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On The Passing of David Margolis, the DOJ Institution

david-margolis-250David Margolis was a living legend and giant at the Department of Justice. Now he has passed. Just posted is the following from DOJ:

Statements From Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates on the Passing of Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates released the following statements today on the passing of Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, senior-most career employee at the Department of Justice.

Statement by Attorney General Lynch:

“David Margolis was a dedicated law enforcement officer and a consummate public servant who served the Department of Justice – and the American people – with unmatched devotion, remarkable skill and evident pride for more than half a century. From his earliest days as a hard-charging young prosecutor with a singular sense of style to his long tenure as one of the department’s senior leaders, David took on our nation’s most pressing issues and navigated our government’s most complex challenges. To generations of Justice Department employees, he was a respected colleague, a trusted advisor and most importantly, a beloved friend. We are heartbroken at his loss and he will be deeply missed. My thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, his friends and all who loved him.”

Statement by Deputy Attorney General Yates:

“David Margolis was the personification of all that is good about the Department of Justice. His dedication to our mission knew no bounds, and his judgment, wisdom and tenacity made him the “go-to” guy for department leaders for over 50 years. David was a good and loyal friend to all of us, and his loss leaves a gaping hole in the department and in our hearts.”

I am sure Mr. Margolis was a kind, personable and decent chap to those who knew and worked with him. I can be sure because there have been many voices I know who have related exactly that. He was undoubtedly a good family man and pillar of his community. None of that is hard to believe, indeed, it is easy to believe.

Sally Yates is spot on when she says Margolis’ “dedication to our [DOJ] mission knew no bounds”. That is not necessarily in a good way though, and Margolis was far from the the “personification of all that is good about the Department of Justice”. Mr. Margolis may have been such internally at the Department, but it is far less than clear he is really all that to the public and citizenry the Department is designed to serve. Indeed there is a pretty long record Mr. Margolis consistently not only frustrated accountability for DOJ malfeasance, but was the hand which guided and ingrained the craven protection of any and all DOJ attorneys for accountability, no matter how deeply they defiled the arc of justice.

This is no small matter. When DOJ Inspectors General go to Congress to decry the fact that there is an internal protection racket within the Department of Justice shielding even the worst wrongs by Department attorneys, as IG Glen Fine did:

Second, the current limitation on the DOJ OIG’s jurisdiction prevents the OIG – which by statute operates independent of the agency – from investigating an entire class of misconduct allegations involving DOJ attorneys’ actions, and instead assigns this responsibility to OPR, which is not statutorily independent and reports directly to the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. In effect, the limitation on the OIG’s jurisdiction creates a conflict of interest and contravenes the rationale for establishing independent Inspectors General throughout the government. It also permits an Attorney General to assign an investigation raising questions about his conduct or the conduct of his senior staff to OPR, an entity reporting to and supervised by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General and lacking the insulation and independence guaranteed by the IG Act.

This concern is not merely hypothetical. Recently, the Attorney General directed OPR to investigate aspects of the removal of U.S. Attorneys. In essence, the Attorney General assigned OPR – an entity that does not have statutory independence and reports directly to the Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General – to investigate a matter involving the Attorney General’s and the Deputy Attorney General’s conduct. The IG Act created OIGs to avoid this type of conflict of interest. It created statutorily independent offices to investigate allegations of misconduct throughout the entire agency, including actions of agency leaders. All other federal agencies operate this way, and the DOJ should also.

Third, while the OIG operates transparently, OPR does not. The OIG publicly releases its reports on matters of public interest, with the facts and analysis underlying our conclusions available for review. In contrast, OPR operates in secret. Its reports, even when they examine matters of significant public interest, are not publicly released.

Said fact and heinous lack of accountability for Justice Department attorneys, not just in Washington, but across the country and territories, is largely because of, and jealously ingrained by, David Margolis. What Glen Fine was testifying about is the fact there is no independent regulation and accountability for DOJ attorneys.

They are generally excluded from the Department IG purview of authority, and it is rare, if ever, courts or state bar authorities will formally review DOJ attorneys without going throughout the filter of the OPR – the Office of Professional Responsibility – within the Department. A protection racket designed and jealously guarded for decades by David Margolis. Even when cases were found egregious enough to be referred out of OPR, they went to…..David Margolis.

In fact, attuned people literally called the OPR the “Roach Motel”:

“I used to call it the Roach Motel of the Justice Department,” says Fordham University law professor Bruce A. Green, a former federal prosecutor and ethics committee co-chair for the ABA Criminal Justice Section. “Cases check in, but they don’t check out.”

If you want a solid history of OPR, and the malfeasance it and Margolis have cravenly protected going back well over a decade, please go read “The Roach Motel”, a 2009 article in no less an authority than the American Bar Association Journal. It is a stunning and damning report. It is hard to describe just how much this one man, David Margolis, has frustrated public transparency and accountability into the Justice Department that supposedly works for the citizens of the United States. It is astounding really.

As I wrote back in 2010:

But just as there is an inherent conflict in the DOJ’s use of the fiction of the OPR to police itself, so too does David Margolis have issues giving the distinct appearance of impropriety. Who and what is David Margolis? A definitive look at the man was made by the National Law Journal (subscription required):

“Taking him on is a losing battle,” says the source. “The guy is Yoda. Nobody fucks with the guy.”
….
Margolis cut his teeth as an organized-crime prosecutor, and he often uses mob analogies in talking about his career at the Justice Department. When asked by an incoming attorney general what his job duties entailed, Margolis responded: “I’m the department’s cleaner. I clean up messes.”

The analogy calls to mind the character of Winston Wolfe, played by Harvey Keitel in the 1994 film “Pulp Fiction.” In the movie, Wolfe is called in by mob honchos to dispose of the evidence after two foot soldiers accidentally kill a murder witness in the back of their car.

“The Cleaner” Mr. Margolis considered himself, while fastidiously sanitizing gross malfeasance and misconduct by DOJ attorneys, all the while denying the American public the disinfectant of sunshine and transparency they deserve from their public servants (good discussion by Marcy, also from 2010).

Perhaps no single incident epitomized Margolis’ determination to be the “cleaner” for the Department of Justice and keep their dirt from public scrutiny and accountability than the case of John Yoo (and to similar extent, now lifetime federal judge Jay Bybee). Yoo as you may recall was the enlightened American who formally opinedcrushing innocent children’s testicles would be acceptable conduct for the United States to engage in. Yoo and Bybee, by their gross adoption of torture, literally personally soiled the reputation of the United States as detrimentally as any men in history.

So, what did David Margolis do in response to the heinous legal banality of evil John Yoo and Jay Bybee engendered in our name? Margolis cleaned it up. He sanitized it. Rationalized it. Ratified it. Hid it. To such an extent architects of such heinous war crimes are now lifetime appointed federal judges and tenured professors. Because that is what “The Cleaner” David Margolis did. “Protecting” the DOJ from accountability, at all costs, even from crimes against humanity, was simply the life goal of David Margolis, and he was depressingly successful at it.

So, less than 24 hours in to the passing of The Cleaner, is it too early to engage in this criticism? Clearly other career officials at the DOJ think discussing the pernicious effects of Margolis on accountability and transparency are out of bounds.

I wonder what the late Senator Ted Stevens would say in response to the “too soon” mandate of Steven Bressler? Because thanks to the efforts of The Cleaner Margolis, Stevens died without the public knowing what an unethical and craven, if not downright criminal, witch hunt attorneys in the Department of Justice ran on him. Even after Stevens was long gone from office and dead, there was Margolis “cleaning” it all up to protect his precious Justice Department when even the internal OPR found gross misconduct:

Following the Justice Department’s agreement in 2009 to vacate the convictions it obtained of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, it conducted an internal probe into the conduct of its senior lawyers and—surprise!—exonerated them and itself. It then refused to make the report public. However, at the time the conviction was voided, the presiding judge in Stevens’s case, Emmet Sullivan, appropriately wary of the department’s ethics office, appointed a special prosecutor, Henry F. Schuelke, III, an eminent Washington attorney and former prosecutor, to probe the DOJ’s conduct. Late last week, Schuelke’s 525-page report was released, over the loud objections of DOJ lawyers. The report revealed gross misconduct by the prosecutorial team, stretching over the entire course of the case and reaching into the upper echelons of the department. It concluded there had been “systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated [Stevens’s] defense.”

Having laid out the above bill of particulars as to David Margolis, I’d like to return to where we started. As I said in the intro, “I am sure Mr. Margolis was a kind, personable and decent chap”. That was not cheap rhetoric, from all I can discern, both from reading accounts and talking to people who knew Mr. Margolis well, he was exactly that. Ellen Nakashima did a fantastic review of Margolis in the Washington Post last year. And, let’s be honest, the man she described is a guy you would love to know, work with and be around. I know I would. David Margolis was a man dedicated. And an incredibly significant man, even if few in the public understood it.

Say what you will, but Mr. Margolis was truly a giant. While I have no issue delineating what appear to be quite pernicious effects of David Margolis’ gargantuan footprint on the lack of accountability of the Department of Justice to the American citizenry, I have some real abiding respect for what, and who, he was as a man. Seriously, read the Nakashima article and tell me David Margolis is not a man you would love to kill some serious beers with by a peaceful lake somewhere.

But David Margolis, both the good and the bad, is gone now. Where will his legacy live? One of our very longtime friends here at Emptywheel, Avattoir, eruditely said just yesterday:

Focus instead on the institution, not the players. The players are just data points, hopefully leading to greater understanding of the institutional realities.

Those words were literally the first I thought of yesterday when I received the phone call David Margolis had passed. They are true and important words that I, and all, need to take heed of more frequently.

David Margolis, it turns out from all appearances and reports, was a complex man. Clearly great, and clearly detrimental, edges to him. So what will his legacy be at the Department of Justice? Will the closing of the Margolis era, and it was truly that, finally bring the institution of the Department into a modern and appropriate light of transparency, accountability and sunshine?

Or will the dirty deeds of David Margolis’ historical ratification and concealment of pervasive and gross misconduct by Department of Justice attorneys become permanently enshrined as a living legacy to the man?

We shall see.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Judge Lamberth Takes DOJ to Woodshed; DOJ Moves Peas Under Different Pods

CryingJusticeThere was an interesting, albeit little noticed, order issued about ten days ago in the somewhat below the radar case of Royer v. Federal Bureau of Prisons. Royer is a federal inmate who has served about half of his 20 year sentence who in 2010 started bringing a mandamus action complaining that he was improperly classified as a “terrorist inmate” causing him to be wrongfully placed in Communication Management Unit (CMU) detention. The case has meandered along ever since.

Frankly, beyond that, the root case facts are not important to the January 15, 2014 Memorandum and Order issued by Judge Royce Lamberth in the case. Instead, Lamberth focused, like a white hot laser, on misconduct, obstreperousness and sheer incompetence on the part of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) who represents the Defendant BOP in the case.

Here are some samples straight off of Royce Lamberth’s pen:

Plaintiff’s discovery requests were served on June 19, 2013. Defendant failed to respond on July 19, 2013, as required, nor did defendant file a motion for extension of time. Defendant’s first error, therefore, was egregious—arrogating to itself when it would respond to outstanding discovery.

and

Defendant’s fourth error was on August 5, 2013, when it filed its responses to interrogatories and produced a few additional documents. The answers to interrogatories contained no signature under oath, with untimely objections signed by counsel. Even novices to litigation know that answers to interrogatories must be signed under oath. Any attorney who practices before this Court should know that this Court does not tolerate discovery responses being filed on a “rolling” basis

Lamberth then goes on to grant the inmate plaintiff pretty much all his discovery motion and hammers the DOJ by telling plaintiff to submit its request for sanctions in the form of award of Read more

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

DOJ Refuses to Explain How Executive Gets Away with Serial Lies to the FISA Court

USA Today’s Brad Heath asked DOJ a very good question: why haven’t the Executive Branch’s serial lies to the FISA Court ever been referred to Office of Professional Responsibility?

I’ve talked to a former OPR attorney who says the office
would ordinarily review a case in which a judge used that type of language, and that it should have
at least opened an inquiry into these.

Over the past several days, DOJ’s Brian Fallon has been stupendously prickish about Heath’s questions based on his assertion that Heath is biased in his belief that such gross misrepresentations would normally merit some kind of sanction.

I have an answer from OPR, and a FISC judge. I am not providing it to you because all you will do is seek to write around it because you are biased in favor of the idea that an inquiry should have been launched. So I will save what I have for another outlet after you publish.

[snip]

You are not actually open-minded to the idea of not writing the story. You are running it regardless. I have information that undercuts your premise, and would provide it if I thought you were able to be convinced that your story is off base. Instead, I think that to provide it to you would just allow you to cover your bases, and factor it into a story you still plan to write. So I prefer to hold onto the information and use it after the fact, with a different outlet that is more objective about whether an OPR inquiry was appropriate.

I’ve lost count of the number of times someone in the Executive Branch complains that no one comes to them to get their view on NSA-related questions.

But apparently this is what goes on. If you don’t come in with the Executive Branch’s bias, then they refuse to provide you any information.

I really look forward to seeing which journalist DOJ seems to believe will bring “balance” to this issue.

Update: Heath has published his story.

The Justice Department’s internal ethics watchdog says it never investigated repeated complaints by federal judges that the government had misled them about the NSA’s secret surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and Internet communications.

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility routinely probes judges’ allegations that the department’s lawyers may have violated ethics rules that prohibit attorneys from misleading courts. Still, OPR said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by USA TODAY that it had no record of ever having investigated — or even being made aware of — the scathing and, at the time, classified, critiques from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court between 2009 and 2011.

DOJ insists, however, that 5 years of lying to judges is just the way things are supposed to work.

Justice spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement Thursday that the department’s lawyers “did exactly what they should have done. The court’s opinions and facts demonstrate that the department attorneys’ representation before the court met the highest professional standards.”

Fallon continued spinning for other journalists.

Of course, if DOJ were going to investigate lawyers — as opposed to Keith Alexander or similar — for misconduct and lies, Lisa Monaco, who headed the National Security Division from 2010 until earlier this year. But she’s at the White House now, so off limits for any accountability.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Ted Stevens OPR Report: The Return of the DOJ Roach Motel

The long awaited, and much anticipated, DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) Report on the misconduct in the Ted Stevens Prosecution has just been delivered to Congress, and thereafter immediately released to the public by the Senate Judiciary Committee. I know this will shock one and all but, at least as to real results, it is fairly weak tea.

Legal Times reports:

A Justice Department internal investigation of the botched prosecution of Ted Stevens concluded two prosecutors committed reckless professional misconduct and should be sanctioned through forced time off without pay.

DOJ officials recommended Joseph Bottini be suspended without pay for 40 days and James Goeke be suspended for 15 days without pay. DOJ did not find that either prosecutor acted intentionally to violate ethics rules, a finding that is contrary to a parallel criminal investigation. Bottini and Goeke have the option to appeal the misconduct finding to the Merit System Protection Board.
….
Department officials said Bottini and Goeke failed to disclose information a chief government witness, Bill Allen, provided to investigators and prosecutors at a meeting in 2008, before Stevens was charged. Allen’s credibility was central to the prosecution case that Stevens concealed gifts and other items on U.S. Senate financial disclosure forms.

OPR did not make any professional misconduct findings against any of the other Stevens prosecutors, including William Welch II, Brenda Morris and Edward Sullivan. OPR, however, concluded that Morris, then a supervisor in the Public Integrity Section, exercised poor judgment by failing to supervise “certain aspects of the disclosure process.”

A special counsel who conducted a parallel probe of the Stevens team, after the case was dismissed in April 2009, did not recommend criminal charges against any of the Stevens prosecution team.

However, the lawyer, Henry “Hank” Schuelke III, concluded that Goeke and Bottini committed intentional misconduct in concealing exculpatory information. The two prosecutors dispute that finding.

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Cover letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee

Here are all the relevant documents (note: the pdf on the report itself is huge – 672 pages):

Office of Professional Responsibility Report

Bottini Decision

Bottini Disciplinary Proposal

Bottini Response

Goeke Decision

Goeke Disciplinary Proposal

Goeke Response

Goeke Response Appendix

A little more than two years ago I wrote about the inherent worthlessness of the OPR at DOJ:

Most governmental agencies have independent Inspectors General which operate independently of the agency leadership, have jurisdiction of the entire agency including legal counsel, and thus have credibility as somewhat neutral and detached evaluators and voices. Not so the DOJ, who has arrogated upon themselves the sole right to sit in judgment of themselves. This action to grab the exclusive authority for themselves and exclude the independent IG was first accomplished by Attorney General Order 1931-94 dated November 8, 1994 subsequently codified into the Code of Federal Regulations and reinforced through section 308 of the 2002 Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Just in time for the war on terror legal shenanigans!

Go back and read that post again, I am too tired to write it again and nothing has changed. What a load of bunk the Stevens OPR Report is. Some harsh words for sure, but, as to actual accountability – a rap on the knuckles with a foam ruler.

Ted Stevens lost his Senate seat these twits get an unpaid vacation.

The OPR is STILL The Roach Motel.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

The Full Text of the Schuelke Report on DOJ Misconduct

Earlier this morning, we posted A Primer On Why Schuelke Report Of DOJ Misconduct Is Important that laid out all the legal and procedural background underlying the Schuelke Report into prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens criminal case.

The full 500 page report has now been released, and is titled:

Report to Hon. Emmet G. Sullivan of Investigation Conducted Pursuant to the Court’s Order, dated April 7, 2009

I wanted to get the post framework and document link up so everybody could read along and digest the report together. Consider this a working thread to put thoughts, key quotes – whatever – into as we chew on the report. Then after having been through it, Marcy and I will; later do smaller stories on specific angles raised.

We know the irreducible minimum found:

The investigation and prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness

You would think the involved attorneys would be ducking and apologizing for their ethical lapses that terminated the career of the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee on the US Senate. You would, of course, be wrong.

The mouthpiece for Brenda Morris, Chuck Rosenburg, is already clucking:

Brenda is a woman of tremendous integrity and an exceptionally talented prosecutor—she was fully honest with the investigators and always hoped that one day this report would be made public so that the facts of her individual role would be known.

Um, no, Ms. Morris does not smell like a rose here Chuck. Edward Sullivan, one of the AUSAs had this statement by his lawyer already this morning:

Mr. Sullivan is a diligent attorney, with strong character and integrity, whose conduct comports with the Department’s highest ethical standards. Mr. Sullivan was rightfully exonerated by Mr. Schuelke and the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and his vindication is evidenced by the fact that he continues to prosecute cases in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section

Well, yeah, sure, you betcha Ed Sullivan. I guess that is why as late as yesterday you were personally in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals trying to have the whole matter both stayed and sealed and were arguing you would be harmed if it wasn’t. Today, Edward Sullivan is suddenly a spring flower of purity.

So, yes, all these spring flowers in bloom must be operating off some pretty fertilizer, and the manure is indeed rather deep. So, let us dive in and see what we find. Put your thought, comments and opinions in comment as we work. See you there!

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

A Primer On Why Schuelke Report Of DOJ Misconduct Is Important

Yesterday morning, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals entered its per curiam order denying a DOJ prosecutor’s motion for stay of the release of the Schuelke Report on prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens criminal case. As a result, barring unforeseen Supreme Court intervention, later this morning the full 500 page plus Schuelke Report will be released by Judge Emmet Sullivan of the DC District Court. What follows is a recap of the events leading up to this momentous occasion, as well as an explanation of why it is so important.

The existence of rampant prosecutorial misconduct in the Department of Justice case against Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was crystal clear before the jury convicted him in late October 2008 on seven counts of false statements in relation to an ethics investigation of gifts he received while in office. The trial judge, Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia District Court, could well have dismissed the case before it ever went to the jury for verdict but, as federal courts of all varieties are wont to do, he gave the DOJ the benefit of the doubt. It, as is all too often the case these days, proved to be a bridge too far for the ethically challenged DOJ.

Within a week of the ill be gotten verdict obtained by the DOJ in the criminal case, Ted Stevens had lost his reelection bid, after serving in the Senate for 40 years (the longest term in history). Before Stevens was sentenced, an FBI agent by the name of Chad Joy filed a whistleblower affidavit alleging even deeper and additional prosecutorial misconduct, and, based on the totality of the misconduct, Judge Emmet Sullivan, on April 7, 2009, upon request by newly sworn in Attorney General Eric Holder, dismissed with prejudice all charges and convictions against Ted Stevens.

But Emmet Sullivan did not stop with mere dismissal, he set out to leave a mark for the outrageous unethical conduct that had stained his courtroom and the prosecution of a sitting United States Senator:

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, speaking in a slow and deliberate manner that failed to conceal his anger, said that in 25 years on the bench, he had “never seen mishandling and misconduct like what I have seen” by the Justice Department prosecutors who tried the Stevens case.

Judge Sullivan’s lacerating 14-minute speech, focusing on disclosures that prosecutors had improperly withheld evidence in the case, virtually guaranteed reverberations beyond the morning’s dismissal of the verdict that helped end Mr. Stevens’s Senate career.

The judge, who was named to the Federal District Court here by President Bill Clinton, delivered a broad warning about what he said was a “troubling tendency” he had observed among prosecutors to stretch the boundaries of ethics restrictions and conceal evidence to win cases. He named Henry F. Schuelke 3rd, a prominent Washington lawyer, to investigate six career Justice Department prosecutors, including the chief and deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section, an elite unit charged with dealing with official corruption, to see if they should face criminal charges.

On August 9, 2010, Ted Stevens died in a small plane crash in Alaska, never having seen the results of Henry Schuelke’s special prosecutor investigation into the misconduct during the Stevens criminal case. And lo, all these years later, we finally sit on the cusp of seeing the full Schuelke report in all its gory glory.

On November 21, 2011, Judge Sullivan issued a scathing order in relation to his receipt of Henry Schuelke’s full report, and how it would be reviewed and scheduled for release to the public. Actually, scathing is a bit of an understatement. The order makes clear not only is Schuelke’s report far beyond damning, but Judge Sullivan’s level of anger at the misconduct of the DOJ has Read more

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

The Inherent Conflict Of Interest With DOJ's OPR And David Margolis

Who watches the watchers? Always a valid question; today I want to look at the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility and its conduct in the investigation of United States governmental attorneys, specifically within the Office of Legal Counsel, involved in the Bush/Cheney torture program. Aside from the facts and conclusions (discussion underway here, here and here), the report is notable for the process producing it, namely the DOJ investigating itself and, not so shockingly, exculpating itself. This will be the first in a series of more specific posts on this blog discussing the multiple, and severe, conflict of interest issues inherent in the OPR Report.

The first, and most obvious, issue of conflict with OPR is that it places evaluation and resolution of ethical complaints against DOJ attorneys in the hands of the DOJ. The power to determine whether there is any impropriety is solely within the hands of those supervising and/or ultimately responsible for the impropriety. Pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 0.39a, OPR reports directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. A vested interest if there ever was one.

Most governmental agencies have independent Inspectors General which operate independently of the agency leadership, have jurisdiction of the entire agency including legal counsel, and thus have credibility as somewhat neutral and detached evaluators and voices. Not so the DOJ, who has arrogated upon themselves the sole right to sit in judgment of themselves. This action to grab the exclusive authority for themselves and exclude the independent IG was first accomplished by Attorney General Order 1931-94 dated November 8, 1994 subsequently codified into the Code of Federal Regulations and reinforced through section 308 of the 2002 Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Just in time for the war on terror legal shenanigans!

Glenn Fine, the DOJ IG has given Congressional testimony to the US Senate regarding the inherent conflict:

Second, the current limitation on the DOJ OIG’s jurisdiction prevents the OIG – which by statute operates independent of the agency – from investigating an entire class of misconduct allegations involving DOJ attorneys’ actions, and instead assigns this responsibility to OPR, which is not statutorily independent and reports directly to the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. In effect, the limitation on the OIG’s jurisdiction creates a conflict of interest and contravenes the rationale for establishing independent Inspectors General throughout the government. It also permits an Attorney General to assign an investigation that raises questions about his conduct or the conduct of his senior staff to OPR, an entity that reports to and is supervised by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General and that lacks the insulation and independence guaranteed by the IG Act.

This concern is not merely hypothetical. Recently, the Attorney General directed Read more

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

OPR Report Altered To Cover Bush DOJ Malfeasance

dbamericasafeMike Isikoff and Dan Klaidman put up a post about an hour ago letting the first blood for the Obama Administration’s intentional tanking of the OPR (Office of Professional Responsibility) Report. In light of Obama’s focused determination to sweep the acts of the Bush Administration, no matter how malevolent, under the rug and “move forward” the report is not unexpected. However, digesting the first leak in what would appear to be a staged rollout is painful:

…an upcoming Justice Department report from its ethics-watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), clears the Bush administration lawyers who authored the “torture” memos of professional-misconduct allegations.

While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources. (Under department rules, poor judgment does not constitute professional misconduct.) The shift is significant: the original finding would have triggered a referral to state bar associations for potential disciplinary action—which, in Bybee’s case, could have led to an impeachment inquiry.

The news broken in the Newsweek Declassified post is huge, assuming it is accurate, and the sense is that it is. In spite of the weight of the report, the report tucks the substantive content behind the deceptively benign title “Holder Under Fire”. The subject matter is far too significant though for it to have been casually thrown out. Consider this description of the OPR finding on the nature and quality of the critical August 1, 2002 Torture Memo:

The report, which is still going through declassification, will provide many new details about how waterboarding was adopted and the role that top White House officials played in the process, say two sources who have read the report but asked for anonymity to describe a sensitive document. Two of the most controversial sections of the 2002 memo—including one contending that the president, as commander in chief, can override a federal law banning torture—were not in the original draft of the memo, say the sources. But when Michael Chertoff, then-chief of Justice’s criminal division, refused the CIA’s request for a blanket pledge not to prosecute its officers for torture, Yoo met at the White House with David Addington, Dick Cheney’s chief counsel, and then–White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. After that, Yoo inserted a section about the commander in chief’s wartime powers and another saying that agency officers accused of torturing Qaeda suspects could claim they were acting in “self-defense” to prevent future terror attacks, the sources say. Both legal claims have long since been rejected by Justice officials as overly broad and unsupported by legal precedent.

Hard to figure how this finding and conclusion could be determined by David Margolis to warrant the “softening” of the original finding of direct misconduct. Margolis is nearly 70 years old and has a long career at DOJ and is fairly well though of. Margolis was tasked by Jim Comey to shepherd Pat Fitzgerald’s Libby investigation. In short, the man has some bona fides.

Margolis is, however, also tied to the DOJ and its culture for over forty years, not to mention his service in upper management as Associate Attorney General during the Bush Administration when the overt acts of torture and justification by Margolis’ contemporaries and friends were committed. For one such filter to redraw the findings and conclusions of such a critical investigation in order to exculpate his colleagues is unimaginable.

One thing is for sure, with a leak like this being floated out on a late Friday night, the release of the full OPR Report, at least that which the Obama Administration will deem fit for the common public to see, is at hand. Mike Isikoff and Dan Klaidman have made sure the torturers and their enablers can have a comfortable weekend though. So we got that going for us.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

OPR Endorses Pixie Dust

Back in January, Steven Aftergood sent a letter to the Office of Professional Responsibility outlining the absurdity of the Adminsitration’s claims that Cheney was exempt from normal rules on classified information.

The complaint makes a number of worthwhile points, including:

  • "Shall" means "have to"
  • Fielding’s letter didn’t resolve the conflict
  • Dana "Pig Missile" Perino’s public statements–which Fielding cited in his own letter–didn’t resolve the conflict
  • "Person" of the Vice President is not the same thing as "Office" of the Vice President

And, finally, this doozy: "not different" is not the same as "different":

What Mr. Fielding failed to recognize is that some members of the President’s office do report to the Information Security Oversight Office. These include the President’s National Security Advisor, the President’s Science Advisor, and others.

So if the Vice President is “not different” from the President, then at least some of the Vice President’s staff would be expected to report their classification and declassification activity to ISOO, as do some of the President’s staff.

The executive order provides no basis for concluding that the President’s National Security Advisor, for example, must report to ISOO every year, as he does, while the Vice President’s National Security Advisor should not. That makes no sense at all. Yet this incongruous result reflects the Justice Department’s failure to correctly analyze the requirements of the executive order, which is a professional lapse.

Alternatively, if the Vice President’s National Security Advisor (among others) does not have to report to ISOO, this would contradict the President’s expressed intent that the Vice President is “not different” than the President for purposes of the executive order. It would mean that the President intended the Vice President’s staff to receive less oversight from ISOO than does his own staff. Yet that is contrary to what the President’s spokeswoman indicated. [my emphasis]

I guess this is the nonsense you get when you send Dana "Pig Missile" Perino to address matters of ontology.

Aftergood asked OPR to investigate whether the OLC had acted improperly when it blew off Bill Leonard’s request for clarification on the issue.

On Valentine’s Day, OPR sent Aftergood a love letter in response, basically endorsing the Pixie Dust theory and telling Aftergood to embrace the Bush Administration in all its absurd glory.

In addition, this matter does not involve the allegation of affirmative malfeasance, but rather, the alleged improper failure to perform an act. It is important to note that the Executive Order, as amended, was issued pursuant to the current President’s executive authority and the President has the pwoer to modify or revoke such orders. Therefore, the President’s interpretation of the order is particularly significant.

Read more

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Coming after John Yoo

LS reminded me of an important point.

As soon as (or even before) Mukasey came in as AG, the OPR investigation into the legal opinions that justified the warrantless wiretapping was reopened. When it was reopened, Marty Lederman was skeptical that OPR would get very far:

According to a DOJ spokesperson, the OPR investigation will instead focus on two questions: whether DOJ attorneys "adher[ed] to their duty of candor to the court [presumably the FISA Court]"; and whether those attorneys "complied with their ethical obligations of providing competent legal advice to their client." (NOTE: "Officials said it was unlikely that either of the inquiries would address directly the question of the legality of the N.S.A. program itself : whether eavesdropping on American soil without court warrants violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.")

[snip]

Thus, since John Yoo apparently was doing exactly what his client asked him to do, it is difficult for me to see how he could be said to have provided "incompetent" legal advice or to have breached a duty to a client who understood, and approved, exactly what the lawyers were doing.

But after an interesting discussion, he makes one caveat:

P.S. I should add that OPR might uncover information that demonstrates distinct ethical or other legal lapses — such as a smoking gun showing that John Yoo and OLC did not really believe the advice they were giving; or evidence that OLC intentionally declined to seek the legal views of others within the Department because it knew that such views would undermine the office’s desired conclusions; or evidence that DOJ and others provided fraudulent misrepresentations to telecoomunications providers in order to induce their cooperation; or, of course, evidence that DOJ lawyers dissembled to the FISA Court. It would be entirely appropriate for OPR to investigate, report and condemn such conduct. I just don’t quite see the value in OPM evaluating the bona fides or "competence" of OLC’s legal advice.

What if, I wonder, OLC had entirely rewritten the Constitution? What if it was more than just saying (as Marty describes), "that the President has an article II authority to disregard FISA" and instead saying, "the President has an article II authority to interpret article II authority as he sees fit"? Or, as Sheldon Whitehouse described it: Read more

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.