Bush Administration

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1st Amendment Justice Delayed is Justice Denied for Col. Morris Davis

Bg32jNgCYAApToACol. Morris Davis is, at least for my money, an American hero. He served and fought not only for his country, but for the Constitution he swore to protect. The subject of what happened to him at the hands of the very government he defended deserves a much longer, and deeper, dive than I have time for in this post. We will likely come back for that at a later date as it seems as if the legal case Col. Davis brought to correct the wrongs done to him will likely go on forever.

And the going on forever part is the subject of this post. Col. Davis was scheduled to have a hearing in United States District Court in Washington DC tomorrow in front of Judge Reggie Walton. But the hearing was postponed. And that is the problem, this is the FOURTEENTH (14th) TIME hearing on Col. Davis’ case has been delayed. One delay was due to a conflict on Judge Walton’s part, and one because the offices of Davis’ attorneys at the ACLU in New York were substantially damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Other than that, the delay has been at the hands of an intransigent and obstreperous DOJ. If the actions of the DOJ in relation to Col. Davis are not “bad faith”, it is hard to imagine what the term stands for.

Now, to be fair, it appears the latest delay was at the unilateral hand of the court, as yesterday’s minute entry order reads:

In light of the fact that potentially dispositive motions remain pending, it is hereby ORDERED that the status hearing currently scheduled for Friday, February 21, at 9:15 a.m. is CONTINUED to a date and time to be determined by the Clerk.

The problem with that is that the “dispositive motions” the court speaks of as being “pending” have been “pending” for a VERY long time, since July of last year. And the case itself has been going on since the complaint was filed on January 8, 2010.

Why is it taking so long you ask? Because of the aforementioned bad faith and obstreperousness of the Department of Justice, that’s why. To get an idea of just what is going on here, a little background is in order. Peter Van Buren gives a good, and relatively brief synopsis:

Morris Davis is not some dour civil servant, and for most of his career, unlikely to have been a guest at the Playboy Mansion. Prior to joining the Library of Congress, he spent more than 25 years as an Air Force colonel. He was, in fact, the chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo and showed enormous courage in October 2007 when he resigned from that position and left the Air Force. Davis stated he would not use evidence obtained through torture. When a torture advocate was named his boss, Davis quit rather than face the inevitable order to reverse his position.

Morris Davis then got fired from his research job at the Library of Congress for writing an article in the Wall Street Journal about the evils of justice perverted at Guantanamo, and a similar letter to the editor of the Washington Post. (The irony of being fired for exercising free speech while employed at Thomas Jefferson’s library evidently escaped his bosses.) With the help of the ACLU, Davis demanded his job back. On January 8, 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Library of Congress on his behalf. In March 2011 a federal court ruled against the Obama Administration’s objections that the suit could go forward (You can read more about Davis’ struggle.)

Moving “forward” is however a somewhat awkward term to use in regards to this case. In the past two years, forward has meant very little in terms of actual justice done.

Yes, you read that right. Col. Davis was fired from the job he truly loved at the Congressional Research Service because he, on his own time as a private citizen, exercised his First Amendment right to speak. As one of Davis’ pleadings puts it:

Col. Davis was unconstitutionally removed from his position at the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service for writing opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post expressing his nonpartisan, personal views on the failures of the American military commissions established to try detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. His speech lies at the very core of the First Amendment and exemplifies the kind of speech that federal courts have been most vigilant in protecting from government retaliation.

The full pleading that quote came from, Col. Davis’ response to the government’s motion for summary judgment (one of the “pending dispositive motions”) can be found here and is a good read if you are interested in more background.

That is exactly what happened and what is at stake. And you do not have to take my word for it, Judge Walton thinks it is a solid and valid claim too. Here is language from Judge Walton in an order in late January 2010, not long after the case was filed:

The Court is satisfied that the plaintiff has established, at least based on the record before the Court at this time, that the likelihood of success on the merits and public policy prongs of the preliminary injunction standard weigh in his favor. Essentially, the record before the Court suggests that the plaintiff was terminated immediately after two specific opinion editorials he authored were published in national newspapers. Regardless of the defendants’ contention to the contrary, it appears that the content of the plaintiff’s published opinions was one of the reasons, if not the primary reason, he was fired, i.e., because the plaintiff took a position on the prosecution of detainees being housed at the United States military’s Guantánamo Bay facility which the Congressional Research Service felt would call into question its impartially as to any policy recommendation it would make and any research it would conduct on that issue. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the opinion articles were specifically referenced in the plaintiff’s termination letter, and also the timing of the letter, which was issued only several days after his writings were published. The plaintiff’s likelihood of success position therefore is well-founded, at least with respect to the record the Court now has before it. And as to the public interest prong, it cannot be questioned that government employees retain First Amendment rights. (citations omitted)

So, there is really no question but that protected First amendment rights were involved, and that Col. Davis was wrongfully fired for exercising them. Makes you wonder why the DOJ would string him out and fight so hard in a case that is only about the rights and not even about the money damages he suffered as a result (that would have to be litigated in a separate action).

As the graphic at the top questions, why is the DOJ willing to give free speech rights to a terrorist at Guantanamo and not to Col. Morris Davis? Bad faith is the answer. Complete, scandalous, bad faith.

Friday News Dump Not Dead Yet: Stephen Kim Guilty Plea

Just when Kevin Drum declared the “Friday News Dump” dead, comes proof news of said death was greatly exaggerated.

As Josh Gerstein and others have reported, the plea will be entered this afternoon:

Under the terms of the agreement, Kim will plead guilty to a single felony count of disclosing classified information to Rosen in June 2009, and serve a 13-month prison sentence. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly would have to accept the sentence or reject it outright?, in which case Kim could withdraw his plea. Kim would also be on supervised release for a year, but would pay no fine.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly is expected to accept the guilty plea at today’s hearing, but will not impose a sentence until sometime later.

Well, that is kind of a big deal dropped out of nowhere on a Friday afternoon.

As you may recall, this is the infamous case where the Obama/Holder DOJ was caught classifying a journalist, James Rosen of Fox News, as an “aider and abettor” of espionage. As the Washington Post reported, the scurrilous allegation was clear as day in a formal warrant application filed as an official court document:

“I believe there is probable cause to conclude that the contents of the wire and electronic communications pertaining to the SUBJECT ACCOUNT [the gmail account of Mr. Rosen] are evidence, fruits and instrumentalities of criminal violations of 18 U.S.C. 793 (Unauthorized Disclosure of National Defense Information), and that there is probable cause to believe that the Reporter has committed or is committing a violation of section 793(d), as an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator, to which the materials relate,” wrote FBI agent Reginald B. Reyes in a May 28, 2010 application for a search warrant.

The search warrant was issued in the course of an investigation into a suspected leak of classified information allegedly committed by Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former State Department contractor, who was indicted in August 2010.

The Reyes affidavit all but eliminates the traditional distinction in classified leak investigations between sources, who are bound by a non-disclosure agreement, and reporters, who are protected by the First Amendment as long as they do not commit a crime.

[snip]

As evidence of Mr. Rosen’s purported culpability, the Reyes affidavit notes that Rosen and Kim used aliases in their communications (Kim was “Leo” and Rosen was “Alex”) and in other ways sought to maintain confidentiality.

“From the beginning of their relationship, the Reporter asked, solicited and encouraged Mr. Kim to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information…. The Reporter did so by employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim’s vanity and ego.”

“Much like an intelligence officer would run an [sic] clandestine intelligence source, the Reporter instructed Mr. Kim on a covert communications plan… to facilitate communication with Mr. Kim and perhaps other sources of information.”

Of course, the fully justifiable uproar over the Rosen treatment by DOJ eventually led to “new guidelines”, being issued by the DOJ. The new guidelines are certainly a half step in the right direction, but wholly unsatisfactory for the breadth and scope of the current Administration’s attack on the American free press.

But now the case undergirding the discussion in the Stephen Kim case will be shut down, and the questions that could play out in an actual trial quashed. All nice and tidy!

Frankly, I have mixed emotions about the reported Kim plea itself. It is, all in all, a pretty good deal for Kim and his attorney, the great Abbe Lowell. The case is done, bad precedent does not get etched into a jury verdict and appeal, and the nightmare has an end in sight for the defendant, Stephen Kim. All things considered, given the seriousness of the espionage and false statement charges in the indictment, 13 months is a good outcome. And it is not a horrible sentence to have as a yardstick for other leakers (were I Ed Snowden and Ben Wizner, I would like this result). By the same token, the damage done by the ridiculous antics and conduct of the DOJ in getting to this point is palpable. It will leave a stain that won’t, and shouldn’t, go away.

That still leaves the matter of Jeffrey Sterling, and reporter James Risen, though. Whither DOJ on that? And it is an important question since the much ballyhooed and vaunted “New Media Policies” announced by DOJ left wide open the ability to force Risen (and others that may some day be similarly situated) to testify about his sources of face jail for contempt.

Conning the Record, Conning the Courts, Defrauding the People

In the parlance of the once and forever MTV set, civil libertarians just had one of the “Best Weeks Ever”. Here is the ACLU’s Catherine Crump weighing in on the surprising results of President Obama’s Review Board:

Friday, the president’s expressed willingness to consider ending the NSA’s collection of phone records, saying, “The question we’re going to have to ask is, can we accomplish the same goals that this program is intended to accomplish in ways that give the public more confidence that in fact the NSA is doing what it’s supposed to be doing?”

With this comment and the panel’s report coming on the heels of Monday’s remarkable federal court ruling that the bulk collection of telephone records is likely unconstitutional, this has been the best week in a long time for Americans’ privacy rights.

That “federal court ruling” is, of course, that of Judge Richard Leon handed down a mere five days ago on Monday. Catherine is right, it has been a hell of a good week.

But lest we grow too enamored of our still vaporous success, keep in mind Judge Leon’s decision, as right on the merits as it may be, and is, is still a rather adventurous and activist decision for a District level judge, and will almost certainly be pared back to some extent on appeal, even if some substantive parts of it are upheld. We shall see.

But the other cold water thrown came from Obama himself when he gave a slippery and disingenuous press conference Friday. Here is the New York Times this morning capturing spot on the worthless lip service Barack Obama gave surveillance reform yesterday:

By the time President Obama gave his news conference on Friday, there was really only one course to take on surveillance policy from an ethical, moral, constitutional and even political point of view. And that was to embrace the recommendations of his handpicked panel on government spying — and bills pending in Congress — to end the obvious excesses. He could have started by suspending the constitutionally questionable (and evidently pointless) collection of data on every phone call and email that Americans make.

He did not do any of that.
….
He kept returning to the idea that he might be willing to do more, but only to reassure the public “in light of the disclosures that have taken place.”

In other words, he never intended to make the changes that his panel, many lawmakers and others, including this page, have advocated to correct the flaws in the government’s surveillance policy had they not been revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks.

And that is why any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate. Congress has to rewrite the relevant passage in the Patriot Act that George W. Bush and then Mr. Obama claimed — in secret — as the justification for the data vacuuming.

Precisely. The NYT comes out and calls the dog a dog. If you read between the lines of this Ken Dilanian report at the LA Times, you get the same preview of the nothingburger President Obama is cooking up over the holidays. As Ken more directly said in his tweet, “Obama poised to reject panel proposals on 702 and national security letters.” Yes, indeed, count on it.

Which brings us to that which begets the title of this post: I Con The Record has made a Saturday before Christmas news dump. And a rather significant one to boot. Apparently because they were too cowardly to even do it in a Friday news dump. Which is par for the course of the Obama Administration, James Clapper and the American Intel Shop. Their raison de’etre appears to be keep America uninformed, terrorized and supplicant to their power grabs. Only a big time operator like Big Bad Terror Voodoo Daddy Clapper can keep us chilluns safe!

So, the dump today is HERE in all its glory. From the PR portion of the “I Con” Tumblr post, they start off with Bush/Cheney Administration starting the “bulk” dragnet on October 4, 2001. Bet that is when it first was formalized, but the actual genesis was oh, maybe, September 12 or so. Remember, there were security daddies agitating for this long before September 11th.

Then the handcrafted Intel spin goes on to say this:

Over time, the presidentially-authorized activities transitioned to the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). The collection of communications content pursuant to presidential authorization ended in January 2007 when the U.S. Government transitioned the TSP to the authority of the FISA and under the orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”). In August 2007, Congress enacted the Protect America Act (“PAA”) as a temporary measure. The PAA, which expired in February 2008, was replaced by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which was enacted in July 2008 and remains in effect. Today, content collection is conducted pursuant to section 702 of FISA. The metadata activities also were transitioned to orders of the FISC. The bulk collection of telephony metadata transitioned to the authority of the FISA in May 2006 and is collected pursuant to section 501 of FISA. The bulk collection of Internet metadata was transitioned to the authority of the FISA in July 2004 and was collected pursuant to section 402 of FISA. In December 2011, the U.S. Government decided to not seek reauthorization of the bulk collection of Internet metadata.

After President Bush acknowledged the TSP in December 2005, two still-pending suits were filed in the Northern District of California against the United States and U.S. Government officials challenging alleged NSA activities authorized by President Bush after 9/11. In response the U.S. Government, through classified and unclassified declarations by the DNI and NSA, asserted the state secrets privilege and the DNI’s authority under the National Security Act to protect intelligence sources and methods. Following the unauthorized and unlawful release of classified information about the Section 215 and Section 702 programs in June 2013, the Court directed the U.S. Government to explain the impact of declassification decisions since June 2013 on the national security issues in the case, as reflected in the U.S. Government’s state secrets privilege assertion. The Court also ordered the U.S. Government to review for declassification all prior classified state secrets privilege and sources and methods declarations in the litigation, and to file redacted, unclassified versions of those documents with the Court.

This is merely an antiseptic version of the timeline of lies that has been relentlessly exposed by Marcy Wheeler right here on this blog, among other places. What is not included in the antiseptic, sandpapered spin is that the program was untethered from law completely and then “transitioned” to FISC after being exposed as such.

Oh, and lest anybody think this sudden disclosure today is out of the goodness of Clapper and Obama’s hearts, it is not. As Trevor Timm of EFF notes, most all of the “I Con” releases have been made only after being forced to by relevant FOIA and other court victories and that this one in particular is mostly germinated by EFF’s court order (and Vaughn index) obtained.

So, with that, behold the “I Con” release of ten different declarations previously filed and extant under seal in the Jewel and Shubert cases. Much of the language in all is similar template affidavit language, which you expect from such filings if you have ever dealt with them. As for individual dissection, I will leave that for later and for discussion by all in comments.

The one common theme that I can discern from a scan of a couple of note is that there is no reason in the world minimally redacted versions such as these could not have been made public from the outset. No reason save for the conclusion that to do so would have been embarrassing to the Article II Executive Branch and would have lent credence to American citizens properly trying to exercise and protect their rights in the face of a lawless and constitutionally infirm assault by their own government. The declarations by Mike McConnell, James Clapper, Keith Alexander, Dennis Blair, Frances Fleisch and Deborah Bonanni display a level of too cute by a half duplicity that ought be grounds for sanctions.

The record has been conned. Our federal courts have been conned. All as the Snowden disclosures have proven. And the American people have been defrauded by pompous terror mongers who value their own and institutional power over truth and honesty to those they serve. Clapper, Alexander and Obama have the temerity to call Ed Snowden a traitor? Please, look in the mirror boys.

Lastly, and again as Trevor Timm pointed out above, these are just the declarations for cases the EFF and others are still pursuing. What of the false secret declarations made in al-Haramain v. Obama, which the government long ago admitted were bogus? Why won’t the cons behind “I Con” release those declarations? What about the frauds perpetrated in Mohamed v. Jeppesen that have fraudulently ingrained states secrets cons into the government arsenal?

If the government wants to come clean, here is the opportunity. Frauds have been perpetrated on our courts, in our name. We should hear about that. Unless, of course, Obama and the “I Cons” are really nothing more than simple good old fashioned cons.

[By the way, Christmas is a giving season. If you have extra cheer to spread, our friends like Cindy Cohn, Trevor Timm, Hanni Fakhoury and Kurt Opsahl et al at EFF, and Ben Wizner, Alex Abdo, Catherine Crump et al at the ACLU all do remarkable work. Share your tax deductible love with them this season if you can. They make us all better off.]

Federal Court Strikes Down Obama DOJ’s State Secrets Defense

In what can only be described as a significant ruling, Judge Jeffrey White in the Northern California District (CAND) has rejected the federal government’s, via the Obama and Holder Department of Justice, assertion of state secrets privilege in the case of Jewel v. National Security Agency and the related consolidated case of Shubert v. Obama.

The full decision of the court is here, and in the critical active language from the court’s own summary states:

Having thoroughly considered the parties’ papers, Defendants’ public and classified declarations, the relevant legal authority and the parties’ arguments, the Court GRANTS the Jewel Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary adjudication by rejecting the state secrets defense as having been displaced by the statutory procedure prescribed in 50 U.S.C. § 1806(f) of FISA. In both related cases, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motions to dismiss Plaintiffs’ statutory claims on the basis of sovereign immunity. The Court further finds that the parties have not addressed the viability of the only potentially remaining claims, the Jewel Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims under the Fourth and First Amendments and the claim for violation of separation of powers and the Shubert Plaintiffs’ fourth cause of action for violation of the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, the Court RESERVES ruling on Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the remaining, non-statutory claims.

The Court shall require that the parties submit further briefing on the course of this litigation going forward.

Now, before too much celebration is made, there are some sobering aspects of this decision as well. As can be told from the quote above, several counts in both complaints have been dismissed based on sovereign immunity, and the court has questions about the continued validity of the remaining counts and has requested further briefing in that regard.

With the ultimate status of the litigation left for another day, the big news today is the negation of the dreaded state secrets assertion. To say this is a rare occurrence is to be too kind. In fact, the main instance where the privilege was overcome was the al-Haramain litigation, also in CAND, where Judge Vaughn Walker found non-classified evidence sufficient to proceed in the face of the state secrets assertion, and even that case was later reversed and dismissed by the 9th Circuit.

The court in Jewel mapped out the consideration process for the privilege challenge:

The analysis of whether the state secrets privilege applies involves three distinct steps. First, the Court must ascertain whether the procedural requirements for invoking the privilege have been satisfied. Second, the Court must make an independent determination whether the information is privileged. In determining whether the privilege attaches, the Court may consider a party’s need for access to the allegedly privileged materials. See Reynolds, 345 U.S. 19 at 11. Lastly, the “ultimate question to be resolved is how the matter should proceed in light of the successful privilege claim.” El-Masri v. United States, 479 F.3d 296, 304 (4th Cir. 2007).

Noting that the assertion of state secrets must not cause “a complete surrender of judicial control over access to the courts”, Judge White wrote:

Here, having reviewed the materials submitted for review and having considered the claims alleged and the record as a whole, the Court finds that Defendants have timely invoked the state secrets doctrine. Defendants contend that Plaintiffs’ lawsuits should be dismissed as a result of the application of the privilege because the state secrets information is so central to the subject matter of the suit that permitting further proceedings would jeopardize national security. Given the multiple public disclosures of information regarding the surveillance program, the Court does not find that the very subject matter of the suits constitutes a state secret. Just as in Al-Haramain, and based significantly on the same set of facts in the record here, the Court finds that although there are certainly details that the government has not yet disclosed,

because of the voluntary disclosures made by various officials since December 2005, the nature and purpose of the [Terrorist Surveillance Program], the ‘type’ of persons it targeted, and even some of its procedures are not state secrets. In other words, the government’s many attempts to assuage citizens’ fears that they have not been surveilled now doom the government’s assertion that the very subject matter of this litigation, the existence of a warrantless surveillance program, is barred by the state secrets privilege.

507 F.3d at 1200; see also Hepting v. AT&T Corp., 439 F. Supp. 2d 974, 986-88, 991 (N.D. Cal. 2006) (holding that the existence of a program of monitoring the contents of certain telephone communications was no longer a state secret as a result of the public statements made by the President and the Attorney General). Accordingly, the Court does not find dismissal appropriate based on the subject matter of the suits being a state secret. See Totten, 92 U.S. at 107.

White went on to note that there were significant items of evidence in the Jewel case tending to confirm or negate the factual allegations in Plaintiffs’ complaints that would be subject to state secrets exclusion. However, White held that, as a matter of law, the FISA procedural mechanism prescribed under 50 U.S.C. 26 § 1806(f) preempted application of the state secrets privilege in the litigation at bar.

Citing one of the interlocutory appellate decisions in al-Haramain and the underlying logic of then trial judge Vaughn Walker), Judge White said:

In its opinion on remand in the Al-Haramain matter, this district court found that “FISA preempts the state secrets privilege in connection with electronic surveillance for intelligence purposes ….” In re National Security Agency Telecommunications Records Litigation (“In re N.S.A. Telecommunication Records Litig.”), 564 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1111 (N.D. Cal. 2008). The undersigned agrees and finds that the in camera review procedure in FISA applies and preempts the determination of evidentiary preclusion under the state secrets doctrine. Section 1806(f) of FISA displaces the state secrets privilege in cases in which electronic surveillance yields potentially sensitive evidence by providing secure procedures under which courts can consider national security evidence that the application of the state secrets privilege would otherwise summarily exclude.

Section 1806 of the FISA enabling statutes in Title 50 of the United States Code provides, inter alia;

… whenever any motion or request is made by an aggrieved person pursuant to any other statute or rule of the United States or any State . . . to discovery or obtain applications or orders or other materials relating to electronic surveillance . . . the United States district court … shall, notwithstanding any other law, if the Attorney General files an affidavit under oath that disclosure or an adversary hearing would harm the national security of the United States, review in camera and ex parte the application, order, and such other materials relating to the surveillance as may be necessary to determine whether the surveillance of the aggrieved person was lawfully authorized and conducted.

This finding by Judge White reaffirmed at least some control by federal trial courts of sweeping assertions of state secrets privilege by the Executive Branch. That is, better than nothing, for sure. But it is rather small comfort in light of the finding of qualified immunity extended to the government on the Jewel and Shubert plaintiffs’ statutory claims under FISA.

In discussing the intersection of the FISA claims with related claims by plaintiffs under the Stored Communication Act and Wiretap Act, the court did leave several more general counts of the complaints active. However, there is no way to look at the entirety of Jeff White’s opinion and come away believing the plaintiffs have any clear path to victory in the long run. The Jewel and Shubert cases live on to fight another day, for now, but the handwriting is on the wall for either the 9th Circuit or Supreme Court to deal the death blow down the road.

The Day of Sentencing Judgment for Scott Bloch

When we last left Scott Bloch, the former Bush attorney who was the appointed head of the Office of Special counsel (OSC), it was the original date for his sentencing. The court delayed entry of sentence to further investigate the full extent of his criminal conduct. It appeared that, after strong letters like from this blog and attorney Debra Katz, who represents several former OSC employees and good government groups, the court had real concerns about the entirety of Bloch’s vast criminal conduct compared to the sweetheart whitewashing collusive plea the DOJ was giving him.

Today, the court showed it really was not nearly as concerned as had been hoped. Scott Bloch has just been sentenced to one day in jail and two years probation. The single measly day in jail was stated by the court to be due to the “seriousness” of the offense. What a joke. I guess we should just be thrilled that, unlike James Clapper, Bloch was prosecuted at all. Still, it is a grossly soft sentence considering the entirety of Bloch’s admitted criminal conduct.

Just so the record is complete after all these years, here are the significant documents documents lodged with the court between the first sentencing date and today:

1) Bloch’s supplemental sentencing memorandum

2) DOJ’s supplemental sentencing memorandum

3) Bundle of additional sentencing letters from Bloch supporters

4) Supplemental sentencing letter from this blog

One last thing should be noted, and that is the sheer and craven hutzpah of the Department of Justice in whitewashing this matter. I refer to their supplemental memorandum (item 2 above), but specifically to footnote 1 therein that baldly claims other members of the public and victims aggrieved by Bloch just don’t have all the secret facts that the government was able to collect. It was truly an amazing thing to see the government saying they had the hidden facts mitigating Bloch’s conduct. Simply astounding and, as stated in the responsive letter to the court (item 4 above), it was unconscionable:

The bald faced hubris of the DOJ in footnote 1 of their “Supplemental Memorandum In Aid Of Sentencing” lodged in docket Number 21 to claim, and rely on, uncharged and unstated evidence and facts to mitigate the sentence of the defendant is far the other side of unconscionable and shocking. Hidden considerations cited by the government, in the face of the shocking record of conduct by defendant Bloch, are an insult to the court, and the citizens and rule of law it is designed to protect. In fact, the recitations of fact by the government itself demonstrates how absurd their protestations for mitigation, much those of Bloch himself in his supplemental sentencing memorandum (Docket Number 22), really are.

The perfidy, and obstruction to the American form of government, by Executive Branch officials upon the function of the Congress is a scourge that cannot be tolerated by the American people or the courts of the United States. After the questions germinated by ODNI Clapper’s testimony, there has been a sudden and welcome bi-partisan return of healthy concern over the conduct of Executive Branch officials in front of Congress.

This court stands at the crossroads on a seminal issue to the Constitutional health of these United States and the health of the separation of powers in our form of government. The problem of disdain for, and duplicity in front of, Congress must be addressed and a precedent set for the future. Mr. Bloch violated the trust and damaged the people and their lawfully elected representatives. Frankly the plea in this case is outrageous and should never be accepted, it is not in the interest of justice. But, if it is to be followed, and sentenced thereon, a precedent should be set and an appropriate sentence handed down for the egregious conduct of Scott Bloch.

If not in the instant case, then where? If not now, then when?

The answer is Article II Executive Branch officials and attorneys simply cannot, and will not, be prosecuted for perjury and obstruction of Congress, and neither the Article I Congress, nor the Article III Courts, seems to particularly care that such violation of constitutionally protected powers and prerogative is occurring habitually. It is a sad comment.

The Internet Didn’t Kill the Middle Class; Laxity and Apathy Did

KodakBldgAtlanta_mcclanahoochie-Flickr_modIn tandem with the release of his book, Who Owns the Future?, Jaron Lanier’s interview with Salon generated a lot of hand-wringing across social media. It seems Lanier, one of our so-called intellectual visionaries, believes that the collapse of Kodak and its 140,000 jobs, and the rise of Instagram and its 13 jobs, exemplifies the killing field of the internet. Lanier theorizes good paying jobs that once supported a thriving middle class have disappeared as internet-enabled firms replaced them. As these jobs vaporized, so did necessary benefits. Here’s a key excerpt from the interview:

“Here’s a current example of the challenge we face,” he writes in the book’s prelude: “At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”

What a crock of decade-late shit.

Where the hell was Lanier in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the U.S. manufacturing sector nose-dived due to government policies created by corporate-acquired elected officials and appointees?

It wasn’t the internet that killed the middle class. The apathy of intellectuals and the technology elite did; too few bothered to point out the potential repercussions of NAFTA and other domestic job-depleting policies. In the absence of thought leaders, corporatists sold the public and their electeds on job creation anticipated from globalizing policies; they just didn’t tell us the jobs created wouldn’t be ours.

It wasn’t the rise of digitization that killed the middle class. It was the insufficiency of protests among U.S. brain power, including publicly-funded academics, failing to advocate for labor and home-grown innovation; their ignorance about the nature of blue collar jobs and the creative output they help realize compounded the problem.

Manufacturing has increasingly reduced man hours in tandem with productivity-increasing technological improvements. It wasn’t the internet that killed these jobs, though technology reduced some of them. The inability to plan for the necessary shift of jobs to other fields revealed the lack of comprehensive, forward-thinking manufacturing and labor policies.

It all smells of Not-My-Problem, i.e., “I’m educated, technology-enabled, white collar; those stupid low-tech blue collar folks’ jobs aren’t my problem.”

Until suddenly it is. Continue reading

Scott Bloch Sentencing Blocked By The Court

I have been a bit busy lately, so this is a tad late; but I should probably give the update on the Scott Bloch criminal sentencing that was scheduled for 9:30 am Monday morning May 13 in DC District Court in front of Judge Robert L. Wilkins. As you will recall, this blog has covered the Bloch case closely over the years due to its symbolism for government accountability and/or lack thereof.

The most recent coverage was immediately prior to the sentencing, and was in the form of a comprehensive post entitled “Former Bush Special Counsel Scott Bloch Bullies Journalists and Threatens 1st Amend Speech Before Criminal Sentencing”. As promised, a copy of said post was mailed to the court and it was entered on the docket. Several others sent letters as well, such as here for example.

The upshot is that Judge Robert L. Wilkins heard the voices. In what I can only describe as truly commendable, yet still refreshingly surprising, this is what happened at sentencing as described by Ann Marimow of the Washington Post:

The legal odyssey of Scott J. Bloch, the former head of the federal agency that protects government whistleblowers, continued Monday when a federal judge balked at proceeding with sentencing because of what he called an “improperly sanitized version of events.”
….
But U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins chastised attorneys on both sides for presenting a narrow account of Bloch’s actions that the judge said doesn’t fully describe the conduct at issue. Wilkins said he was uncomfortable issuing a sentence until a fuller description of Bloch’s actions was in the record.

Sentencing documents, Wilkins noted, make little mention of Bloch’s previous deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of contempt of Congress.
….
In the current case, federal guidelines call for a sentence from zero to six months in prison. But prosecutors have agreed not to oppose a period of probation and want Bloch to pay a $5,000 fine and complete 200 hours of community service.

Wilkins suggested Monday, however, that he intends to consider Bloch’s conduct related to the previous case, which could expose him to jail time. The judge pointed specifically to Bloch’s position as a presidential appointee, a “position of public trust, operating with little oversight.”

Bloch’s sentencing hearing has been rescheduled for June 24.

We will try to do another update on status again before the next sentencing date on June 24. But, for now, hat’s off to Judge Robert L. Wilkins for hearing the voices of the public who object to the whitewash that was being applied to the misconduct in high office by Scott Bloch. Maybe there is hope for this Rule of Law thing after all.

Former Bush Special Counsel Scott Bloch Bullies Journalists and Threatens 1st Amend Speech Before Criminal Sentencing

CryingJusticeWhen this blog last substantively left the continuing saga of Bush/Cheney Special Counsel Scott Bloch, it was with these words:

So, between August 2, 2011 and December 21, 2012, a period of nearly a year and a half’s time, the DOJ has done nothing whatsoever in furtherance of prosecuting Scott Bloch. Until today. And the vaunted Department of Justice has, on the Friday before the Christmas holiday…..filed a Motion to Dismiss. However, that is not the end of the story, as clause 5 of the Motion to Dismiss contains this language:

Concurrent with this Motion to Dismiss, the government is filing a new information.

Well, not quite concurrent, as the Motion to Dismiss was filed mid to late morning, and the new information was just now made public. The new charge, a misdemeanor, is pursuant to 18 USC 1361 Depredation of Government Property or Contracts. The factual basis is made out from the “seven level wiping” Bloch caused to be done. Here is the new information just filed.

Yes, that is the “Reader’s Digest” version of how Scott Bloch came to be where he is now….awaiting sentencing in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. For a crime that barely even references, much less is indicative of, the actual acts he committed against the United States Government, and the citizens it represents.

But, Bloch is indeed now facing sentencing on the latest cushy plea he has been afforded by the Department of Justice; sentencing scheduled for Monday May 13, 2013, less than one week from today. Here is Defendant Bloch’s sentencing memorandum, and here is the curiously collusive memorandum from the DOJ, who simply cannot stand for any Article II Executive Branch attorney being sent to jail/prison for lying to Congress because, seriously, many more might be in jeopardy if that was the case and precedent.

So, what is Mr. Scott Bloch doing? Taking his medicine quietly for having been given the gift plea by the DOJ to a misdemeanor after he actually committed such acts that appear by all legal rights to warrant felony allegations? Allegations as were described the last time Bloch was tried to be handed such a gift horse plea by the DOJ as:

…felony crimes Bloch could have been, and should have been, charged with are staggering; including obstruction of justice, false statements, perjury, willful destruction of government property and Federal Records Act violations. But Defendant Bloch made a deal to plead to one little misdemeanor with the guarantee he would be considered under the most favorable sentencing guideline conditions imaginable.

Nothing has changed; not a single underlying fact has changed in the least, and Bloch still stands Continue reading

DOJ Gives Blackwater a Whitewash On Felony Charges

CryingJusticeSomething funny happened in the Eastern District of North Carolina today. Out of the blue in an extremely significant case, and without particular notice to interested observers, much less the public, the criminal case against former Blackwater executives for weapons trafficking, and a myriad of other weapons violations, ended. Poof! Gone with an undeserved and inexplicable sweetheart misdemeanor plea.

From local Raleigh outlet WRAL:

A federal weapons case against the defense contractor formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide ended Thursday with misdemeanor pleas by two former executives, who were fined and placed on probation.

The case stems in part from a raid conducted by federal agents at the company’s Moyock headquarters in 2008 that seized 22 weapons, including 17 AK-47s. An indictment alleged that the company used the Camden County Sheriff’s Office to pose as the purchaser of dozens of automatic weapons.

The indictment also alleged that Blackwater purchased 227 short barrels and installed them on long rifles without registering them and that company officials presented the king of Jordan with five guns as gifts in hopes of landing a lucrative overseas contract and then falsified federal documents once they realized they were unable to account for the weapons.

Gary Jackson and William Matthews, the former president and executive vice president of the company and both Navy Seals, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count each of failure to keep records on firearms. They were sentenced to four months of house arrest, three years on probation and fined $5,000.

The original indictment was fifteen counts, count em 15 counts, most all serious felonies with significant punishment in the offing. Now granted, a few counts were pared off after a motion to dismiss by a court order dated February 4, 2013, but significant and substantive counts remained viable against Blackwater executives Jackson and Matthews.

But, instead of taking them to trial, or even extracting a reasonable plea that did justice for the public, the DOJ collaborated with the defense and walked into court without notice today, filed a new information containing a single misdemeanor charge and proceeded to sentence them on the spot to a hand slap.

Here is how the official DOJ Press Release described it:

United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker announced that in federal court today GARY JACKSON and WILLIAM WHEELER MATTHEWS, JR. pled guilty before United States District Judge Louise W. Flanagan, to one count each of failing to make and maintain records related to firearms in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 922(m) and 923(g)(1)(A).

Additionally, Judge Flanagan sentenced JACKSON and MATTHEWS to 3 years probation, 4 months house arrest with stipulations, and fined them $5,000.00.

According to the Criminal Information filed on February 14, 2013, JACKSON and MATTHEWS, between 2005 and 2007, were employees of a corporate entity formerly known as Blackwater which was a licensed federal firearms manufacturer and dealer, and whose responsibilities for a certain period of time included direct or indirect supervisory authority over employees whose duties included the making and maintenance of records required by federal law. (Emphasis added)

Oh yeah, there was one other mention of note in the release:

The corporate entity formerly known as Blackwater has entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the government in which it has agreed to extensive ongoing compliance programs and the payment of approximately 7 million dollars in fines.

How nice. The Deferred Prosecution Agreement was actually entered into and noticed back in August of last year. It was easy to see the DPA coming, and as much as the US Government relies on Blackwater/Xe/Academi for their security adventures, it was predictable they would be given a DPA (and, hey, DPAs provide lucrative paydays to former DOJ friends who get set up in cushy monitor jobs).

The DPA was easy to see coming, today’s sweetheart plea was not. No, it happened basically as a covert op on the public and interested legal community. Did you notice the bolded date in the DOJ press release? DOJ states the plea was entered on February 14, 2013. What is interesting is that it was not placed on the official court docket until today – at the same time Judge Louise Flanagan, a conservative Bush appointee, was accepting the plea and sentencing Jackson and Matthews, thus ending the case. All designed so the public would not know and could not have any input. Diametrically contrary to the fundamental precepts of the American justice system.

How little of a wrist slap is the sentence? I’ve had common DWI clients sentenced to more. Compare and contrast to the punishment the DOJ sought to impose on Aaron Swartz.

The sentence is now done and entered, but what about the process? It was a stunning affront to justice and the public right to know. I have complained relentlessly about the collusion between the DOJ and another Bush era criminal, former Office of Special counsel Chief Scott Bloch. But at least in Bloch there was minimal notice given to the public and we knew what was coming, in spite of inexplicable collusion between the DOJ and the criminal defendant. Not so in the case of these Blackwater executives, Jackson, Matthews, et al.

Even in Bloch, in spite of complete collusion on the part of the DOJ, the court set sentencing for nearly three months after the entry of the plea. Not so with Judge Flanagan and the Blackwater boys. How unusual is it that a Federal court sentences criminal defendants immediately in high profile important cases with important implications like this? VERY UNUSUAL.

In fact it is simply stunning, all the more so considering that the parties and the court hid the fact the plea was entered from the public and the court docket system in the period between the entrance of plea on February 14 and the plea acceptance and immediate sentencing today.

To give you an idea of how out of the ordinary such a sentencing on the spot is, there are directly applicable provisions in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that must be specifically obviated on the record to even attempt it. Rule 32(c) provides:

(c) Presentence Investigation.

(1) Required Investigation.

(A) In General. The probation officer must conduct a presentence investigation and submit a report to the court before it imposes sentence unless:

(i) 18 U.S.C. §3593 (c) or another statute requires otherwise; or

(ii) the court finds that the information in the record enables it to meaningfully exercise its sentencing authority under 18 U.S.C. §3553, and the court explains its finding on the record.

(B) Restitution. If the law permits restitution, the probation officer must conduct an investigation and submit a report that contains sufficient information for the court to order restitution.

18 USC 3593 concerns death penalty cases, so the ONLY way Jackson and Matthews could have been sentenced today is for the court to have made a specific finding, based upon information on and in the record, and then stated the specific reasons for the decision, and evidence supporting it, all on the record.

Did Judge Flanagan do that? Well, we do not know because there is no sentencing minute entry on the docket as there normally is. It just isn’t there. What’s more, we cannot know if there was a stipulation to hide the plea entry and immediate sentencing plans in the plea agreement (docket number 364), because the plea agreement is SEALED.

All ability of the public to know this was coming, and to discern what really happened, has been secreted from the public. Secret justice (or, more properly, injustice).

How and why did all this occur? Undoubtedly because of the highly classified and incestuous relationship between Blackwater and the US Government, and the resulting ability of Blackwater to literally blackmail and extort concessions through graymail threats (See here for a short history of graymail).

So, through secrecy, classification, graymail and direct collusion with the DOJ, Blackwater, and its executive henchmen, win and the American public lose yet again. I have been practicing criminal law for 25 years and I am absolutely offended by what occurred in Judge Louise Flanagan’s courtroom today. Both she and the Obama Department of Justice should be made to answer for it.

[UPDATE: It appears the plea agreement itself is not completely sealed, it is just kept "unavailable" from the public docket. Upon information and belief, it can be viewed if you personally go to the clerk's office for the Eastern District of North Carolina and ask to see it. The other items described in the post as missing from the docket entirely remain so missing.]

The Constitutional Argument Against the Platinum Coin Stunt

They came for the 4th Amendment, but it was necessary for the war on drugs. They came for the 5th Amendment, but due process had to be sacrificed for the war on terror. They came for the 6th Amendment, but confrontation had to succumb to classification and secrecy. They came for the War Powers Act because Libya was “required to be protected”. Now they are coming for one of the most fundamental of Constitutional checks and balances, the Congressional prerogative of the purse.

Who are “they”? They are, of course, the ubiquitous Article II Executive Branch. And they have a never ending thirst for usurping power, all in the name of efficacy. It is always necessary, it is always an emergency, there is always a reason, for them to take the power. They are the Daddy Branch, and it is always best to trust them. So they say.

Back when “they” were the Bush/Cheney regime, liberals, progressives, and Democrats in general, had a seriously dim view of accumulation and usurpation of power in a unitary Executive. When Dick Cheney, David Addington and John Yoo contorted existing law, gave it application never intended, and manufactured legal and governmental gimmickry to accomplish stunningly naked Executive power grabs, those on the left, especially the blogosphere, screamed bloody murder. Well, that is precisely what is afoot here with the Mint the Coin! push.

Where is that principled set of voices on the left now? Things are different when it is your guy in office I guess. Because the active liberal/progressive left I see out there is currently screaming to “Mint the Coin!” doesn’t seem to realize they are calling for the same type of sham rule of law that John Yoo engaged in.. This is most curious, because “Minting the Coin!” contemplates a naked power grab by the Executive Branch of historic proportions. It is a wholesale taking of the Congressional purse prerogative under the Constitution. But, hey, its an “emergency”. Of course. It always is when the Article II Executive Branch comes to feed in the name of efficacy.

What is the value of Separation of Powers, and constriction of Constitutionally assigned powers to the branch to which they were assigned, and what is the value in insuring that an imperial Executive Branch does not usurp too many powers? Let James Madison, in Federalist No. 47 explain:

No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value, or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty, than that on which the objection is founded. The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. Were the federal Constitution, therefore, really chargeable with the accumulation of power, or with a mixture of powers, having a dangerous tendency to such an accumulation, no further arguments would be necessary to inspire a universal reprobation of the system. I persuade myself, however, that it will be made apparent to every one, that the charge cannot be supported, and that the maxim on which it relies has been totally misconceived and misapplied. In order to form correct ideas on this important subject, it will be proper to investigate the sense in which the preservation of liberty requires that the three great departments of power should be separate and distinct.
….
The constitution of Massachusetts has observed a sufficient though less pointed caution, in expressing this fundamental article of liberty. It declares “that the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them. ” This declaration corresponds precisely with the doctrine of Montesquieu, as it has been explained, and is not in a single point violated by the plan of the convention. It goes no farther than to prohibit any one of the entire departments from exercising the powers of another department (Publius, Federalist 47).

What is the import of the Congressional “Power of the Purse”? As James Madison said in Continue reading

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