William Welch and DOJ’s Mojo Is Not Risen

Who says fun things don’t come on Fridays? There is some nice little spooky news on the wire this afternoon. Jeffrey Sterling, a former veteran CIA agent on the Iran beat, was charged back in January with leaking classified information to a reporter. the reporter is widely known and accepted to be none other than the New York Time’s James Risen, and the material supposedly was contained in his book State of War. The prosecution, headed by DOJ leak hitman William Welch (disgraced supervisor in the unethical prosecution of Ted Stevens). For some unknown reason, Welch was installed by the Obama/Holder DOJ as head of their unprecedented crackdown on leaks to the media.

Looks like Welch may have gotten in front of himself again. From the Washington Post:

The government’s case against an ex-CIA officer charged with leaking classified documents to a reporter may not make it to trial because of potential issues with a witness, a federal prosecutor said Friday.

….

At a pretrial hearing Friday in U.S. District Court, prosecutor William Welch told the judge that “potential witness issues” will determine “whether the case goes to trial or not.” He did not elaborate.

Uh huh. What this really means is the court is not likely to change its mind about compelling Risen to testify – Judge Brinkema has already refused and quashed a subpoena once – and the DOJ’s own written guidelines make it hard for them to pursue that further. Oh, and they bloody well do not have enough admissible evidence to make their case without Risen. Makes you wonder just how, and how legally, the prosecution got much of their evidence.

Something you might would have thought a guy like Welch, who has made such an embarrassment of himself in prior big public cases, would have figured out ahead of time. Hey, who knows, maybe Welch can salvage his witchhunt against Sterling and Risen somehow; but you sure don’t see this kind of banter in open court when things are all nice and rosy.

William Welch’s mojo ain’t Risen.

Solicitor General Email FOIA Shows White House Stunt Fail

In all the government shutdown, nuclear meltdown and Libya war of choice news dominating the media landscape the last couple of weeks, a completely juicy little tidbit was pried out of the Obama Administration by a right wing news outfit – and almost nobody picked up on it.

CNSNews, the cyber division of the Brent Bozell run right wing Media Research Center, has scored a bit of a coup with the acquisition of a set of FOIA documents from the Solicitor General’s office partially detailing the unusual grooming of Elana Kagan to ascend to the Supreme Court. The 66 pages of documents are fascinating and offer a unique and rare glimpse into the backstage machinations in the SG Office. The FOIA CNSNews issued was targeted almost solely at the great whale the Ahab like conservative right are pursuing, the Affordable Healthcare Act they unaffectionately refer to as “ObamaCare”.

Here is the thing, why would the Administration agree to turn over the emails? They are almost surely protected within the ambit of deliberative privilege exemption commonly recognized for the Executive Branch. Indeed, the first time CNSNews requested the records, the request was flatly rejected, back on June 22, 2010. But, the Administration, on its own, reconsidered, sought slight clarification and, finally, on March 15 of this year, delivered the FOIA records to CNSNews. The response letter from the Solicitor General’s office facially states that they would have been well within their rights to so withhold, but “it would be appropriate to release significant portions of such records requested as a matter of agency discretion”.

Uh huh. Experts in such matters were shocked. Kannon Shanmugam, a veteran of the SG’s office now with Williams & Connolly, stated (subscription may be required):

…the documents represent “an unusual if not unprecedented” look at the office’s operations. “It raises concerns about chilling lawyers in the office in the conduct of their work, and gives an incentive not to put things down in emails.

Indeed that would be seemingly very sound analysis. So, why did the Obama Administration give up the goods? For that, a quick look at what the emails depict, and what the FOIA asked for is necessary. As the FOIA search terms and parameters indicate, CNSNews was looking for instances of Elana Kagan’s Read more

Terror Trials, Ray Kelly and the FBI Director Job

A couple of weeks ago quite a stir was created when the rumor was let leak that President Obama was considering three different high level Bush/Cheney Administration officials to replace FBI Director Robert Mueller, whose ten year term will expire will expire on September 4, 2011. The two names most prominently featured were former Bush Deputy AG James Comey and former Bush National Security AAG Ken Wainstein but also mentioned was former Bush Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend. The story creating the hubbub, almost as an afterthought, also mentioned that Sen. Chuck Schumer had been lobbying for current NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly for the job.

Today, however, comes a news report from local New York investigative reporter Murray Weiss that the FBI Director chair is Ray Kelly’s “for the taking”:

And when sources with solid connections in the White House tell you Kelly has been told by Attorney General Eric Holder that the FBI director’s job is his for the taking, it is impossible to ignore them. All the signals, including the aside from Kelly, are in sync.

Here is the news, according to my sources.

Kelly, who served in two federal posts during the Clinton administration, is this close to heading out of Manhattan and back to Washington to cap his long career of public service by running the FBI.

There are several things interesting about the report. One is Kelly’s age – he is 69 years old. The article addresses that issue:

The FBI Director’s term is 10 years. My sources say the White House has told the 69-year-old Kelly to view the position as a five year commitment, which would coincide nicely with the end of a second Obama term.

If so, and Kelly is indeed nominated, this is a contemptible plan. The intent behind having a ten year service period for the FBI top spot is to give it some space from hard partisan politics. In this case, seeing as how rare it is that a party who has had the presidency for two terms gets it for a third, setting up the FBI job to be open in the face of what would historically be and expected GOP president in 2016 seems short-sighted and extremely ill considered. I guess that presupposes Obama is reelected, but you have to assume the White House believes that will be the case and is acting under Read more

Scott Bloch Headed To Prison

[UPDATE: Bloch was sentenced to one month prison, one year probation and 200 hours of community service. His attorney indicated they will appeal, which could be interesting since the plea appears to, on its face, disallow appeal. And the saga of Scott the Blochhead rambles on…..]

Since mid-February an important, but little noticed, criminal case has been playing out in DC District court in which former Bush/Cheney administration Special Counsel Scott Bloch is charged with criminal contempt of Congress pursuant to 2 USC 192. As I summarized in an earlier post:

As you will recall, former former Bush/Cheney Administration Special Counsel Scott Bloch destroyed evidence by wiping government computers clean, lied to Congress about it and conspired with the DOJ to minimize the conduct and slough it off with a sweetheart plea deal. Then, outrageously, when the court indicated it was inclined to impose the mandatory minimum month in jail, which was mandated by the statute Bloch pled guilty to, Bloch and the DOJ conspired to get the plea, which had already been accepted and entered by the court, withdrawn.

When Bloch and DOJ both worked together to get the plea withdrawn, and frustrate justice, the egregious nature of the attempt was documented here in a fully argued and supported post published on Tuesday March 1, 2011. Subsequent to that post, the court also found questions with the attempt to withdraw the plea and ordered Bloch to file a reply supporting the attempt.

At the previous date set for sentencing, on March 14, the court gave Bloch one last shot to brief his way out of the hole he dug for himself and ordered a tight briefing schedule therefore. Bloch filed his Motion for Reconsideration on March 14, The government filed their response, again colluding with Bloch, on March 17, and Bloch filed his reply on March 23.

Late yesterday afternoon, Judge Deborah Robinson ruled on Bloch’s latest attempt to get out of the mandatory incarceration sentence he pled guilty to, and entered her order denying his motion. The court fairly well blasted Bloch’s whining attempt to withdraw and, by extension, the continued Read more

DOJ’s New Miranda Policy Betrays Constitution & Power of Judiciary

The proclivity of the Obama Administration to simply do as it pleases, whether it violates the Constitution, established authority or the separation of powers doctrine is beyond striking. Last week at this time they were ignoring the Constitutional right of Congress, the Article I branch, to be the determinative branch on the decision to take the country to war. Today Mr. Obama’s Department of Justice has stretched its ever extending arm out to seize, and diminish, the power and authority of the judicial branch and the US Constitution.

Specifically, the DOJ has decided to arrogate upon itself the power to modify the Constitutionally based Miranda rights firmly established by the Article III Branch, the Supreme Court. From Evan Perez at the Wall Street Journal:

New rules allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades.

The move is one of the Obama administration’s most significant revisions to rules governing the investigation of terror suspects in the U.S. And it potentially opens a new political tussle over national security policy, as the administration marks another step back from pre-election criticism of unorthodox counterterror methods.

The Supreme Court’s 1966 Miranda ruling obligates law-enforcement officials to advise suspects of their rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present for questioning. A 1984 decision amended that by allowing the questioning of suspects for a limited time before issuing the warning in cases where public safety was at issue.

That exception was seen as a limited device to be used only in cases of an imminent safety threat, but the new rules give interrogators more latitude and flexibility to define what counts as an appropriate circumstance to waive Miranda rights.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation memorandum reviewed by The Wall Street Journal says the policy applies to “exceptional cases” where investigators “conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat.” Such action would need prior approval from FBI supervisors and Justice Department lawyers, according to the memo, which was issued in December but not made public.

This type of move has been afoot for almost a year, with Eric Holder proposing it in a string of Sunday morning talk shows on May 9, 2010 and, subsequently, based on Holder’s request for Congressional action to limit Miranda in claimed terrorism cases, Representative Adam Smith proposed such legislation on July 31, 2010. Despite the howling of the usual suspects such as Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman, etc. the thought of such legislation died in the face of bi-partisan opposition from a wide range of legislators who actually understood Constitutional separation of powers and judicial authority. They knew the proposed legislation flew in the face of both concepts. And they were quite Read more

NYT’s Selective Press Prosecution Outrage Doesn’t Include WikiLeaks

As a follow up to yesterday afternoon’s decision in the WikiLeaks grand jury subpoena case, it is, shall we say, interesting that the New York Times today comes out with and editorial slamming democracies that use secret evidence and maneuvers to prosecute journalists.

The editorial is titled No Way to Run a Democracy and it doesn’t spend one word of it on the rabid use of just those tactics in relation to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange (See here and here). Nor has there been any comparable outrage over the US actions against WikiLeaks journalists in any other NYT effort and/or article.

Now, make no mistake, the plight of investigative journalists in Turkey under threat from the administration of Prime Minister Erdogan is extremely troubling, and it is commendable that the Gray Lady has called it out. But it does make you wonder where the same outrage is in relation to the First Amendment eviscerating effort of the US Department of Justice toward WikiLeaks and Assange. An investigation which could, and if it is taken to its logical conclusion, should involve the Times itself.

Maybe it is because Bill Keller reached some agreement with the DOJ not to trash them in return for DOJ laying off the NYT during one of his endless tete a tetes with them over quashing news reporting, maybe Keller and the Times are fearful that they don’t have some kind of secret agreement with the DOJ, maybe it is the product of the merging of the media and government in the US, or maybe it is because of Keller’s irrational and unprofessional extreme dislike of, and contempt for, the “dirty” Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Whatever the reason, the stridence against the Erdogan government actions contrasted with the silence toward the domestic Obama government actions is telling.

WikiLeaks: Court Upholds US Subpoena For Twitter Records

In a 21 page opinion, US Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan of the Eastern District of Virginia District Court has just granted the United States Department of Justice subpoena demand for records in the WikiLeaks investigation.

Three people associated with WikiLeaks – Jacob Appelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp – had petitioned the court to vacate the subpoena and to unseal the court pleadings. The court held:

For the foregoing reasons, petitioners’ Motion to Vacate is DENIED. Petitioners’ Motion to Unseal is DENIED as to docket 10- gj-3793, and GRANTED as to the 1:11-dm-00003 docket, with the exception of the government attorney’s email address in Twitter’s Motion for Clarification (Dkt. 24), which shall be redacted. Petitioners’ request for public docketing of the material within 10-gj-3793 shall be taken under consideration. An Order shall follow.

The three WikiLeaks individuals had argued the subpoena violated constitutional protections for free speech and association; the court disagreed. Appelbaum, Gonggrijp and Jonsdottir have already stated they will appeal.

You can read the full opinion here. I will be updating the post as I read the decision.

In December of last year, the US government, upon ex parte motion, moved the EDVA Court to enter a sealed Order (“Twitter Order”) pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) of the Stored Communications Act, which governs government access to customer records stored by a service provider. The Twitter Order, which was unsealed on January 5, 2010, at the request of Twitter, required Twitter to turn Read more

Court Denies Scott Bloch & DOJ Collusive Attempt To Withdraw Plea

As you will recall, former former Bush/Cheney Administration Special Counsel Scott Bloch destroyed evidence by wiping government computers clean, lied to Congress about it and conspired with the DOJ to minimize the conduct and slough it off with a sweetheart plea deal. Then, outrageously, when the court indicated it was inclined to impose the mandatory minimum month in jail, which was mandated by the statute Bloch pled guilty to, Bloch and the DOJ conspired to get the plea, which had already been accepted and entered by the court, withdrawn.

When Bloch and DOJ both worked together to get the plea withdrawn, and frustrate justice, the egregious nature of the attempt was documented here in a fully argued and supported post published on Tuesday March 1, 2011. Subsequent to that post, the court also found questions with the attempt to withdraw the plea and ordered Bloch to file a reply supporting the attempt.

Seeing the specious nature of Bloch’s reply filed on March 3, 2011, the Emptywheel blog got involved and initiated a formal filing with the court. We combined much of the material from the previous blog post on March 1 with new argument directly responsive to Bloch’s Reply, and additional general argument, into a formal sentencing recommendation and filed it with the court. The document was lodged on March 4.

Late last night, after consideration of the various pleadings related to the attempt to withdraw Bloch’s plea, the court filed its decision on PACER. Scott Bloch’s motion to withdraw from his plea, despite the collusive help from the DOJ, is DENIED!

For all of the foregoing reasons, the court finds that Defendant, at the time he pled guilty to a violation of 2 U.S.C. § 192, was well aware that he could have been sentenced to a period of incarceration of up to one year. His assertion, through his affidavit, that he would not have pled guilty had he “been informed” that he would not receive probation is, simply put, not entitled to credence. This court–like the Circuit, when confronted with a comparable contradiction between the defendant’s answers under oath during the Rule 11 colloquy and the affidavit in support of his motion – finds that “[Defendant’s] argument – if not his affidavit – amounts to a claim that the defect in the taking of the plea consisted of his committing perjury, when, under oath, he acknowledged the truth of the factual recitals in the plea agreement and in the government’s proffer. Lying to a court is not a ‘fair and just reason,’ Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(d)(2)(B), for allowing a plea to be withdrawn.” (emphasis added)

The entire ruling by the court is 20 pages long and takes apart every argument Bloch makes limb by limb. As it should have been. Perhaps the best line of Judge Robinson’s decision, and a point we argued strongly, is:

Confidence in the fair and orderly administration of justice is undermined by the suggestion that the court should participate in a process by which a sentence is first determined by Defendant and the government, and then an offense expected to guarantee such sentence is alleged.

Boy, the court sure got that right. Not to mention that confidence in fair and honest government is undermined when the DOJ is willing to not prosecute and/or minimize clear crimes committed by other Executive Branch officers. They tried to soft walk Scott Bloch out of this, and it is still awfully small punishment considering Bloch’s crimes, but at least they did not get away with further obfuscation and frustration of justice. Now let’s get the Obama DOJ to get some more prosecutions for all the other egregious Executive Branch crimes of the previous administration going. It is about time.

Bloch’s sentencing is set for this afternoon at 2:30 pm at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse.

DOJ Bigfoots Over A Bridge Too Far On Loughner Indictment

Friday, at 12 noon local time, the Arizona United States Attorneys Office held a press conference to announce new charges against Jared Loughner in the Gabby Giffords shooting spree. From the official press release:

“This was an attack on Congresswoman Giffords, her constituents, and her staff,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. “We will seek justice for the federal officials, Judge Roll and Gabriel M. Zimmerman, and for Dorothy J. Morris, Phyllis C. Schneck, Dorwan C. Stoddard, and C-T G. These final four Arizonans’ lives were extinguished while exercising one of the most precious rights of American citizens, the right to meet freely and openly with their Member of Congress. The deceased are not the only ones whose rights are being defended. Those citizens who were peaceably assembled to speak to their Member of Congress are also named victims in this indictment. This indictment involves potential death-penalty charges, and Department rules require us to pursue a deliberate and thorough process. That process is ongoing, and we will continue to

work diligently to see that justice is done.”

The press release, at the end, contains a nice summary chart of the various crimes charged and potential sentences. What is notable is that the new superseding indictment, although the press release is somewhat vague about it, is that the federal government has effectively seized jurisdiction of the entire case, including on the presumptively state law victims. As the Washington Post describes it:

But, employing a novel legal argument, prosecutors persuaded a federal grand jury to indict him on 46 new charges, on the theory that the shootings occurred on protected federal ground, as if it happened in Congress. Six people, including a chief federal district judge, were killed, and 13 – including Giffords – were injured.

U.S Attorney Dennis K. Burke told reporters in Phoenix that he wants to seek justice for all the victims and make no distinction between those who were federal employees and those who were merely attending the congresswoman’s event.

“These victims were exercising one of the most precious and fundamental rights of American citizens: the right to meet freely, openly and peaceably with their member of Congress,” Burke said. “It is a civil right. And their safety in participating in this federal activity is protected by federal law.”

“Novel legal argument” is one of the larger understatements of this still young century. A better description would be overreaching rubbish. This is something you are not likely to see often, but I am in complete agreement with Andrew McCarthy, who opined at the NRP Corner:

I think the Justice Department’s strategy in the Loughner case is legally suspect (to say the least) and tactically foolish. There are federal charges that apply to the shootings of the federal officials. That’s the federal case here. To the contrary, shooting people who are not federal officials in a mall is not a federal offense — such shootings are state crimes, for which Arizona provides very severe sentences, including death if death has resulted.

Justice is hanging its jurisdictional hat on the “federally protected activity” aspect of the civil rights laws. The purpose of this provision is to give the feds a vehicle to go after people who purposely try to stop someone from enjoying the benefits of a federal program. So if some misguided soul tried to vent his disagreement with, say, the “cash for clunkers” program by standing outside the car dealership and intimidating would be participants, he would be interfering with a federally protected activity even though this sort of menacing, ordinarily, would be a state offense, not a federal offense. The idea is to protect obvious federal interests. The idea is not to create federal cases whenever the commission of a state crime has some incidental, attenuated federal consequence.

That is exactly correct although, again, it is somewhat of an understatement. What is going on here is Read more

Court Should Deny DOJ & Scott Bloch Collusion to Avoid Accountability

As you will recall, Scott Bloch is the senior governmental attorney who formerly served as head of the United States Office of Special Counsel:

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Our basic authorities come from four federal statutes: the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

In short, it is an unique, but quite important, entity in the federal government, and is entrusted with protecting the sanctity of whistleblowers, who are one of the last checks on an increasingly imperious federal government, and especially the Executive Branch thereof. Mr. Bloch refused to do his job appropriately under the Bush/Cheney Administration and, when members of his own staff, including attorneys, attempted to blow the whistle on Bloch, the man entrusted with protecting whistleblowers unconscionably retaliated against them and blatantly destroyed governmental property and statutorily protected electronic files evidencing his acts.

Once informed of the questionable, inappropriate and/or patently illegal acts by Bloch, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee instigated a formal Congressional investigation of Bloch. On March 4, 2008, in the course of formal interviews with Oversight Committee staff, Bloch withheld critical information and lied. (See Bloch’s signed Stipulation of Facts dated 4/27/2010). Bloch entered into a plea agreement with the government and has been awaiting sentencing by Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson of the District of Columbia District Court.

As Marcy Wheeler and I previously explained, the Obama Department of Justice is furiously colluding with the defendant they are supposed to be prosecuting, Scott Bloch, to ensure that he never does a day in jail for his crimes, and there appears to be no credible reason they are doing so:

The Department of Justice has literally teamed up with Scott Bloch-who previously plead guilty to blowing off Congress–to try to help him avoid any jail time, at any cost to credibility, for that crime. The extent of this collusion first became apparent in a ruling dated February 2, 2011 by Federal Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson, who is handling the matter.

Now, there’s more than a chance that what is going on here is DOJ scrambling to prevent Bloch from doing jail time because they–part of the Executive Branch–like it that people like Alberto Gonzales, Monica Goodling and John Yoo have managed to avoid almost all Congressional oversight. And, now with Darrell Issa cranking up the not-so-way back investigatory machine, they really do not want a precedent made that executive branch officials who lie to Congress have to – gasp – actually serve jail time.

Then, the willingness of the government prosecutors to fight to keep the criminal Bloch from serving one lousy second in jail goes from the absurd to the ridiculous. A mere four days after having filed the whiny Motion to Reconsider, and before it was substantively ruled on, the government, by and through the ever ethical DOJ, suddenly files a pleading encaptioned “Governments Motion To Withdraw Its Motion To Reconsider The Court’s February 2, 2011 Memorandum Opinion“. In this pleading, the government suddenly, and literally, admits their February 2 Motion to Reconsider was without merit.

The foregoing is the background that brings us to where we are today, with a DOJ unconscionably, and with at least questionable ethics, literally fighting tooth and nail to help Scott Bloch get out of his pleas deal because he might actually have to serve 30 days in jail for his crimes. What, as the remainder of Read more

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