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Stephen Miller’s and Trump’s Gross Re-Politicization of DOJ

There was some legitimate concern about inappropriate machination of the Department of Justice when Trump named and confirmed Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General. Typical discussion followed this by Isaac Arnsdorf at Politico:

Donald Trump suggested on the campaign trail that he could use the Justice Department to fulfill his political agenda, taunting Hillary Clinton by threatening to throw her in jail over her email scandal.

Now, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, will have to decide whether to follow his predecessors by vowing to not let politics drive the DOJ’s decision-making.

That was one, and a serious, level of concern. Today we find said concern not close to being deep enough as to how the Trump White House would try to run Justice as merely a lever of their extreme politics.

But, via the New York Daily News, comes a little noticed, and truly frightening report of just how renegade and ridiculous the “fine tuned machine” the Trump White House is determined to be in politicizing the DOJ. In an article captioned “Stephen Miller called Brooklyn U.S. Attorney at home and told him how to defend travel ban in court”, comes the stunning news that:

In the chaotic hours after President Trump signed on a Friday afternoon the sloppily written executive order meant to fulfill his Muslim ban campaign promise, Stephen Miller called the home of Robert Capers to dictate to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District how he should defend that order at a Saturday emergency federal court hearing.

That’s according to a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the call, which happened as Department of Justice attorneys cancelled plans, found babysitters and rushed back to their Brooklyn office to try and find out what exactly it was they were defending and who was being affected by it — how many people were already being held in America, how many were being barred from arriving here and the exact status of each person.

The full article at the NYDN is mandatory reading, but let that sink in for a second. 31 year old Stephen Miller, a wet behind the ears extreme right wing ideologue with white nationalist leanings and NO, repeat NO legal training, much less law degree, called up a United States Attorney – at home! – to “dictate” how the DOJ would operate in an emergency litigation situation in an United States District Court.

Stunning is too weak of a response. Shocking is insufficient. It is actually hard to know what the proper words for this are.

I asked Matthew A. Miller, former OPA head under the Obama DOJ for a thought on the implications of Stephen Miller’s hubris in this instance. His reply was:

The last time a White House started dictating demands to U.S. attorneys, the sitting Attorney General had to resign in disgrace. This raises yet another in a series of questions about whether the Sessions Justice Department will be independent from the Trump White House.

Exactly. I would have said “unprecedented” above along with “stunning” and “shocking”, but for what occurred during a period of the Bush/Cheney regime when the interaction and control of the DOJ from the White House was extreme. And, ultimately, blown up as beyond unacceptable and appropriate by more reasoned minds and authorities. And, I might add, substantially due to the Fourth Estate of the press, that Trump blithely and ignorantly describes as “enemies of the American people”.

Yes, it is really that important of a moment now with Stephen Miller (note: NO relation to Matthew A. Miller) and the extreme hubris and lack of institutional awareness, competence or control, and obvious disdain for any, by the Trump Administration.

Back in 2007 Senator Sheldon Whitehouse created, and displayed at a Senate hearing, a stunning graphic displaying the shocking difference between communication between the Clinton White House and DOJ, and the ridiculous political input that the Bush Cheney White House had to DOJ.

With the grossly inappropriate statements of President Donald Trump as to how “he” will direct prosecutions of political enemies and other criminal and military defendants, leakers and others, to the literally insane conduct of Stephen Miller here, it is time to remember Senator Whitehouse’s chart.

It is also time to wonder if Sheldon Whitehouse and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have the cojones to take the fight for the Constitution and integrity of the justice system once again to a renegade White House. And the Trump White House has quickly made the Bush/Cheney White house look better in the rear view mirror, as truly craven as they were.

And, yes, the situation is exactly that dire if you recall the same Stephen Miller, being sent out and directed to all the Sunday political shows to declare and mandate that:

“…our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

This is straight up an Article II Branch declaration of pure tyranny by Stephen Miller and Trump. This is a serious problem, and this is an Administration making good on its promise and determination in that regard.

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.

Loretta Lynch Is A Dubious Nominee For Attorney General

CryingJusticeLoretta Lynch is an excellent nominee for Attorney General, and her prior actions in whitewashing the blatant and rampant criminality of HSBC should not be held against her, because she didn’t know that at the time she last whitewashed that criminal enterprise, right?

No. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a cop out by Lynch’s advocates. Lynch either knew, or damn well should have known. She signed off on the HSBC Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), if she was less than fully informed, that is on her. That is what signing legal documents stands for….responsibility. Banks like HSBC, Credit Suisse, ING etc were, and still are, a cesspool of criminal activity and avoidance schemes. Willful blindness to the same old bankster crimes by Lynch doesn’t cut it (great piece by David Dayen by the way).

But, all the above ignores the Swiss Alps sized mountains of evidence that we know Lynch was aware of and blithely swept under the rug by her HSBC DPA. So, we are basically left to decide whether Lynch is a bankster loving toady that is her own woman and cravenly whitewashed this all on her own, or whether she is a clueless stooge taking orders to whitewash it by DOJ Main. Both views are terminally unattractive and emblematic of the oblivious, turn the other cheek to protect the monied class, rot that infects the Department of Justice on the crimes of the century to date.

And that is only scratching the real surface of my objections to Lynch. There are many other areas where Lynch has proven herself to be a dedicated, dyed in the wool “law and order adherent” and, as Marcy Wheeler artfully coined, “executive maximalist”. Lynch’s ridiculous contortion, and expansion, of extraterritorial jurisdiction to suit the convenient whims of the Obama Administration’s unparalleled assault on the Rule of Law in the war on terror is incredibly troubling. Though, to be fair, EDNY is the landing point of JFK International and a frequent jurisdiction by designation. Some of these same questions could have been asked of Preet Bharara (see, e.g. U.S. v. Warsame) Loretta Lynch has every bit the same, if not indeed more, skin in the game as Bharara, whether by choice or chance.

Lynch has never uttered a word in dissent from this ridiculous expansion of extraterritorial jurisdiction. Lynch’s record in this regard is crystal clear from cases like US v. Ahmed, Yousef, et. al. where even Lynch and her office acknowledged that their targets could not have “posed a specific threat to the United States” much less have committed specific acts against the US.

This unconscionable expansion is clearly all good by Lynch, and the ends justify the means because there might be “scary terrists” out there. That is just dandy by American “executive maximalists”, but it is toxic to the Rule of Law, both domestically and internationally (See, supra). If the US, and its putative Attorney General, are to set precedents in jurisdictional reach on common alleged terroristic support, then they ought live by them on seminal concerns like torture and war crimes under international legal norms. Loretta Lynch has demonstrated a proclivity for the convenience of the former and a toady like disdain for the latter.

And the same willingness to go along to get along with contortion of the Rule of Law in that regard seems beyond certain to extend to her treatment of surveillance issues and warrant applications, state secrets, over-classification, attack on the press and, critically, separation of powers issues. Those types of concerns, along with how the Civil Rights Division is utilized to rein in out of control militarized cops and voting rights issues, how the OLC stands up to Executive overreach, whether OPR is allowed to continue to shield disgraceful and unethical AUSAs, and whether she has the balls to stand up to the infamously insulated inner Obama circle in the White House. Do you really think Loretta Lynch would have backed up Carolyn Krass and OLC in telling Obama no on the Libyan War Powers Resolution issue?

For my part, I don’t think there is a chance in hell Lynch would have stood up to Obama on a war powers, nor any other critical issue, and that is a huge problem. Krass and Holder may have lost the Libyan WPR battle, but at least they had the guts to stand up and say no, and leave a record of the same for posterity.

That is what really counts, not the tripe being discussed in the press, and the typically preening clown show “hearing” in front of SJC. That is where the rubber meets the road for an AG nominee, not that she simply put away some mobsters and did not disgrace herself – well, beyond the above, anyway (which she absolutely did) – during her time as US Attorney in EDNY. If you are a participant in, or interested observer of, the criminal justice system as I am, we should aspire to something better than Eric Holder. Holder may not have been everything hoped for from an Obama AG when the Administration took office in January of 2009, but he was a breath of fresh air coming off the AG line of the Bush/Cheney regime. Loretta Lynch is not better, and is not forward progress from Holder, indeed she is several steps down in the wrong direction. That is not the way to go.

The fact that Loretta Lynch is celebrated as a great nominee by not just Democrats in general, but the so called progressives in specific, is embarrassing. She is absolutely horrible. If Bush had put her up for nomination, people of the progressive ilk, far and wide, would be screaming bloody murder. Well, she is the same person, and she is a terrible nominee. And that does not bode well for the Rule of Law over the remainder of the Obama Administration.

And this post has not even touched on more mundane, day to day, criminal law and procedure issues on which Lynch is terrible. And horrible regression from Eric Holder. Say for instance pot. Decriminalization, indeed legalization, of marijuana is one of the backbone elements of reducing both the jail and prison incarceration rate, especially in relation to minorities. Loretta Lynch is unconscionably against that (See, e.g., p. 49 (of pdf) et. seq.). Lynch appears no more enlightened on other sentencing and prison reform, indeed, she seems to be of a standard hard core prosecutorial wind up law and order lock em up mentality. Lynch’s positions on relentless Brady violations by the DOJ were equally milquetoast, if not pathetic (See, e.g. p. 203 (of pdf) et. seq.). This discussion could go on and on, but Loretta Lynch will never come out to be a better nominee for Attorney General.

Observers ought stop and think about the legal quality, or lack thereof, of the nominee they are blindly endorsing. If you want more enlightened criminal justice policy, to really combat the prison state and war on drugs, and to rein in the out of control security state and war on terror apparatus, Loretta Lynch is a patently terrible choice; we can, and should, do better.

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.

Mark Udall’s Unsatisfactory Solution to the Detainee Provisions

As I have repeatedly described, I have very mixed feelings about the debate over Detainee Provisions set to pass the Senate tonight or tomorrow. I view it as a fight between advocates of martial law and advocates of relatively unchecked Presidential power. And as I’ve pointed out, the SASC compromise language actually limits Presidential power as it has been interpreted in a series of secret OLC opinions.

Which is why I’m no happier with Mark Udall’s amendment than I am with any of the other options here.

On its face, Udall’s amendment looks like a reset: A request that the Executive Branch describe precisely how it sees the military should be used in detention.

SEC. 1031. REVIEW OF AUTHORITY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES TO DETAIN COVERED PERSONS PURSUANT TO THE AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF MILITARY FORCE.

(a) In General.–Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with appropriate officials in the Executive Office of the President, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Attorney General, submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report setting forth the following:

(1) A statement of the position of the Executive Branch on the appropriate role for the Armed Forces of the United States in the detention and prosecution of covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)).

(2) A statement and assessment of the legal authority asserted by the Executive Branch for such detention and prosecution.

(3) A statement of any existing deficiencies or anticipated deficiencies in the legal authority for such detention and prosecution.

On one hand, this seems like a fair compromise. The Republicans want something in writing, Carl Levin claims SASC met just about every demand the Administration made in its attempt to codify the authority, but in response the President still issued a veto threat. So why not ask the President to provide language codifying the authority himself?

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.

The Detainee Debate Heats Up: The Rule of Martial Law Vs. the Unitary Spookery

As I noted yesterday, Obama issued a veto threat for the detainee provisions included in the Defense Authorization. Since then, both Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin have given speeches on the floor, arguing against (DiFi) and for (Levin) the provisions.

And while I’d be happy to see the provisions in question fail (because the provisions represent a further militarization of our country), effectively the argument being made is between those (the Republicans, enabled by Levin) who support further militarization of law and those (DiFi and, especially, the Administration) who want the Executive Branch to continue fighting terrorism (and whatever else) with an intelligence-driven approach bound by few legal checks.

DOJ’s Special Forms of Extended Interrogation and Coercion

In a sense, DiFi’s speech on Thursday looked like an appeal to rule of law. For example, she warns of the danger of “further militariz[ing] our counterterrorism efforts.” But what she really focused on in her speech–implicitly–are the tools the government has wrung out of the civilian legal system to make it easier to get intelligence (whoever picked a Senate Judiciary Committee member to be head of the Senate Intelligence Committee made this blurring of law and intelligence easier).

DiFi alludes to tools DOJ has that DOD does not. She mentions both Najibullah Zazi and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as people whose prosecution within the civilian justice system aided prosecution.

Suppose a terrorist such as Zazi were forced into mandatory military custody. Then the government could also have been forced to split up codefendants, even in cases where they otherwise could be prosecuted as part of the same conspiracy in the same legal system.

[snip]

It was FBI agents who traveled to Abdulmutallab’s home in Nigeria and persuaded family members to come to Detroit to assist them in getting him to talk. The situation would have been very different under Section 1032. Under the pending legislation, it would have been military personnel who were attempting to enlist prominent Nigerians to assist in their interrogation, and Abdulmutallab would have been classified as an enemy combatant and held in a military facility and, therefore, his family would not be inclined to cooperate. This is we have been told on the Intelligence Committee.

She appears to be invoking the way we’re getting people to talk: by threatening and persuading their families. In the case of Zazi, we got him to cooperate by charging his father. In the case of Abdulmutallab, we presumably made some guarantees about treatment if his family would persuade him to cooperate (maybe that’s why he stayed in a minimum security prison through the pre-trial period; I also wonder whether we threatened his prominent banker father).

Most charitably, this is akin to the problem Ali Soufan experienced with Salim Hamdan; Soufan was about to persuade Hamdan to cooperate in exchange for a shorter sentence when DOD dumped Hamdan in Gitmo where there was no option to trade cooperation for better treatment. As the case of Omar Khadr (who was not permitted to spend time with other detainees after he plead guilty) makes clear, in military custody, we lose control of the conditions of someone’s confinement as soon as they plead guilty, and so can’t use that as a tool to get people to cooperate.

But there’s something else DiFi is not saying, though is out there. With our creative interpretation of Miranda of late, we have interrogated Faisal Shahzad for two weeks without a lawyer; Manssor Arbabsiar for 12 days; and Ahmed Warsame for a month. We got Arbabsiar (and, I would bet, Warsame) to cooperate to ensnare others during the period of pre-arraignment arrest. Thus, for better or worse, civilian detention has actually been offering the government more ways to deploy detainees in intelligence operations than military detention.

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.