John Ratcliffe’s Lies about His Time at DOJ Raise New Questions about His Claim to Have Used Warrantless Searches

Both NBC and ABC have stories laying out how two key claims about his work at DOJ that John Ratcliffe has used to get elected three times are lies. Less important for this post, when Ratcliffe repeatedly took credit for “arresting over 300 illegal [sic] aliens in a single day,” he was actually taking credit for a poultry worker bust that was led by ICE and involved four other US Attorneys offices and a slew of other investigative agencies.

This is an ICE-led investigation with support from the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Eastern District of Texas, the Eastern District of Arkansas, the Eastern District of Tennessee, the Middle District of Florida, and the Northern District of West Virginia. Also aiding in the investigation are the DOL-OIG; the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the U.S. Postal Service; the U.S. Marshals Service; the West Virginia State Police; and numerous other state and local agencies.

More interesting, however, is Ratcliffe’s claim that, “There are individuals that currently sit in prison because I prosecuted them for funneling money to terrorist groups.” As both NBC and ABC note, there’s not a shred of evidence that Ratcliffe ever prosecuted a terrorism case. His own campaign press release botches the timing and titles of this, seemingly conflating his time as (an unconfirmed) US Attorney with his role as chief of the anti-terrorism section for the US Attorney office he’d eventually run.

In 2008, Ratcliffe served by special appointment as the prosecutor in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, one of the nation’s largest terrorism financing cases.  During his tenure as the Chief of the Anti-Terrorism and National Security Section for the Eastern District of Texas he personally managed dozens of international and domestic terrorism investigations.

The statement his office gave ABC, which explains that the reference pertained to his appointment as Special Counsel investigating why the Holy Land Foundation case resulted in a mistrial, conflates those two roles even worse.

Ratcliffe’s office clarified that his status regarding the case was instead related to investigating issues surrounding what led to the mistrial in the first case.

“Because the investigation did not result in any charges, it would not be in accordance with Department of Justice policies to make further details public,” Rachel Stephens, a spokesperson for Ratcliffe, said. “However, Department of Justice records will confirm that as both Chief of Anti-Terrorism and National Security for the Eastern District of Texas from 2004-2008, John Ratcliffe opened, managed and supervised numerous domestic and international terrorism related cases.”

The timing here is critical, for reasons I’ll get into in a second. Ratcliffe was appointed Acting US Attorney sometime between May 20 and June 20, 2007; prior to that, he had been the First AUSA and the chief of the anti-terrorism and national security division in a division that didn’t see many national security cases (though in his campaigns, Ratcliffe would take credit for a big meth bust he mostly oversaw the sentencing of).

The mistrial of the first Holy Land Foundation trial was on October 23, 2007.

Ratcliffe was appointed US Attorney by Michael Mukasey sometime after he was confirmed as Attorney General on November 8, 2007.

Ratcliffe’s tenure as US Attorney ended after his replacement was confirmed on April 29, 2008. It’s unclear whether he stayed on after that; he joined a law firm leveraging John Ashcroft’s name the next April.

I’m interested in those dates because, in a 2015 debate over whether to prohibit back door searches of data collected using Section 702 of FISA, Ratcliffe claimed he had used warrantless searches as a terrorism prosecutor.

In full disclosure to everyone, I am a former terrorism prosecutor that has used warrantless searches, and frankly have benefitted from them in a number of international and domestic terrorism cases.

The implication was that he had done back door searches, but (as I noted at the time) he could only have done back door searches of Section 702 content if he stuck around after being replaced as US Attorney, because the FISA Amendments Act did not become law until July 10, 2008, after he was replaced as US Attorney. It’s true that Protect America Act was in place during part of the time he was US Attorney and during the time he would have been investigating the Holy Land Foundation case, but that remained in flux until February 2008 and DOJ was claiming, in the Yahoo challenge, not to permit back door searches.

If, as Ratcliffe suggests, his big terrorism “prosecution” was on the Holy Land case, it suggests he was using data from Protect America Act. Any back door searches in conjunction with that would be particularly controversial given that a bunch of Muslim groups were improperly named in a list of unindicted co-conspirators in a filing in the case, and some of them (such as CAIR’s Executive Director Nihad Awad) was under FISA surveillance through that period. In other words, if he used back door searches in the wake of the Holy Land mistrial, there’s a good chance he was engaged in what Carter Page insists in FISA abuse. This was also a period when there were a slew of violations with the Section 215 phone dragnet, which was almost certainly used to map out all of CAIR during the period.

One possible alternative is still worse. Ratcliffe started his anti-terrorism position in 2004. At the time, the George Bush warrantless wiretap program Stellar Wind — on which the back door searches of FAA were modeled — remained active (though in somewhat constrained form in the wake of the hospital confrontation). If Ratcliffe did back door searches on Stellar Wind data, he was part of Bush’s illegal surveillance program, and not just involved in “FISA abuse” but in crimes under FISA.

Given the number of lies he has already been caught in, and given his obvious confusion in any number of public hearings since, it’s quite possible he was just pretending to be an expert on a national security issue to fluff up his credibility. Perhaps he didn’t really understand the subject of the debate, and mistook normal criminal process for FISA surveillance.

That said, there’s frankly no good answer for this claim: the least damning explanation is confusion or puffery, the most damning is that he was involved in criminal surveillance.

But it’s a specific detail that demands an answer if Ratcliffe wants to supervise the entire intelligence community.

47 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Fourth paragraph from the end: ” — on which the back door searches of FAA were modeled — ” – should that be PAA, not FAA?

    Is there anything on which Ratcliffe has been honest or truthful?

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I realize that in some circles, resume fraud is considered a competitive sport. But in the world of government employment, it’s a big problem.

    Despite remaining a public employee, moving Ratcliffe from the legislative to the executive branch would require that Ratcliffe submit – under penalty of perjury – disclosure and other forms for the highest of security clearances. Were Trump to nominate Ratcliffe to be permanent DNI, which would require Senate confirmation, the disclosure would be greater.

    Absent a document-free, presidential decree-derived acting appointment (illegal) and security clearance (abusive), Mr. Ratcliffe would be in a heap of trouble. Bill Barr would ignore it, but even a look forward-not back establishment Dem president would have a hard time ignoring it.

    By pursuing Ratcliffe’s appointment, Trump would be putting a lot of that exposure onto his own head. He normally offloads that liability faster than a casino lays off high-risk bets. Let the slithering begin.

    • emptywheel says:

      He must have had clearance for his DOJ jobs, so that’s not likely to be a problem (though as some point out, he was working in Ashcroft’s FARA practice in between which might be awkward but no disqualifying).

      Nunes, I suspect, would be a different issue. but Ratcliffe should be an easy security clearance approval.

      • Americana says:

        Why is it Rod Rosenstein would have included Ratcliffe in security briefings on the Russia investigation starting in 2018 and do you think Ratcliffe’s role in such played any part in his appointment to DNI?

        From the above link:

        In 2018, then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein began including him in highly classified briefings to congressional leadership on the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, even though Ratcliffe himself was not in the leadership or the chairman or ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

      • Frank Probst says:

        But everything you’ve laid out above happened AFTER his time at DOJ. I think @earlofhuntingdon is right. Embellishing your past accomplishments is expected when you’re running for Congress. But it becomes a problem when you’re trying to become the head of the US’s intelligence services. I suspect that some basic research was done on his resume in the past (i.e., confirming that he was working at the DOJ at the times in question, and maybe confirming that he was connected to those cases), but I doubt that he was caught in a lie. Now he’s been caught in numerous lies. That can’t be ignored. He’ll still get his security clearances if he stays in Congress, I think, but Moscow Mitch is probably going to have trouble getting him through the Senate. And this probably isn’t all of the lying that he’s ever done, either. This is going to turn into a media feeding frenzy. In normal times, he’d be done already. In Trumpworld, I’d put him at 50/50.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I see that Ratcliffe sits on the House Intelligence, Judiciary, and Homeland Security Committees. (He’s also on the Ethics committee, but for a Republican, that’s a non sequitur.)

    Even so, I would be surprised if he has a clearance comparable to the DNI’s. In any case, TS/SCI has to renewed at least every five years. Given the vulnerabilities discussed here and elsewhere, that review should probably begin.

    • emptywheel says:

      Members of congress don’t get clearance. I often repeat Pete Hoekstra’s admission to me that his appointment for Ambassador to the Netherlands was held up because — even though he had been HPSCI Chair for 4 years — he did not possess proof of naturalization, which was holding up getting his first security clearance with the appointment.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Interesting. Separation of powers issue? Do not judges get security clearances? What governs congresscritters’ receipt of classified information from the executive branch, House and Senate rules?

      Interesting that BushCheney appointed a new permanent USA over him in the spring of 2008, rather than make his acting duties permanent. Problems with talent or Senate confirmation again?

      The overselling of his resume suggests that Ratcliffe would have work to do to receive a clearance sufficient to work on the ODNI staff, let alone be its director.

  4. Beau Borchardt says:

    Is there any actual proof that this guy was a US attorney as he claims? I haven’t seen any.

  5. dwfreeman says:

    Andrea Mitchell also noted on her noon MSNBC show today that Ratcliffe’s time as US attorney for the eastern district of Texas overlapped part of his time as the mayor of Heath, Texas, which, begs the question of his actual workload as a federal prosecutor, let alone puffery about his involvement in any terrorist or intelligence-related casework that he and his staff are elevating without factual foundation on his congressional website..

    That, of course, was the essence of Ratcliffe’s fulsome attack on Mueller last week suggesting in sermonizing fashion he had operated outside the bounds of any legal policy or guideline in disclaiming exoneration by outlining an obstruction case he declined to charge against Trump as part of his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

    Clearly, this appointment is aimed at giving the White House a friendly voice inside the intelligence community, which Trump claims has “run amok.” That friendly voice would also clearly benefit the minority membership on House-related investigations of Trump and his other minions.

    But even North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is giving Ratcliffe not much chance of emerging as a viable DNI candidate even if he survives an FBI background check. Burr didn’t even mention him by name in a statement regarding acknowledgment of the appointment in which by contrast he seemed to imply that acting DNI deputy director Susan Gordon would be a better choice, both because of her background, on-the-job experience and her dealings with his committee. And then there’s the succession regulation governing this appointment, which Trump is ignoring in favor of politicizing the non-partisan position.

    So, stranded in the crossfire of questionable background and even elemental experience, Ratcliffe’s appointment looks like it will almost uncertainly die on the vine before ever reaching a confirmation hearing, something the Democrats would almost certainly relish.

    • orionATL says:

      ratcliff’s appointment, like william barr’s, is aimed at one thing, protecting trump. in ratcliff’s case that one thing on the to-do list is manufacturing an attack, including sophistical and serious legal charges, against all fbi and doj who called attention to and began investigating trump’s dalliance with putin.

      i’ve never had any doubt trump would go after Comey, mccabe, ohr, strzok, perhaps even mueller. lying to create an illusion is trump’s stock in trade. he will certainly also go after brennan, et al.

      furthermore, one should never forget that trump has stated that the investigation of his collusion with the russians “cost” him two years of his presidency (with which the rev. jerry falwell, jr. publicly agreed). expect trump to 1) claim he is entitled to a 6 year presidency and try to set the next presidential election for 2022 if he is lagging badly, or, if he loses the election, that he is
      entitled to two more years in office based on ratcliff’s “investigation”.

    • Tom says:

      On his website, Ratcliffe boasts that as mayor of Heath, Texas, he balanced the budget for eight consecutive years without ever raising taxes. I’ve heard Heath (population about 7,000 as of 2010 census) described as a small city and a small town, but according to Wikipedia there was a ballot proposition in 2008 to change the name of the community from “City of Heath” to “Village of Heath”. The proposition didn’t pass but you wonder how big Ratcliffe’s mayoral responsibilities really were if some of the citizenry thought “village” more accurately described their municipality. Perhaps that’s why Ratcliffe was able to handle the U.S. attorney job at the same time as he was burgermeister of Heath.

    • bmaz says:

      Generally, there is no moonlighting for DOJ attorneys, so I am kind of hesitant to buy the overlap thing.

  6. Thebuzzardman says:

    No wonder Trump likes this guy. Next Ratcliffe will be stating he was working the pile Sept 12th, alongside Trump.

  7. Rugger9 says:

    Ratcliffe is taking a serious risk here, even if he’s a wingnut from TX. It becomes much harder to hide the lies when exposed in CSPAN hearings during confirmation. So my theory is that Rat’s a placeholder to cover for the “acting” DNI to come, bypassing the principal assistant who didn’t even get the “acting” title.

    It’s illegal, since the law applying to DNI succession is apparently more strict (i.e. more “shalls”) than the CFPB succession blessed by a Palace court earlier. But if Rat doesn’t work out, someone with the same values will be placed there.

    Also, too:

    • Eureka says:

      For an early, respectable buzz: “racist”* (as in re Trump)

      To get carted off to hospital: “Look”

      *amended to include substitute words: Baltimore, attacks on

      • P J Evans says:

        I’m following the liveblog at the Great Orange Satan. Delaney ain’t making it. Nether are the other under-1%-white-males. Warren is doing well, though.

        • Eureka says:

          That’s so funny– one memorable moment I’d noted was when Warren smiled *so fucking knowingly* when Delaney asserted how he knows the _business_ of healthcare and this won’t work with _the business_ of healthcare. (He’s also FOS.)

          The Tapper segment was such a CNN dumpster fire. Wouldn’t have guessed that the predictable Tapper diversion would have included dog-bone-perseverating on tax costs trade-off for medical coverage (while sound-byting it for “raise middle class taxes”).

          But here we are.

          Jame Earl Jones voice: This is CNN.

          • P J Evans says:

            Liz just dropped the mike on Delaney:

            Holly Bailey

            Delaney says he’s not running on “fairy tale” policies. Warren: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for”

            6:19 PM – Jul 30, 2019

          • P J Evans says:

            It got noticed that all of his questions were GOP talking points. And some of the bottom-end candidates are good with that.

              • Eureka says:

                Yes, it’s good that both Sanders & Warren are there tonight with the facts on many issues– though I don’t think CNN would quite be framing this debate as the Great Socialist Progressive Scare if they both weren’t there… thinking face…

                • Democritus says:

                  Greg Greene has some good tweets on it tonight and CNN and Delaney’s BS.


                  This had me actually loling


                  But also this


                  I’ll just put David’s key point here: ↓

                  “The GOP has a loyal partisan media to carry its ideas to the public. The Democrats have … whatever this fustercluck on CNN tonight was.
                  Quote Tweet

                  David Roberts
                  · Jul 29
                  As long as the channels through which parties communicate with voters are so grossly imbalanced — “neutral” MSM on one side, hyper-ideological RW media on the other — this shit will keep happening. And no, before you ask, I don’t know what the solution is. Sigh. </fin”

                  Later this too

                  “The spectacle of John Delaney getting airtime to denounce a wealth tax as unrealistic is the most poppycocky, mind-numbing display of centrist meekness I’ve seen in an age. #DemDebate”

                  I did NOT watch, because I didn’t need a headache with bad faith bs, and I can read about it after.

          • Democritus says:

            I love, love, love Warren. I trust her also which is such a nice change of pace. She has my vote, well unless something changes.

            Oh and while I’m not a big Bernie fan, I do NOT trust him or his connections with Weaver and his petulant conduct in 2016, but his callout of CNN, their framing of debate questions using gop rhetoric, and the medical ads that run nonstop on all cable news and business news practically nonstop. I can’t help thing a big secondary purpose of that ad sector is something akin to a bribe at this point.

            We need to get control of our medical industrial complex. I read somewhere recently something like one in every six dollars of economic activity involves the health care or health care insurance companies. It is sucking up so much of the air for other economic expansion.

            Speaking of economic exposures that will effect 2020, our manufacturing sector apparently officially entered a technical recession. Not surprising given supply chain shocks and tariff bs.

            WaPo via MSN


        • Eureka says:

          Since they were just talking about water (Flint- Klobuchar; So Carolina- Wmson), here’s a great thread from the 24th with article re water problems throughout many small municipal California water systems (starting with Sativa–yes jokes indica-ted in thread):

          Jose A. Del Real: “In my latest piece, I took another dive into California’s drinking water system. What I found was really troubling. As I reported on one struggling water district I realized the problem was far, far more widespread than most people realize. THREAD: …

          • P J Evans says:

            I used to live in East Pasadena, which is an unincorporated area with a small water district of its own. Back in the 80s, they were required to put in a 1-acre-foot tank, because their system had basically no backup if a well went out.
            I have no idea if it’s improved, but it’s one of those that probably should be merged with neighboring small systems so that they have better bases to work from.

    • BobCon says:

      What’s Wrong With The NY Times??!?!? Chapter 40190:

      This takes a little unpacking, so here goes. In the post debate analysis, Claire McCaskill said “Free stuff does not play well in the Midwest” and Walid Shahid replied that Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are also from the Midwest and Medicare and Social Security are both technically “free stuff” and they play very well.

      Here’s the NY Times disaster. Deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman replied “Saying RashidaTlaib (D-Detroit) and @IlhanMN (D-Minneapolis) are from the Midwest is like saying @RepLloydDoggett (D-Austin) is from Texas or @repjohnlewis (D-Atlanta) is from the Deep South. C’mon.”

      And there in a neat little package is the disaster of NY Times political coverage. Minorities don’t count. Democrats don’t count. Everyone West of the Hudson is neatly divided into conceptual categories defined by NY Times editors.

      Never mind that John Lewis is the son of sharecroppers and descended from people living in Georgia longer than the US has been independent. He doesn’t count, Never mind that Keith Ellison (born and raised in Detroit) just won statewide office in Minnesota after representing Omar’s district. They don’t count.

      This captures the idiocy of the Times endless the diner safaris, the Nazi normalizing article, the article confusing Youngstown and its outer suburbs. They cannot open their conceptual framework of the Midwest past the narrow confines of a Trump-friendly place. Losing the rigidity would break them.

      NY times editors like Weisman will be shaping the coverage of the next fifteen months, and they are completely unfit for the job.

  8. klynn says:

    A little OT:
    For someone who comes from a family of 7 and has parents who were teachers, I cannot find anything with his parents’ names or mention of even one sibling. Very odd. Anyone know more?

    • Tom says:

      Ratcliffe’s official website shows him and his wife Michele and their two daughters posing with the Pences. In situations like this, I always wonder what the family dynamics are like. Is everyone a true believer or do the wife and kids watch something besides Fox News? Does Michele provide some reality check on her husband? Do Ratcliffe’s siblings support him or have they distanced themselves from him and his views?

      • BobCon says:

        Maybe his family hates him, like Stephen Miller and the Paul Gosar, the dentist body language expert congressman.

        • Tom says:

          Speaking of Dr. Gosar, is it true he has the movie “Marathon Man” playing continuously on the TV in his dental clinic’s waiting room?

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