Ted Stevens

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.

Sally Yates Doth Protest Too Much

Some months ago Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote an important piece talking about the many way criminal prosecutions are not fair. A lot of it focused on the imperfect process behind key ingredients of prosecutions — eye witness testimony, fingerprint analysis, plea deals. But he also reprised his argument that we’ve seen an epidemic of Brady violations in recent years.

The Supreme Court has told us in no uncertain terms that a prosecutor’s duty is to do justice, not merely to obtain a conviction.38 It has also laid down some specific rules about how prosecutors, and the people who work for them, must behave—principal among them that the prosecution turn over to the defense exculpatory evidence in the possession of the prosecution and the police.39 There is reason to doubt that prosecutors comply with these obligations fully. The U.S. Justice Department, for example, takes the position that exculpatory evidence must be produced only if it is material.40 This puts prosecutors in the position of deciding whether tidbits that could be helpful to the defense are significant enough that a reviewing court will find it to be material, which runs contrary to the philosophy of the Brady/Giglio line of cases and increases the risk that highly exculpatory evidence will be suppressed. Beyond that, we have what I have described elsewhere as an “epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land,”41 a phrase that has caused much controversy but brought about little change in the way prosecutors operate in the United States.

As Zoe Tillman writes, the DOJ is rolling out an effort to tell itself that the mean things said by a top Appellate judge aren’t true. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates is going to give a speech telling prosecutors not to listen to that mean bully.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates on Tuesday is expected to deliver a rallying speech to a meeting of prosecutors that is a further response—albeit indirect—to Kozinski’s article.

Yates will say that the “overwhelming majority” of prosecutors honor their legal and ethical obligations, including the requirement that they turn over potentially favorable information to defense lawyers, according to a copy of her prepared remarks.

Yates’ planned remarks criticize defense lawyers who make allegations of prosecutorial misconduct “a standard litigation strategy,” and others who “irresponsibly” make misconduct allegations.

“Prosecutors are in these jobs because we care about our solemn obligation to seek justice, and when someone unfairly impugns that commitment, it strikes at the core of who we are,” Yates, who will speak at the National Prosecution Summit in Washington, is expected to say.

And the Associate Deputy Attorney General Andrew Goldsmith and U.S. Attorney John Walsh of Colorado wrote this letter, attempting to rebut that mean bully.

On its face, the entire effort is farcical. In recent years, DOJ has rewarded lawyers who helped it get away with misconduct. It failed, for years to give proper notice of Section 702 surveillance to defendants, and still hasn’t corrected the record with the Supreme Court about its false claim that it had been doing so. And until this summer, David Margolis served as an unwavering shield against DOJ actually disciplining its own.

But the funniest part of DOJ’s pushback is this paragraph from Goldsmith and Walsh’s letter.

On several occasions, Judge Kozinski referenced the prosecution of former senator Ted Stevens. The Stevens case, as others have noted, involved significant discovery failures and deserves to be held up as an object lesson to prosecutors. But the Department’s efforts in the aftermath of that case also deserve discussion. One of Eric Holder’s first acts after his swearing in as Attorney General was to seek dismissal of the conviction. In the months that followed, the Department undertook a sweeping review of its discovery-related procedures and instituted a string of new policies. All federal prosecutors, regardless of experience level, are now required to attend annual discovery trainings, while new prosecutors must attend rigorous, multi-day “discovery boot camps.” The Department developed a series of new policies governing the collection and disclosure of electronically stored information. And the Department established an extensive infrastructure of experienced prosecutors to focus on discovery issues, including a full-time national criminal discovery coordinator (who reports directly to the Deputy Attorney General, second only to the Attorney General herself at the Department of Justice) and discovery coordinators at each of the 93 U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country.

That mean bully Alex Kozinski was wrong to bring up the time DOJ engaged in willful prosecutorial misconduct even of one of the most powerful men in the country, they say, because when caught doing so DOJ rolled out a system to try to prevent that from happening again.

Except that’s not all DOJ did. First, it went to great lengths to hide the independent review of its actions — a review which showed fairly rampant abuse. Then, when it conducted its own discipline of those who engaged in that abuse, it not only focused on the lower level prosecutors, but it also did nothing more than slap their wrists.

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.

Again, the Stevens case is a picture of what happens when prosecutorial misconduct is wielded against a very powerful white man — someone far more protected from abuse than the average federal defendant — and this is how things ended up, with a wrist-slap.

Maybe under her tenure, Yates plans to change this. Or maybe she just wants prosecutors not to worry too much about that bully in the Ninth.

But she needs to prove her intent through actions, not words, and thus far there’s little sign of those actions.

Update: Patrick Toomey also reminds me that DOJ the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has been trying to get DOJ to share its guidelines on Brady, but thus far they’ve refused to give it over. NACDL has now appealed that to the DC Circuit.

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.

Anonymous DOJ Statement: “Trust Us”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing today to review the results of the Schuelke report on the prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens case and to entertain the Lisa Murkowski bill requiring disclosure. In response, DOJ submitted a statement for the record, opposing any legislation enforcing its discovery obligations.

When concerns were first raised about the handling of the prosecution of Senator Stevens, the Department immediately conducted an internal review. The Attorney General recognized the importance of ensuring trust and confidence in the work of Department prosecutors and took the extraordinary step of moving to dismiss the case when errors were discovered. Moreover, toensure that the mistakes in the Stevens case would not be repeated, the Attorney General convened a working group to review discovery practices and charged the group with developing recommendations for improving such practices so that errors are minimized. As a result of the working group’s efforts, the Department has taken unprecedented steps, described more fully below, to ensure that prosecutors, agents, and paralegals have the necessary training and resources to fulfill their legal and ethical obligations with respect to discovery in criminal cases. These reforms include a sweeping training curriculum for all federal prosecutors and the requirement–for the first time in the history of the Department of Justice–that every federal prosecutor receive refresher discovery training each year.

In light of these internal reforms, the Department does not believe that legislation is needed to address the problems that came to light in the Stevens prosecution. Such a legislative proposal would upset the careful balance of interests at stake in criminal cases, cause significant harm to victims, witnesses, and law enforcement efforts, and generate substantial and unnecessary litigation that would divert scarce judicial and prosecutorial resources.

In short, DOJ is saying, “trust us. We don’t need a law requiring us to do what case law says we need to.”

Right off the bat, I can think of 5 major problem with this statement:

No one has been held accountable

We are three years past the time when Stevens’ case was thrown out. Yet none of the prosecutors involved have been disciplined in any meaningful way.

No doubt DOJ would say that it will hold prosecutors responsible if and when the Office of Professional Responsibility finds they committed misconduct. But in the interim three years, DOJ as a whole has sent clear messages that it prefers protecting its case to doing anything about misconduct. And–as Chuck Grassley rightly pointed out at the hearing–thus far no one has been held responsible.

This statement may claim DOJ is serious about prosecutorial misconduct. But its actions (and inaction) says the opposite.

Even after this training, discovery problems remain

As the DOJ statement lays out, in response to the Stevens debacle, DOJ rolled out annual training programs for prosecutors to remind them of their discovery obligations.

And yet, last year, Leonie Brinkema found that prosecutors in the Jeff Sterling case had failed to turn over critical evidence about prosecution witnesses–one of the problems with the Stevens prosecution. The prosecutor involved? William Welch, whom Schuelke accused of abdicating his leadership role in the Stevens case (note, DOJ says the CIA is at fault for the late discovery; but Welch is, after all, the prosecutor who bears responsibility for it).

If William Welch can’t even get discovery right after his involvement in this case and, presumably, undergoing the training DOJ promises will fix the problem, then training is not enough to fix the problem.

Eric Holder won’t run DOJ forever

The statement focuses on Holder’s quick decision to dismiss the case against Stevens, as if that, by itself, guards against any similar problems in the future. But before Holder was AG, Michael Mukasey was–and Judge Emmet Sullivan grew so exasperated with Mukasey’s stonewalling on this case, he ordered him to personally respond to questions about the case.

Continue reading

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!

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 Continue reading

William Welch Probably NOT One of the Attorneys Who Engaged in Gross Prosecutorial Misconduct in Stevens Case

As Ryan Reilly reported, Judge Emmet Sullivan is moving forward with his plan to release the scathing report on the Ted Stevens prosecution showing the prosecution was “permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence.”

Back when descriptions of this report first surfaced, I asked, “Why Is William Welch, Whose Team Is Accused of Intentional Prosecutorial Misconduct, Still at DOJ?

Given Sullivan’s latest order, I think the answer must be that Welch is not one of the four DOJ lawyers most badly implicated in the report. That’s because DOJ, which after all still employs Welch to prosecute whistleblowers, had no objection to the report being released on March 15.

The Department of Justice’s Notice advised the Court that it “does not intend to file a motion regarding Mr. Schuelke’s report” and that “[t]he government does not contend that there is any legal prohibition on the disclosure of any references in Mr. Schuelke’s report to grand jury material, court authorized interceptions of wire communications, or any sealed pleadings or transcripts that have now been unsealed.” Notice of Dep’t of Justice Regarding Materials Referenced in Mr. Schuelke’s Report, at 1-2 (“DOJ Notice”). In addition, the Department of Justice informed the Court that it was not asserting any deliberative process or attorney-work product privilege with respect to the information contained in Mr. Schuelke’s Report.

Criminal Division head Lanny Breuer has already proven himself more than willing to hide the misconduct of his prosecutors; I have no doubt he’d do so here if it badly implicated any of his current attorneys.

So I’m guessing–though that is a guess–that Welch is not one of the four fighting to prevent this release.

Lanny Breuer Rewards DOJ Lawyers for Winning Impunity for Prosecutorial Misconduct

I always like reading DOJ’s various expressions of their investigative and prosecutorial priorities–because they usually show a disinterest in prosecuting banksters, a thorough waste of resources on entrapping young Muslims, and an ongoing fondness for Anna Chapman.

Lanny Breuer’s choice of DOJ lawyers to recognize yesterday was, in some ways, an improvement over the trend. I’m happy to see prosecutors rewarded for taking down the “Lost Boy” website. Rather than fixating on Anna Chapman and entrapping young Muslims, Breuer recognized prosecutors who entrapped older Muslims who attempted to smuggle someone they believed to be a Taliban member into the US. And Breuer even celebrated the rare prosecution of a bankster, Lee Bentley Farkas.

And while Breuer’s multiple awards to people seemingly making it easier to shut down the InterToobz in the guise of IP violations concerns me, it’s this bit that I found disgusting.

The Assistant Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service was presented to Kirby Heller and Deborah Watson of the Criminal Division’s Appellate Section for their exceptional work in the successful appeal of sanctions imposed upon federal prosecutors in the case of Dr. Ali Shaygan.

Effectively, Lanny Breuer is rewarding two appellate section lawyers for winning an 11th Circuit Court decision overturning sanctions imposed on DOJ for gross prosecutorial misconduct. Breuer’s priorities, it seems, include ensuring that DOJ pays no price when it abuses its prosecutorial power.

The case goes back to February 2008, when Ali Shaygan was indicted for distributing controlled substances outside the scope of his medical practice; one charge tied that distribution to the death of one of Shaygan’s patients. Shaygan ended up hiring a defense team that included one attorney who had had a run-in with the prosecutors in his case. In addition, the lead prosecutor, Sean Paul Cronin, was admittedly buddies with the lead DEA Agent, Chris Wells. After Shaygan’s lawyers attempted (ultimately, successfully) to suppress a DEA interview with Shaygan on Miranda grounds, Cronin threatened the team.

AUSA Cronin warned David Markus, Shaygan’s lead attorney, that pursuing the suppression motion would result in a “seismic shift” in the case because “his agent,” Chris Wells, did not lie.

Nine months later, during the trial, one of the prosecution’s witnesses alluded in cross-examination that he had tapes of conversations–failed attempts to bribe Shaygan’s lawyer–at home.

During the cross-examination of Clendening on February 19, 2009, Shaygan’s counsel, Markus, asked Clendening if he recalled a telephone conversation in which Clendening told Markus that he would have to pay him for his testimony, and Clendening responded, “No. I got it on a recording at my house.”

This revelation led to exposure of the government’s collateral, failed investigation of Markus for witness tampering, as well as a significant number of discovery violations. In short, it became clear the government tried, unsuccessfully, to catch Markus bribing witnesses for favorable testimony and then hid all evidence they had tried. The prosecutor in the case was not properly firewalled form that investigation and even personally claimed to give authorization to tape the conversations. And in the days before the trial, the prosecutor checked in on the witness tampering investigation, apparently hoping to force Markus to withdraw from the case just as it went to trial. In the end, Shaygan was acquitted of all 141 charges against him.

After the trial, Miami District Court Judge Alan Gold held a sanctions hearing against the government for its gross misconduct. He held the government in violation of the Hyde Amendment. He had them pay all reasonable costs after a superseding indictment he judged was filed as part of the “seismic shift in strategy.” And he publicly reprimanded the prosecutors involved in the case.

Now, the government admitted that it committed significant errors.

The United States acknowledges that it initiated a collateral investigation into witness tampering and authorized two witnesses, Carlos Vento and Trinity Clendening, to tape their discussions with members of the defense team in violation of United States Attorney’s Office policy; that, although there were efforts made to erect a “taint wall,” the wall was imperfect and was breached by the trial prosecutors, AUSA Sean Paul Cronin and Andrea Hoffman, at least in part, because the case agent, DEA Special Agent Christopher Wells, was initially on both sides of the wall; and that, because the United States violated its discovery obligations by not disclosing to the defense “(a) that witnesses Vento and Clendening were cooperating with the government by recording their conversations with members of the defense team, and (b) Vento’s and Clendening’s recorded statements at the time of their trial testimony.” Finally, the United States “acknowledges and regrets” that, “in complying with the Court’s pre-trial order to produce all DEA-6 reports for in camera inspection on February 12, 2009 (Court Ex. 6), the government failed to provide the Court with the two DEA-6 reports regarding the collateral investigation, specifically Agent Wells’ December 12, 2008 report (Court Ex. 2) and Agent Brown’s January 16, 2009 report (Court Ex. 3).”

After the sanctions hearing, the government agreed to pay some legal fees associated with their misconduct. They just objected, and appealed, to the public reprimand and the requirement they pay for all fees after the superseding indictment.

But the appeals court not only threw out the entire financial sanction, it also vacated the public reprimands of the lawyers.

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Why Is William Welch, Whose Team Is Accused of Intentional Prosecutorial Misconduct, Still at DOJ?

As Nedra Pickler first reported, Judge Emmett Sullivan has submitted a scathing order describing the results of an investigation into the Ted Stevens prosecution.

Based on their exhaustive investigation, Mr. Schuelke and Mr. Shields concluded that the investigation and prosecution of Senator Stevens were “permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated his defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness.”

[snip]

Mr. Schuelke and Mr. Shields found that at least some of the concealment was willful and intentional, and related to many of the issues raised by the defense during the course of the Stevens trial. Further, Mr. Schuelke and Mr. Shields found evidence of concealment and serious misconduct that was previously unknown and almost certainly would never have been revealed – at least to the Court and to the public – but for their exhaustive investigation.

Sullivan’s investigator, Henry Schuelke, found the lawyers involved could not be charged with criminal contempt because they had not been explicitly ordered to follow the law.

Mr. Schuelke bases his conclusion not to recommend contempt proceedings on the requirement that, in order to prove criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt under 18 U.S.C. § 401(3), the contemnor must disobey an order that is sufficiently “clear and unequivocal at the time it is issued.” See, e.g., Traub v. United States, 232 F.2d 43, 47 (D.C. Cir. 1955). Upon review of the docket and proceedings in the Stevens case, Mr. Schuelke concludes no such Order existed in this case.

But he did hint that at least some of the six attorneys might be charged with Obstruction of Justice (which DOJ would have to do).

Mr. Schuelke “offer[s] no opinion as to whether a prosecution for Obstruction of Justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1503 might lie against one or more of the subject attorneys and might meet the standard enunciated in 9-27.220 of the Principles of Federal Prosecution.”

One of the attorneys investigated here, of course, is William Welch (the others are Brenda Morris, Edward Sullivan, Joseph Bottini, and James Goeke, as well as Nicholas Marsh, who committed suicide last year), who has overseen the Jeffrey Sterling and Thomas Drake cases.

Now, Sullivan made it clear that at least some of the lawyers involved might be well served for Schuelke’s report to be made public.

in fact, under these circumstances, some or all of the subjects may be prejudiced by withholding the results of Mr. Schuelke’s Report from the public;

So we can’t be sure whether Welch was directly implicated in the misconduct, or whether just those lawyers who reported to him were.

But Welch’s prosecutions since have been beset by the same kind of prosecutorial problems as the Stevens one. For example, in the Drake case, the government didn’t tell the defense that one of the documents they charged Drake with leaking was unclassified until 10 months after the indictment. Then, when they tried to apply CIPA to unclassified documents, they did so after the opportunity to object had passed. The judge in that case, Richard Bennett, called the prosecution “unconscionable.”

And in the Sterling case, it appears that Welch postponed telling Sterling that one of the key witnesses against him had herself leaked classified information until after the opportunity for discovery on that leak had passed–the same kind of derogatory information on a key witness the Stevens prosecutors withheld.

In other words, we can not be sure that Welch committed the misconduct at the heart of the Stevens case. But his ongoing cases do seem to be subject to the same kind of misconduct.

So why is he still at DOJ, prosecuting cases, when an independent investigator has determined this his past prosecution teams didn’t follow the law because they had not been specifically ordered to, and such behavior might amount to Obstruction of Justice?

Updated: Added Bennett’s comments.

Eric Holder: Torture Inquiries, Ted Stevens Prosecutorial Misconduct Investigations Almost Finished

Eric Holder is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee right now. [watch here]

In response to two questions from Orrin Hatch, Eric Holder revealed that the John Durham investigation into torture and the Office of Public Responsibility investigation into the prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens case are both nearing their end.

While none of the Senators asked for Holder to make the results in the torture investigation public, Hatch, Pat Leahy, and DiFi all asked for the Stevens report to be made public.

Let me predict for them what that report will say: While problematic, the behavior of DOJ’s own does not merit punishment. Love, David Margolis.