SEC: CoxSlackers & BushWackers Fiddled While Wall Street Burned

The big outrage de jour making the rounds in the media currently is the porn scandal at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This report from the Washington Post is typical of the reporting coming out of the main media:

Republicans are stepping up their criticism of the Securities and Exchange Commission following reports that senior agency staffers spent hours surfing pornographic websites on government-issued computers while they were supposed to be policing the nation’s financial system.

California Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said it was “disturbing that high-ranking officials within the SEC were spending more time looking at porn than taking action to help stave off the events that put our nation’s economy on the brink of collapse.”

He said in a statement Thursday that SEC officials “were preoccupied with other distractions” when they should have been overseeing the growing problems in the financial system.

Would it be too much for the media to actually think for a moment before they perform stenography for alarmist Darrell Issa? Because even a moment’s pause would yield the realization that Republican outrage on this is absurd and duplicitous. In fact the SEC – IG report produced for another of the Republican howlers, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, proves the pornification of the SEC was born and grown during the Bush/Cheney Administration and the leadership of Republican stalwart and longtime Issa colleague and friend Chris Cox. The IG Report also demonstrates quite clearly that the vast majority of the incidents occurred during Cox’s reign during the second Bush term, although there were some that continued on during the Obama Administration.

But it is not just that the problem was born and matured under Bush and Cox, it is the fact that it is symptomatic for the emasculation and gutting of the SEC which occurred at their hands and express direction. It was not a bug, but a feature. As Bloomberg News reported last year:

Under former SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, the agency instituted policies that slowed cases and led enforcement-unit lawyers to conclude commissioners opposed fining companies, the Government Accountability Office said in a report today. An unidentified attorney said it was “widely felt” commissioners prevented the division from “doing its job,” according to the report.

“Some investigative attorneys came to see the commission as less of an ally in bringing enforcement actions and more of a barrier,” the GAO said. Cox’s policies “contributed to an adversarial relationship between enforcement and the commission.”

The non-partisan GAO report on the Bush/Cox SEC found poor management, determination to not pursue cases, lack of transparency, and collusion with business interests. It was the Republican philosophy and direction which neutered the SEC. It is little wonder they took to surfing the net for porn, they literally had nothing else to do under Republican “leadership”.

So perhaps the media stenographers ought to remember this when suddenly howling duplicitous Republican shills like Issa and Grassley want to tar, feather and undermine the SEC now that Democratic leadership, led by Mary Schapiro, have cleaned the agency up, turned it around and put it back to work doing its oversight and enforcement job.

On a related note in things financial, our friend Selise is going to be along in comments to discuss her Seminal Diary on financial reform and the commendable Fiscal Sustainability Conference and Teach-In occurring next week in Washington DC. This is a worthy effort and is supported by a variety of progressive interests including Jamie Galbraith and my friend and former colleague, Ian Welsh.

(graphic by nathan bransford)

Scott Bloch Cops A Plea For Bloching Justice

You might remember our old friend Scott Bloch, the former head of the United States Office of Special Counsel under the Bush/Cheney Administration. The OSC’s primary mission is to safeguard the Federal merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing. You might also remember Bloch was the one David Iglesias was sure could unravel the US Attorney Purgegate and nail Karl Rove. That didn’t work out so well, and then Bloch got in hot water himself for purging his own computers with the pros from “Geeks on Call” performing a “seven level wipe” for him.

Well, to make a long story short, it appears Lady Justice has finally caught up to the intrepid BlochHead. From the Washington Post:

Scott J. Bloch, the former director of a federal office in charge of helping shield government whistleblowers from unfair treatment, plans to plead guilty to withholding information from congressional investigators after he had his office computer files professionally deleted in 2006.

U.S. prosecutors filed papers in federal court Thursday that accuse Bloch, who led the Office of Special Counsel through much of President George W. Bush’s administration, of failing to truthfully answer questions about whether he arranged for private computer technicians to “scrub” his office computer and that of other political appointees. This type of filing, known as an information, is made public when a suspect is about to plead guilty to the allegations.

Bloch came under criticism early in his tenure as special counsel for ordering all mention of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation be removed from OSC’s Web site and printed materials. Bloch stated his office lacked the authority to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

He was abruptly removed from his post and barred from returning to his office in October 2008 after a meeting with White House officials.

The root here is Bloch is to plea to withholding information about his computer scrape from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. A criminal information was filed today, and that means his change of plea to guilty is on the immediate horizon, very possibly tomorrow. Here is the AP version of the story.

Hilariously enough, Bloch’s troubles began when someone blew the whistle on him; from a February 2007 Washington Post article:

A trouble-plagued whistle-blower investigation at the Office of Special Counsel — whose duties include shielding federal whistle-blowers — hit another snag this week when employees accused the special counsel of intimidation in the probe.

The Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general has been investigating allegations by current and former OSC employees that Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch retaliated against underlings who disagreed with his policies — by, among other means, transferring them out of state — and tossed out legitimate whistle-blower cases to reduce the office backlog. Bloch denies the accusations, saying that under his leadership the agency has grown more efficient and receptive to whistle-blowers.

The probe is the most serious of many problems at the agency since Bloch, a Kansas lawyer who served at the Justice Department’s Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives, was appointed by President Bush three years ago. Since he took the helm in 2004, staffers at the OSC, a small agency of about 100 lawyers and investigators, have accused him of a range of offenses, from having an anti-gay bias to criticizing employees for wearing short skirts and tight pants to work.

At any rate, the continuing saga of Bungalow Bloch appears to be nearing an end. Oh well, another name to the Bush Administration convict list and another update of Hugh’s Bush Scandal List needed.

Obama Killed The Johnsen Nomination, Not Ben Nelson Nor The GOP

It strikes me as necessary to follow up a bit on the death of the Dawn Johnsen nomination to lead the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. Specifically, it needs to be clear the conventional wisdom of the main media, and even a surprising number of normally more clear headed progressive bloggers, that the nomination failed because of opposition from Republican obstruction coupled with opposition by Ben Nelson, is completely and patently false.

The false meme was already in play with the first substantive reporting by Sam Stein at Huffington Post as I noted yesterday. It is being propagated by the Washington Post (Republicans and “moderate lawmakers”), the New York Times (conservatives and two Democrats), even progressive stalwarts like Glenn Greenwald and McJoan at DKos have discussed the effects of the Republicans and Ben Nelson on the torpedoed nomination (although, to be fair, neither ascribes full blame on the GOP and Nelson).

Perhaps the best example of purveying the false wisdom comes from Jake Tapper at ABC. Tapper, in an article supposedly about the Obama White House not having the stomach for a fight on Johnsen, nevertheless proceeds to regurgitate the usual suspects:

Senate Republicans opposed her nomination overwhelmingly, meaning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., needed 60 votes to bring her nomination to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

The White House put all the blame on the Republican minority — White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said, “Senate Republicans will not allow her to be confirmed” — but it was a bit more complicated than that.

A Senate Democratic leadership source said that throughout 2009 two Democrats said they would vote against her — Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. The only Republican of the 40-member GOP caucus who said he would vote for her was her fellow Hoosier, Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind.
…..
Specter remained opposed to Johnsen’s nomination even after he switched parties in April 2009, but his primary opponent Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., began to attack Specter for his opposition to her nomination.

Johnsen’s nomination expired at the end of 2009, but in January 2010 Specter said he’d vote for her.

This is a bunch of bunk. I have previously written extensively on why there were at least 60 votes for Johnson’s confirmation for the entire second half of last year after Al Franken was sworn in, and why there still were 60 votes for her confirmation this year upon Obama’s renomination, even after the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts. If you have any question, please click through and refer to those articles; for now though, I want to revisit the false light being painted on Ben Nelson and Arlen Specter on the nomination’s failure. Read more

The Inevitable Sacking Of The Dawn Johnsen Nomination

There was never any question but that the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to be head of the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel would be withdrawn. None. Much to the dismay of progressives everywhere who believe in the principles Professor Johnsen has written and stood for, early on in the Obama Administration it was crystal clear Mr. Obama and his Administration had retreated completely from the what has turned out to be empty rhetoric of his campaign and short term in the Senate.

As dday and Sam Stein have already alerted, Professor Johnsen’s nomination has been withdrawn. I want to focus on a later part of Stein’s piece in the Huffington Post, not to pick on Sam who is a fantastic reporter, but to knock back the bullshit meme that is going to be pervasive in the media:

The withdrawal represents a major blow to progressive groups and civil liberties advocates who had pushed for Johnsen to end up in the office that previously housed, among others, John Yoo, the author of the infamous torture memos under George W. Bush.

But the votes, apparently, weren’t there. Johnsen had the support of Sen Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) but was regarded skeptically by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — primarily for her positions on torture and the investigation of previous administration actions. A filibuster, in the end, was likely sustainable. Faced with this calculus, the White House chose not to appoint Johnsen during Senate recess, which would have circumvented a likely filibuster but would have kept her in the position for less than two years.

In a statement accompanying Johnsen’s letter, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said her credentials were “exemplary and her commitment to the rule of law has been proven time and again.”

“After years of politicization of the Office during the previous administration, the President believes it is time for the Senate to move beyond politics and allow the Office of Legal Counsel to serve the role it was intended to – to provide impartial legal advice and constitutional analysis to the executive branch,” LaBolt added. “He will work now to identify a replacement and call on the Senate to move swiftly to confirm that nominee in order to achieve those goals.”

It is indeed a serious blow to progressives; but far more than that, it is a serious blow to the country and its desire to bring common sense, morality and the rule of law back to the tattered United States Department of Justice. No division of the DOJ has more symbolized the rot, moral and legal decay brought on by the Bush/Cheney Administration than the OLC where the sick and despicable opinions of John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steve Bradbury emanated from. This is why Dawn Johnsen was both symbolically and pragmatically so critical and so welcomed. But it was not to be; it was never to be.

But Stein, and the rest of the major media that has had their head in the sand and not been paying attention need to wake up and realize that the failure of the Johnsen nomination is NOT and NEVER WAS about a lack of votes. No, it is completely and unequivocally about the failure of Barack Obama and his Administration to support their own nominee and stand up for the values she proffered which led them to select her in the first place. This is about Obama, not the Senate, not Republicans and not about obstruction. From an earlier post:

If one needed any more confirmation of the stunts Obama and his Administration have been pulling without the strong and principled leadership at the OLC (and there really should be no question after the wholesale adoption of Bush policies on surveillance and torture that are at complete odds with Johnsen’s long-stated beliefs), it came like a ton of bricks with the recent revelation that Obama brazenly used the OLC to retroactively immunize serial and repetitive illegal and unconstitutional violation of Federal wiretapping laws by the FBI and telecom companies.

By the way, we have now seen the OPR Report on the “Torture Memos”; did you know that there has been a parallel OPR investigation going on all along over the OLC illegal warrantless wiretapping memos?? You have to wonder where that report is and how it played into the refusal to support Dawn Johnsen. You also have to wonder why nobody else is asking that question.

I wrote about this previously here and here and demonstrated the point with evidence. Yet no matter what my effort, the point refused to gain traction in the greater media. Will the major media continue to flail with their head in a dark place? You can bet on it.

Here Comes The Judge; Gitmo Military Commissions Redux

It has now been a little over a month since we learned just how far over the due process rule of law cliff the Obama Administration has gone with regard to politicization of the DOJ prosecutorial function in relation to terrorist trials. That striking realization came courtesy of Jane Mayer’s and Josh Gerstein’s respective reports on the Rahm/Obama negotiations with Lindsay Graham to go strictly with military commissions and Eric Holder’s seeming resignation that such may indeed be the case.

There are two new developments that would seem to indicate the Obama Administration is indeed moving toward capitulation to the neocon howlers on the issue of military tribunals over civilian trials. First, from Main Justice comes word that the Graham/Emanuel deal is looking like it is on and Graham has finalized his proposal on terrorist detentions and trials band and he and the administration are circulating it on the hill:

Graham’s proposal comes after weeks of discussion between the South Carolina senator and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. In January, Emanuel and Graham began talks on a deal: Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, would be tried in a military tribunal, in exchange for Graham’s support for a new U.S. detention center to replace Guantanamo Bay. (Graham has warned that his support for closing Gitmo would be affected by a civilian trial for KSM, which he adamantly opposes.) According to an unnamed administration official cited by The Post, those discussions have broadened and Graham now hopes to reach a “grand bargain” that would resolve many outstanding questions concerning terrorist detention.

The White House opposes some of the ideas in Graham’s proposal, such as a separate national security court to try alleged terrorist detainees, according to The Post. But other provisions — including one that would create a standard process for dealing with habeas petitions, where alleged terrorists challenge their status as “unlawful enemy combatants” in U.S. courts — are likely to find support, The Post said.

It is all disquieting enough, but the last part signals a abject willingness by the Obama Administration to have Congress restrict habeas access to courts; I guess they are noticing that real courts keep thinking there is no justification for detention of the people they have salted away for years at Gitmo.

The second piece of news comes vis Mike Isikoff and the Declassified Blog:

The White House may yet be several weeks away from announcing whether it plans to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder and order that the 9/11 conspirators be tried before military commissions rather than in civilian courts. But it’s not hard to figure out which way the wind is blowing.

The Pentagon is set to announce that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has appointed a new chief judicial officer for the Office of Military Commissions, according to three Defense Department sources familiar with the decision. The appointment, which could come as early as Wednesday, paves the way for the Pentagon to begin convening a series of high-profile terror trials before military commissions at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay–the very same Read more

Obama Had 60 Votes For Dawn Johnsen's Confirmation Last Year; Johnsen Stalled Again This Year

3855The Obama Administration’s confounding unwillingness and/or inability to move the nomination of Dawn Johnsen as head of OLC has manifested itself yet again. The renomination of Johnsen was set to be voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, but somehow they just “ran out of time” before they could get to it, even though they found time to muse about a couple of far less significant district court judges and other lesser nominees.* It is a continuing and puzzling pattern of delay and diversion that has kept Dawn Johnsen’s nomination in limbo for better than a year.

I previously wrote about the failure of the Obama Administration to support the Dawn Johnsen nomination, a far less than good faith effort that finally resulted in Johnsen’s nomination being killed by operation of Senate Rule XXXI when they adjourned on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2009. It turns out what I wrote has been borne out and, as lawyers are wont to say, proved up pretty well.

As I will detail below, there is now crystal clear evidence that Barack Obama and Harry Reid had the sixty (60) votes for cloture on the confirmation of Dawn Johnsen all along last year, at least subsequent to July 7, the day Senator Al Franken was sworn in, and despite that fact refused to call a vote and get Johnsen installed in her critical post at OLC. Here is what I wrote immediately following the Christmas Eve death of her nomination:

Moreover, the bleating by Harry Reid and the Obama Administration that it is all the fault of mean old Republican obstructionism simply does not hold water. The Democrats hold a 60 seat caucus block, sufficient to overcome Republican obstruction. Of those, the Main Justice article is quite clear there were only two Democratic problem children, former Republican Arlen Specter and the ever whiny Ben Nelson, who never passes up an opportunity to betray his party. That means there were potentially only 58 Democratic votes for Johnsen’s nomination. But Republican Richard Lugar firmly supported Dawn Johnsen, so that makes 59 votes, only one shy of confirmation.

In addition to Lugar, both Republican Senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, have refused to rule out voting for Johnsen and were being lobbied hard by extremely influential women’s groups and liberal constituents. Both Collins and Snowe have a history of agreeing, when pressured, to allow up or down votes on Presidential nominees, even from Democrats.

Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel had 59 votes in favor of Dawn Johnsen’s nomination, a distinct possibility of picking up Collins, Snowe or both, and are more than aware Arlen Specter needs big help in his reelection campaign in Pennsylvania and that Ben Nelson can always be bought. And despite all of the above, the Obama White House did not ever request Harry Reid to call a vote. The only rational conclusion from this is the Obama White House did not want Dawn Johnsen, their own nominee, to be confirmed.

My calculations on the 60 votes being available were confirmed upon Obama re-nominating Johnsen when it was immediately announced to much ballyhoo that Arlen Specter would be the 60th vote for cloture on the re-nomination; albeit apparently only after Johnsen has been again dragged through the committee process and other vagaries of prolonged confirmation procedure. The TPM report of Specter’s intention to support Johnsen’s confirmation confirms exactly what I stated, Specter was the 60th vote (there were always 58 Dems plus Richard Lugar) and was there all along; all Obama and Harry Reid had to do was call the vote. Read more

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