security Letter (NSL) affirming that the information it seeks is relevant to an open investigation; the targeted institution is legally “gagged,” unable to inform anyone, especially the subject of the investigation, of the subpoena. The new law expands the use of NSLs by redefining “financial institution” to include insurance companies, real estate agents, the US Postal Service, travel agencies, casinos, pawn shops, car dealers and any other business whose “cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters.” The provision is one of the most controversial parts of the so-called “Patriot II” act (see February 7, 2003) that was withdrawn after the public learned of its elements. Like most intelligence spending bills, this one was drafted in secret and passed with little debate or public comment. Law professor Chris Schroeder, a former Justice Department assistant attorney general, says the insertion of the provision shows that “people who want to expand the powers of the FBI didn’t want to stop after Patriot II was leaked. They are going to insert these provisions on a stealth basis. It’s insidious.” James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology agrees: “On its face, it’s a cryptic and seemingly innocuous amendment. It wasn’t until after it passed both houses that we saw it. The FBI and CIA like to try to graft things like this into intelligence bills.” CIA Director Porter Goss, when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, defended the provision, saying it is necessary to keep pace with terrorists and the changing economy. “This provision brings the definition of ‘financial institution’ up to date with the reality of the financial industry,” Goss told House members. “This provision will allow those tracking terrorists and spies to ‘follow the money’ more effectively and thereby protect the people of the United States more effectively.” Timothy Edgar of the American Civil Liberties Union says the bill goes too far in expanding executive branch powers. “The more that checks and balances against government abuse are eroded, the greater that abuse,” Edgar says. “We’re going to regret these initiatives down the road.” [Wired News, 11/24/2003]
Entity Tags: Tim Edgar, US Department of Justice, USA Patriot Act, Porter J. Goss, House Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Democracy and Technology, American Civil Liberties Union, James Dempsey, Chris Schroeder, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Daniel Levin. [Source: ABC News]Daniel Levin, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), goes to a military base near Washington and has himself subjected to simulated waterboarding to judge for himself whether or not the interrogation tactic is torture. Levin then tells White House officials that he found the experience terrifying, and he is sure it simulates drowning. Levin concludes that waterboarding clearly qualifies as torture and should not be used by US personnel except in a highly limited and closely supervised fashion. Levin, who like his predecessor Jack Goldsmith (see June 17, 2004) is deeply troubled by the White House’s advocacy of torture as a method of securing information from terror suspects, and by its refusal to issue clear guidelines as to what is and what is not torture, decides to prepare a memo—legally binding—to replace the August 2002 Justice Department memo that established torture as an acceptable method of interrogation. Goldsmith had already withdrawn the memo after finding it deeply flawed (see December 2003-June 2004). In December 2004, Levin issues his new memo, which flatly states that “[t]orture is abhorrent” (see December 30, 2004), but he notes that the Justice Department is not declaring any previous positions by the administration illegal. Levin is planning a second memo that will impose tighter restrictions on specific interrogation techniques, but he never gets the chance to complete it. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales forces him out of the department instead, and replaces him with a much more compliant OLC chief, Steven Bradbury (see June 23, 2005). Most experts believe that waterboarding is indeed torture, and that torture is a poor way of extracting accurate information. Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson will say, “There is no question this is torture—this is a technique by which an individual is strapped to a board, elevated by his feet and either dunked into water or water poured over his face over a towel or a blanket.” [ABC News, 11/2/2007; Think Progress, 11/3/2007; GulfNews, 11/5/2007] Gonzales is widely believed to have been selected as the new attorney general in part to ease the way for the Bush administration to continue its support for torture as a valid method of interrogation. Shortly after taking the office, Gonzales pressured Levin to add the footnote exculpating the administration from any legal responsibility for its previous positions, and shortly thereafter, Gonzales has Levin removed from the department. In November 2007, the Washington Post’s editorial board will decry Gonzales’s ouster of Levin, and the administration’s support for torture, as a blatant “disregard for principle.” [Washington Post, 11/6/2007] MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, a harsh critic of the Bush administration, will later call Levin “an astonishingly patriotic American and a brave man.” He will fire a broadside directly at the president: “Daniel Levin should have a statue in his honor in Washington right now. Instead, he was forced out as acting assistant attorney general nearly three years ago because he had the guts to do what George Bush couldn’t do in a million years: actually put himself at risk for the sake of his country, for the sake of what is right.” [MSNBC, 11/5/2007]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Daniel Levin, Bush administration (43), Keith Olbermann, George W. Bush, John D. Hutson, Jack Goldsmith, Alberto R. Gonzales
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Congress passes an intelligence bill that requires the Justice Department to inform it as to how often and in what situation the FBI is using special “national security” wiretaps on US soil. The bill also requires the Justice Department to give oversight committees copies of administration memos outlining any new interpretations of domestic-spying laws. It contains 11 other sections mandating reports about such issues as civil liberties, security clearances, border security, and counternarcotics efforts. President Bush signs the bill, then issues a signing statement asserting his right to ignore or override every element of it. He can and will withhold information from Congress as he sees fit, he claims in the statement. [Savage, 2007, pp. 238-239]
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) is told by Tom McCabe of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) that the recounts in the disputed gubernatorial race for Washington State between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see November 2-30, 2004) revealed forged signatures on provisional ballots. McKay informs Craig Donsanto, the head of the election crimes branch of the criminal division’s public integrity section in the Justice Department, and asks Donsanto if his office can open a federal investigation if the allegations only involve a state election. Donsanto advises McKay to take no action until election authorities certify the winner and any court cases stemming from the election have run their course. McKay disagrees with Donsanto’s advice, and directs the FBI to open a preliminary inquiry into the allegations. FBI agents interview McCabe, but neither McKay nor the FBI take further action because the election is not yet certified. McKay advises McCabe to provide any evidence he might have of voter fraud to the local prosecutor, because the complaint involves a state race. When the race is certified in Gregoire’s favor on December 30, cases are immediately filed in state court challenging the results. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Around this same time, McKay receives a telephone call from Chris Vance, the chair of the Washington Republican Party, asking about the investigation. McKay cites the prohibition against revealing information concerning an ongoing investigation and refuses to answer Vance’s questions (see Late 2004 or Early 2005). McCabe soon decides that McKay is not pursuing the fraud allegations quickly enough and begins pressuring the White House to fire him (see Late 2004 and July 5, 2005). McKay allows Justice Department agents to examine what he will call the “so-called evidence,” and will recall one agent “laugh[ing] out loud” because the evidence was “that flimsy.” He will recall that he could find no framework to follow in pursuing voter fraud cases. “I was looking for a benchmark,” he will say. “The impression I got [from the Justice Department] was that I should make it up as I went along. The preference, at least as it was expressed from the attorney general’s office, was simply to file as many such cases as possible. I wasn’t willing to do that, certainly not in the gubernatorial race.… [W]as there a conspiracy to steal the election? Absolutely not.” [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 134-135]
Daniel Levin, the outgoing chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see Late 2004-Early 2005), sends a memo to Deputy Attorney General James Comey. The memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it provides legal advice on communications between defense attorneys and detainees in combatant status review tribunals. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]
Assistant Attorney General William Moschella sends a letter, written by staffers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA), to Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA). Issa and other House Republicans have written letters to the DOJ railing against certain US Attorneys’ “failures” to adequately prosecute undocumented immigrants and so-called “alien smugglers,” people who help undocumented immigrants cross the border from Mexico into the US (see February 2, 2004 and July 30, 2004). Issa’s primary target of criticism is Carol Lam of the Southern District of California. Moschella’s letter emphasizes the “enormous challenge” that Lam and other US Attorneys in border districts (Southern Texas, Western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California) face “in trying to enforce our criminal immigration and narcotics laws along that border.” The number of immigration-related prosecutions in most of those districts has soared, the letter reads, straining those districts’ already-thin financial and personnel resources. The director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA) has already contacted Lam and other border-district US Attorneys, Moschella says, concerning ways to improve their “response[s] to immigration violations.” The EOUSA staff will draft a letter for Lam’s signature to respond to Issa in mid-2005. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ] Issa receives the letter on January 25, 2005. [National Review, 3/28/2007; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ]
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), warns the Justice Department that if it does not stop using evidence collected with warrantless wiretaps to obtain warrants to continue surveillance, her court will be more reluctant to grant warrants for surveillance. Kollar-Kotelly has complained about this before (see 2004). Though both Kollar-Kotelly and her predecessor, Judge Royce Lambeth, express concerns to senior officials that Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program is inherently unconstitutional, neither judge feels that they have the authority to rule on the president’s power to order such surveillance. Instead, they work to preserve the integrity of the FISA process. Eventually, the judges reach a compromise with government lawyers: any case using evidence from warrantless wiretaps that is to be presented to the judges for FISA warrants to continue monitoring the same suspects will be “tagged,” and that evidence will not be used to obtain warrants. Those cases, numbering less than ten a year, are to be presented only to the presiding judge. Lambeth and Kollar-Kotelly both feel that the process will work primarily because of the trust they have developed in James Baker, the Justice Department’s liaison to FISC. Part of the problem stems from contradictory statements and claims from the administration; after the wiretapping program began (see After September 11, 2001, NSA chief Michael Hayden and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft made it clear in private meetings with the judges that President Bush wanted to gain all possible information on any potential terrorist attacks, and that such information-gathering must by necessity go beyond the FISA court’s probable-cause requirement. But more recent assertions by Hayden and Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales (see December 19, 2005, claiming that NSA analysts do not listen to domestic calls unless they already have some evidence that one of the parties to the call has links to terrorism, contradict earlier administration claims to the judges. Kollar-Kotelly suspects that the entire truth of the matter is not being presented to her and the FISC. Her suspicions are validated when her court is, in spite of administration reassurances, again presented with warrant applications based on illegally obtained evidence (see Late 2005). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
A five-member team in the Justice Department’s civil rights division reviews a new Georgia law requiring voters to present a photo ID or buy one for $20. Four of the five members say the law will disproportionately suppress minority votes because minorities are less likely to have a driver’s license or passport. Division supervisors—Bush administration political appointees—approve the law in spite of the team’s conclusion. A judge later throws the law out, comparing it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax (see September 19, 2006). The single member of the division team who favored the law is a recent political hire, a graduate of the University of Mississippi Law School, and a member of the Federalist Society and the Christian Legal Society (see Fall 2002 and After). [Savage, 2007, pp. 297]
Public administration specialist Philip Cooper determines that during his first term, George W. Bush issued over 500 objections to Congressional legislation that he signed into law. Almost all of his objections were codified in presidential “signing statements,” which have no legal weight per se but have been used by Bush and previous presidents to cite objections or exceptions to legislative provisions. Although the administration’s point man on signing statements is David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s legal adviser and chief of staff, most of the legal objections for the statements are sourced from the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget. 82 of Bush’s signing statements are based on the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power (see January 9-13, 2006), 77 relate to the administration’s perception of the president’s exclusive power over foreign policy, 48 to his power to withhold information required by Congress to protect national security, and 37 to his powers as commander in chief. [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116; Joyce Green, 2007]
One of several official logos for the LInX program. [Source: NCIS]Deputy Attorney General James Comey asks US Attorney John McKay (see October 24, 2001) to lead a pilot program in Seattle for entering Justice Department (DOJ) law enforcement information into a new information-sharing system called the Northwest Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX—see Early 2004). McKay has been a vocal proponent of the new program and has enjoyed Comey’s support for the program. Comey knows that he and McKay will encounter resistance from some DOJ agencies who jealously guard their information. Comey’s memo directs DOJ agency heads to participate in the program and gives deadlines for uploading information into the new system. McKay will later say the DOJ’s law enforcement agencies do not fully comply with Comey’s directive. Moreover, when Comey resigns in the spring of 2005, no one in the DOJ pressures agency heads to comply with the program directives. Enthusiasm for the project will wane further when Comey’s successor, Paul McNulty, takes the position. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Two months after leaving office, former Attorney General John Ashcroft opens a lobbying firm on Washington’s prestigious K Street, where he markets his contacts in the Justice and Homeland Security departments to, among others, ChoicePoint, a company that brokers credit data and other personal information on American citizens to government and private entities. The Ashcroft Group quickly earns over $269,000 from four clients, and, the Chicago Tribune will write, “appears to be developing a practice centered on firms that want to capitalize on a government demand for homeland security technology that boomed under sometimes controversial policies he promoted while in office.” Another Ashcroft client is the Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s largest software developers, who, according to the Tribune, will use Ashcroft’s clout with the Justice Department to win approval of a multibillion-dollar acquisition. A third client, LTU Technologies, makes software that analyzes large collections of video and other visual images. Ashcroft’s firm will soon sign a contract with Israel Aircraft Industries to help secure Bush administration approval for the firm to sell weapons to South Korea. The Tribune will write, “While Ashcroft’s lobbying is within government rules for former officials, it is nonetheless a departure from the practice of attorneys general for at least the last 30 years.” Ashcroft is the first former attorney general to open his own lobbying firm. Charles Tiefer, a former deputy general counsel to the House of Representatives, will note, “The attorney general is very much supposed to embody the pure rule of law like the Department of Justice’s statue of ‘Blind Justice’ and he’s not expected afterwards to cloak with the mantle of his former office a bunch of greedy interests.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “Thus did the government official who recklessly expanded the market for domestic surveillance while in office find a nominally legal way to make a profit on his nominally legal policies as soon as he was out the door. It was the perfect Enron-esque coda to his wartime career.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 208; Inter Press Service, 2/14/2006]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Chicago Tribune, Charles Tiefer, Bush administration (43), ChoicePoint, Israel Aircraft Industries, Oracle Corporation, The Ashcroft Group, LTU Technologies, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Justice, Frank Rich
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) has been pursuing allegations of voter fraud in the highly disputed governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 2004 and December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay has worked with the FBI on the investigation. He has met with FBI and Justice Department officials, who together have reviewed the evidence and concluded that there are no grounds to open a federal grand jury investigation. Craig Donsanto, the head of the election crimes branch of the criminal division’s public integrity section in the Justice Department, has also advised McKay to refrain from any proactive investigation, but merely to collect facts and information, and monitor the state court litigation surrounding the election, because the department wants to make sure not to give the impression that it is trying to influence the litigation. McKay drafts a public statement for use by the FBI and his office to respond to questions surrounding the controversy. The statement says that while the FBI would receive and evaluate all complaints of voter fraud, because the race is a state election matter, citizens should also provide that information to state officials. McKay and the FBI will continue to examine evidence presented to them as “voter fraud,” and will determine that none of it proves any criminality whatsoever. Moreover, the Justice Department will confirm that in as the governor’s race is a state matter, the US Attorney, a federal law enforcement office, has no jurisdiction over allegations about the race. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) issues a noncommital statement on allegations of voter fraud in the highly disputed governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay, along with the FBI and the Justice Department, have examined the evidence presented in the allegations (see December 2004), and found no reason to bring any indictments (see January 4, 2005). Shortly after McKay issues the statement, Ed Cassidy, the chief of staff for US Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA), telephones McKay to discuss the race. According to McKay’s recollection, Cassidy begins asking him about the election and the potential investigation, and McKay responds with what he will call information consistent with his public statement. When Cassidy says, “You know, John, it’s really important—” McKay interrupts him and says, “Ed, I’m sure you’re not about to start talking to me about the future direction of this case.” McKay will recall taking a very stern tone with Cassidy. Cassidy terminates the call. (Cassidy will recall McKay saying, “I hope you’re not asking me to tell you something that I can’t tell you.”) McKay informs his First Assistant US Attorney and the criminal chief, Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, about the call. Both say he conducted himself appropriately. All of them decide there is no need to report the call to the Justice Department, because Cassidy did not cross the line and demand that McKay open an investigation. McKay will later say he is “concerned and dismayed by the call” from Cassidy. Cassidy will say he did not place the call at the behest of Hastings, but because of the outrage among state Republicans at Gregoire’s victory. Cassidy will say that he wanted to make sure Hastings did not make any inappropriate public statements if there was indeed a federal investigation opening. He will say that his telephone call to McKay is merely to head off the possibility of Hastings making what he calls “intemperate remarks” about the election. He will also say that his call to McKay “was a routine effort to determine whether allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 gubernatorial election were, or were not, being investigated by federal authorities,” and will say that he did not violate ethical boundaries in the conversation. Hastings will call Cassidy’s discussion with McKay “entirely appropriate,” and will add, “It was a simple inquiry and nothing more—and it was the only call to any federal official from my office on this subject either during or after the recount ordeal.” Hastings will say that he did not ask Cassidy to place the call, but will recall probably receiving some constituent complaints about the election and the alleged voter fraud that some callers said “gave” the election to Gregoire. He will say that he never had any misgivings about McKay. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2007; Seattle Times, 3/7/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] (A later Talking Points Memo report on the Cassidy-McKay discussion will inaccurately place it as taking place in November, before the recounts are completed.) [Talking Points Memo, 2011]
Arlen Specter. [Source: US Senate]White House counsel Alberto Gonzales testifies before the US Senate as part of his confirmation as the Bush administration’s new attorney general. Much of the seven hours of testimony focuses on Gonzales’s position on torturing terrorist suspects. He is specifically questioned on the August 2002 Justice Department memo requested by Gonzales that outlined how US officials could interrogate subjects without violating domestic and international laws against torture by setting unusually high standards for the definition of torture (see August 1, 2002). [Democracy Now!, 1/7/2005] Arlen Specter (R-PA) asks Gonzales if he approves of torture. Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not,” but refuses to be pinned down on specifics of exactly what constitutes torture.
Equivocating on the Definition of Torture - Gonzales says he “was sickened and outraged” by the photographs of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), but refuses to say whether he believes any of that conduct is criminal, citing ongoing prosecutions. Joseph Biden (D-DE) retorts: “That’s malarkey. You are obliged to comment. That’s your judgment we’re looking at.… We’re looking for candor.” [CNN, 1/7/2005] When asked whether he agrees with the August 2002 memo that said, “[F]or an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” Gonzales says: “We were trying to interpret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult—I don’t recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don’t have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department.” He says that the standard “does not represent the position of the executive branch” today. Author and torture expert Mark Danner calls the standard “appalling… even worse the second time through.” Gonzales was obviously prepped for this line of questioning, Danner says: “He sat in front of the committee and asserted things, frankly, that we know not to be true.… He was essentially unwilling to say definitively there were no situations in which Americans could legally torture prisoners.… [T]here’s an assumption behind [this performance] that we have the votes. We’re going to get through. I just have to give them nothing on which to hang some sort of a contrary argument.”
Equivicating on Techniques - Edward Kennedy (D-MA) questions Gonzales about what techniques are defined as torture, including “live burial” (see February 4-5, 2004) and waterboarding. Kennedy says that, according to media reports, Gonzales never objected to these or other techniques. Gonzales does not have a “specific recollection” of the discussions or whether the CIA ever asked him to help define what is and is not torture. He also says that in “this new kind of” war against “this new kind of enemy, we realized there was a premium on receiving information” the US needs to defeat terrorists. Agencies such as the CIA requested guidance as to “[w]hat is lawful conduct” because they did not “want to do anything that violates the law.” Kennedy asks if Gonzales ever suggested that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) ever “lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture?” Gonzales focuses on Kennedy’s phrasing: “Sir, I don’t recall ever using the term sort of ‘leaning forward,’ in terms of stretching what the law is.” He refuses to admit giving any opinions or requesting any documents, but only wanted “to understand [the OLC’s] views about the interpretation” of torture. Danner notes that Justice Department officials have told reporters that Gonzales pushed for the expansive definition of torture in the memos, but Gonzales refuses to admit to any of that in the questioning.
Ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tells Gonzales that the Justice Department memo was “entirely wrong in its focus” because it excluded the Uniform Code Of Military Justice, and that it “put our troops at jeopardy.” Gonzales replies that he does not think that because of the memo the US has lost “the moral high ground” in the world. Danner says, “[Graham] is arguing that these steps weakened the United States, not only by putting troops at risk, but by undermining the US’s reputation in the world, undermining the ideological side of this war… Graham is saying very directly that by torturing, and by supplying images like that one, of… a hooded man, the man with the hood over his head and the wires coming out of his fingers and his genitals which is known far and wide in the Arab world in the Middle East it’s become highly recognizable by supplying that sort of ammunition, you’re giving very, very strong comfort and aid to the enemy in fact.” [Democracy Now!, 1/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, Arlen Specter, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Uniform Code of Military Justice, US Department of Justice, Mark Danner, Patrick J. Leahy, Joseph Biden, Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
White House deputy counsel David Leitch emails Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) regarding the proposed firings of some or all of the 93 US Attorneys (see Late December 2004). Leitch is forwarding an email from Colin Newman, a paralegal in the White House counsel’s office. Newman, via Leitch, is relaying questions from White House political chief Karl Rove. According to Newman, “Karl Rove stopped by to ask [Leitch]… how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we are going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.” In his forward, Leitch asks Sampson if they can discuss the matter. [US Department of Justice, 1/9/2005 ; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; ABC News, 3/15/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 ; Talking Points Memo, 2011] In 2009, Rove will testify about his memory of this email exchange. He will say that he went to Leitch’s office because “I assume I heard rumors that we might be going down the path of trying to get—replace all 93” US Attorneys. He will recall “being told at some point that the idea was dead, and they weren’t going to be pursuing it. I don’t know whether that happened immediately after this or somewhat later.… I don’t know whether it was Mr. Leitch or Ms. Miers [White House counsel Harriet Miers] that conveyed that they were not going to replace all 93.” Rove will say that he did not support Sampson’s plan to remove and replace “15 to 20 percent” of the sitting US Attorneys (see January 9, 2005). “What I was in favor of was Justice Department making an evaluation of the US Attorneys and recommending who they felt to the president ought to be replaced,” Rove will say. “I had no knowledge of the workings of the individual offices sufficient enough to give me a basis on which to make any judgment about whether anybody should be replaced or how many should be replaced.… [I]t was not my role. It was the role of the Justice Department. The White House didn’t have the tools, I certainly didn’t have the tools to make a proper evaluation.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ]
The Senate Judiciary Committee brings in several experts to expand upon the testimony of attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). One of the most outspoken critics is Yale Law School dean Harold Koh. Koh had worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) under Ronald Reagan, and later served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor in the Clinton administration. He is a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s detention policies at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Koh had once worked closely with OLC lawyer John Yoo, the author of numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002), but now, without explicitly mentioning Yoo by name, he repudiates his former student’s legal positions. Gonzales worked closely with Yoo to craft the administration’s positions on wiretapping, torture, the inherent power of the president, and other issues. “Having worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and for more than two years as an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel, I am familiar with how legal opinions like this are sought and drafted,” Koh states. “I further sympathize with the tremendous pressures of time and crisis that government lawyers face while drafting such opinions. Nevertheless, in my professional opinion, the August 1, 2002 OLC memorandum [drafted by Yoo at Gonzales’s behest—see August 1, 2002] is perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read.” The August 1 memo, as well as other opinions by Yoo and Gonzales, “grossly overreads the inherent power of the president” as commander in chief, Koh testifies. The memos raise profound questions about the legal ethics of everyone involved—Gonzales, Yoo, and others in the Justice Department and White House. “If a client asks a lawyer how to break the law and escape liability, the lawyer’s ethical duty is to say no,” Koh testifies. “A lawyer has no obligation to aid, support, or justify the commission of an illegal act.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 1/7/2005 ; Savage, 2007, pp. 211-212]
The latest of several experienced prosecutors quits his job at the office of US Attorney Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002). The prosecutor sends an office-wide “open letter” to Ryan complaining about long-standing morale and attrition problems, and credits Ryan’s poor management style with creating the issue. The letter is quickly forwarded to staff members in other US Attorneys’ offices, and to the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA) in the Justice Department. Complaints about Ryan have already been forwarded to the EOUSA (see Fall 2004). The chief judge in Ryan’s district, who made the earlier complaint, sends Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis the open letter and asks him to consider the issue. Margolis and EOUSA chief Mary Beth Buchanan schedule a meeting with Ryan and his First Assistant US Attorney for March 21. Margolis will later say of the meeting that he “read [Ryan] the riot act” about the issues in his office, and suggests that Ryan should ask the Justice Department to undertake a special review of his management issues. Margolis will later say that Ryan does not request such a review. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
The Justice Department issues a secret opinion that countermands and contradicts the administration’s official policy that torture is “abhorrent” and will not be practiced by US military or law enforcement officials (see December 30, 2004). The secret opinion is, the New York Times writes two years later while publicly revealing its existence, “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The opinion gives explicit authorization to abuse detainees with a combination of physical and psychological abuse, including head-slapping, stress positioning, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), and prolonged exposure to intense cold. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales (see November 10, 2004) approves the memo over the objections of deputy attorney general James Comey, himself preparing to leave the Justice Department after a series of battles over the legality of torture and the domestic surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey says at the time that everyone at the department will be “ashamed” of the new opinion once the world learns of it. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales is confirmed as attorney general by the Senate on a generally party-line vote of 60-36, one of the smallest margins of confirmation in Senate history. Gonzales’s confirmation hearings (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005) have been the source of great controversy, with Senate Democrats accusing him of being deliberately evasive, obfuscutory (see January 17, 2005), and even obtuse during questioning, but with a solid Republican majority, Democrats have little ability to do anything to interfere with Gonzales’s ascension to power. [Savage, 2007, pp. 213] Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) explains his opposition to Gonzales: “What is at stake here is whether he has demonstrated to the Senate of the United States that he will discharge the duties of the office to which he’s been nominated, specifically whether he will enforce the Constitution and the laws of the United States and uphold the values upon which those laws are based. Regrettably, and disturbingly in my view, Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of meeting this most basic and fundamental standard.” Dodd adds that Gonzales “has endorsed, unfortunately, the position that torture can be permissible.” Fellow Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) adds: “At the very least Mr. Gonzales helped to create a permissive environment that made it more likely that abuses would take place. You could connect the dots from the administration’s legal memos to the Defense Department’s approval of abusive interrogation techniques for Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and Abu Ghraib.” Republicans are incredulous that Democrats would oppose Gonzales’s candidacy, and imply that their opposition is racially based. “Is it prejudice?” asks Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “Is it a belief that a Hispanic-American should never be in a position like this because he will be the first one ever in a position like this? Or is it because he’s constantly mentioned for the Supreme Court of the United States of America? Or is it that they just don’t like Judge Gonzales?” Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) says: “This is a breakthrough of incredible magnitude for Hispanic-Americans and should not be diluted by partisan politics. Judge Gonzales is a role model for the next generation of Hispanic-Americans in this country.” [Fox News, 2/4/2005] When Gonzales is sworn in on February 14, President Bush will use the occasion to urge Congress to renew the controversial USA Patriot Act (see February 14, 2005). [Deseret News, 2/15/2005]
The acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Daniel Levin, sends a memo to William J. Haynes, the chief counsel for the Defense Department, advising Haynes that he is withdrawing the Justice Department’s March 2003 memo that justified certain “harsh” methods of interrogation of prisoners in US custody. Levin, writing in carefully couched legal language, says that many of the interrogation methods currently in use by US interrogators are not within the legal parameters for interrogation—in other words, the methods qualify as torture under US law. [US Department of Justice, 2/4/2005 ] Levin recently underwent a simulated waterboarding session to determine for himself if the practice qualified as torture, and determined that it did so. He will shortly be relieved of his position in the Justice Department, and the administration will continue its support for waterboarding and other “harsh” methods of interrogation (see Late 2004-Early 2005).
Carol Lam, the US Attorney (USA) for Southern California (see November 8, 2002), undergoes an Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) performance review undertaken by the Justice Department. Lam does well in the review. The review finds that she is “an effective manager… respected by the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and the USAO [office] staff.” The review does note concerns about her office’s prosecution of firearms and immigration cases. The report states: “The USAO intake and initial processing of criminal cases worked smoothly except for firearms cases.… The number of firearms cases prosecuted by the USAO was well below the national average and well below the average of other USAOs in California.… [T]he number of immigration cases handled per AUSA [Assistant US Attorney] work year was statistically lower than the immigration cases handled per AUSA work year in the other Southwest Border USAOs.” The head of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, Mary Beth Buchanan, will write in a follow-up letter to the EARS review, “Your report makes clear the emphasis you have put on carrying out department priorities and maintaining a solid management practice.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appoints three Justice Department officials to senior positions, including lawyer D. Kyle Sampson as his deputy chief of staff. Sampson serves under Theodore Ullyot, who is now Gonzales’s chief of staff. Ullyot comes to the department from the White House, where he was a deputy assistant to the president and deputy staff secretary. Sampson has been a counselor to the attorney general since 2003 (see 2001-2003), and also serves as a Special Assistant US Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia. Like Ullyot, Sampson also served a stint in the White House, as associate counsel to the president and as special assistant to the president and associate director for presidential personnel. [US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005] In October 2005, Ullyot will leave the Justice Department to work in the corporate realm, resulting in the promotion of Sampson to chief of staff. [Forbes, 2013]
The New York Times reports that, according to current and former government officials, there is “widening unease within the Central Intelligence Agency over the possibility that career officers could be prosecuted or otherwise punished for their conduct during interrogations and detentions of terrorism suspects.” The conduct is questionable because it is said to amount to torture in some cases (see Mid-May 2002 and After, Shortly After September 6, 2006 and March 10-April 15, 2007). At this time, only one CIA contractor has been charged with a crime, after a prisoner died in Afghanistan. However, at least half a dozen other investigations by the Justice Department and the CIA’s Inspector General are ongoing, and involve actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly “black sites” in other countries. An official says, “There’s a lot more out there than has generally been recognized, and people at the agency are worried.” [New York Times, 2/27/2005] Apparently due to these fears, some officers purchase legal insurance policies. [ABC News, 12/15/2007]
The White House Office of Political Affairs is notified about the initiative to fire some US Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, and March 2, 2005). Sara Taylor, the new White House political affairs director (replacing Karl Rove, who has moved up to become deputy chief of staff, but who is still Taylor’s immediate supervisor—see Late January 2005), will later tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008) that shortly after she takes the position, she becomes aware that the White House is considering replacing some US Attorneys. Taylor will tell investigators that White House counsel Harriet Miers and others in Miers’s office and in the Justice Department were discussing the idea that the beginning of President Bush’s second term provides a good opportunity to replace some of the Attorneys. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ]
Deputy Attorney General James Comey expresses his concerns with US Attorney Kevin Ryan (see Fall 2004 and January 31 - March 21, 2005) to Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) and the person in charge of the Justice Department’s planned purge of US Attorneys. On his initial list of US Attorneys, Sampson labeled Ryan as “strong” and did not list him as ripe for ousting (see January 9, 2005 and March 2, 2005). Comey tells Sampson that he considers Ryan a weak performer based on the documented morale problems in the office. Other Justice Department officials such as Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis and Executive Office for US Attorneys chief Mary Beth Buchanan share similar concerns with Sampson around this time. Comey tells Sampson that he knows Buchanan’s office is concerned about Ryan and is working with Margolis to address the problems. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Missouri Governor Matt Blunt (R-MO) awards a no-bid contract to Tracy Graves, the wife of US Attorney Todd Graves (see October 11, 2001), to manage a motor vehicle license office near Kansas City. In Missouri, license agents are independent contractors who receive a portion of the fees their offices collect. On March 1, Cory Dillon, the executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, urges Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to fire Graves based on his wife’s acceptance of the contract. Dillon points out that in addition to Tracy Graves, her brother and two staff members from the office of Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), Todd Graves’s brother, have also been awarded similar contracts. The Kansas City Star reports on Dillon’s letter to Gonzales on March 2, and the day after runs an editorial accusing Todd Graves of a “clear conflict of interest” if he is ever led to investigate the Blunt administration. Gonzales’s chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, refers the matter to Chuck Rosenberg, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Sampson’s March 16 email to Rosenberg indicates that the White House is interested in the matter, and has asked, ”(1) whether we have looked into the allegations made against Graves… and (2) what our conclusion is, i.e., whether we are comfortable that he doesn’t have any legal or ethical issues.” The matter is referred by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis to the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA), which in turn refers the matter to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). That office, after reviewing the matter and consulting with Margolis, decides not to open an investigation. On April 8, Margolis informs Graves that he has “determined that there is no existing conflict of interest that requires further action at this time.” Graves will tell Justice Department investigators probing the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008) that he himself had brought the Dillon complaint to the attention of EOUSA Director Mary Beth Buchanan after reading about it on the Internet. He considers the allegations groundless. He will say that at no time did anyone in the Justice Department ever raise any questions concerning the propriety of his wife’s contract, or allege that her contract put his position as US Attorney in jeopardy. And, he will state, no Justice Department official ever raised concerns with him about his performance (see March 2002). However, Principal Assistant Deputy Attorney General William Mercer will later recall Sampson voicing “real concerns” about the contract because, Mercer will say, Sampson feels it does not reflect well on the US Attorney’s office. Margolis will speculate that this issue is what prompts Sampson to put Graves on the list of US Attorneys he feels should be fired (see January 1-9, 2006), though he will say he cannot be sure because he never spoke to Sampson about it. Sampson does not express any such concerns in his email to Rosenberg. When investigators ask Sampson about the matter, he will claim memory loss, saying he has no recollection of being involved in any way with Graves’s firing. As the investigators will write, “Sampson also did not express any consternation about the license fee contract matter to us during his interview, and he essentially disclaimed any responsibility for requesting Graves’s resignation.” [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] During this time, the legal counsel for Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), Jack Bartling, will issue repeated demands to the White House that Graves be fired, in part because of Tracy Graves’s contract but largely because of conflicts between the offices of Bond and Sam Graves (see Spring 2005).
Entity Tags: Cory Dillon, Todd P. Graves, Tracy Graves, US Department of Justice, William W. Mercer, Alberto R. Gonzales, Chuck Rosenberg, Paul J. McNulty, Sam Graves, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), David Margolis, D. Kyle Sampson, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Missouri Democratic Party, Kansas City Star, Matt Blunt, Jack Bartling, Mary Beth Buchanan
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Jack Bartling, the legal counsel for Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), calls the White House Counsel’s Office (WHCO) several times to demand that the US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, Todd Graves (see October 11, 2001), be fired. Graves’s single performance review by the Justice Department was excellent (see March 2002), and Bartling’s complaints are not performance-related. Bartling speaks to associate White House counsel Grant Dixton on numerous occasions demanding that Graves be fired. Bartling will speak to Justice Department investigators looking into the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008), and will say that Bond had nothing to do with his efforts to get Graves fired; instead, Bartling will characterize the problem as a “staff issue” being handled by himself and Bond’s chief of staff. Bartling will claim to have never discussed the matter with Bond, as it would have been beneath Bond’s position as “undisputed leader of the Republican congressional delegation in Missouri” to become involved in such a matter. Bartling will say that the demands for Graves’s removal are actually sparked by discord between the staffs of Bond and US Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), Todd Graves’s brother. Representative Graves’s office does “not run business” in a manner the Bond’s staff finds acceptable. Bartling will say that they asked Todd Graves to try to control his brother, but the US Attorney chose not to become involved in the dispute. Bartling will say he raises the issue of Todd Graves’s wife accepting a no-bid contract from Governor Roy Blunt (R-MO) that he says poses a potential conflict of interest for Graves (see February - April 2005). Dixton is the only person in the WHCO who will cooperate with the Justice Department investigation, and he will confirm speaking to Bartling about Graves. According to Dixton, Bartling wants to see Graves removed when Graves’s term of office expires in October 2005. Dixton will say that he cannot recall clearly, but he likely brought the matter to the attention of Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), and to deputy White House counsel William Kelley. Dixton, however, will say that he only spoke to Bartling once, and does not remember speaking to Bartling about Graves’s wife. The Justice Department investigators will determine that Bartling likely spoke to associate White House counsel Richard Klingler as well as Dixton, but Klingler will refuse to cooperate with the investigation. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] The matter will be referred to the Justice Department (see Summer - Fall 2005).
Entity Tags: Jack Bartling, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Grant Dixton, White House Counsel’s Office, William Kelley, D. Kyle Sampson, Richard Klingler, Roy Blunt, US Department of Justice, Todd P. Graves, Sam Graves
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a finding that the government’s use of “video news releases” (VNRs—see March 15, 2004 and May 19, 2004) is not propaganda and therefore not illegal. The VNRs might be “covert,” he writes, since the government actively misled viewers as to their source, but they are not “propaganda,” since they merely explain government programs and facts, and do not espouse a political point of view. Because OLC opinions are legally binding, Bradbury’s “advisory opinion” effectively precludes White House and other agency officials from being prosecuted for authorizing the VNRs, and the practice continues. The General Accounting Office (GAO) rejects Bradbury’s finding and continues to insist that the VNRs are unethical and illegal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 172-173] Two months later, Congress will prohibit the government’s use of VNRs (see May 2005).
Justice Department official Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003), now the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) as well as the Special Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, sends an email to Gonzales’s successor, senior White House counsel Harriet Miers. Sampson is responding to a late February request for recommendations for firing US Attorneys in case the White House decides to ask for resignations from a “subset” of those officials (see February 24, 2005 and After). In the email, Sampson ranks all 93 US Attorneys, using a set of three broad criteria. Strong performers exhibit “loyalty to the president and attorney general” (see January 9, 2005). Poor performers are, he writes, “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.” A third group is not rated at all. US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001, 2002 and November 14-18, 2005 ) and Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002) appear on the list as “recommended retaining.” Gonzales has approved the idea of firing some of the US Attorneys.
Denoted for Firing - US Attorneys listed for possible firing are: David York of the Southern District of Alabama; H.E. “Bud” Cummins of the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002); Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002); Greg Miller of the Northern District of Florida; David Huber of the Western District of Kentucky; Margaret Chiara of the Western District of Michigan (see November 2, 2001); Jim Greenlee of the Northern District of Mississippi; Dunn O. Lampton of the Southern District of Mississippi; Anna Mills S. Wagoner of the Middle District of North Carolina; John McKay of the Western District of Washington state (see October 24, 2001, Late October 2001 - March 2002, and January 4, 2005); Kasey Warner of the Southern District of West Virginia; and Paula Silsby of Maine. Sampson sends a revised listing later this evening with two more names indicated for possible firing: Thomas B. Heffelfinger of Minnesota and Steven Biskupic of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Sampson says he based his choices on his own personal judgments formed during his work at the White House and the Justice Department, and on input he received from other Justice Department officials. He will later testify that he cannot recall what any specific official told him about any specific US Attorney. He will call this list a “quick and dirty” compilation and a “preliminary list” that would be subject to “further vetting… down the road” from department leaders. [US Department of Justice, 2005 ; US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; US Department of Justice, 3/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Days later, a Federalist Society lawyer will email Mary Beth Buchanan, the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, with a recommendation for Lam’s replacement (see March 7, 2005).
Later Recollections - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Gonzales will tell investigators that he supported the concept of evaluating the US Attorneys’ performance to see “where we could do better.” Gonzales will say that he instructed Sampson to consult with the senior leadership of the Justice Department, obtain a consensus recommendation as to which US Attorneys should be removed, and coordinate with the White House on the process. Gonzales will say that he never discussed with Sampson how to evaluate US Attorneys or what factors to consider when discussing with department leaders which US Attorneys should be removed. Sampson will say that he did not share the list with Gonzales or any other department officials, but will say he believes he briefed Gonzales on it. Gonzales will say he recalls no such briefing, nor does he recall ever seeing the list. Then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey and then-Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis will tell OIG investigators about their discussions with Sampson. Comey will recall telling Sampson on February 28, 2005 that he felt Ryan and Lampton belonged in the “weak” category, and will say he may have denoted Heffelfinger and another US Attorney, David O’Meilia, as “weak” performers. Comey will say that he was not aware of Sampson’s work with the White House in compiling a list of US Attorneys to be removed. He will say that he considered his conversation with Sampson “casual” and that Sampson “offhandedly” raised the subject with him. Margolis will recall speaking briefly with Sampson about “weak” performers among the US Attorneys in late 2004 or early 2005, but recall little about the conversation. He will remember that Sampson told him about Miers’s idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004), and agreed with Sampson that such a move would be unwise. Margolis will recall Sampson viewing Miers’s idea as a way to replace some US Attorneys for President Bush’s second term, an idea Margolis will say he endorsed. He was not aware that political considerations may be used to compile a list of potential firings. He will recall looking at a list Sampson had of all 93 Attorneys. He will remember citing Ryan and Lampton as poor performers, as well as Chiara. He will remember saying that eight other US Attorneys might warrant replacement. Sampson will tell OIG investigators that he received no immediate reaction from Miers to the list, and will say he did not remember discussing the basis for his recommendations with her. As for McKay, though Washington state Republicans are sending a steady stream of complaints to the White House concerning McKay’s alleged lack of interest in pursuing voter fraud allegations (see December 2004, Late 2004, Late 2004 or Early 2005, January 4, 2005, and January 4, 2005), Sampson will claim to be unaware of any of them and say he would not have used them as justification to advocate for McKay’s termination. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, Kevin Ryan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Margaret M. Chiara, Bush administration (43), Paula Silsby, Steven M. Biskupic, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, John L. McKay, Jim Greenlee, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, James B. Comey Jr., David C. Iglesias, D. Kyle Sampson, David Huber, David Margolis, Kasey Warner, David York, David O’Meilia, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Greg Miller, Dunn O. Lampton, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Justice Department is sent a letter, apparently via surface mail, that, according to a department control sheet, “request[s] an investigation into the voting irregularities and the certification of the Washington State 2004 election” (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005, December 29-30, 2004, January 7, 2005, January 24-28, 2005, February 4, 2005, and March 5, 2005). The sender of the letter is redacted from the control sheet. The letter is marked as received on March 10. On March 15, the letter is referred to the Civil Rights Division “for component response,” and referred to several other bureaus within the department, including the Offices of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. The Civil Rights Division sends a reply on March 24, 2005. The reply is not included in the documents later released by the Justice Department. [US Department of Justice, 6/21/2007 ]
Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic. [Source: PRWatch (.org)] (click image to enlarge)An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” [New York Times, 3/13/2005]
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).
Entity Tags: Brian Conrady, Transportation Security Administration, Richard A. Boucher, Reuters, Associated Press, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Defense, US Department of Health and Human Services, AgDay, Army and Air Force Hometown News Service, William Pierce, US Department of Justice, US Department of State, Pentagon Channel, US Census Bureau, Pat O’Leary, David Winstrom, Fort Leonard Wood, Patricia Harrison, Bush administration (43), CNN, Fox News, Public Relations Society of America, Larry Gilliam, Office of Management and Budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Office of Broadcasting Services, Government Accountability Office, Medialink, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Timothy Griffin, after being elected as a US representative in 2010. [Source: Politico]Timothy Griffin, a former Republican National Committee aide and a veteran Republican political operative (see October 26, 2004), learns that Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), has identified the US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas, Bud Cummins, as one of several US Attorneys who should be fired (see January 9, 2005 and March 2, 2005). Griffin, a lawyer who has twice attempted to secure that position for himself, learns of the news from Sara Taylor, the White House’s new director of political affairs (replacing Karl Rove, who still supervises all political issues from his new position as deputy chief of staff—see Late January 2005). Griffin is considering joining Taylor’s staff, but even before his hiring, he attends several “directors” meetings at the White House. After one of these meetings, Taylor shows him the list of US Attorneys slated for dismissal. The list includes Cummins. Taylor says she does not know why Cummins is on the list, but she believes it may be because he lost his sponsor, Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), when Hutchinson lost his bid for re-election in 2002. Griffin joins Taylor’s staff, and shortly thereafter meets with White House counsel Harriet Miers, who also tells him that the White House is planning to fire Cummins. She asks Griffin if he is interested in the position, and he says he would like the job after completing a stint in the White House. Miers warns him that it might be difficult to have him approved for the position after having worked for the White House Office of Political Affairs. Miers, Rove, and Taylor discuss Griffin’s employment options through the rest of March. Miers tells Rove that she has considered making Griffin a political appointee in one of the two US Attorneys’ offices in Arkansas, or perhaps having Griffin replace the deputy director of the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department. Rove responds, “What about him for the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas?” Miers replies that such a move is “definitely a possibility” because the current US Attorney, Cummins, is going to be replaced. Miers tells Rove that Griffin has spoken with her about his desire for the slot, but for now he wants to stay with the White House. Taylor responds to the exchange by saying in part, “My fear is they end up putting him [Griffin] at Justice (which he does not want to do); it’s a year before he’s made US Attorney, if ever.” In another email, Taylor writes to Rove that Griffin “would love to be US Attorney—he’d love to come here in the meantime.” Griffin accepts the position of deputy director of political affairs at the White House, promising Taylor that he will stay in the position at least after the November 2006 election unless the US Attorney position opens up before then. For his part, Cummins, who is toying with the idea of leaving the position, speaks with Griffin periodically throughout the year about Griffin taking the position after Cummins resigns. Cummins will later say that he always assumed the choice as to if and when to resign would be his, and that he always assumed Griffin would get the job because he is so well connected politically. Griffin later says he never pushed Cummins to leave, but will tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008), “I was laying low.” Griffin will say that to his mind, Cummins’s removal and his own ascension to the post were two separate things. “I didn’t know why he was being fired,” Griffin will say, “but I knew that if he was going to be fired, then I wanted to be considered for that job.” Griffin, a member of the Army Reserve, will leave his White House position in August 2005 to serve as a Judge Advocate General officer in Iraq, and will stay in close contact with officials in both the White House and the Justice Department throughout his yearlong tour of duty. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Bush administration (43), White House Office of Political Affairs, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III, US Department of Justice, Sara Taylor, J. Timothy Griffin, Karl C. Rove, Republican National Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Tim Hutchinson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The bumper sticker that led to the removal of three people from the Bush campaign event. [Source: 9News (.com)]Three Denver residents are forcibly removed from a town hall meeting with President Bush after Bush security personnel observed their car had a bumper sticker reading “No More Blood for Oil.” The three obtained tickets for the invitation-only event through the office of Representative Bob Beauprez (R-CO). [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] One of the three, lawyer Leslie Weise, is stopped at the security checkpoint, asked for identification, and told to wait for the Secret Service to arrive. Eventually, Michael Casper, a White House staffer who is not a Secret Service member but is dressed in a dark suit and wears an earpiece and lapel pin, arrives and warns Weise that she has been “ID’d” and that if she has any intentions of causing trouble, she will be arrested. She then moves through the checkpoint and towards her seat. As is later ascertained by witnesses, Casper then consults with other White House event staffers who saw the bumper sticker and tell him that White House policy is to prevent anyone attending a presidential event if they disagree with Bush’s positions. Casper then prevents the three from taking their seats, and escorts them to the exit, putting his hand on the elbow of Weise’s fellow attendee, marketing coordinator Karen Bauer. [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado, 11/21/2005 ] The Secret Service denies any involvement in the incident: “The Secret Service had nothing to do with that,” says Lon Garner, special agent in charge of the Secret Service district office in Denver. “We are very sensitive to the First Amendment and general assembly rights as protected by the Constitution.” The Secret Service will mount an investigation [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] , and recommend that Casper be charged with impersonating a federal officer; the Justice Department will refuse to press charges (see August 8, 2005). The three will consider a lawsuit against the Bush administration alleging that their First Amendment rights were violated. According to another member of the group, Internet technology worker Alex Young, officials will tell them the next day that they were identified as belonging to an organization called “No Blood for Oil.” Young denies that any of the three belong to any such group, acknowledges that the car they take to the event had a bumper sticker with a similar phrase attached to its rear bumper, and says, “I don’t think a bumper sticker on a friend’s car should disqualify me from seeing the president.” The three belong to the Denver Progressives, described by a Denver ABC affiliate as a “political activist group.” Their lawyer, Dan Recht, says: “They hadn’t done anything wrong. They weren’t dressed inappropriately, they didn’t say anything inappropriate. They were kicked out of this venue and not allowed to hear what the president had to say based solely on this political bumper sticker. The very essence of the First Amendment is that you can’t be punished for the speech you make, the statements you make.” Americans United spokesman Brad Woodhouse says the Denver incident is just the latest and most egregious example of Bush officials’ heavy-handed attempts to suppress dissent and free speech. “They’re screening the people who are allowed to come and then they’re profiling them in the parking lot,” he says. “It’s quite extraordinary, and disappointing.” [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] Weise and Young will file a lawsuit over the incident (see November 21, 2005).
Entity Tags: Americans United, Dan Recht, Bob Beauprez, Denver Progressives, Brad Woodhouse, Alex Young, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Karen Bauer, Leslie Weise, Lon Garner, Michael Casper, US Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Associate White House counsel Dabney Friedrich, acting at the behest of her superior, White House counsel Harriet Miers, sends Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), an email asking him to confirm Miers’s understanding that the “plan” to fire and replace selected US Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, and March 2, 2005) is “to wait until each has served a four-year term. She was operating under the assumption that we would act to remove/replace right away.” Sampson replies that he, Friedrich, Miers, and Gonzales should discuss the matter, but he has recommended that the attorneys should be replaced “selectively” after their four-year terms expire. Sampson writes that to do otherwise might cause consternation among home-state politicians and “internal management trouble” within the Justice Department. Sampson emphasizes that he is expressing his views and not those of Gonzales. Friedrich replies with her agreement, and says she would be surprised to hear differently from either Miers or Gonzales. Little is said among the principals in the attorney-firing process for several months. The first expirations will not begin until November 2005, and according to a later Justice Department investigation (see September 29, 2008), Sampson will decide to “back-burner” the issue until later in the year. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ]
Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, pleads guilty to stealing copies of a memo from the National Archives. Berger took the papers because he thought they might be used against him, but was caught by the archives staff (see September 2, 2003 and October 2, 2003). He pleads guilty to the misdemeanor of “unauthorized removal and retention of classified material” and to mishandling classified documents. Although Berger could be sent to prison for a year, the Justice Department only asks for a $10,000 fine, and does not even request that he be stripped of his security clearance. The judge rejects this as too lenient, imposes a $50,000 fine, and orders Berger to give up his security clearance for three years. Berger says: “My actions… were wrong. They were foolish, I deeply regret them.… I let considerations of personal convenience override clear rules of handling classified material.” Author Philip Shenon will write, “It is widely believed in Washington legal circles that [Berger’s lawyer] got his client an extraordinarily lenient deal from the Justice Department.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 414, 425]
Excerpt from a diagram of a tracheotomy. [Source: Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine]Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo to John Rizzo, the senior deputy counsel for the CIA, the second of two memos issued on the same day by Bradbury to Rizzo (see May 10, 2005). This memo, a supplement to the first, considers interrogation techniques used in combination. Bradbury concludes, “Subject to the conditions and limitations set out here and in [the previous memo], we conclude that the authorized combined use of these specific techniques by adequately trained interrogators would not violate” US statutory law. The memo will not be released to the public for almost four years (see April 16, 2009).
Emergency Tracheotomy Procedures at Ready - The memo finds that, even though an earlier OLC memo had declared waterboarding to be a safe procedure (see August 1, 2002), a medical practicioner with a tracheotomy kit must be present to ensure the detainee is not injured or killed during the procedure. Bradbury writes: “[A] detainee could suffer spasms of the larynx that would prevent him from breathing even when the application of water is stopped and the detainee is returned to an upright position. In the event of such spasms, a qualified physician would immediately intervene to address the problem, and, if necessary, the intervening physician would perform a tracheotomy… we are informed that the necessary emergency medical equipment is always present—although not visible to the detainee—during any application of the waterboard.” In a heavily redacted section, the memo states: “In our limited experience, extensive use of the waterboard can introduce new risks. Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue or psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness. An unresponsive subject should be righted immediately and the interrogator should deliver a sub-xyphoid thrust to expel the water. If this fails to restore normal breathing, aggressive medical intervention is required. Any subject who has reached this degree of compromise is not [REDACTED].” [Office of Legal Counsel, 5/10/2005 ]
'Last-Resort Procedure' - According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine: “A tracheotomy is a surgical procedure in which a cut or opening is made in the windpipe (trachea). The surgeon inserts a tube into the opening to bypass an obstruction, allow air to get to the lungs, or remove secretions.… A tracheotomy is performed if enough air is not getting to the lungs, if the person cannot breathe without help, or is having problems with mucus and other secretions getting into the windpipe because of difficulty swallowing.… Doctors perform emergency tracheotomies as last-resort procedures. They are done only if the patient’s windpipe is obstructed and the situation is life-threatening.” [Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2009]
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issues a classified memo to John Rizzo, the senior deputy counsel for the CIA. The memo will remain classified for nearly four years (see April 16, 2009). It addresses, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “whether CIA interrogation methods violate the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment standards under federal and international law.” Bradbury concludes that neither past nor present CIA interrogation methods violate such standards. [Office of Legal Counsel, 5/10/2005 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
CIA Techniques Not Torture, Bradbury Explains - Bradbury calls torture “abhorrent” and “universally repudiated,” and says the US will never condone it. Afterwards, he spends a great deal of effort explaining why the various techniques used by the CIA do not constitute torture. Bradbury goes into numerous details about varieties of “harsh interrogation techniques” that can be used on prisoners, often restating details from an August 2002 OLC memo (see August 1, 2002) and elaborating on those descriptions. One technique he details is forced nudity. “Detainees subject to sleep deprivation who are also subject to nudity as a separate interrogation technique will at times be nude and wearing a diaper,” he writes, and notes that the diaper is “for sanitary and health purposes of the detainee; it is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique.… The detainee’s skin condition is monitored, and diapers are changed as needed so that the detainee does not remain in a soiled diaper.” He cites “walling,” a technique involving slamming a detainee into a “false wall,” and writes, “Depending on the extent of the detainee’s lack of cooperation, he may be walled one time during an interrogation session (one impact with the wall) or many times (perhaps 20 or 30 times) consecutively.” Other techniques Bradbury cites include waterboarding, “abdominal slaps,” and “water dousing.” For water dousing, Bradbury gives specific restrictions: “For example, in employing this technique:
“For water temperarure of 41°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 20 minutes without drying and rewarming.
“For water temperarure of 50°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 40 minutes without drying and rewarming.
“For water tempetarure of 59°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 60 minutes without drying and rewarming.
“The minimum permissible temperature of the water used in water dousing is 41°F, though you have informed us that in practice the water temperature is generally not below 50°F, since tap water rather than refrigerated water is generally used.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 5/10/2005 ; CNN, 4/17/2009]
Waterboarding Used More Frequently than Authorized - Bradbury also notes that waterboarding is sometimes used more times than authorized or indicated. Referring to an as-yet-unreleased 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general on torture and abuse of detainees, he writes: “The IG report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated.… (‘[T]he waterboard technique… was different from the technique described in the DoJ [Department of Justice] opinion and used in the SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002). The difference was the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the [CIA] interrogator… applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is ‘for real—and is more poignant and convincing.’)… The inspector general further reported that ‘OMS [the CIA’s Office of Medical Services] contends that the expertise of the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe.‘… We have carefully considered the IG report and discussed it with OMS personnel. As noted, OMS input has resulted in a number of changes in the application of the waterboard, including limits on frequency and cumulative use of the technique. Moreover, OMS personnel are carefully instructed in monitoring this technique and are personally present whenever it is used.… Indeed, although physician assistants can be present when other enhanced techniques are applied, ‘use of the waterboard requires the presence of the physician.’” [Office of Legal Counsel, 5/10/2005 ]
Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issues a classified memo. The contents and the recipient remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later determine the memo deals with the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA. In early May, Bradbury determined that none of the CIA’s past or present interrogation methods violated either federal or international standards (see May 10, 2005). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
The FBI and Justice Department quietly open an investigation into whether Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, improperly colluded with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to win reappointment as the committee’s ranking member. The investigation is not revealed to the public until October 2006 (see October 20, 2006). The investigation centers on allegations that Harman and AIPAC arranged for wealthy supporters to lobby House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Harman’s behalf. The case is an outgrowth of a probe that has already led to the felony conviction of former DIA official Larry Franklin, who pled guilty to giving classified information to two AIPAC lobbyists (see October 5, 2005), and the lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who still face charges of passing that information on to Israel (see April 13, 1999-2004). The investigation has now expanded to determine if Harman’s campaign to persuade Pelosi to reappoint her to the committee may have involved AIPAC, and whether Harman promised to return the favor by using her influence to persuade the Justice Department to ease up on the AIPAC lobbyists. Reporter Timothy Burger will write: “If that happened, it might be construed as an illegal quid pro quo, depending on the context of the situation. But the sources caution that there has been no decision to charge anyone and that it is unclear whether Harman and AIPAC acted on the idea.” Both Harman and Pelosi are outspoken supporters of Israel, and have praised AIPAC for its efforts to further cement ties between Israel and the US. However, Congressional sources will say that Pelosi is furious at attempts by major donors to lobby on behalf of Harman. The LA Weekly reported in May that Harman “had some major contributors call Pelosi to impress upon her the importance of keeping Jane in place. According to these members, this tactic, too, hasn’t endeared Harman to Pelosi.” Another powerful figure has lobbied for Harman: entertainment industry billionaire Haim Saban, who made his fortune through the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers children’s entertainment franchise. It is unclear whether Saban had any contact with AIPAC, and if his efforts to lobby on Harman’s behalf were part of a larger, more orchestrated plan. [Time, 10/20/2006] When the story becomes public in October 2006, Harman will deny any improper or illegal conduct (see October 20, 2006). The investigation will eventually be dropped, supposedly for “lack of evidence.” In April 2009, evidence will surface that the NSA wiretapped Harman discussing a quid pro quo with a suspected Israeli agent, and that the investigation was not dropped because of lack of evidence, but because of the intervention of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see October 2005, Late 2005, and April 19, 2009). [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Haim Saban, Federal Bureau of Investigation, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, Steve Rosen, Timothy Burger, US Department of Justice, Keith Weissman, National Security Agency, Larry Franklin
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Philip Zelikow, the chief adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005) and the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), writes a classified memo challenging the Justice Department’s legal justifications for its authorizations of torture. Zelikow writes his memo after gaining access to four secret memos from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see April 16, 2009), in his role as Rice’s policy representative to the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee. Rice and her legal adviser, John Bellinger, are the only others besides Zelikow to have been briefed on the memos. Zelikow was aware of what many of the suspected terrorists did, or were alleged to have done, through his experience on the 9/11 Commission. The evidence against most of them is “damning,” he will later write: “But the issue is not about who or what they are. It is about who or what we are.” In the memo, which he will publicly discuss four years later (see April 21, 2009), Zelikow focuses on three main areas of contention.
First, the question should not be whether waterboarding (or any other particular technique) is torture, but on the idea of a program of authorized torture. The program used numerous well-planned, carefully considered methods of physical coercion to gain information from detainees, or as Zelikow will write, “to disorient, abuse, dehumanize, and torment individuals over time.” Waterboarding is only one of many objectionable, and illegal, techniques being used against prisoners.
Second, the question of torture should not first be settled by lawyers. The moral and professional aspects of such an issue should be dealt with before asking lawyers to justify such actions. Better questions would be: Are these methods reliable in getting important information? And does the garnering of such information, even if such can be proven, justify the moral position of using torture? In 2009, Zelikow will write: “There is an elementary distinction, too often lost, between the moral (and policy) question—‘What should we do?’—and the legal question: ‘What can we do?’ We live in a policy world too inclined to turn lawyers into surrogate priests granting a form of absolution. ‘The lawyers say it’s OK.’ Well, not really. They say it might be legal. They don’t know about OK.”
Finally, the legal opinions themselves have what Zelikow calls “grave weaknesses.” Many of the OLC opinions, particularly the May 30, 2005 opinion (see May 30, 2005), “presented the US government with a distorted rendering of relevant US law.” He goes on: “The case law on the ‘shocks the conscience’ standard for interrogations would proscribe the CIA’s methods,” in his view. Moreover, the OLC position ignores “standard 8th Amendment ‘conditions of confinement’ analysis (long incorporated into the 5th Amendment as a matter of substantive due process and thus applicable to detentions like these). That case law would regard the conditions of confinement in the CIA facilities as unlawful.” And, while “the use of a balancing test to measure constitutional validity (national security gain vs. harm to individuals) is lawful for some techniques… other kinds of cruel treatment should be barred categorically under US law—whatever the alleged gain.” The logical extension of the OLC’s position is that since the “substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous US constitutional law… the OLC must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail. In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, waterboarded, and all the rest—if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.”
White House Orders Copies Destroyed - Zelikow will admit he has no standing to offer a legal opinion. However, he will write: “I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo.” Zelikow will say he believes that copies still exist in State Department archives. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009; Politico, 4/21/2009]
The complaints against US Attorney Todd Graves of Missouri from Jack Bartling, the legal counsel for Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO—see Spring 2005), make their way to the Justice Department. Bartling, who later cooperates with the Justice Department investigators looking into the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008), says he understood from his conversations with officials in the White House Counsel’s Office that the matter is now in the hands of the Justice Department. Moreover, Bartling goes to Washington to interview for a position in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General in the fall of 2005, and during the interview process speaks to Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Elston asks Bartling if Bond is still interested in removing Graves from his position. Elston will also speak to the investigators, and will tell them that he learned that Graves had lost Bond’s support from Bond’s staff, and not from someone in the Justice Department. Elston will also say that he did not discuss with Bartling the reasons why Graves should be fired, but he knows enough about the discord between the Bond staff and the staff of US Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), Todd Graves’s brother, to make some assumptions about the reason for the request. Elston will say he does not bring the matter to the attention of McNulty or anyone else in the department. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
A Justice Department review of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center discovers that the terrorist watch list used to screen people entering the US is based on incomplete and inaccurate information. The report also criticizes the poor technical performance of the facility. In the report, Inspector General Glenn Fine writes, “While the [Terrorist Screening Database] is constantly evolving, we found that the management of its information technology, a critical part of the terrorist screening process, has been deficient.” The Justice Department also warns that missing or duplicate information hinders the usefulness of the lists. Fine states that: “We found instances where the consolidated database did not contain names that should have been included on the watch list. In addition, we found inaccurate information related to persons included in the database.” [The Register, 6/14/2005] The problems will not be corrected by 2006 (see March 2006).
Steven Bradbury. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]Steven Bradbury is nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He will continue in that position on an acting basis into 2008, even though Congressional Democrats refuse to confirm him for the job, and even though his continuation in the post violates the Vacancies Reform Act, which precludes non-confirmed appointees for holding their positions for over 210 days (see October 16, 2007). [Washington Times, 9/20/2007; New York Times, 10/4/2007; TPM Muckraker, 10/19/2007] Bradbury takes over from Jack Goldsmith, who resigned the position under fire (see June 17, 2004).
Arm of the White House - Bradbury has a long history of supporting the White House’s agenda of expansive executive power. He came to the Justice Department after clerking with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and mentoring under former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. [New York Times, 10/4/2007] A co-founder of the Federalist Society [International Herald Tribune, 10/15/2007] , he is as staunchly conservative as any Bush appointee, but unlike some of the more outspoken of his colleagues, he comes across as low-key, pragmatic, and non-confrontational. As a Justice Department lawyer, Bradbury proved himself in line with the neoconservative views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington. Former State Department senior official Philip Zelikow recalls Bradbury as being “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the CIA wanted to do.” Bradbury was brought in to the OLC in part to rein in that office, which under its previous head Jack Goldsmith became the hub of the internal opposition to Bush’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and domestic surveillance (see Late 2003-2005). In 2005, Bradbury signs two secret Justice Department memos giving broad authorization and legal justification for the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects (see February 2005 and Late 2005),. Bradbury works closely with then-White House counsel and current attorney general Alberto Gonzales to bring the Justice Department back into line with White House demands. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, who headed the OLC under former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, says he believes the intense pressures from the current administration’s campaign against terrorism has warped the OLC’s proper role. “The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” Kmiec says. Now the OLC has “lost its ability to say no.… The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror. The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
Probation - Bradbury was first considered for the job after Gonzales, newly confirmed as attorney general, rejected the idea of promoting Daniel Levin, the acting head of the OLC after Goldsmith’s departure. Gonzales considered Levin unsuitable for the job because of his independence and support for Goldsmith’s dissents. Instead, Gonzales chose Bradbury for the job. But the White House was uncertain of Bradbury’s reliability, and so placed him on a sort of “internal trial,” monitored by Gonzales’s replacement at the White House, Harriet Miers. Miers judged Bradbury’s loyalty to the president and his willingness to work with Gonzales in justifying White House policy decisions. Bradbury reportedly understands that his “probation” is intended for him to show just how compliant and supportive he is of the White House, and he soon wins the confidence of the White House by completely aligning himself with Addington. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
'Sordid criminal conspiracy' - Harper’s Magazine commentator and lawyer Scott Horton will write in November 2007 that it is obvious “Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators.… The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence.… This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy, and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.” [Harper's, 11/7/2007]
Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency, Philip Zelikow, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Scott Horton, Vacancies Reform Act, James B. Comey Jr., Jack Goldsmith, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Harper’s Magazine, Clarence Thomas, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Harriet E. Miers, Geneva Conventions, Douglas Kmiec, David S. Addington, George Herbert Walker Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Bud Cummins, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002), does well in his second Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) evaluation by the Justice Department. As with his first EARS evaluation (see April or August 2002), he is described as highly regarded by the judiciary in his district as well as by law enforcement, civil client agencies, and his office personnel. The current EARS evaluation reports that Cummins and his senior management team “effectively managed the office’s operations and personnel.” Under Cummins, the report says, his office has “established strategic goals that were appropriate to meet the priorities of the department and the needs of the district.” Cummins is involved in the day-to-day management of his office, and is active in Justice Department matters, serving on various Attorney General Advisory Committee subcommittees. Cummins also receives high marks for his office’s anti-terrorism, anti-drug, and reduction of gun violence programs. The office focuses strongly on public corruption cases involving state legislators. Cummins is doing a good job of incorporating a number of new and inexperienced assistants into his staff of “very experienced” assistants, though the report recommends that he consider selecting either “a deputy criminal chief, or the creation of units with lead attorneys to assist the criminal chief in the management of the workload and personnel.” The report also finds some incorrect data entries in the Legal Information Office Network System (LIONS). [US House of Representatives, Committee of the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Cummins will be fired shortly after this evaluation is performed (see December 20, 2006). He has already been identified as a target for removal by Justice Department aide Kyle Sampson (see January 9, 2005). All of the US Attorneys on Sampson’s list of targets are described as “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.”
The Connecticut Four, from left to right: Janet Nocek, Peter Chase, George Christian, and Barbara Bailey. [Source: Robert Deutsch/ USA Today]A case filed against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales by four plaintiffs from Connecticut’s Library Connection, Inc.—George Christian, Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase, and Janet Nocek—goes to trial in federal district court (see July 13, 2005). The trial is filed as Doe v. Gonzales because the government has filed a gag order against the plaintiffs forbidding them from identifying themselves or discussing the case publicly. The case involves a demand for information from the FBI for information concerning library usage by patrons of a Connecticut library; the four plaintiffs, on behalf of their data management firm Library Connection, have refused. The case revolves around the use of a National Security Letter (NSL) by the FBI; the plaintiffs, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union, want the NSL voided, the gag order lifted, and such use of NSLs found unconstitutional. Christian and his three colleagues are not allowed to attend the hearings in person because of the possibility that they might be identified as the plaintiffs; they are forced to watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit broadcast from a locked room in the Hartford courthouse. When the judge in the proceeding asks to review the government’s evidence for keeping the gag rule in place, Justice Department lawyers insist on submitting secret evidence directly to the judge, without providing that evidence to the plaintiff’s lawyers. The judge is not pleased, and rules, as did her predecessor in New York, that a perpetual gag order amounts to prior restraint, and thereby is unconstitutional. She adds that her review of the secret evidence gives no national security rationale for keeping the plaintiffs gagged. The Justice Department immediately appeals the ruling, and the plaintiffs stay silent and gagged. While the four plaintiffs remain silent about the NSL and the court case, the Justice Department’s primary lawyer, Kevin O’Conner, does not: O’Conner has frequently debated one of the plaintiffs, Chase, about the Patriot Act, and though Chase is now required to remain silent, O’Conner continues to make frequent public appearances touting the Patriot Act. Christian later says, in 2007 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see April 11, 2007), that the continuing gag order causes the four “John Does” considerable professional and personal distress, especially after the national media begins reporting the story. The media eventually learns, through the careless redaction of information by government lawyers, of Chase’s identity as one of the four plaintiffs, and reveals that Library Connection is the firm involved in the lawsuit. Christian’s name comes to light shortly thereafter. The attorneys warn Christian and the others that even though their identities and their firm have been revealed, they still cannot comment at all on the case. Christian, for one, wants to testify before Congress in regards to the upcoming reauthorization of the Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006), but cannot. The four plaintiffs quickly become known in the media as the “Connecticut John Does” or the “Connecticut Four.”
Appeals Court - In November 2005, a New York court of appeals hears the case. Christian and his colleagues are allowed to be present at the case this time, but are required to conceal their identities by entering and leaving the court building separately, are not allowed to sit together, and are not allowed to confer with, or even make eye contact with, each other or their attorneys. The Justice Department lawyers argue that even revealing themselves as recipients of a NSL would violate national security, an argument refuted by submission of the raft of news articles identifying Christian, Chase, and Library Connection. The government argues that those news reports don’t matter because no one in Connecticut reads the primary newspaper carrying the story, the New York Times, and that surveys prove that most people don’t believe what they read in the news anyway. The Justice Department also tries to get the news articles to be kept under seal in court papers. Christian characterizes the entire proceeding as “absurd.” The court refuses to admit the plaintiff’s claim that 48 states, including Connecticut, have laws protecting the privacy of library patrons, but does admit into evidence the claims by Gonzales that there is no statutory justification for claims of privacy. In an attempt to get the gag order lifted before the Patriot Act reauthorization, the plaintiff’s attorneys make an emergency appeal directly to the Supreme Court, but are rebuffed. [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007] In June 2006, Nocek tells a reporter, “Imagine the government came to you with an order demanding that you compromise your professional and personal principles. Imagine then being permanently gagged from speaking to your friends, your family or your colleagues about this wrenching experience.… Under the Patriot Act, the FBI demanded Internet and library records without showing any evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing to a court of law. We were barred from speaking to anyone about the matter and we were even taking a risk by consulting with lawyers.” [Interview: George Christian, 6/2/2006]
Gag Order Lifted, Case Dropped - Weeks after President Bush signs into law the Patriot Act reauthorization (see March 9, 2006), the FBI voluntarily lifts the gag order without waiting for a court order. The agency then tries to get the original ruling against the gag order vacated, an attempt that the appeals court refuses. The appellate judges are clearly disturbed by the breadth of the NSL gag provisions; one appellate judge writes, “A ban on speech and a shroud of secrecy in perpetuity are antithetical to democratic concepts and do not fit comfortably with the fundamental rights guaranteed American citizens… Unending secrecy of actions taken by government officials may also serve as a cover for possible official misconduct and/or incompetence.” The appeals court refers the case back to district court, allowing the original opinion to stand. Weeks later, the FBI withdraws its NSL, saying that it no longer needs the information it originally requested. Christian later testifies, “In doing so, they removed the Patriot Act from the danger of court review.” Christian later says that he believes the entire procedure was managed as an attempt to prevent the case from becoming public knowledge before Congress could vote on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]
Entity Tags: Peter Chase, Senate Judiciary Committee, National Security Letters, US Department of Justice, Library Connection, Inc., George Christian, George W. Bush, American Civil Liberties Union, Barbara Bailey, Connecticut Four, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kevin O’Conner
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
US Attorney John McKay of Washington State is appointed to chair the Regional Information Sharing Working Group, a subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC). He begins giving presentations about the Northwest Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX—see Early 2004 and Early 2005 - Spring 2005) and its benefits as an information-sharing program. McKay is a passionate advocate for the program and its potential to be used on a nationwide basis to share information between local, state, and federal authorities. According to Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William Mercer, by early 2006 Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and his office are becoming concerned that McKay is pushing LInX as the Justice Department’s only information-sharing initiative, when in fact it is one of several information-sharing programs used by US Attorneys. By the first of the year, McNulty’s office is receiving complaints from Justice Department law enforcement entities about McKay traveling around the country endorsing another program over the ones used in other US Attorneys’ offices. Later investigation will show that no one shares any of these complaints with McKay. McKay will say that no one in the Justice Department ever told him that they disagreed with his advocacy of LInX, or wanted to use other programs. He will recall getting the impression in an April 2006 meeting with McNulty and several Pentagon officials that McNulty is interested in garnering the assistance of the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security to broaden LInX’s usage throughout the nation. McNulty will say that McKay’s impressions were incorrect, that other law enforcement agencies are using other information-sharing platforms, and that other entities, such as the Navy, have different agendas for information sharing with the Defense Department. McNulty will say he is attempting to juggle conflicting concerns, such as to what extent the Justice Department should open its records to other entities. Technology experts in the department are advising McNulty to remain “neutral” about which system(s) the department uses. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
The Justice Department refuses to prosecute a White House event staffer who impersonated a Secret Service agent while improperly ejecting three people from a town-hall event featuring President Bush. The staffer will later be identified as Michael Casper (see March 21, 2005). The Secret Service recommended that Casper be prosecuted for impersonating a federal officer. The White House has refused to identify Casper, merely calling him a “White House volunteer.” US Attorney William Leone says: “Criminal law is not an appropriate tool to resolve this dispute. The normal give and take of the political system is the appropriate venue for a resolution.” Eight of Colorado’s nine US representatives have condemned the ejection. Marilyn Musgrove (R-CO), a longtime Bush ally, says, “I really do believe in free speech, and if you try to quell people it just makes them more determined.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/23/2005; OMB Watch, 8/8/2005]
Deputy Attorney General James Comey delegates to Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis all authority to deal with the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. Comey writes to Margolis: “I delegate to you all of my authority as acting attorney general with respect to that investigation and Mr. Fitzgerald’s service as special counsel, as delineated in [earlier] correspondence [between Comey and Fitzgerald]. This delegation to you in no way retracts or modifies the scope of the prior delegations of authority to Mr. Fitzgerald.” [Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 8/12/2005 ]
Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who has already tendered his resignation, gives his farewell speech to an assemblage in the Justice Department. Comey makes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a cryptic reference to the fights over warrantless surveillance and torture issues that he had fought alongside [former Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith and the other non-team players” (see Late 2003-2005 and June 17, 2004). Comey tells the assembled employees that, during his tenure, he had dealt with issues that “although of consequence almost beyond my imagination, were invisible because the subject matter demanded it.” In these disputes, he says he worked with people whose loyalty “to the law… would shock people who are cynical about Washington.” Those people, he says, “came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to [do] right, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.” [US Department of Justice, 8/15/2005; Consortium News, 2/8/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 199] Comey will later testify that one of the people he is referring to is former Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin. [Savage, 2007, pp. 199]
John Roberts. [Source: In These Times]John Roberts is approved by the Senate to become the new chief justice of the US Supreme Court, replacing the recently deceased William Rehnquist (see September 5, 2005). Roberts, who once clerked for Rehnquist while Rehnquist was an associate justice, also served in the Reagan Justice Department and as an associate counsel to then-President Reagan. He was deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration. George W. Bush appointed him to the DC Circuit Court in 2001. [White House, 9/29/2005] Roberts was originally nominated to succeed the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor, but when Rehnquist died, Bush quickly withdrew the nomination for associate justice and refiled Roberts’s name for chief justice.
Characteristics and History - Roberts appeals to conservatives for a number of reasons; he has a powerful legal intellect, is soft-spoken, personable, and telegenic, and has not been outspoken about his views on issues like abortion and the right to privacy. Law professor Stephen Wermiel, who knows Roberts well, said in July that Roberts is not “somebody who… comes off as gruff or overbearing, which some people will recall was a factor in the [Robert] Bork hearings in 1987” (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Wermiel called Roberts’s nomination “a stroke of brilliance on the White House’s part.” One area of controversy surrounds Roberts’s work with Governor Jeb Bush of Florida during the bitterly contested 2000 presidential election, where Roberts helped construct the strategies used in the Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Another is Roberts’s membership in the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative activist judges, lawyers, and legal thinkers. A third is his advocacy, during his time with the first Bush administration, for scrapping decades of law providing for the separation of church and state in order to allow prayer in public schools. [National Public Radio, 7/20/2005] Four days before President Bush nominated him to the Court, Roberts voted in favor of upholding the Bush administration’s assertions about its wartime powers in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), ruling that Bush need not consult Congress before setting up military commissions, and ruling that Bush is not bound by the strictures of the Geneva Convention. Liberals are unhappy with his stance against abortion, his representation as a private attorney of corporate mining interests seeking to dodge environmental regulations and of businesses trying to evade affirmative action requirements, as well as his attempts to curb environmentalists’ efforts to save endangered species. In 2007, reporter Charlie Savage will write that while progressives and liberals busily attacked Roberts for his positions on various “hot-button” issues, “[a]lmost lost amid the hubbub was” Roberts’s “unwavering commitment to the [expansion of] presidential power,” dating back to his 1980-81 clerkship under Rehnquist and his tenure as a White House lawyer under Ronald Reagan (see June-July 1983, October 1983, February 13, 1984, and May 16, 1984). [Savage, 2007, pp. 251-255]
Quick Confirmation - The Senate agreed to expedite Roberts’s confirmation process in order to allow him to preside over the next session of the Supreme Court in October, and so gave its members little time to peruse his record. Roberts sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, and is confirmed by a 78-22 vote. Roberts hit a brief snag when he divulged that he had met with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales just six days before hearing oral arguments in the Hamdan case, had met with Vice President Cheney and a select coterie of top White House officials while considering his verdict, and had met with Bush for the president’s final approval on the Court nomination the same day that he handed down his favorable ruling. Though 22 Democrats vote against his confirmation, because Roberts’s ascension to the Court does not change the ideological balance among the nine justices (Roberts is replacing the equally conservative Rehnquist), Senate Democrats decided not to filibuster his nomination. [Dean, 2007, pp. 154-155; Savage, 2007, pp. 252]
Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) is recorded telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene with the Justice Department to try to get charges against two Israeli lobbyists reduced. In return, the Israeli agent promises to help Harman secure the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The Israeli agent will remain unidentified; the two lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, are charged with espionage after they allegedly passed along classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see April 13, 1999-2004). The conversation between Harman and the Israeli agent is recorded on an wiretap, reportedly by the NSA, mounted as part of a federal investigation into AIPAC’s potential espionage operations against the US (see October 5, 2005). According to transcripts of the wiretapped conversation, Harman agrees to “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” The Israeli agent asks Harman if she could speak with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Rosen’s and Weissman’s behalf. Harman replies that Gonzales might not cooperate, because he “just follows White House orders,” but other officials might be more pliable. In return, the Israeli agent promises to contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and attempt to persuade her to name Harman as chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee if the Democrats win control of the House in the November 2006 elections. Harman tells the agent, “This conversation doesn’t exist,” and hangs up. The contents of the conversation will later be confirmed by three separate sources, including two former senior national security officials. [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Reporter Marc Ambinder will later write that Harman’s conversation may have been recorded by the FBI, and not the NSA, as part of the its investigation into Rosen and Weissman. [Atlantic Monthly, 4/20/2009]
US Attorneys David Iglesias of New Mexico and Steven M. Biskupic of Wisconsin are chosen by the Justice Department to teach other federal prosecutors how to pursue voter fraud and other election crimes at a symposium hosted by the department’s public integrity and civil rights sections. The symposium is attended by over 100 prosecutors from around the country. Iglesias will later say that he and Biskupic were chosen because they are the only two US Attorneys to have created task forces to examine allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 elections (see September 7 - October 6, 2004 and Early 2005). The two-day seminar features a luncheon speech by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. [Washington Post, 3/19/2007]
Congressional Republicans jump-start the process to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) in what media and political observers believe is an effort to outflank Democrats, who are traditionally the most staunch supporters of the bill. Key portions of the bill are set to expire in 2007, including Section 5, which requires that states, districts, and other locales with a history of racial discrimination in their electoral processes get Justice Department approval before making any changes to voting procedures. Section 5 is intended to ensure that minorities are not disenfranchised due to their race. Observers believe Republicans want to avoid a showdown over the bill in light of the upcoming midterm elections in 2006. In 1982, the Reagan administration fought Congressional Democrats over an expansion of the law, and Republicans want to make sure that scenario does not play itself out again as the midterm elections approach. Republicans also want to reach out to African-American voters, traditionally a strong Democratic voting bloc. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a veteran of the civil rights struggle, says, “I’m not surprised at all” that Republicans want to renew the VRA and reach out to black voters. “The Republicans are reaching out to the African-American voters.… They want to make a dent with the black electorate, take some of those voters away from the Democratic side.” Lewis intends to insert language into the renewal bill that would invalidate a recent Georgia law requiring photo identification for prospective voters, a requirement he and many others say would discriminate against the poor and the elderly. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) broke with recent Republican tradition by calling on Congress to renew Section 5 and other portions of the VRA at the NAACP’s annual convention in July. “I am here to tell you publicly what I have told others privately, including the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Mel Watt,” Sensenbrenner told the assemblage. “During this Congress we are going to extend the Voting Rights Act. We cannot let discriminatory practices of the past resurface to threaten future gains. The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist—and exist in its current form.” Sensenbrenner said at the convention that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) considers renewal of the VRA “high on his list of issues the House will address this Congress.” A representative for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) says Frist is “fired up” over renewal of Section 5. Only a few months ago, Bush appeals court nominee William Pryor, a Republican from Alabama, called Section 5 “an affront to federalism and an expensive burden that has far outlived its usefulness,” a controversial characterization that Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and other Republicans defended. In May, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested that the Bush administration is not fully behind reauthorization of Section 5. Political observers say that Democrats intend to use any further Republican opposition to the VRA to claim that Republicans are insensitive to black voters, even as senior Republican strategists like Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman say they want the party to appeal to that demographic. Mehlman told the NAACP convention in July that Republican leaders had tried over the past 40 years “to benefit politically from racial polarization.” He then said, “We were wrong” to do so. [MSNBC, 10/4/2005]
Entity Tags: James Sensenbrenner, William Pryor, Bill Frist, Alberto R. Gonzales, Dennis Hastert, US Department of Justice, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Saxby Chambliss, John Lewis, Ken Mehlman, US Congress, Mel Watt, Bush administration (43), Reagan administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Justice Department decides not to prosecute in most cases where detainees were abused and killed by the CIA. The cases, of which there are apparently eight, had been referred to the department by the CIA’s inspector general (see (August 2004)) and were investigated primarily by the US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, although officials at department headquarters in Washington are also involved in the decision not to prosecute. Although some of the cases are still technically under review at this time, the department indicates it does not intend to bring charges. [New York Times, 10/23/2005] The cases include:
The death of Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi in CIA custody in November 2003 (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003 and (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003);
The asphyxiation of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush in Iraq, also in November 2003 (see November 24 or 25, 2003 and November 26, 2003). This incident involved the military, as well as at least one CIA contractor; [New York Times, 10/23/2005]
The intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a gun and drill (see September 11, 2003).
The death of detainee Gul Rahman, who froze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002). The case was examined by prosecutors, but, in the end, a recommendation not to prosecute the officer who caused the detainee to die is made. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] The officer’s first name is not known, although his last name is Zirbel. [Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009, pp. 29 ] The decision is made because prosecutors conclude that the prison was outside the reach of US law; although the CIA funded it and vetted its Afghan guards, it was technically an Afghan prison. In addition, it is unclear whether Rahman, who was captured in Pakistan and then taken to Afghanistan, would have died from injuries sustained during his capture, rather than by freezing. Although hypothermia was listed as the cause of death in the autopsy, the body was not available to investigators. According to the Washington Post, “questions remain whether hypothermia was used as a cover story in part to protect people who had beaten the captive.” However, according to a “senior official who took part in the review,” the decision not to prosecute in this case is not initially that clear, and an indictment is considered. However, the prosecutors decide not to press charges against Zirbel and a memo explaining this decision is drafted. An official involved in the review will later say there is “absolutely no pressure” from the Justice Department’s management to decide not to prosecute. However, a later report by the Post will indicate there may be a split among prosecutors over the decision, and that a political appointee, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Paul McNulty, assesses the case. McNulty will be nominated for the position of deputy attorney general around this time (see October 21, 2005). [Washington Post, 9/19/2009]
However, one CIA employee, a contractor named David Passaro, has been charged with detainee abuse (see June 18-21, 2003). [New York Times, 10/23/2005] The department will begin a second review of some or all of these cases in 2009 (see August 24, 2009).
Eighteen Republican lawmakers sign a letter written by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) criticizing Southern California’s US Attorney Carol Lam (see November 8, 2002) for what they call her “lax” handling of immigration cases. Representative Randall (“Duke”) Cunningham is one of the signatories; he is under investigation by Lam’s office for corruption. Issa claims that Lam is using a “catch and release” policy towards illegal immigrants caught by law enforcement officials, and refusing to prosecute such immigrants unless they have already been convicted of two felonies. David L. Smith, a legislative counsel in the Executive Office for US Attorneys, writes a draft response that is never delivered, as the Justice Department is working to set up a briefing for Issa. Another lawyer in the same office, John Crews, will later write: “The issue of catch and release is an administrative, which is to say—non criminal context. The USAO’s [US Attorneys’ offices] don’t get involved in this part of immigration enforcement.” Smith’s response indicates that Lam’s office, “along with the USAOs for just four other districts, prosecuted over two-thirds of the criminal immigration cases nationwide last year.” Smith will later indicate that he does not know if the briefing ever took place. [US House of Representatives, 10/20/2005 ; US Department of Justice, 2006 ; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ; Talking Points Memo, 2011]
The White House announces that President Bush will nominate Paul McNulty to be the next deputy attorney general. McNulty is currently the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, which the Washington Post will describe as the “central legal front in the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism strategy.” He was involved in the prosecutions of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh and Zacarias Moussaoui, sometimes referred to as a candidate for the “20th hijacker” on 9/11. McNulty’s nomination comes after the previous nominee, Timothy E. Flanigan, withdrew his name from consideration at the start of the month due to opposition in the Senate. McNulty will keep his current job and serve as acting deputy attorney general until confirmed by the Senate. [Washington Post, 10/22/2005] McNulty recently took a decision not to prosecute CIA officers who abused and killed detainees in some cases referred to his office by the agency’s inspector general (see (August 2004) and Mid-October 2005).
President Bush signs Executive Order 13388, which dramatically expands the powers of the US government to monitor and collect data on US citizens. [Executive Order 13388 of October 25, 2005, 10/25/2005] The order augments the power of “National Security Letters,” authorized in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan (see December 4, 1981), but rarely used against US citizens until the advent of the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act. Thanks to the order, the data files are even more accessible to what the order calls “state, local, and tribal” governments as well as the undefined “appropriate private sector entities,” presumably private data-mining corporations that collect personal and financial data on US citizens for the government.
Over 30,000 NSLs a Year - The FBI now issues over 30,000 NSLs a year, a hundredfold increase from earlier administration usages. NSLs are issued by FBI field supervisors at their discretion without court warrant or oversight by the judiciary or Congress. NSLs force their recipients—librarians, booksellers, employers, Internet providers, and others—to turn over any and all personal data on their customers and employees and are legally required not to tell the targets of the investigations about the letters or the data collection. An FBI supervisor can, without oversight or reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity, collect data on what a citizen makes, spends, invests, gambles, reads in books and on the Internet, buys online, and with whom that citizen lives, works, associates, telephones, and exchanges e-mails. Senior FBI officials admit that the huge spike in NSLs stems from the FBI’s new authority to collect tremendous amounts of data on US citizens not accused of criminal activities. And NSLs are now used to generate leads against terrorist suspects and not merely pursue them.
NSLs Handled With Discretion, Officials Insist - FBI and White House officials insist that NSLs are handled with discretion and with a recognizance of Americans’ right to privacy. Joseph Billy Jr, the FBI’s deputy director for counterterrorism, says he understand that “merely being in a government or FBI database… gives everybody, you know, neck hair standing up.” But innocent Americans “should take comfort at least knowing that it is done under a great deal of investigative care, oversight, within the parameters of the law.” [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
David Addington. [Source: Richard A. Bloom / Corbis]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, is named Cheney’s chief of staff to replace Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame Wilson case (see February 13, 2002). [National Journal, 10/30/2005; MSNBC, 11/4/2005] Addington is described by one White House official as “the most powerful man you never heard of.” A former Justice Department official says of Addington, “He seems to have his hand in everything, and he has these incredible powers, energy, reserves in an obsessive, zealot’s kind of way.” He is, according to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, Cheney’s “eyes, ears, and voice.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] Addington is a neoconservative ideologue committed to dramatically expanding the power of the presidency, and a powerful advocate of the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. He has been with Cheney for years, ever since Cheney chose him to serve as the Pentagon’s chief counsel while Cheney was Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan. During that time, Addington was an integral part of Cheney’s battle to keep the Iran-Contra scandal from exploding (see 1984). [Washington Post, 10/11/2004; National Journal, 10/30/2005; MSNBC, 11/4/2005; US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] According to Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, documentary evidence shows that Cheney’s office, and Addington in particular, were responsible for giving at least tacit approval for US soldiers to abuse and torture prisoners in Iraq (see January 9, 2002). In an administration devoted to secrecy, Addington stands out in his commitment to keeping information away from the public. [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] Though Addington claims to have a lifelong love affair with the Constitution, his interpretation of it is somewhat unusual. One senior Congressional staffer says, “The joke around here is that Addington looks at the Constitution and sees only Article II, the power of the presidency.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] Addington’s influence in the White House is pervasive. He scrutinizes every page of the federal budget, hunting for riders that might restrict the power of the president. He worked closely with Gonzales to oppose attempts by Congress to pry information from the executive branch, and constantly battles the State Department, whose internationalist philosophy is at odds with his and Cheney’s own beliefs. [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein calls Addington the “intellectual brainchild” of overreaching legal assertions that “have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence.” According to Fein, Addington and Cheney are doing far more than reclaiming executive authority, they are seeking to push it farther than it has ever gone under US constitutional authority. They have already been successful in removing executive restraints formerly in place under the War Powers Act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute. “They’re in a time warp,” Fein says. “If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher.” [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] “He thinks he’s on the side of the angels,” says a former Justice Department official. “And that’s what makes it so scary.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006]
Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, US Department of State, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Ronald Reagan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Bruce Fein, Bradford Berenson, 9/11 Commission, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, John Bellinger, Jack Goldsmith, Lawrence Wilkerson, John C. Yoo, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Three Democratic congressmen ask Vice President Dick Cheney to testify in the upcoming trial of his former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, even as Libby pled not guilty to five felony counts stemming from the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak investigation (see November 3, 2005). Henry Waxman (D-CA), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and John Conyers (D-MI) send a letter to Cheney asking why Cheney’s office gathered information on Valerie Plame Wilson in 2003, whether Cheney directed Libby to leak Plame Wilson’s name to reporters, and whether Cheney knew Libby was leaking that information. “[T]here are many wide-ranging questions about your involvement,” they write. The three congressmen also ask more general questions, such as if Cheney knew the administration’s claims that Iraq sought uranium from Niger were false even as the White House was using those claims to justify its war with Iraq. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride says that Cheney will cooperate with the Justice Department as the criminal investigation of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald moves forward. Cheney and other White House officials could be called to testify if Libby goes to trial. [Associated Press, 11/3/2005]
Brett Tolman. [Source: ABC4 (.com)]Brett Tolman, a Republican Senate Judiciary Committee official, tells Assistant Attorney General William Moschella that he will perform a “comprehensive fix” to the USA Patriot Act reauthorization coming up for approval in Congress (see March 9, 2006). Tolman and Moschella are referring to a provision in the reauthorization legislation that would allow the attorney general to appoint interim US Attorneys on an indefinite basis without having them go through Senate confirmation, and remove the ability of a federal court to appoint a US Attorney (see July 2005 - March 2006). Moschella suggests Tolman use the “comprehensive fix” of repealing Section 546 of Title 28 of the United States Code, subsections C and D, and replacing them with the following language: “A person appointed as United States Attorney under this section may serve until the qualification of a United States Attorney for such district appointed by the president under section 541 of this title.” Late the same evening, Tolman receives an email from Moschella instructing him to quietly insert the provision in the USA Patriot Act reauthorization bill that would eliminate a 120-day limit for “interim” US Attorneys to serve without Senate confirmation. In essence, the provision would allow such “interims” to serve indefinitely, cutting the Senate entirely out of the process of naming US Attorneys and allowing the attorney general to make political appointments without oversight. Tolman replies, “I will get the comprehensive fix done.” He slips the provision into a draft of the bill while it is in conference committee. None of the members notice the provision, and it is part of the bill as signed into law in March 2006 (see March 9, 2006). Tolman himself is one of the first beneficiaries of the new provision, becoming the US Attorney for Utah. When the new provision comes to light in early 2007, both chambers of Congress vote overwhelmingly to repeal it. This is one of numerous “stealth provisions” the White House will have inserted into legislation with the help of compliant Congressional Republicans and staffers. [Savage, 2007, pp. 316; US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 ] Moschella will later take the credit for the provision, and will tell reporters that he made the change on behalf of the Justice Department “without the knowledge or coordination of his superiors at the Justice Department or anyone at the White House.” [Talking Points Memo, 2011]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends a letter to a federal judge in Montana, assuring him that US Attorney William W. Mercer is not violating federal law by spending almost all of his time in Washington as a temporary Justice Department official. The same day, Mercer has a Republican Senate staffer insert language into the USA Patriot reauthorization bill (see March 9, 2006) that would retroactively change the rules and allow federal prosecutors such as himself to live outside their districts and serve in other positions. Congress will include the language in the bill when it passes the legislation. Mercer and a small number of other Justice Department employees are the only ones to benefit from the provision. In 2007, when the provision is revealed to the public, Justice Department officials will say the provision was necessary to ensure that prosecutors such as Mercer could fill temporary positions in Washington, Iraq, and elsewhere. Critics will accuse Gonzales of being, in the Washington Post’s words, “less than truthful” about the actions of himself, his staff, and the White House. The question surrounding Mercer involves residency. Mercer is the US Attorney for Montana, appointed in 2001. In June 2005, he was appointed to serve as principal associate deputy attorney general, at Gonzales’s request. US District Chief Judge Donald W. Molloy of Billings has become increasingly irked at Mercer’s absence from Montana for the last two years. In October, Molloy wrote Gonzales to say that Mercer was violating federal law because he “no longer resides in Montana” and was living with his family in the Washington area. Gonzales replies three weeks later to tell Molloy that Mercer “is in compliance with the residency requirement” under federal law because he “is domiciled there, returns there on a regular basis, and will live there full-time as soon as his temporary assignment is completed.” At the same time Gonzales writes Molloy, Mercer has a Senate staffer, Brett Tolman, insert the provision into the Patriot Act legislation. Tolman is the counsel for Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Tolman will later be named the US Attorney for Utah. Specter’s office will characterize the provision as “unremarkable” and aboveboard. Mercer currently serves as acting associate attorney general and has been nominated for the position on a permanent basis. He spends only about three days a month in Montana and delegates almost all of his duties as US Attorney to underlings. [ePluribus Media, 3/26/2007; Washington Post, 5/2/2007] Mercer will be nominated to serve as associate attorney general, the third-highest position in the Justice Department, in September 2006. He will not be confirmed for the position by the Senate, as confirmation would require his leaving the position of US Attorney. In June 2007, Mercer will resign from the associate attorney general position, retaining his position as US Attorney for Montana (see June 22, 2007). [ePluribus Media, 3/26/2007; Washington Post, 6/22/2007]
David Iglesias, the US Attorney for New Mexico (see October 18, 2001), does well in his second Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) evaluation by the Justice Department (see 2002). The report of the evaluation states: “The United States Attorney… was respected by the judiciary, agencies, and staff. The First Assistant United States Attorney… appropriately oversaw the day-to-day work of the senior management team, effectively addressed all management issues, and directed resources to accomplish the department’s and the United States Attorney’s priorities.” The EARS report contains no criticisms or concerns about Iglesias’s leadership. Of the office (the USAO), the report finds: “The USAO had established an active and effective Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council. The USAO had a nationally recognized and highly effective firearms violence initiative and an active and effective program to address drug trafficking crimes in the district. The USAO was effectively prosecuting immigration and border crimes within the constraints of the available resources.” The only major criticism of the office is an apparent “lack of coordination within the civil division and between the civil and criminal divisions” in some areas. [US House of Representatives, Committee of the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] In January 2006, Iglesias will receive a laudatory letter from Michael Battle, the head of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, praising the “legal management of your office” and his “exemplary leadership in the department’s priority programs.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 5/21/2007]
The Justice Department files in US District Court in Alexandria a list of 89 questions for potential jurors in the forthcoming death penalty trial of al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Months earlier Moussaoui pleaded guilty to all terrorism charges against him, but promised to fight the death penalty (See April 22, 2005). The Justice Department’s questions include requests for very specific biographical information, and queries about whether the individual socializes with people of Arab descent. They also cover such things as their religious beliefs and practices, and their views about Islam, the US government, and the death penalty. According to legal experts, the level of detail is extraordinary and indicates the high stakes of the prosecution. [Associated Press, 11/28/2005; Washington Post, 11/29/2005] Two days later, lawyers representing Moussaoui submit an even more extensive list to the trial judge, with 306 questions. These include asking potential jurors about their personal response to the 9/11 attacks, and their opinions of other high-profile FBI investigations such as Waco and Ruby Ridge. A sixth of the questions probe their attitudes to the death penalty. There are also questions about their work history over the previous 15 years, and whether they have ever worked for the government or a government contractor. [Associated Press, 11/30/2005; CNN, 12/1/2005] The jury selection process will involve 500 potential jurors being summoned to the Alexandria courthouse on February 6, 2006 to fill in questionnaires, then returning starting a week later to be questioned by the judge. The process is expected to take a month, which is far longer than most cases at the Alexandria courthouse. [Associated Press, 12/29/2005; Washington Post, 12/29/2005] Moussaoui’s trial will commence on March 6, 2006, and two months later he will be sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 9/11 attacks. [Guardian, 3/7/2006; BBC, 5/4/2006]
A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an impartial investigative arm of Congress, claims the US effort to help foreign nations cut off terrorism funding has been frustrated by infighting among US agencies, a lack of funding, and leadership problems. The report says “the US government lacks an integrated strategy” to train foreign countries and give them technical assistance. Officials at the State and Treasury Departments cannot even agree on who is supposed to be in charge of the effort. In at least one case, the State Department refused to even allow a Treasury official to enter a certain foreign country. “Investigators found clear tensions between officials at State, Treasury, Justice, and other US government departments.” Remarkably, private contractors have sometimes been allowed to draft proposed laws for foreign countries to curb terrorist financing. The contractors’ work at times resulted in proposals with “substantial deficiencies.” Generally speaking, the New York Times notes that experts say that the Bush administration’s efforts with terrorist financing has been “spotty, with few clear dents in al-Qaeda’s ability to move money and finance terrorist attacks.” [New York Times, 11/29/2005]
As Congress debates legislation that will outlaw “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment of terrorist suspects and detainees in US custody, the Justice Department issues a secret opinion, one that few lawmakers even know exists, ruling that none of the CIA’s interrogation methods violate that standard. The Justice Department has already issued one secret opinion countermanding the Bush administration’s stated position that torture is “abhorrent” (see February 2005). Both rulings are efforts by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House officials to realign the Justice Department with the White House after an in-house revolt by many Justice officials threw administration policies on torture and domestic surveillance into doubt (see Late 2003-2005). Though the public debate on torture becomes ever more pervasive during President Bush’s second term, the two rulings will remain in effect through the end of 2007 and beyond, helping the White House give US officials the broadest possible legal latitude for abusing and torturing prisoners. As late as October 2007, the White House will insist that it has always followed US and international law in its authorization of interrogation practices. Those assurances will be countered by an array of current and former officials involved in counterterrorism (see October 3, 2007). [New York Times, 10/4/2007] In 2007, Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will say in conjunction with a lawsuit filed against the Justice Department’s interrogation practices, “These torture memos should never have been written, and it is utterly unacceptable that the administration continues to suppress them while at the same time declaring publicly that it abhors torture. It is now obvious that senior administration officials worked in concert over a period of several years to evade and violate the laws that prohibit cruelty and torture. Some degree of accountability is long overdue.” The ACLU will also note that the administration had failed to disclose the existence of the two opinions in its court filings, a failure characterized by the administration as an accidental oversight. [Harper's, 11/7/2007]
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), learns from Justice Department liaison James Baker that at least one more government application for a FISA surveillance warrant is based on illegally obtained evidence. Kollar-Kotelly has warned the Justice Department about this practice in the past (see 2004 and 2005). This time, administration officials claim that the evidence in question is presented due to an error by a low-level Defense Department employee. Kollar-Kotelly asks Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to ensure that such an “error” does not happen again. [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
US Attorney Paul Charlton of Arizona (see November 14, 2001) and his office receive their second Justice Department evaluation, known as EARS (Evaluation and Review Staff). Charlton and his office received a strongly positive evaluation in 2003 (see December 2003). Both the Phoenix and Tucson offices are “very well run,” the second report finds, although it identifies some minor management issues such as clear division of duties between the administrative division and Charlton’s Special Assistant. [US House of Representatives, Committee of the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ] Charlton will be fired shortly after this evaluation is performed (see December 20, 2006). He has already been identified as a target for removal by Justice Department aide Monica Goodling (see January 1-9, 2006).
The Washington Post reports that the controversial Texas congressional redistricting plan headed by Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004) was found to be illegal by Justice Department lawyers, but their judgment was overruled by senior political appointees at the Department of Justice (DOJ) who approved the plan. The information comes from a previously undisclosed memo written in December 2003 (see December 12, 2003) and provided to the Post by, the Post writes, “a person connected to the case who is critical of the adopted redistricting map.” Six lawyers and two analysts at the DOJ found that the DeLay plan violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) by illegally diluting African-American and Hispanic voting power in two Congressional districts. Texas Republicans knew the plan would likely be found to be discriminatory, the lawyers wrote in the memo, but went ahead with the plan anyway because it would maximize the number of Republicans the state would send to Congress. In the 2004 federal elections, Texas sent five additional Republicans to the US House, helping to solidify GOP control of that body. A lawyer for the Texas Democrats and minority groups who are challenging the redistricting in court, J. Gerald Hebert, says of the DOJ memo: “We always felt that the process… wouldn’t be corrupt, but it was.… The staff didn’t see this as a close call or a mixed bag or anything like that. This should have been a very clear-cut case.” DOJ spokesman Eric W. Holland, defending the decision by senior DOJ officials to approve the plan, points to a lower-court decision in the case that affirmed the plan’s legality. “The court ruled that, in fact, the new congressional plan created a sufficient number of safe minority districts given the demographics of the state and the requirements of the law,” he says, and notes that Texas now has three African-Americans in Congress whereas in the years before redistricting, it had only two. Hebert says the DOJ’s approval of the redistricting plan was a critical factor in the court’s decision to affirm the plan. DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden accuses Hebert of engaging in what he calls “nonsensical political babble,” and says the DOJ is correct to have found that the plan has no discriminatory effects. Under both the older plan (see 2000-2002) and the DeLay plan, minority-led districts number 11, but under the DeLay plan, Texas gained two more Congressional districts, both represented by Republicans. Recently, a similar case was reported in which DOJ lawyers found a Georgia redistricting plan to be illegal, but senior political appointees overruled the legal judgment and approved the plan. A court later found the plan to be illegal. [Washington Post, 12/2/2005]
The Washington Post learns that the Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965) cases, a drastic change from the earlier policy, which was designed to insulate such decision from political considerations. The decision comes amid what the Post calls “growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas (see December 12, 2003, December 2, 2005, and December 5, 2005) and Georgia (see 2005, November 25, 2005, and September 19, 2006) that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.” In the Georgia redistricting case, a staff memo advised rejecting the Georgia plan because it required voters to show photo ID at the polls, a policy that the memo said would disenfranchise some African-American voters. Under the new policy, that recommendation was removed from the memo and was not forwarded to higher officials in the civil rights division (CRD). The DOJ has claimed the August 25 memo was “an early draft,” even though the DOJ gave “preclearance” for the Georgia plan to be adopted on August 26. A federal judge blocked the law’s implementation, calling it a return to Jim Crow-era policies. The policy was adopted by John Tanner, the head of the CRD’s voting rights section (VRS). DOJ spokesperson Eric Holland says, “The opinions and expertise of the career lawyers are valued and respected and continue to be an integral part of the internal deliberation process upon which the department heavily relies when making litigation decisions.” Tanner has recently lambasted the quality of work by the VRS staff, some of whom have been in the section for decades. Some of the staff members boycotted the staff Christmas party because they were too angry to attend, sources within the section say. Experts like Jon Greenbaum, a VRS veteran who now directs the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says that stopping staff members from making such recommendations is a significant departure and runs the risk of making the process appear more political. “It’s an attempt by the political hierarchy to insulate themselves from any accountability by essentially leaving it up to a chief, who’s there at their whim,” he says. “To me, it shows a fear of dealing with the legal issues in these cases.” Congressional Democrats are critical of the new policy and are joined by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), who is considering holding hearings on the Texas redistricting case. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says, “America deserves better than a civil rights division that puts the political agenda of those in power over the interests of the people its serves.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other DOJ officials have disagreed with the criticism, and asserted that politics play no role in civil rights decisions. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella has recently written to Specter, criticizing the Post’s coverage and claiming that the department is aggressively enforcing a range of civil rights laws. “From fair housing opportunities, equal access to the ballot box, and criminal civil rights prosecutions to desegregation in America’s schools and protection of the rights of the disabled, the division continues its noble mission with vigor,” he wrote. [Washington Post, 12/10/2005]
New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]
Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004) is gladdened to see the New York Times’s reports on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 24, 2005). Klein has known since 2002 that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been using AT&T facilities to illegally eavesdrop on American citizens’ telephone and Internet communications (see Late 2002, January 2003, October 2003, Fall 2003, Late 2003, Late 2003, and January 16, 2004). He has considered going public with his knowledge, but has so far refrained because, he will later explain, “[t]he atmosphere was still kind of scary.” He will later say of the Times report, “They seemed to be talking mainly about phone calls, but anyway, it was revealed that there was an illegal spying program going on, and I thought, ‘Ah, this would probably blow the whole thing,’ and I thought it would all come out, and I don’t need to do anything.” However, Klein is horrified to see the government’s response. He will say: “[W]hat came out was the government turned around and went on the offensive against anybody who would dare to criticize them.… They’re issuing threats: Anyone who has a security clearance and spills any beans here is in for prosecution. That was deliberately said by them several times on TV to intimidate anybody in, say, the NSA who knew the truth, intimidate them so they would not come forward. So that silenced anybody in the intelligence community” (see December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 25-26, 2006). In his 2009 book Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It, Klein will write that the Justice Department’s December 2005 investigation into the leak of classified information that led to the Times reports (see December 30, 2005) “was obviously intended to silence Congress, the media, and any potential whistleblowers inside the NSA who might have been tempted to come forward. The administration was manipulating the secrecy oath which people had taken to get security clearances, turning it into a weapon to silence anyone who had knowledge of wrongdoing.” Klein decides that he must come forward. He never received a security clearance, so he cannot be threatened with legal action over violating such clearance. He will explain: “All I had and still have are some company documents and some knowledge of some illicit NSA installation at AT&T’s network. And if anybody—say, Congress—was willing to follow the trail, I can give them all the names they want, and they can go up the hierarchy of AT&T all the way up to Dave Dorman, who was the president back then, and they can go even higher, and they can find out who is responsible for this, and they can ask them under oath and subpoena what the heck is going on here, if they had the will to do it.” Klein later admits to some hesitation and trepidation at undertaking such an effort, and will cite the “McCarthyite” atmosphere he says the government has created in which “dissidents become the target of a lynch mob searching for ‘terrorists.’” But, he will write, he believes the Times stories are “a political indication of a shift at the top of government, a split of some kind which could provide an opening.… Maybe they would publish my material, I thought, and that would provide some protection.” By December 31, Klein writes a preface to his memo from almost two years before (see January 16, 2004 and December 31, 2005). [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 52-53]
During a press conference, President Bush is asked if he will order an investigation into the leak that revealed the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). Bush says he has not directly ordered an investigation, presuming the Justice Department is handling the matter, but he calls the leak “a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war.” And he implies that the leak, and the New York Times’s decision to print the resulting article, is treason: “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.… But it is a shameful act by somebody who has got secrets of the United States government and feels like they need to disclose them publicly.” When asked why he “skip[ped] the basic safeguards of asking courts for permission for the intercepts,” he answers: “[R]ight after September the 11th, I knew we were fighting a different kind of war. And so I asked people in my administration to analyze how best for me and our government to do the job people expect us to do, which is to detect and prevent a possible attack. That’s what the American people want. We looked at the possible scenarios. And the people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker. And that’s important. We’ve got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent. We use FISA still—you’re referring to the FISA court in your question—of course, we use FISAs. But FISA is for long-term monitoring. What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect. Now, having suggested this idea, I then, obviously, went to the question, is it legal to do so? I am—I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely.… [T]he legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress” (see September 14-18, 2001). A reporter asks why “has your administration not sought to get changes in the law instead of bypassing it, as some of your critics have said?” Bush responds by reiterating the point that the program is “limited in nature to those that are known al-Qaeda ties and/or affiliates.” He then reiterates another point: he believes he has the authority to bypass the law. He “share[s] the same concerns” about civil liberties that members of Congress have expressed (see December 16, 2005).” However, his reassurances that domestic calls are not being monitored are not absolute. “[I]f you’re calling from Houston to [Los Angeles], that call is not monitored. And if there was ever any need to monitor, there would be a process to do that.” He is asked: “You say you have an obligation to protect us. Then why not monitor those calls between Houston and LA? If the threat is so great, and you use the same logic, why not monitor those calls? Americans thought they weren’t being spied on in calls overseas—why not within the country, if the threat is so great?” Bush replies: “We will, under current law, if we have to. We will monitor those calls. And that’s why there is a FISA law. We will apply for the right to do so. And there’s a difference—let me finish—there is a difference between detecting so we can prevent, and monitoring. And it’s important to know the distinction between the two.” He concludes, “I just want to assure the American people that, one, I’ve got the authority to do this; two, it is a necessary part of my job to protect you; and, three, we’re guarding your civil liberties.” [White House, 12/19/2005]
Judge James Robertson. [Source: US Courts.gov]US District Judge James Robertson resigns from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a special, secret court set up to oversee government surveillance operations. Robertson refuses to comment on his resignation from FISC, but two of Robertson’s associates say that Robertson’s resignation stems from his deep concerns that the NSA’s warrantless domestic wiretapping program (see Early 2002) is not legal, and has tainted the work of the court. Robertson, formerly one of ten “revolving” members of FISC who periodically rotate in and out of duty on the court, continues to serve as a Washington, DC district judge. Colleagues of Robertson say that he is concerned that information gained from the warrantless surveillance under Bush’s program subsequently could have been used to obtain warrants under the FISA program, a practice specifically prohibited by the court. Robertson, a Clinton appointee selected for FISC by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, has also been critical of the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and recently issued a decision that sidetracked Bush’s use of military tribunals for some Guantanamo detainees (see November 8, 2004). Even though Robertson was hand-picked for FISC by the deeply conservative Rehnquist, who expressly selected judges who took an expansive view of wiretapping and other surveillance programs, [Associated Press, 12/21/2005] some conservative critics such as Jim Kouri, a vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, call Robertson a “left-leaning, liberal” “Clintonista” jurist with ties to “ultra-liberal” civil rights associations and a desire for media attention (though Robertson has refused to speak to the press about his resignation). Critics also demand that less attention be directed at the NSA wiretapping program and more on finding out who leaked the information that led to the New York Times’s recent revelatory articles on the program (see Early 2002). GOP strategist Mike Baker says in response to Robertson’s resignation, “Only the Democrats make confirmations and appointments of people by Republican President [sic] a question of ideology. The news media try to portray [Robertson] as non-partisan. He’s as liberal as they come and as partisan as they come.” [Men's News, 12/23/2005] Presiding judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is arranging for a classified briefing of all the remaining FISC judges on the wiretapping program, partly in order to bring any doubts harbored by other justices into the open. Sources say Kollar-Kotelly expects top NSA and Justice Department officials to outline the program for the judges. No one on FISC except for Kollar-Kotelly and her predecessor, Judge Royce Lambeth, have ever been briefed on the program. If the judges are not satisfied with the information provided in this briefing, they could take action, which could include anything from demanding proof from the Justice Department that previous wiretaps were not tainted, could refuse to issue warrants based on secretly-obtained evidence, or, conceivably, could disband the entire court, especially in light of Bush’s recent suggestions that he has the power to bypass the court if he so desires. [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) writes that Congress explicitly rejected several attempts by the Bush administration to provide him with war-making authority and the authority to wiretap and monitor US citizens “in the United States” when it approved the September 18, 2001 authorization to use military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Instead, the Bush administration merely usurped that authority and launched—or expanded (see Spring 2001)—its warrantless wiretapping program, conducted by the NSA. Since then, the Bush administration and the Justice Department have both repeatedly asserted that the AUMF gave them the right to conduct the wiretapping program, an assertion that Daschle says is flatly wrong. On December 21, the Justice Department admitted in a letter that the October 2001 presidential order authorizing warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens did not comply with “the ‘procedures’ of” the law that has regulated domestic espionage since 1978, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA established a secret intelligence court and made it a criminal offense to conduct electronic surveillance without a warrant from that court, “except as authorized by statute.” However, the letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, argues that the AUMF gave the administration the authority to conduct the program. [Washington Post, 12/22/2005] The letter continues the argument that Congress gave President Bush the implict authority to create an exception to FISA’s warrant requirements, though the AUMF resolution did not mention surveillance and made no reference to the president’s intelligence-gathering authority. The Bush administration kept the program secret until it was revealed by the New York Times on December 15, 2005. Moschella argues that secret intelligence-gathering, even against US citizens, is “a fundamental incident to the use of military force” and that its absence from the resolution “cannot be read to exclude this long-recognized and essential authority to conduct communications intelligence targeted at the enemy.” Such eavesdropping, he argued, must by necessity include conversations in which one party is in the United States. [William Moschella, 12/22/2005 ] Daschle, one of the primary authors of the resolution, says that Moschella and the Bush administration are wrong in their assertions: “I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance” (see September 12-18, 2001). [Washington Post, 12/23/2005]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Bush administration (43), Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Justice, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, New York Times, William E. Moschella, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Daschle
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Chart showing NSA surveillance network. [Source: NSA Watch] (click image to enlarge)The National Security Agency has built a far larger database of information collected from warrantless surveillance of telephone and Internet communications to and from US citizens than the NSA or the Bush administration has acknowledged (see October 2001). On December 15, the New York Times exposed the NSA’s program (see December 15, 2005), which was authorized by President Bush in early 2002 (see Early 2002), but which actually began far earlier (see Spring 2001). The NSA built its database with the cooperation of several major American telecommunications firms (see June 26, 2006), and much of the information was mined directly into the US telecommunications system’s major connections. Many law enforcement and judicial officials question the legality of the program (see May 12, 2006 and December 18, 2005), and many say the program goes beyond the bounds of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). One question is whether the FISA Court, or FISC, can authorize monitoring of international communications that pass through US-based telephonic “switches,” which handle much of the US’s electronic communications traffic. “There was a lot of discussion about the switches” in conversations with FISC, says a Justice Department official. “You’re talking about access to such a vast amount of communications, and the question was, How do you minimize something that’s on a switch that’s carrying such large volumes of traffic? The court was very, very concerned about that.” While Bush and his officials have insisted that the warrantless wiretaps only target people with known links to al-Qaeda, they have not acknowledged that NSA technicials have not only eavesdropped on specific conversations between people with no known links to terrorism, but have combed through huge numbers of electronic communications in search of “patterns” that might point to terrorism suspects. Such “pattern analysis” usually requires court warrants before surveillance can begin, but in many cases, no such warrants have been obtained or even requested. Other, similar data-mining operations, such as the Total Information Awareness program, developed by the Defense Department to track terror suspects (see March 2002), and the Department of Homeland Security’s CAPPS program, which screened airline passengers (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001), were subjected to intense public scrutiny and outrage, and were publicly scrapped. The Bush administration has insisted that it has no intention of scrapping the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, because, as its officials have said, it is necessary to identify and track terrorism suspects and foil terrorist plots before they can be hatched. Administration officials say that FISC is not quick enough to respond to its need to respond to potential terrorist acts. A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company says that after 9/11, the leading telecom firms have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists. “All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared with them, and since 9/11, there’s been much more active involvement in that area,” says the former manager. “If they get content, that’s useful to them too, but the real plum is going to be the transaction data and the traffic analysis. Massive amounts of traffic analysis information—who is calling whom, who is in Osama Bin Laden’s circle of family and friends—is used to identify lines of communication that are then given closer scrutiny.” And, according to a government expert on communications privacy who used to work at the NSA, says that in the last few years, the government has quietly encouraged the telecom firms to rout more international traffic through its US-based switches so it can be monitored. Such traffic is not fully addressed by 1970s-era laws that were written before the onset of modern communications technology; neither does FISA adequately address the issues surrounding that technology. Computer engineer Phil Karn, who works for a major West Coast telecom firm, says access to those switches is critical: “If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you’re really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data.” [New York Times, 12/24/2005]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice, Total Information Awareness, New York Times, US Department of Homeland Security, Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, George W. Bush, National Security Agency, Phil Karn
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Justice Department opens an investigation into the leak of classified information about the Bush domestic surveillance program. The investigation focuses on disclosures to the New York Times about the secret warrantless wiretapping program conducted by the National Security Agency since shortly after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002). The White House claims that the Justice Department initiated the investigation on its own after receiving a request from the NSA, and that it was not even informed of the investigation until the decision had already been made. But White House spokesman Trent Duffy hails the investigation, and implicitly accuses the Times of aiding and abetting terrorists by printing its stories. “The leaking of classified information is a serious issue,” Duffy says. “The fact is that al-Qaeda’s playbook is not printed on Page One, and when America’s is, it has serious ramifications.” [Associated Press, 12/30/2005] President Bush fuels the attack on the Times when he says, “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.” [New York Times, 12/30/2005] Many outside of the administration have accused the wiretapping program, which functions without external oversight or court warrants, of being illegal, and Bush of breaking the law by authorizing it. Administration officials insist that Bush has the power to make such a decision, both under the Constitution’s war powers provision and under the post-9/11 Congressional authorization to use military force against terrorism, even though, as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle recalls, Congress explicitly refused to give Bush the authority to take military action inside the US itself (see December 21-22, 2005). And, in a recent letter to the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the White House claimed that the nation’s security needs outweigh the needs of the citizenry to be secure from secret government surveillance. [Associated Press, 12/30/2005] Others disagree. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Anthony Romero says, “President Bush broke the law and lied to the American people when he unilaterally authorized secret wiretaps of US citizens. But rather than focus on this constitutional crisis, Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales is cracking down on critics of his friend and boss. Our nation is strengthened, not weakened, by those whistle-blowers who are courageous enough to speak out on violations of the law.” And Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the NSA should be the focus of an investigation to determine if it broke federal surveillance laws. Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project suggests a middle course. His group does not object to a limited investigation into the leak of classified information, but, he says, if the administration does “a blanket witch hunt, which I fear, it would trample all over good government laws” designed to protect government workers who expose wrongdoing. “The whole reason we have whistle-blower laws is so that government workers can act as the public’s eyes and ears to expose illegality or abuse of power.” [New York Times, 12/30/2005] Ultimately, this leak investigation may not achieve much, according to law professor Carl Tobias. “It doesn’t seem to me that this leak investigation will take on the importance of the Plame case,” Tobias says. “The bigger story here is still the one about domestic spying and whether the president intends, as he said, to continue doing it.” [Washington Post, 12/31/2005]
Entity Tags: Anthony D. Romero, Tom Devine, Trent Duffy, American Civil Liberties Union, Al-Qaeda, Tom Daschle, Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, Carl Tobias, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Alberto R. Gonzales, New York Times, Government Accountability Project, George W. Bush, Marc Rotenberg, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
After President Bush signs the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005), his office issues a “signing statement” concerning how he believes the government should enforce the new law. His advisers have spent days composing a statement that declares the administration’s support for the bill. But that statement is never issued. Just before Bush signs the bill, Vice President Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, intercepts the statement “and just literally takes his red pen all the way through it,” a White House official will later recall. Instead, Addington substitutes a single sentence. Bush, writes Addington, would interpret the law “in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president to supervise the unitary executive branch and as commander in chief.” Neither Addington nor Cheney have any qualms about ignoring or superseding what Addington calls “interagency treaties” or language “agreed between cabinet secretaries.” Top officials from the CIA, the Justice Department, State Department, and Defense Department oppose the substitution. The White House’s senior national security lawyer, John Bellinger, says that Congress will view the statement as a “stick in the eye.” Nevertheless, with Cheney’s backing, White House counsel Harriet Miers sends the revised statement to Bush for his signature. Bush signs the statement. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
A Christian group sues a public library for preventing religious organizations from using its facilities to hold worship services. The library says it is following the constitutional separation of church and state. The Justice Department’s civil rights division (CRD) files a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the Christian group, claiming that the library violated its civil rights. The brief is written by a 2004 political hire to the CRD, a former clerk for conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006) while he was an appeals court judge and a member of two groups that advocate integrating Catholic religious practices into law and society (see Fall 2002 and After). [Savage, 2007, pp. 298]
The Justice Department’s civil rights division threatens to sue Southern Illinois University over its paid fellowships for women and minorities on the ground that the program discriminates against white males. The university discontinues the fellowships. The case was developed by a 2004 political hire of the division who belongs to the conservative Federalist Society and had previously worked for the Center for Individual Rights, an organization that opposes affirmative action programs (see Fall 2002 and After). [Savage, 2007, pp. 297]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the new “reasonable belief” standard for wiretaps is just another term for “probable cause.” Gonzales’s claim is legally false. The difference between the two standards is significant: while administration officials must present relatively compelling evidence that a US citizen has ties to US-designated terrorist organizations or is involved in terror plots to meet the “probable cause” standard for authorizing electronic surveillance, the “reasonable belief” standard is far more lenient. Gonzales also repeats for the committee President Bush’s claims that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) isn’t “agile” or “nimble” enough to assist the Justice Department and the US intelligence community in finding and arresting terrorists, a claim that FISC judges find baffling. FISC routinely approves almost all warrant requests, and FISA allows the government to conduct surveillance for 72 hours before even applying for a warrant. Additionally, FISC has consistently worked with the government to expedite requests and streamline the warrant-issuance procedure. For example, in March 2002, when the FBI and Pakistani police arrested al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, agents found that almost all of Zubaida’s contacts were already being monitored under FISA warrants or through international surveillance efforts (see March 28, 2002). One government official says that the Zubaida discovery gave them “some comfort” that surveillance efforts were working as needed. [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
Eve Burton, the general counsel for the Hearst Corporation, says the success of the subpoenas and compelled testimony levied against reporters in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see August 7, 2004, August 9, 2004, August 9, 2004, August 12, 2004 and After, August 24, 2004, September 13, 2004, September 15, 2004, October 7, 2004, October 13, 2004, December 2004, February 15, 2005, June 27, 2005, July 1, 2005, July 6, 2005, July 6, 2005, July 11, 2005, July 13, 2005, September 15, 2005, September 29, 2005, September 30, 2005, October 7, 2005, October 12, 2005, November 14, 2005, November 16-17, 2005, and January 20, 2006) has been chilling for reporters. She calls recent developments “troubling,” and continues, “From July to December  we had 42 subpoenas, eight times the number we got in the same six-month period last year.” The language in all the court cases and filings “either invoke[s] the Plame case or they say that now all the rules have changed.” Burton blames the Bush Justice Department in part for the trend, saying: “It is clearly a political decision coming out of the Bush Justice Department to go after the press in this country. In our 42 subpoenas, they will come after anything and everything—B roll at the TV stations, for example. Basic general assignment reporting. A call will come in from the government: ‘I understand you took footage of Joe Blow!’ And the reporter at a station, usually inexperienced, will say, ‘No, we did not take any footage.’ Then we will end up having fights in court with the prosecutor about what constitutes a waiver.” The subpoenas at Hearst, Burton says, involve broadcast stations and newspapers all over the country. “Typically, it is non-published and confidential material” being subpoenaed, she says. “This is the danger of making the press the investigative arm for the government.” Burton and Hearst are fighting every subpoena, no matter how seemingly minor. Burton does not blame special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as much as she blames the increasing lackadaisical attitude of the press itself. “The media has taken its responsibility to fight these subpoenas too loosely,” she says. “When we were fighting every single battle, we were doing better. Then we went through a time when we started to make deals. When you start making deals, you empower people to come after you. It is as simple as that.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
Fourteen law professors and former federal officials send a letter criticizing the Justice Department’s recent legal arguments supporting the legality of the secret NSA surveillance program (see December 19, 2005 and December 21-22, 2005). The letter is signed by law professors Curtis A. Bradley, a former State Department legal advisor; David Cole; Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general and assistant attorney general; Ronald Dworkin; Richard Epstein; Harold Koh, a former assistant secretary of state and a former Justice Department official; Philip B. Heymann, a former deputy attorney general; Martin Lederman, a former Justice Department official; Beth Nolan, a former presidential counsel and a former Justice Department official; William S. Sessions, the former director of the FBI; Geoffrey R. Stone; Kathleen M. Sullivan; Laurence H. Tribe; and William Van Alstyne, a former Justice Department attorney. The letter is couched in legal language, but clearly states that the signees consider the NSA surveillance program entirely illegal: “[T]he program appears on its face to violate existing law.” The signees consider and reject the Justice Department’s argument that Congress “implicitly authorized the NSA program when it enacted the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda” in 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001), writing: “[T]he AUMF cannot reasonably be construed to implicitly authorize warrantless electronic surveillance in the United States during wartime, where Congress has expressly and specifically addressed that precise question in FISA and limited any such warrantless surveillance to the first 15 days of war.” The signees also reject the Justice Department’s argument that the president’s “inherent constitutional authority as commander in chief to collect ‘signals intelligence’” is not prohibited by FISA. The signees conclude that the Justice Department has failed “to offer a plausible legal defense of the NSA domestic spying program. If the administration felt that FISA was insufficient, the proper course was to seek legislative amendment, as it did with other aspects of FISA in the Patriot Act, and as Congress expressly contemplated when it enacted the wartime wiretap provision in FISA. One of the crucial features of a constitutional democracy is that it is always open to the president—or anyone else—to seek to change the law. But it is also beyond dispute that, in such a democracy, the president cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable.” [Marty Lederman, 1/9/2006; Center for Democracy and Technology, 1/9/2006 ]
Entity Tags: Harold Koh, William S. Sessions, William Van Alstyne, Curtis Bradley, Beth Nolan, Geoffrey Stone, US Department of Justice, Walter Dellinger, Richard Epstein, Martin (“Marty”) Lederman, Laurence Tribe, Kathleen M. Sullivan, Ronald Dworkin, National Security Agency, Philip Heymann, David D. Cole
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
During the Senate hearings to confirm conservative jurist Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, the questioning turns to Alito’s views on the “unitary executive” theory (January 1, 1992). The theory seems to have originated in the Reagan administration’s Justice Department (see April 30, 1986), where Alito worked in the Office of Legal Counsel.
Lawyer Testifies to Unitary Executive - Former Clinton White House counsel Beth Nolan testifies about the theory and its potential for dramatically revamping the power of the presidency: “‘Unitary executive’ is a small phrase with almost limitless import. At the very least, it embodies the concept of presidential control over all executive functions, including those that have traditionally been executed by ‘independent’ agencies and other actors not subject to the president’s direct control.… The phrase is also used to embrace expansive interpretations of the president’s substantive powers, and strong limits on the legislative and judicial branches.” Nolan cites a November 2000 speech by Alito to the Federalist Society, where Alito said in part, “the president is largely impervious to statutory law in the areas of foreign affairs, national security, and Congress is effectively powerless to act as a constraint against presidential aggrandizement in these areas.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 100-106] During the questioning session, Alito denies ever discussing the idea of inherent presidential powers during that speech.
Evasive Answers in Hearings - Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says in his opening statement that he intends to press Alito on his support for what Durbin calls “a marginal theory at best… yet one you’ve said you believe.” Durbin notes that the Bush administration has repeatedly cited the theory to justify its most controversial policies and decisions, particularly in conducting its war on terror. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) adds: “The president is not a king, free to take any action he chooses without limitation, by law.… In the area of executive power, Judge Alito, you have embraced and endorsed the theory of the unitary executive. Your deferential and absolutist view of separation of powers raises questions. Under this view, in times of war the president would, for instance, seem to have inherent authority to wiretap American citizens without a warrant, to ignore Congressional acts at will, or to take any other action he saw fit under his inherent powers. We need to know, when a president goes too far, will you be a check on his power or will you issue him a blank check to exercise whatever power alone he thinks appropriate?” [Savage, 2007, pp. 271-272] However, Alito refuses to address the issue in the hearings, giving what one journalist calls “either confused or less than candid” answers to questions concerning the subject.
Failure to Recall - During questioning, Alito turns aside inquiries about his avowed support for the unitary executive theory, saying he was merely talking about the idea that a president should have control over lesser executive branch officials, and was not referring to the usurpation of Congressional power by the executive. Further questions elicit nothing but a dry definition of the term. Asked about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s stinging dissent in the 2004 Hamdi v. Rumsfeld case (see June 28, 2004), where Thomas wrote that the authors of the Constitution believed a unitary executive was essential to the implementation of US foreign policies, Alito says he does not recall Thomas’s mention of the phrase. Asked about Bush’s signing statement that attempted to invalidate the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005), Alito merely recites the definition of a signing statement, and refuses to actually state his position on the issue (see February 6, 1986 and After). Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), disturbed by Alito’s refusal to address the subject, says he will vote against him in part because of Alito’s embrace of “the gospel of the unitary executive.” Kennedy cites one of the authors of the theory, law professor Steven Calabresi, one of the founders of the Federalist Society, who, Kennedy says, “acknowledged that, if the concept is implemented, it would produce a radical change in how the government operates.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 100-106; Savage, 2007, pp. 271-274]
ACLU Opposes Alito - The ACLU, for only the third time in its history, formally opposes Alito’s nomination, in part because of Alito’s embrace of the unitary executive theory of the presidency, citing Alito’s “expansive view of executive authority and a limited view of the judicial role in curbing abuses of that authority.” In its 86-year history, the ACLU has only opposed two other Court nominees: William Rehnquist and former Solicitor General Robert Bork. [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/9/2006]
Opposition Fails - However, none of this is effective. Alito is sworn in less than a month later, after Democrats in the Senate fail to successfully mount a filibuster against his confirmation. [CNN, 2/1/2006]
The Justice Department (DOJ) issues a 42-page “white paper” detailing its arguments that the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, Early 2002, September 2002, Late 2003-Early 2004, April 19-20, 2004, June 9, 2005, June 9, 2005, December 15, 2005, December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 24, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 23, 2006, and January 30, 2006) is legal. The DOJ reiterates two previous arguments (see December 19, 2005 and December 21-22, 2005)—that Congress implicitly authorized the program in 2001 when it authorized the Bush administration to begin military actions against al-Qaeda (see September 14-18, 2001), and that the president has the authority as commander in chief to conduct such a program—even though these arguments have been thoroughly refuted (see January 9, 2006) and overridden by the Supreme Court’s recent Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling (see December 15, 2005 and July 8, 2006). In its paper, the DOJ declares that if necessary, it will attack the legality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in order to stop that law from “imped[ing]” the president’s power to order domestic surveillance. In essence, according to columnist and civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald, the DOJ is asserting that the president’s powers are limitless as long as he or she declares a given action necessary to battle terrorism. “Because the president has determined that the NSA activities are necessary to the defense of the United States from a subsequent terrorist attack in the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, FISA would impermissibly interfere with the president’s most solemn constitutional obligation—to defend the United States against foreign attack,” the DOJ claims. Neither Congress nor the court system has the right to limit or even review the president’s powers, according to the DOJ. Greenwald calls the DOJ’s argument “a naked theory of limitless presidential power.” In fact, Greenwald argues, the DOJ is asserting that FISA itself is unconstitutional, because no law can in any way limit the president’s power to conduct foreign policy or protect the nation’s security. The document is part of a larger Bush administration defense of the USA Patriot Act, and part of the administration’s push to convince Congress to reauthorize that legislation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends the document to Congress. Justice Department official Steven Bradbury says, “When it comes to responding to external threats to the country… the government would like to have a single executive who could act nimbly and agilely.” [US Department of Justice, 1/19/2006 ; Glenn Greenwald, 1/20/2006; Washington Post, 1/20/2006]
Dubious Legality - The program has already been found to be of questionable legality by two reports recently released by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (see January 5, 2006 and January 18, 2006). And author James Bamford, a US intelligence expert who has written extensively about the NSA, says that the Justice Department’s arguments are specious in light of Congress’s clear intent in its 1978 passage of FISA to block warrantless wiretapping, and its demonstrated lack of intent to allow any such operations within US borders in the October 2001 legislation. “You could review the entire legislative history in the authorization to use military force and I guarantee you won’t find one word about electronic surveillance,” he says. “If you review the legislative history of FISA, you will find Attorney General Griffin Bell testifying before the intelligence committee saying this was specifically passed to prevent a president from claiming inherent presidential powers to do this again.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2006]
Self-Contradictory Justifications - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write of the “shaky foundation” supporting the administration’s “two-pronged attacks on critics of the wiretapping program and the Patriot Act,” which some officials have claimed authorizes the program. “Beneath the simplistic rhetoric, the administration’s position was self-contradicting,” Savage will write. If Bush has the inherent presidential authority to order warrantless wiretapping, then he needs no authorization from the Patriot Act or any other legislation. But if Congress is endangering the nation by delaying in reauthorizing the Patriot Act and thusly not rendering the program legal, then the wiretapping program is illegal after all. The memo attempts to “paper… over” this problem by claiming that, while Bush has the inherent authority to do whatever he feels is necessary to protect the country, the Patriot Act’s extra police powers are still necessary in “contexts unrelated to terrorism.” Savage will write, “In other words, the administration’s own position, hidden in the fine print, was that the Patriot Act was superfluous and irrelevant to the war on terrorism—a somewhat absurd stance made necessary by their desire to say the wiretapping program was legal.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 315]
Failure to Address Probable Beginning of Program Before Attacks - The Justice Department says nothing about the program apparently beginning well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, James Bamford, Steven Bradbury, US Department of Justice, Griffin Bell, Senate Judiciary Committee, Glenn Greenwald, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, George W. Bush, Congressional Research Service, Charlie Savage
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Electronic Frontier Foundation logo. [Source: Flickr.com]The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties and privacy-advocacy organization, files a lawsuit against telecommunications giant AT&T for allegedly violating the law and the privacy of its citizens by cooperating with the National Security Agency in the NSA’s construction of what the EFF calls a “massive, illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans’ communications.” EFF lawyer Kevin Bankston says: “Our goal is to go after the people who are making the government’s illegal surveillance possible. They could not do what they are doing without the help of companies like AT&T. We want to make it clear to AT&T that it is not in their legal or economic interests to violate the law whenever the president asks them to.”
Unprecedented Access to Communications System - EFF alleges that as part of the NSA’s domestic spying program, AT&T has allowed the NSA direct access to the phone and Internet communications passing over its network, and has given the government “unfettered access to its over 300 terabyte ‘Daytona’ database of caller information—one of the largest databases in the world.” One of AT&T’s databases, nicknamed “Hawkeye,” contains 312 terabytes of data detailing nearly every telephone communication on AT&T’s domestic network since 2001, the lawsuit alleges. The suit goes on to claim that AT&T allowed the NSA to use the company’s powerful Daytona database management software to quickly search this and other communication databases. AT&T, the suit claims, is in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments, federal wiretapping statutes, telecommunications laws, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The suit requests fines up to $22,000 for each AT&T customer, and punitive fines—damages that could potentially reach into the billions of dollars. The EFF lawsuit is one of over 30 lawsuits filed for similar reasons (see June 26, 2006). The lawsuit will survive a number of initial legal challenges by the Justice Department and AT&T, including AT&T’s contention that “whatever we did, the government told us to do” and therefore it should be immune from such lawsuits, and the Justice Department’s invocation of “national security” and the possibility of the revelation of “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953). EFF retorts, “In this country we follow the law, we don’t just follow orders.” Bankston tells a reporter, “If state secrecy can prevent us from preserving the rights of millions upon millions of people, then there is a profound problem with the law.”
Suit Alleges Criminal Actions, Does Not Challenge Government's Right to Wiretap - The lawsuit does not challenge the government’s right to electronically monitor legitimate terrorism suspects, nor does it challenge the judicial right to issue warrants for such surveillance. Rather, EFF writes: “Wiretaps on terrorists are allowed under the law, and this lawsuit is not challenging the wiretap laws. We have sued AT&T for breaking those laws—the telecommunications giant gave the government access to its communications switches and its huge databases of information on millions of ordinary Americans. These are AT&T customers who have not even been accused of affiliations with terrorists. Americans can be both safe and free: if the government truly believes it has cause to wiretap a suspect, it can order AT&T to provide information under FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]—for up to 72 hours before going to the court. But AT&T has no business providing direct access to the communications of millions of ordinary Americans, without the checks and balances of Congress or the courts.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1/31/2006; Wired News, 1/31/2006]
Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) file an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) saying that because of the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005), the Court no longer has jurisdiction over the case. Graham and Kyl argue their point by citing the “legislative history” of the DTA, in particular the official statements Graham and Kyl made during debate over the bill, and specifically an “extensive colloquy” between the two that appears in the Congressional Record for December 21, 2005. Graham and Kyl argue that this “colloquy,” which argues that Guantanamo prisoners have no rights under the standard of habeas corpus, stands as evidence that “Congress was aware” that the DTA would strip the Court of jurisdiction over cases that involve Guantanamo detainees. (The Senate included an amendment written by Graham, Kyl, and Carl Levin (D-MI) to the DTA that would reject habeas claims in future court cases, but does not apply retroactively to cases already filed, such as Hamdan.) However, Graham and Kyl never engaged in such a discussion on the floor of the Senate. Instead, they had the text inserted in the Record just before the law passed (see December 30, 2005), meaning that no one in Congress heard their discussion. The brief indicates that the discussion happened during the debate over the bill when it did not. The Record indicates that the discussion that did take place concerning the Hamdan case comes from Democrats, and explicitly state that the DTA has no bearing on the case. C-SPAN video coverage of the debate proves that Graham and Kyl never made those statements, and Senate officials confirm that the discussion was inserted later into the Record. But in their brief, Graham and Kyl state that “the Congressional Record is presumed to reflect live debate except when the statements therein are followed by a bullet… or are underlined.” The Record shows no such formatting, therefore, says the brief, it must have been live. The debate between Graham and Kyl is even written to make it appear as if it had taken place live, with Graham and Kyl answering each other’s questions, Kyl noting that he is nearing the end of his allotted time, and another senator, Sam Brownback (R-KS) apparently attempting to interject a question. Lawyers for the prosecution will strenuously object to the brief, and Justice Department defense lawyers will use the brief as a centerpiece for their argument that the Supreme Court should throw the case out. [US Supreme Court, 2/2006 ; Slate, 3/27/2006; FindLaw, 7/5/2006] Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will call the brief “a blatant scam,” and will accuse Graham and Kyl of “misle[ading] their Senate colleagues, but also sham[ing] their high offices by trying to deliberately mislead the US Supreme Court.… I have not seen so blatant a ploy, or abuse of power, since Nixon’s reign.… [Graham and Kyl] brazenly attempted to hoodwink the Court regarding the actions of Congress in adopting the DTA.” [FindLaw, 7/5/2006] Their efforts will not be successful, as the Supreme Court will ultimately rule against the Republican position in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006).
A federal judge rules that the USA Patriot Act allows the federal government to trace e-mail information without court warrants or evidence of criminal behavior. As part of a secret ongoing grand jury investigation, the Justice Department asked the court to approve the monitoring of an unnamed person’s e-mail correspondents—not the contents of the e-mails, which would require evidence of wrongdoing, but instead the identities and e-mail header information. The magistrate judge in that case refused, and asked the Justice Department to submit an additional brief demonstrating that its request would be legal. Instead of submitting the brief, the Justice Department went to US District Judge Thomas Hogan, a Reagan appointee. Hogan reviewed the federal law dealing with “pen register” and “trap and trace” devices, terms having to do with telephone wiretapping, and today rules that those laws “unambiguously” authorize such e-mail surveillance. Hogan rules that the Patriot Act authorizes that sort of e-mail surveillance, as long as prosecutors note that such surveillance might be “relevant” to an investigation. [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/10/2001; CNET News, 2/9/2006]
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opens an internal investigation into the department’s role in approving the Bush administration’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program. OPR counsel Marshall Jarrett informs Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) of the investigation into the program, initiated after the 9/11 attacks by the National Security Agency and authorized via a secret executive order from President Bush shortly thereafter (see Early 2002). Jarrett writes that the OPR probe will include “whether such activities are permissible under existing law.” Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos says the inquiry will be quite limited: “They will not be making a determination on the lawfulness of the NSA program but rather will determine whether the department lawyers complied with their professional obligations in connection with that program.” Scolinos calls the OPR probe “routine.” Hinchey says he welcomes the probe, which may determine “how President Bush went about creating this Big Brother program.” [Washington Post, 2/16/2006] The OPR inquiry is derailed after the NSA, with Bush’s authorization, refuses to give routine security clearances to OPR lawyers that would allow them to examine the relevant documents (see May 9, 2006).
Lawyers for indicted former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005) move for the charges against their client to be dismissed, on the ground that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald lacks the constitutional authority to bring such charges. The lawyers argue that Fitzgerald was improperly appointed by the Justice Department instead of by Congress (see December 30, 2003), and therefore no charges brought or evidence gathered by him and his office have any standing in the court. “Those constitutional and statutory provisions have been violated in this case,” Libby’s lawyers argue. Most legal observers doubt the motion will be granted. Former independent counsel Scott Fredericksen, who investigated Reagan-era scandals at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says, “I think it’s a nice try, but I don’t give it much chance of success.” Legal experts say the Supreme Court ruled against a similar claim in 1998, in Morrison v. Olson. Government regulations clearly give the Justice Department the authority to appoint a special counsel when conflicts of interest within the department, or within the White House, make the normal procedures questionable. “The regulations that created the special counsel are safe from attack,” Fredericksen says. [Associated Press, 2/23/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/23/2006 ; Washington Post, 2/24/2006]
The New York Sun prints an editorial supporting the motion by Lewis Libby to dismiss all charges against him (see February 23, 2006). The Sun agrees with the defense lawyers’ argument that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed illictly by the Department of Justice, and calls him “an illegal, extra-constitutional prosecutor.” The Sun cites a statement made by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, and a letter written by Roger Sherman, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, opposing the power of the executive branch to appoint officials without Congressional approval. Fitzgerald operates “unchecked,” the Sun states, and entirely outside the law. The Sun also renews its call (see December 8, 2005) for its readers to donate to the Libby defense fund (see February 21, 2006). [New York Sun, 2/24/2006]
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