Trump FBI Nominee Christopher Wray Gave Inappropriate Briefings to John Ashcroft During Plame Investigation

Donald Trump has tweeted that he will nominate Christopher Wray, who worked in Bush’s DOJ, to head the FBI.

While most people are noting that Wray is Chris Christie’s personal lawyer in Bridgegate, I’m at least as interested in some of the things he did while at DOJ, as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division.

Wray was on the border of a lot of torture decisions in 2004 — the ACLU database of torture documents is full of entirely redacted documents involving him.

Wray was involved in one of the noted field trips to Gitmo to watch torture.

And he also charged David Passaro, the only CIA person (Passaro was a contractor training Afghans to be paramilitaries) ever charged for torture. DOJ seized a bunch of documents Passaro had which would have shown that CIA’s chain of command had approved torture. Whatever you think of Passaro, I strongly believe he was denied due process in a number of ways.

To Wray’s credit, he was the first to review Stellar Wind data for information that might need to be disclosed as discovery to defendants.

While Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Wray was involved in negotiations with lawyers for Chiquita (including Eric Holder) that resulted in Chiquita’s executives avoiding all penalties for materially supporting Colombian terrorists.

Finally and probably most importantly, also while AAG DOJ in the early days of the Plame investigation, Wray provided inappropriate briefings to John Ashcroft about what Ashcroft’s buddies had said during FBI interviews.

Among other things, the sources said, Ashcroft was provided extensive details of an FBI interview of Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s chief political advisor. The two men have enjoyed a close relationship ever since Rove advised the Attorney General during the course of three of Ashcroft’s political campaigns.

The briefings for Ashcroft were conducted by Christopher Wray, a political appointee in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division, and John Dion, a 30-year career prosecutor who was in charge of the investigation at the time. Neither Wray nor Dion returned phone calls seeking comment for this story.

The briefings raise questions about the appropriateness of Ashcroft’s involvement in the investigation, especially given his longstanding ties to Rove. Senior federal law-enforcement officials have expressed serious concerns among themselves that Ashcroft spent months overseeing the probe and receiving regular briefings regarding a criminal investigation in which the stakes were so high for the Attorney General’s personal friends, political allies, and political party. One told me, “Attorneys General and U.S. Attorneys in the past traditionally recused for far less than this.”

This is what led to Ashcroft’s recusal and the appointment, by Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey, of Patrick Fitzgerald as special counsel.

In short, it seems Wray is likely to ensure that highers up never see any consequences for their actions. And he sure seems likely to keep Trump in the loop on the investigation of Trump.

Update: Jack Goldsmith, who of course worked closely with Wray while at DOJ, thinks he is a “a good choice, a much better choice than any name I previously saw floated, and a much better choice than I expected Trump to make,” though notes there will be a “probing confirmation process” ahead.

Update: Here’s a hearing in which Wray got questioned about inappropriate briefings. h/t NW

Update: LOLOL. DOJ released a list of endorsements for Wray, about which I’ll have more to say. But they included an endorsement from the guy who made Wray give him inappropriate briefings.

“Chris Wray is a man of integrity with a deep commitment to the rule of law. His substantial experience, particularly in serving on our Justice Department team fighting terrorism after 9/11, uniquely qualifies him to protect America as FBI Director.”
–Former Attorney General John Ashcroft

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.

John Yoo’s Assistance in Starting Iraq War Might Help Obama Avoid an Iran War

Last week, Steven Aftergood released a January 27, 2003 OLC memo, signed by John Yoo, ruling that the Executive Branch could withhold WMD information from Congress even though 22 USC § 3282 requires the Executive to brief the Foreign Relations committees on such information. I had first noted the existence of the memo in this post (though I guessed wrong as to when it was written).

The memo is, even by Yoo’s standards, inadequate and poorly argued. As Aftergood notes, Yoo relies on a Bill Clinton signing statement that doesn’t say what he says it says. And he treats briefing Congress as equivalent to public disclosure.

Critically, a key part of the Yoo’s argument relies on an OLC memo the Reagan Administration used to excuse its failure to tell Congress that it was selling arms to Iran.

Fourth, despite Congress’s extensive powers under the Constitution, Its authorities to legislative and appropriate cannot constitutionally be exercised in a manner that would usurp the President’s authority over foreign affairs and national security. In our 1986 opinion, we reasoned that this principle had three important corollaries: a) Congress cannot directly review the President’s foreign policy decisions; b) Congress cannot condition an appropriation to require the President to relinquish his discretion in foreign affairs; and c) any statute that touches on the President’s foreign affairs power must be interpreted, so as to avoid constitutional questions, to leave the President as much discretion as possible. 10 Op. O.L.C. at 169-70.

That’s one of the things — a pretty central thing — Yoo relies on to say that, in spite of whatever law Congress passes, the Executive still doesn’t have to share matters relating to WMD proliferation if it doesn’t want to.

Thus far, I don’t think anyone has understood the delicious (if inexcusable) irony of the memo — or the likely reasons why the Obama Administration has deviated from its normal secrecy in releasing the memo now.

This memo authorized the Executive to withhold WMD information in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address

First, consider the timing. I noted above I was wrong about the timing — I speculated the memo would have been written as part of the Bush Administration’s tweaks of Executive Orders governing classification updated in March 2003.

Boy how wrong was I. Boy how inadequately cynical was I.

Nope. The memo — 7 shoddily written pages — was dated January 27, 2003.The day the White House sent a review copy of the State of the Union to CIA, which somehow didn’t get closely vetted. The day before Bush would go before Congress and deliver his constitutionally mandated State of the Union message. The day before Bush would lay out the case for the Iraq War to Congress — relying on certain claims about WMD — including 16 famous words that turned out to be a lie.

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

This memo was written during the drafting of the 2003 State of the Union to pre-approve not sharing WMD information known by the Executive Branch with Congress even in spite of laws requiring the Executive share that information.

Now, we don’t know — because Alberto Gonzales apparently didn’t tell Yoo — what thing he was getting pre-authorization not to tell Congress about. Here’s what the memo says:

It has been obtained through sensitive intelligence sources and methods and concerns proliferation activities that, depending upon information not yet available, may be attributable to one or more foreign nations. Due to your judgment of the extreme sensitivity of the information and the means by which it was obtained, you have not informed us about the nature of the information, what nation is involved, or what activities are implicated. We understand, however, that the information is of the utmost sensitivity and that it directly affects the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. You have also told us that the unauthorized disclosure of the information could directly injure the national security, compromise intelligence sources and methods, and potentially frustrate sensitive U.S. diplomatic, military, and intelligence activities.

Something about WMD that another nation told us that is too sensitive to share with Congress — like maybe the Brits didn’t buy the Niger forgery documents anymore?

In any case, we do know from the SSCI Report on Iraq Intelligence that an INR analyst had already determined the Niger document was a forgery.

On January 13, 2003, the INR Iraq nuclear analyst sent an e-mail to several IC analysts outlining his reasoning why, “the uranium purchase agreement probably is a hoax.” He indicated that one of the documents that purported to be an agreement for a joint military campaign, including both Iraq and Iran, was so ridiculous that it was “clearly a forgery.” Because this document had the same alleged stamps for the Nigerien Embassy in Rome as the uranium documents, the analyst concluded “that the uranium purchase agreement probably is a forgery.” When the CIA analyst received the e-mail, he realized that WINP AC did not have copies of the documents and requested copies from INR. CIA received copies of the foreign language documents on January 16, 2003.

Who knows? Maybe the thing Bush wanted to hide from Congress, the day before his discredited 2003 State of the Union, didn’t even have to do with Iraq. But we know there has been good reason to question whether Bush’s aides deliberately misinformed Congress in that address, and now we know John Yoo pre-approved doing so.

This memo means Obama doesn’t have to share anything about the Iran deal it doesn’t want to

Here’s the ironic part — and one I only approve of for the irony involved, not for the underlying expansive interpretation of Executive authority.

By releasing this memo just a week before the Iran deal debate heats up, the Obama Administration has given public (and Congressional, to the extent they’re paying attention) notice that it doesn’t believe it has to inform Congress of anything having to do with WMD it deems too sensitive. John Yoo says so. Reagan’s OLC said so, in large part to ensure that no one would go to prison for disobeying Congressional notice requirements pertaining to Iran-Contra.

If you think that’s wrong, you have to argue the Bush Administration improperly politicized intelligence behind the Iraq War. You have to agree that the heroes of Iran-Contra — people like John Poindexter, who signed onto a letter opposing the Iran deal — should be rotting in prison. That is, the opponents of the Iran deal — most of whom supported both the Iraq War and Iran-Contra — have to argue Republican Presidents acted illegally in those past actions.

Me? I do argue Bush improperly withheld information from Congress leading up to the Iraq War. I agree that Poindexter and others should have gone to prison in Iran-Contra.

I also agree that Obama should be forthcoming about whatever his Administration knows about the terms of the Iran deal, even while I believe the deal will prevent war (and not passing the deal will basically irretrievably fuck the US with the international community).

A key thing that will be debated extensively in coming days — largely because the AP, relying on an echo chamber of sources that has proven wrong in the past, published an underreported article on it — is whether the inspection of Parchin is adequate. Maybe that echo chamber is correct, and the inspection is inadequate. More importantly, maybe it is the case that people within the Administration — in spite of IAEA claims that it has treated that deal with the same confidentiality it gives to other inspection protocols made with inspected nations  — know the content of the Parchin side agreement. Maybe the Administration knows about it, and believes it to be perfectly adequate, because it was spying on the IAEA, like it long has, but doesn’t want the fact that it was spying on IAEA to leak out. Maybe the Administration knows about the Parchin deal but has other reasons not to worry about what Iran was allegedly (largely alleged by AP’s sources on this current story) doing at Parchin.

The point is, whether you’re pro-Iran deal or anti-Iran deal, whether you’re worried about the Parchin side agreement or not, John Yoo gave Barack Obama permission to withhold it from Congress, in part because Reagan’s OLC head gave him permission to withhold Iran-Contra details from Congress.

I believe this document Yoo wrote to help Bush get us into the Iraq War may help Obama stay out of an Iran war.

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.

In 2003, OLC Doubled Down on Unlimited (de)Classification Authority for the President

One of the tactics those in DOJ attempted to use in 2004 to put some controls on Stellar Wind, it appears from the DOJ IG Report, was to point to legal requirements to inform Congress (for example, to inform Congress that the Attorney General had decided not to enforce particular laws), which might have led to enough people in Congress learning of the program to impose some limits on it. For example, Robert Mueller apparently tried to get the Executive to brief the Judiciary Committees, in addition to the Gang of Four, about the program.

On March 16, 2004 Gonzales wrote a letter to Jim Comey in response to DOJ’s efforts to force the Administration to follow the law. Previous reporting revealed that Gonzales told Comey he misunderstood the White House’s interest in DOJ’s opinion.

Your memorandum appears to have been based on a misunderstanding of the President’s expectations regarding the conduct of the Department of Justice. While the President was, and remains, interested in any thoughts the Department of Justice may have on alternative ways to achieve effectively the goals of the activities authorized by the Presidential Authorization of March 11, 2004, the President has addressed definitively for the Executive Branch in the Presidential Authorization the interpretation of the law.

This appears to have led directly to Comey drafting his resignation letter.

But what previous reporting didn’t make clear was that Gonzales also claimed the Administration had unfettered authority to decide whether or not to share classified information (and that, implicitly, it could blow off statutory Congressional reporting requirements).

Gonzales letter also addressed Comey’s comments about congressional notification. Citing Department of the Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518 (1988) and a 2003 OLC opinion, Gonzales’s letter stated that the President has the constitutional authority to define and control access to the nation’s secrets, “including authority to determine the extent to which disclosure may be made outside the Executive Branch.” (TS//STLW//SI/OC/NF) [PDF 504]

I’m as interested in this as much for the timing of the memo — 2003 — as the indication that the Executive asserted the authority to invoke unlimited authority over classification as a way to flout reporting mandates (both with regards to Stellar Wind, but the implication is, generally as well).

The most likely time frame for this decision would be around March 25, 2003, when President Bush was also rewriting the Executive Order on classification (this EO is most famous because it gave the Vice President new authorities over classifying information). If that’s right, it would confirm that Bush’s intent with the EO (and the underlying OLC memo) was to expand the ability to invoke classification for whatever reasons.

And if that OLC opinion was written around the time of the March 2003 EO, it would mean it was on the books (and, surely, known by David Addington) when he counseled Scooter Libby in July 2003 he could leak whatever it was Dick Cheney told him to leak to Judy Miller, up to and including Valerie Plame’s identity.

But I’m also interested that this footnote was classified under STLW, the Stellar Wind marking. That may not be definitive, especially given the innocuous reference to the OLC memo. But it’s possible that means the 2003 opinion — the decision to share or not share classified information according to the whim of the President — was tied to Stellar Wind. That would be interesting given that George Tenet and John Yoo were declaring Iraq and their claimed conspirators in the US were terrorists permissible for surveillance around the same time.

Finally, I assume this OLC memo, whatever it says, is still on the books. And given how it was interpreted in the past — that OLC could simply ignore reporting mandates — and that the government continued to flout reporting mandates until at least 2010, even those tied specifically to surveillance, I assume that the Executive still believes it can use a claimed unlimited authority over classification to trump legally mandated reporting requirements.

That’s worth keeping in mind as we debate a bill, USA F-ReDux, celebrated, in part, for its reporting requirements.

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.

Dick Cheney Gets Judy Miller to Serve as His Cut-Out, Again

When Judy Miller wrote a piece for the WSJ pitching her new autobiographical novel, she was very specific about what she had said and not said with Dick Cheney and when.

I have never met George W. Bush. I never discussed the war with Dick Cheney until the winter of 2012, years after he had left office and I had left the Times.

Particularly given that the only question of those I posed for my book that Miller did not answer was whether she saw Cheney on the trip to Aspen that she used to explain Scooter Libby’s Aspen letter, I find her admission that she did and does speak to Cheney — though had not, about the war — telling. (Remember, too, that Cheney did not release journalists he had spoken to to reveal him as a source in the way everyone else in the Executive Branch did.)

Miller goes on to present a nonsense story about how Fitzgerald misled her and caused her to testify incorrectly, falsely testifying to the grand jury that Libby had told her Plame was at the CIA back in June. It doesn’t make sense — and doesn’t do anything to undermine the other evidence that would have been sufficient to convict Libby, notably Libby’s own notes and David Addington’s testimony as well as a second, far more important, meeting between Libby and Miller just days before Novak outed Plame.

Maybe Miller just has no fucking clue what got presented at the trial?

But having presented a flimsy excuse to question the verdict against Libby, Miller has presented others with an opportunity to point to another detail she includes in her book: that Fitzgerald offered to drop the charges against Libby if he would testify against Cheney. Again, that’s not surprising. Libby’s lies served to cover up Cheney’s orders to leak stuff to Judy Miller (not in the meeting she newly focuses on, but in the meeting during the week of Novak’s article).

Enter Dick Cheney.

Miller also writes in her book that she learned from Libby’s attorney that Fitzgerald “had twice offered to drop all charges against Libby if his client would ‘deliver’ Cheney to him.”

Cheney says that shows what Fitzgerald’s real intentions were in going after Libby.

“It was a runaway special prosecutor who, I think, manipulated the system because he was trying to make a name for himself,” Cheney said. “I apparently was the target based upon the fact that he went to Scooter’s lawyer and told him if Scooter would testify against me he’d drop the charges against Scooter. I hadn’t been accused of anything. I hadn’t done anything.”

This, of course, is bullshit. The key issue at the trial — the key reason why Libby’s claims about his lies were important — had to do with his own notes reflecting Dick Cheney ordering Libby to leak classified information to Judy Miller, information that Cheney hung Libby out to dry on in his first interview with Fitzgerald.  Nevertheless, Cheney uses it to proclaim Libby innocent, which he can’t be if Cheney’s own interview with Fitzgerald was honest.

Either Libby lied to the grand jury, or Cheney lied to Fitzgerald and possibly, in his unreleased second interview, to the grand jury. One of them lied. Probably, both did.

Whatever the evidence against Dick Armitage is (and the evidence shows that both journalists who learned of Plame’s CIA ties from him asked inexplicably leading questions to elicit that response, and both journalists had spoken with OVP before they spoke with Armitage), the evidence is also that Dick Cheney ordered Libby to leak stuff and the record shows (and nothing from Miller’s book discussed thus far, at least, contradicts) that Libby included Plame’s identity in that.

By the time Fitzgerald subpoenaed Miller, Cheney may not have been accused of anything, but he had been required to give a second, sworn interview with Fitzgerald that could be introduced to the grand jury because his first interview differed in dramatic ways from Libby’s grand jury appearances. It was that interview, by all appearances, that led to the Judy subpoena.

Cheney doesn’t  hide that he’s still trying to get the guy who covered up for him a pardon. Judy’s book is just the convenient, albeit factually laughable, claim on which he plans to hang that effort.

Whatever information Judy laundered for the Administration back in 2002 (and Libby, at least, claimed it was Condi Rice who did such laundering before the war, not him or Cheney, which is not entirely inconsistent with Miller’s currently operative claims) and far more obviously after it, she is back to serving as Cheney’s cut-out now.

In nothing yet made public does Judy deny serving as Cheney’s cut-out. Which is good, because the whole effort seems to be proof that she continues to do so.

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.

Jury Convicts Sterling on All Nine Counts

Courtroom sketch by Debra Van Poolen (http://www.debvanpoolen.com/)

Courtroom sketch by Debra Van Poolen (http://www.debvanpoolen.com/)

After having deliberated for slightly over 2 days, the jury today found Jeffrey Sterling guilty of all nine counts today. (See a summary of the charges here.)

I’m not surprised the jury found Sterling guilty of some of the charges: of leaking Risen information on Merlin and the operation he was involved in, and of retaining and then leaking Risen a document involved in that. The government multiplied the charges for both the 2003 New York Times story (at which point, Sterling and Risen had only spoken for two minutes and 40 seconds) and the 2006 book (by which point they had had more lengthy discussions), such that each leak amounted to multiple charges. In addition, the jury convicted Sterling of passing government property worth over $1,000, and of obstruction of justice.

It’s the last charge that really raises questions about how the jury understood their instructions.

That’s because the government charged Sterling for obstructing the investigation by destroying a totally unclassified email he sent to James Risen in March 2003; he destroyed that email sometime between April and July 2006. The government made no allegation that Sterling ever entered Virginia during this period, much less destroyed the email there. In other words, there is no way Sterling should have been found guilty on that charge in Virginia (though it was easily the charge for which there was the most evidence to convict him of, had it been charged in Missouri). So that guilty verdict should make it easier to prove that the jury misunderstood the venue questions.

The other thing I think the defense might have grounds to appeal was Leonie Brinkema’s decision (which remains classified) that kept out details showing that several of the witnesses against Sterling — up to four of the people cleared into the Merlin operation — had, like Sterling, kept classified documents at home. One of the few concrete pieces of evidence against Sterling was that he had kept (probably retroactively) classified documents at home, which the government presented in big red printed SECRET folders. But, if (as seems highly likely) Bob S also did the same, it might raise questions about why FBI never investigated him as a potential source.

There’s much more that raises questions about the legitimacy (though not necessarily the outcome) of the trial, such as the things CIA managed to keep secret, including that the CIA had declared state secrets over some of the evidence submitted at trial to deprive Sterling of the ability to sue for discrimination.

And, finally, the verdict raises real questions about the economy of leaks in DC, in which people may point reporters to stories, only to have the reporters dig up damning evidence from other sources (which is what seems most likely to have happened here). Jeffrey Sterling just got found guilty for causing James Risen to publish a story to (the government claimed) avenge his crummy treatment by the CIA. Sterling’s guilty verdict allows no room for Risen to have decided to publish a story about CIA’s horrible record on WMD. This verdict will not only send Sterling to prison, but it turns journalists into agency-free vehicles of their sources.

 

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 Tie between Jeffrey Sterling and CIA-on-the-Hudson

My latest post on the Jeffrey Sterling trial notes that the same guy who called Sterling’s performance “extremely sub-par” is also the guy who set up the NYPD’s program profiling Muslims.

On Friday, former high ranking CIA officer David Cohen — who headed up the New York office while Sterling was there — described how he removed Sterling from the Merlin case because he didn’t believe Sterling was performing well at his job (an opinion neither his deputy, Charles Seidel, nor Bob S shared, at least according to their testimony). “His performance was extremely sub-par,” Cohen testified. Cohen also seemed to disdain what might be called political correctness, which if true may have exacerbated Sterling’s increasing sense of being discriminated against for being African American.

That would be consistent with the action for which Cohen has received more press in recent years: setting up the New York Police Department’s intelligence program that profiles the area’s Muslim community. In the wake of 9/11, Cohen moved from the CIA to the NYPD. In 2002, he got a federal court to relax the Handschu guidelines, which had been set up in 1985 in response to NYPD’s targeting of people for their political speech. Handschu required specific evidence before using informants to investigate a group. But, as an article from the Pulitzer Prize winning AP series described it, “Cohen told a federal judge that those guidelines made it ‘virtually impossible’ to detect terrorist plots.” After getting the rules relaxed, Cohen created teams of informants that infiltrated mosques and had officers catalog Muslim-owned restaurants, shops, and even schools. “Cohen said he wanted the squad to ‘rake the coals, looking for hot spots,’” the AP reported in 2011.

At almost precisely the same time as jury selection for Sterling’s case started, theThird Circuit Court of Appeals heard a challenge from those targeted under the program, who claim they had been discriminated against on the basis of their religion.

While the agencies involved are different, it seems notable that the primary person to find fault with Sterling’s performance at the CIA — which Sterling claimed arose from problems with his race — is the same guy who started a program targeting Muslims across the New York City area. But that detail won’t be presented to jurors at all during the trial.

Click through to see how the Russian involved in the operation invoked Valerie Plame to describe his concern about his name leaking, just weeks before it started to become clear that Vice President Cheney probably ordered that leak.

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.

Lanny Breuer’s Conflicts

NYT has a story based off a CREW FOIA for details of FBI’s investigations into John Ensign’s efforts to buy off his mistress’ husband. While the details show Ensign was even more sleazy than we knew, I’m at least as interested in this passage:

The Justice Department’s decision not to charge Mr. Ensign was widely seen as a sign of its skittishness about prosecuting and potentially losing public corruption cases in the wake of stinging courtroom defeats against former Senators Ted Stevens of Alaska and John Edwards of North Carolina. The documents confirm that speculation: In an internal email in 2011 assessing the chances of prosecuting Mr. Ensign, a top prosecutor wrote that “the legal theory is possible with the right facts” but that the “mere response” of helping a former Senate employee to find work “is not enough.” Another prosecutor wrote that “this is a really tough case to win.”

The documents show that the investigation was also complicated by a legal conflict; Lanny A. Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division at the time, had worked with a defense lawyer in the Ensign camp at Mr. Breuer’s prior law firm, Covington & Burling. Mr. Breuer was temporarily recused from the Ensign investigation as a result of the conflict, the records show, but later got a waiver that allowed him to oversee it with certain restrictions, officials said.

In 2012, Mr. Breuer and the Justice Department decided not to bring criminal charges against Mr. Ensign.

Even the Senate (!) was willing to discipline Ensign. But DOJ chose not to. And at the center of that decision was Lanny Breuer, whose once and future firm, Covington & Burling, represented Ensign. And yet Breuer found a way to un-recuse himself from the case.

It is not at all a surprise that Breuer didn’t manage his conflicts well. I argued that he didn’t back in 2009, when he made the decision to bury Dick Cheney’s CIA leak investigation interview (and make no mention of his quasi-grand jury appearance), even though he had represented John Kiriakou in the CIA leak case (and in helping him avoid grand jury testimony, hide that Cheney and Libby knew Plame was CIA earlier than they said they did).

Ironically, that was also for a CREW FOIA.

Maybe CREW should just skip the interim step and FOIA all the times Breuer ignored the conflicts he had on issues he presided over?

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.

Time for an Executive Branch Internet Dragnet

As George Zornick and Josh Hicks laid out (saving me the trouble) the news that IRS lost Lois Lerner’s emails from the period during which she reviewed the tax status of political groups is not all that surprising. After all, there’s a long history of the Executive Branch “losing” emails from a period that ends up being scandalous, including:

  • John Yoo’s emails from the period when he was working with David Addington to pre-authorize torture
  • SEC’s emails on the earliest non-investigations of Bernie Madoff
  • OVP’s emails from the days after DOJ initiated an investigation into the CIA leak case (and 5 million other emails)

I’d add two things to their list. This whole tradition started when the Reagan and Bush White House tried to destroy emails concerning the Iran-Contra scandal. And there’s a parallel tradition of having White House political staff conduct official business on non-White House emails, as both Bush and Obama’s White House have done.

And unfortunately, Steven Stockman hasn’t been paying attention. He asked NSA Director Mike Rogers for the metadata from Lerner’s missing emails. But NSA has already claimed they destroyed all their Internet dragnet records when they shut down the program in 2011. Perhaps Stockman should ask FBI whether they’ve got an Internet dragnet that might have collected on Lois Lerner?

Stockman is a nut.

But he might be onto something here. The government argues it is reasonable to collect all the records of all Americans in order to protect against the worst kinds of crimes people in the US might commit. Yet every time emails go missing, they do so amidst allegations of the worst kind of bad faith from the Executive Branch. If the threat of terrorism justifies comprehensive dragnets, based in part on the possibility the culprits will destroy evidence, then doesn’t the Executive Branch’s serial inability to fulfill its archival responsibilities under the law in the face of allegations of abuse of office do so too?

Besides, making a central repository of all the Executive Branch’s emails would address an asymmetry that corrodes democracy. Such a dragnet would ensure that the governed — and those who represent their interests — will always be able to exercise the same kind of scrutiny on those who govern as the government does on them.

Of course this will never happen, in part for justifiable reasons (cost, the privacy of federal employees), in part for unjustifiable reasons (the Executive would never agree to this). But given that it won’t happen, doesn’t it suggest the NSA’s dragnets shouldn’t either?

Update: In somewhat related news, Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley are concerned that ODNI’s plan to continually monitor employees to prevent leaks will improperly chill whistleblowers.  If someone besides the Intelligence Community tracks that information, then access to the records could be provided more due process.

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.

Peter Baker, Meat Grinder for Bush

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In the NYT, Peter Baker presents his version of George Bush’s decision not to pardon Scooter Libby as the best pitch for his new book, Days of Fire, Bush and Cheney in the White House. Given that the piece is not at all newsworthy (and as I’ll show, Baker’s version of it is badly flawed), I suppose Baker thought that Bush’s refusal to fulfill Cheney’s request supports Baker’s contention that Bush, not Cheney, was the dominant player in the relationship.

One piece of evidence Baker provides to support that contention is this quote from Alan Simpson.

Cheney “never did anything in his time serving George W. that George W. didn’t either sanction or approve of,” said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming and a close friend of Cheney’s.

If Baker believes Simpson’s claim, however, then his entire reading of Cheney’s involvement in leaking Valerie Plame’s identity is wrong (and not just because he quotes Liz Cheney pretending PapaDick had no role in the leak).

Baker provides dialogue suggesting that Bush and certain lawyers — Baker identifies them as White House Counsel Fred Fielding and his Deputy William Burck — debated whether Libby was protecting Cheney.

“All right,” the president said when the lawyers concluded their assessment. “So why do you think he did it? Do you think he was protecting the vice president?”

“I don’t think he was protecting the vice president,” Burck said.

Burck figured that Libby assumed his account would never be contradicted, because prosecutors could not force reporters to violate vows of confidentiality to their sources. “I think also that Libby was concerned,” Burck said. “Because he took to heart what you said back then: that you would fire anybody that you knew was involved in this. I just think he didn’t think it was worth falling on the sword.”

Bush did not seem convinced. “I think he still thinks he was protecting Cheney,” the president said. If that was the case, then Cheney was seeking forgiveness for the man who had sacrificed himself on his behalf.

Baker implies that Bush’s conclusion — that Libby believed he was protecting Cheney — convinced himself it would not be ethical to pardon Libby based on Cheney’s insistence. (Note, whatever you and I were paying Burck, it was far too much, because his logic as portrayed here is pathetically stupid.)

That would imply that Bush believed — Burck’s shitty counsel to the contrary — that Cheney played some role in the leak.

But Alan Simpson, who truly does know Cheney well, says Cheney never did anything without either Bush’s sanction or approval. Which would imply that whatever Cheney did to leak Plame’s identity, he did with the approval of Bush.

Which brings us to the other gaping hole in Baker’s account (aside from his complete misunderstanding of the evidence surrounding the leak itself). Baker uses the word “lawyers” 11 times in this excerpt, including (but not limited to) the following.

In the final days of his presidency, George W. Bush sat behind his desk in the Oval Office, chewing gum and staring into the distance as two White House lawyers briefed him on the possible last-minute pardon of I. Lewis Libby.

“Do you think he did it?” Bush asked.

“Yeah,” one of the lawyers said. “I think he did it.”

[snip]

At the time, Bush said publicly that he was not substituting his judgment for that of the jury. So how would he explain a change of mind just 18 months later? That was the argument Ed Gillespie, the president’s counselor, made to Cheney when he came to explain why he was advising Bush against a pardon. “On top of that, the lawyers are not making the case for it,” Gillespie told Cheney, referring to the White House attorneys reviewing the case for Bush. “We’ll be asked, ‘Did the lawyers recommend it?’ And if the lawyers didn’t, it’s going to be hard to justify for the president.”

[snip]

The following Monday, Bush had his final, definitive meeting with the White House lawyers, ending any possibility of reconsideration. There would be no pardon for Libby. [my emphasis]

Lawyers lawyers lawyers. Baker emphasizes how important the counsel of Nixon’s old lawyer and his apparently half-witted deputy were to Bush’s decision, and he implies, with his description of which lawyers Ed Gillespie referred to, that those lawyers were limited to official White House lawyers.

Nowhere — at least nowhere in this excerpt — does Baker mention that Bush also consulted with his own lawyer, Jim Sharp, as reported by Time 4 years ago.

Meanwhile, Bush was running his own traps. He called Jim Sharp, his personal attorney in the Plame case, who had been present when he was interviewed by Fitzgerald in 2004. Sharp was known in Washington as one of the best lawyers nobody knew.

[snip]

While packing boxes in the upstairs residence, according to his associates, Bush noted that he was again under pressure from Cheney to pardon Libby. He characterized Cheney as a friend and a good Vice President but said his pardon request had little internal support. If the presidential staff were polled, the result would be 100 to 1 against a pardon, Bush joked. Then he turned to Sharp. “What’s the bottom line here? Did this guy lie or not?”

The lawyer, who had followed the case very closely, replied affirmatively.

Yet neither Time then nor Baker now considered the implications of Bush consulting with the lawyer who knew what questions he got asked when Pat Fitzgerald interviewed the President.

Those questions would have included whether — as Libby’s grand jury testimony recorded Cheney as having claimed — the President declassified the information, including Plame’s identity, Cheney ordered Libby to leak to Judy Miller. They also would have included why — as the note above shows — Cheney almost wrote that “the Pres” had ordered Libby to stick his neck in a meat grinder and rebut Joe Wilson, before he cross out the reference to the President and used the passive voice instead. They would have also included questions about Bush’s public comments about rebutting Wilson in meetings. (I laid out these details in this post.)

Peter Baker pretends that Bush had no personal knowledge of the leak or — more importantly — of Fitzgerald’s reasons for suspecting Cheney ordered the leak. He somehow forgets that Bush consulted his own lawyer, along with Fielding and Fielding’s lackey, either to interpret what Libby did or, more likely, what implications pardoning Libby would have for his own legal exposure.

Which is pretty bizarre. While including these details might make Bush look like a self-interested asshole, they are the only details that make sense if — as Baker suggests with the Simpson quote — whatever Cheney did that required Libby’s protection, he did with Bush’s sanction.

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 Latest Ploy to Avoid Federal and Presidential Records Act, FOIA

As if the AP and the Administration weren’t already enjoying a contentious relationship, today it details the Administration’s use of second, secret emails.

Some of President Barack Obama’s political appointees, including the secretary for Health and Human Services, are using secret government email accounts they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages, according to a review by The Associated Press.

The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees’ email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.

[snip]

Google can’t find any reference on the Internet to the secret address for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Congressional oversight committees told the AP they were unfamiliar with the non-public government addresses identified so far by the AP.

Ten agencies have not yet turned over lists of email addresses, including the Environmental Protection Agency; the Pentagon; and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Treasury, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, Commerce and Agriculture. All have said they are working on a response to the AP.

Now, the Administration claims people are doing this just to cut down on clutter in their email boxes. But thus far, it appears that the second emails aren’t being turned over under FOIAs or, if they are, aren’t being identified as belonging to the principal.

And so we move into another chapter of the Executive Branch hiding or deleting emails to avoid transparency, which of course goes back to Poppy Bush’s efforts to hide PROFS notes as part of the Iran-Contra coverup. The National Security Archive’s timeline, of course, misses the several efforts under the Bush Administration to either delete massive amounts of emails, particularly those from sensitive days of the CIA Leak Investigation, and the political staff’s use of RNC email addresses to take emails entirely out of Presidential Records Act retention.

This is getting tiresome: we’re going on 5 presidential administrations now that have played games with emails, a tedious series of efforts to avoid transparency.

Maybe it’s time for Congress to put some real teeth onto laws requiring the President to retain such records?

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.