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Thoughts on the NYT Comey Blockbuster

The NYT has a big piece on Jim Comey’s involvement in the election you should definitely read. Rather than share my thoughts in a tweet storm I thought I’d share here so we can all gab about it.

Consensus coming closer to Jim Comey being self-righteous

As long time readers know, I think Jim Comey is self-righteous. He creates a heroic self-image that is often overblown (as it was regarding the post hospital hero events). So I was happy to see this paragraph — and observations matching it — through out the story.

Mr. Comey made those decisions with the supreme self-confidence of a former prosecutor who, in a distinguished career, has cultivated a reputation for what supporters see as fierce independence, and detractors view as media-savvy arrogance.

Comey deserves all the criticism he has gotten for his statements about the Hillary investigation. But we’re stuck with Comey for now; he’s one of the few checks against Trump’s arbitrary rule (and Comey is enough of a media hound to be able to create the space to conduct the investigation into Trump).

But one way or another I’m happy people are beginning to understand Comey not as the hospital hero, nor as a partisan, but as someone who doesn’t (or didn’t?) assess his own actions with a fair measure.

The secret David Margolis meeting

One of two really interesting new details in this story is that, when Comey was trying to decide what to do, he consulted with David Margolis, who has long been treated as the conscience of DOJ by DOJers. (See this bmaz post for more background on Margolis.)

Mr. Comey sought advice from someone he has trusted for many years. He dispatched his deputy to meet with David Margolis, who had served at the Justice Department since the Johnson administration and who, at 76, was dubbed the Yoda of the department.

What exactly was said is not known. Mr. Margolis died of heart problems a few months later. But some time after that meeting, Mr. Comey began talking to his advisers about announcing the end of the Clinton investigation himself, according to a former official.

This meeting (and the description of how they staged Margolis’ funeral so the DOJ people criticizing Comey wouldn’t have to share a stage with him) plays a weird role in the story, as if just the mention of the meeting serves to exonerate Comey’s terrible decision to announce the end of the Hillary investigation.

But what the story doesn’t note is that Comey was effectively consulting with the person who for years always intervened to make sure DOJ’s lawyers don’t get held accountable for their misconduct (most notably, he did this for John Yoo). Now, I’m not sure whether as FBI Director Comey’s behavior might have been reviewed by the Office of Professional Responsibility; as it happens DOJ IG is doing so. But it is not ethical to have the guy who, later on, would bless your actions, bless them before the fact. It’s like getting pre-approval to break the rules.

Loretta Lynch should have recused

One of the details others find most interesting is that the FBI acted as they did, in part, because a Democratic operative suggested in an email that Loretta Lynch would ensure nothing came of the investigation.

During Russia’s hacking campaign against the United States, intelligence agencies could peer, at times, into Russian networks and see what had been taken. Early last year, F.B.I. agents received a batch of hacked documents, and one caught their attention.

The document, which has been described as both a memo and an email, was written by a Democratic operative who expressed confidence that Ms. Lynch would keep the Clinton investigation from going too far, according to several former officials familiar with the document.

Read one way, it was standard Washington political chatter. Read another way, it suggested that a political operative might have insight into Ms. Lynch’s thinking.

Normally, when the F.B.I. recommends closing a case, the Justice Department agrees and nobody says anything. The consensus in both places was that the typical procedure would not suffice in this instance, but who would be the spokesman?

The document complicated that calculation, according to officials. If Ms. Lynch announced that the case was closed, and Russia leaked the document, Mr. Comey believed it would raise doubts about the independence of the investigation.

I’ve got a slew of hacking related questions about this document — starting with why it hasn’t, as far as I know, been leaked. The described timing as “early last year” suggests that it may have been hacked in the FSB phase of the hacking. But the document would have solidified the narrative the Russians were reportedly fostering about Hillary.

The article doesn’t pursue those questions, but it notes that in response to finding it, Comey did not ask Lynch to recuse. He should have. You recuse whether or not there’s basis for recusal but because of appearances as well. Moreover, so much awfulness could have been avoided had she recused. This was one of the big own goals of this whole mess.

CIA Directors should not meet with just one Gang of Eight member

The second detail I find most interesting in this story is that John Brennan privately briefed Harry Reid about his concerns about the Russians.

John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about the Russian threat that he gave an unusual private briefing in the late summer to Harry Reid, then the Senate Democratic leader.

Top congressional officials had already received briefings on Russia’s meddling, but the one for Mr. Reid appears to have gone further. In a public letter to Mr. Comey several weeks later, Mr. Reid said that “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States.”

While I’m generally sympathetic to Democrats’ complaints that DOJ should have either remained silent about both investigations or revealed both of them, it was stupid for Brennan to give this private briefing (and I hope he gets grilled about it by HPSCI when he testifies in a few weeks). In addition to the things Reid said publicly about the investigation, it’s fairly clear he and his staffers were also behind some of the key leaks here (and, as CNN reported yesterday, leaks about the investigation actually led targets of it to alter their behavior). For reasons beyond what appears in this story, I think it likely Reid served as a cut-out for Brennan.

And that’s simply not appropriate. There may well have been reasons to avoid briefing Richard Burr (who was advising Trump). But spooks should not be sharing information with just one party. CIA did so during its torture cover-up in ways that are particularly troubling and I find this — while not as bad — equally problematic.

Two missing details: the leaks and the delayed notice to Congress

While this is already a comprehensive story (though its telling of October 7 omits key details), there are two parts that seem critical that are missing: the flood of leaks from FBI and the decision to delay notifying the Gang of Four of the CI investigation.

This week, CNN reported that the FBI was “clarifying” an earlier policy fostering more contact between FBI employees with the media in response to leaks about the Trump campaign. (Click through to read about the TV series coming out focusing on FBI heroism that the FBI exercised editorial control over!!!)

The FBI is overhauling its media policy, restricting contacts between the news media and its employees amid controversy over alleged leaks, bureau officials told CNN.

The new media policy was rolled out this week at a conference in Washington attended by FBI special agents in charge of its 56 field offices, according to officials who attended.
Media access to top officials at the FBI became more common in recent years under FBI Director James Comey, part of a transparency effort he said was aiming at demystifying the FBI and helping the public understand its mission. But the new policy appears to curtail that access.
An official familiar with the development of the new policy described it as largely a “clarification” intended to reinforce existing rules on who is authorized to talk to reporters, not a step back from Comey’s transparency initiatives.

Not only should this policy have been put in place before people leaked details of FISA orders, but it should have been put in place in early 2016, when it was clear FBI Agents were leaking details of the Hillary investigation to try to force their supervisors to expand its scope to include the Clinton Foundation.

Instead, the possibility that FBI Agents would leak was one of the reasons why Comey did what he did. The correct thing, instead of making unprecedented public statements as he did, would have been to shut down the leaking.

Additionally, according to Comey’s testimony, FBI actually delayed notifying at least the heads of the Intelligence Committees  until fairly recently. The NYT acknowledges that this detail was hidden. But I’d love to understand how this departure from normal briefing affected all the other decisions (particularly in light of the the Brennan meeting).

In any case, read the whole thing. It’s very frustrating. But it also lays out a series of things that Comey — and other Obama officials — should have done differently.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

DOJ Still Claiming Its Kid Glove Oversight of Prosecutors Is Adequate

During the uproar over Jim Comey’s role in the Hillary email investigation, a lot of commentators figured it’d all come out in an Inspector General report. But as I noted, DOJ exempts its lawyers from normal kind of oversight, subjecting them instead to Office of Professional Responsibility investigations without statutory independence. The problem has been debated at least since 2007, but Congress squelched efforts to change it in 2008. That, helped by the interference of the now-deceased David Margolis, was how John Yoo got off after writing shoddy memos authorizing torture.

Last month, DOJ’s IG released its yearly review of top management challenges. And, as Michael Horowitz’s predecessor Glenn Fine had done before him, he made a bid for being able to review the conduct of DOJ’s lawyers. The report argues that the oversight for lawyers should be the same as it is for agents.

The OIG, however, does not have authority to investigate allegations of misconduct against Department attorneys when the allegations are related to their work as lawyers. Those allegations fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The OIG has long believed that there is no principled basis for this continued limitation on our jurisdiction, and no reason to treat the investigation of misconduct by prosecutors differently than misconduct by agents. Under the current system, misconduct allegations against agents are handled by a statutorily independent OIG, while misconduct allegations against prosecutors are handled by a Department component that lacks statutory independence and whose leadership is both appointed by and removable by the Department’s leadership.

As Horowitz has done with IG statutory independence with respect to accessing evidence, the report focuses on bills to address the problem.

Bipartisan bills pending in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate would remove this limitation on the OIG’s jurisdiction. The legislation, as now proposed, would allow the OIG to investigate these important matters, where appropriate, with the independence and transparency that is the touchstone of all of the OIG’s work, thereby providing the public with confidence regarding the handling of these matters. The Department’s attorneys should be held to the same standards of oversight as other Department components, and the OIG should have oversight over all Department employees, just like every other OIG.

Most interesting, however, is the way that DOJ claimed this long-established problem doesn’t exist. Unbelievably, “the Department” claimed that OPR has the same independence as OIG.

In response to a draft of this report, the Department questioned our position that the OIG should have the same authority as every other federal Inspector General to review allegations of misconduct by Department attorneys in connection with their work as lawyers. Among other things, the Department took issue with our description of OPR’s relative lack of independence as compared to the OIG by asserting that (1) OPR’s Counsel “remains unchanged with successive Attorneys General and presidential administrations,” (2) the OIG has not “criticized OPR’s work, the thoroughness of its investigations, or the soundness of its findings,” and (3) the OIG has not “identified a single OPR investigation that failed to appropriately hold accountable . . . Department attorneys.”

The report calls bullshit on the claim that the department hasn’t replaced OPR officials, noting that Holder did replace OPR Counsel Marshall Jarret in 2009 in the midst of the Ted Stevens scandal (Jarret was also backing off promises he would make the results of the Yoo investigation with Congress).

On the first point, the same could be said of supervisory attorneys throughout the Department and, in fact, contrary to the Department’s claim with regard to OPR, in April 2009, less than 4 months after the last change in presidential administrations, the new Attorney General replaced the OPR Counsel without any public explanation.

Holder actually replaced the OPR Counsel one more time, in 2011.

The report goes on to note that we can’t assess OPR’s work because, unlike most IG Reports, it is not public.

On the second and third points, neither the OIG nor the public are in a position to fully assess the thoroughness and soundness of OPR’s work precisely because OPR does not disclose sufficient information to allow for such an assessment.

The report then lists off a bunch of people — including the judge in the Ted Stevens case, Emmet Sullivan — who have complained about OPR’s work.

However, federal judges, the American Bar Association, and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) have all questioned the level of independence, transparency, and accountability of OPR. See, e.g., Order by Hon. Emmet G. Sullivan Appointing Henry F. Schuelke Special Counsel in United States v. Stevens, No. 08-cr-231 (Apr. 7, 2009), p. 46. (“the events and allegations in this case are too serious and too numerous to be left to an internal investigation that has no outside accountability”) ; “Criminal Law 2.0,” by Hon. Alex Kozinski, 44 Geo. L.J. Ann. Rev. Crim. Proc. iii (2015); ABA Recommendation urging the Department of Justice to release “as much information regarding individual investigations as possible,” Aug. 9-10, 2010, available here; “Hundreds of Justice Department Attorneys Violated Professional Rules, Laws, or Ethical Standards: Administration Won’t Name Offending Prosecutors,” Report by POGO, March 13, 2014, available here.

The report ends with a reassertion that the Inspector General Act requires far more of inspectors general than OPR provides.

Moreover, whatever the soundness of OPR’s work, the Department’s efforts to equate OPR’s independence and transparency with that of the OIG flies directly in the face of the Inspector General Act, which fundamentally exists to create entities with an enhanced degree of independence and transparency so that they can credibly conduct investigations and reviews where there would be an expectation that more independent and transparent oversight is required. That is the very reason why Attorney General Ashcroft expanded the OIG’s jurisdiction in 2001 to include the FBI and the DEA, and there simply is no reason why Department attorneys continue to be protected from the possibility that their conduct may warrant independent review by the OIG in appropriate cases.

Frankly, there is evidence that OPR’s investigation has been inadequate, starting with both the Yoo and the Stevens investigations.

But there have also been a slew of cases of prosecutors withholding evidence from defendants, cases that ought to merit some real review (to say nothing of the Clinton email case). For example, just this week, Ross Ulbricht’s lawyers revealed they had discovered evidence of a third corrupt agent, the evidence of which had been withheld from the defense team.

There’s no hint of why Horowitz is making this point now. But there sure are a number of cases that might elicit actual independent review.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

On The Passing of David Margolis, the DOJ Institution

david-margolis-250David Margolis was a living legend and giant at the Department of Justice. Now he has passed. Just posted is the following from DOJ:

Statements From Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates on the Passing of Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates released the following statements today on the passing of Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, senior-most career employee at the Department of Justice.

Statement by Attorney General Lynch:

“David Margolis was a dedicated law enforcement officer and a consummate public servant who served the Department of Justice – and the American people – with unmatched devotion, remarkable skill and evident pride for more than half a century. From his earliest days as a hard-charging young prosecutor with a singular sense of style to his long tenure as one of the department’s senior leaders, David took on our nation’s most pressing issues and navigated our government’s most complex challenges. To generations of Justice Department employees, he was a respected colleague, a trusted advisor and most importantly, a beloved friend. We are heartbroken at his loss and he will be deeply missed. My thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, his friends and all who loved him.”

Statement by Deputy Attorney General Yates:

“David Margolis was the personification of all that is good about the Department of Justice. His dedication to our mission knew no bounds, and his judgment, wisdom and tenacity made him the “go-to” guy for department leaders for over 50 years. David was a good and loyal friend to all of us, and his loss leaves a gaping hole in the department and in our hearts.”

I am sure Mr. Margolis was a kind, personable and decent chap to those who knew and worked with him. I can be sure because there have been many voices I know who have related exactly that. He was undoubtedly a good family man and pillar of his community. None of that is hard to believe, indeed, it is easy to believe.

Sally Yates is spot on when she says Margolis’ “dedication to our [DOJ] mission knew no bounds”. That is not necessarily in a good way though, and Margolis was far from the the “personification of all that is good about the Department of Justice”. Mr. Margolis may have been such internally at the Department, but it is far less than clear he is really all that to the public and citizenry the Department is designed to serve. Indeed there is a pretty long record Mr. Margolis consistently not only frustrated accountability for DOJ malfeasance, but was the hand which guided and ingrained the craven protection of any and all DOJ attorneys for accountability, no matter how deeply they defiled the arc of justice.

This is no small matter. When DOJ Inspectors General go to Congress to decry the fact that there is an internal protection racket within the Department of Justice shielding even the worst wrongs by Department attorneys, as IG Glen Fine did:

Second, the current limitation on the DOJ OIG’s jurisdiction prevents the OIG – which by statute operates independent of the agency – from investigating an entire class of misconduct allegations involving DOJ attorneys’ actions, and instead assigns this responsibility to OPR, which is not statutorily independent and reports directly to the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. In effect, the limitation on the OIG’s jurisdiction creates a conflict of interest and contravenes the rationale for establishing independent Inspectors General throughout the government. It also permits an Attorney General to assign an investigation raising questions about his conduct or the conduct of his senior staff to OPR, an entity reporting to and supervised by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General and lacking the insulation and independence guaranteed by the IG Act.

This concern is not merely hypothetical. Recently, the Attorney General directed OPR to investigate aspects of the removal of U.S. Attorneys. In essence, the Attorney General assigned OPR – an entity that does not have statutory independence and reports directly to the Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General – to investigate a matter involving the Attorney General’s and the Deputy Attorney General’s conduct. The IG Act created OIGs to avoid this type of conflict of interest. It created statutorily independent offices to investigate allegations of misconduct throughout the entire agency, including actions of agency leaders. All other federal agencies operate this way, and the DOJ should also.

Third, while the OIG operates transparently, OPR does not. The OIG publicly releases its reports on matters of public interest, with the facts and analysis underlying our conclusions available for review. In contrast, OPR operates in secret. Its reports, even when they examine matters of significant public interest, are not publicly released.

Said fact and heinous lack of accountability for Justice Department attorneys, not just in Washington, but across the country and territories, is largely because of, and jealously ingrained by, David Margolis. What Glen Fine was testifying about is the fact there is no independent regulation and accountability for DOJ attorneys.

They are generally excluded from the Department IG purview of authority, and it is rare, if ever, courts or state bar authorities will formally review DOJ attorneys without going throughout the filter of the OPR – the Office of Professional Responsibility – within the Department. A protection racket designed and jealously guarded for decades by David Margolis. Even when cases were found egregious enough to be referred out of OPR, they went to…..David Margolis.

In fact, attuned people literally called the OPR the “Roach Motel”:

“I used to call it the Roach Motel of the Justice Department,” says Fordham University law professor Bruce A. Green, a former federal prosecutor and ethics committee co-chair for the ABA Criminal Justice Section. “Cases check in, but they don’t check out.”

If you want a solid history of OPR, and the malfeasance it and Margolis have cravenly protected going back well over a decade, please go read “The Roach Motel”, a 2009 article in no less an authority than the American Bar Association Journal. It is a stunning and damning report. It is hard to describe just how much this one man, David Margolis, has frustrated public transparency and accountability into the Justice Department that supposedly works for the citizens of the United States. It is astounding really.

As I wrote back in 2010:

But just as there is an inherent conflict in the DOJ’s use of the fiction of the OPR to police itself, so too does David Margolis have issues giving the distinct appearance of impropriety. Who and what is David Margolis? A definitive look at the man was made by the National Law Journal (subscription required):

“Taking him on is a losing battle,” says the source. “The guy is Yoda. Nobody fucks with the guy.”
….
Margolis cut his teeth as an organized-crime prosecutor, and he often uses mob analogies in talking about his career at the Justice Department. When asked by an incoming attorney general what his job duties entailed, Margolis responded: “I’m the department’s cleaner. I clean up messes.”

The analogy calls to mind the character of Winston Wolfe, played by Harvey Keitel in the 1994 film “Pulp Fiction.” In the movie, Wolfe is called in by mob honchos to dispose of the evidence after two foot soldiers accidentally kill a murder witness in the back of their car.

“The Cleaner” Mr. Margolis considered himself, while fastidiously sanitizing gross malfeasance and misconduct by DOJ attorneys, all the while denying the American public the disinfectant of sunshine and transparency they deserve from their public servants (good discussion by Marcy, also from 2010).

Perhaps no single incident epitomized Margolis’ determination to be the “cleaner” for the Department of Justice and keep their dirt from public scrutiny and accountability than the case of John Yoo (and to similar extent, now lifetime federal judge Jay Bybee). Yoo as you may recall was the enlightened American who formally opinedcrushing innocent children’s testicles would be acceptable conduct for the United States to engage in. Yoo and Bybee, by their gross adoption of torture, literally personally soiled the reputation of the United States as detrimentally as any men in history.

So, what did David Margolis do in response to the heinous legal banality of evil John Yoo and Jay Bybee engendered in our name? Margolis cleaned it up. He sanitized it. Rationalized it. Ratified it. Hid it. To such an extent architects of such heinous war crimes are now lifetime appointed federal judges and tenured professors. Because that is what “The Cleaner” David Margolis did. “Protecting” the DOJ from accountability, at all costs, even from crimes against humanity, was simply the life goal of David Margolis, and he was depressingly successful at it.

So, less than 24 hours in to the passing of The Cleaner, is it too early to engage in this criticism? Clearly other career officials at the DOJ think discussing the pernicious effects of Margolis on accountability and transparency are out of bounds.

I wonder what the late Senator Ted Stevens would say in response to the “too soon” mandate of Steven Bressler? Because thanks to the efforts of The Cleaner Margolis, Stevens died without the public knowing what an unethical and craven, if not downright criminal, witch hunt attorneys in the Department of Justice ran on him. Even after Stevens was long gone from office and dead, there was Margolis “cleaning” it all up to protect his precious Justice Department when even the internal OPR found gross misconduct:

Following the Justice Department’s agreement in 2009 to vacate the convictions it obtained of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, it conducted an internal probe into the conduct of its senior lawyers and—surprise!—exonerated them and itself. It then refused to make the report public. However, at the time the conviction was voided, the presiding judge in Stevens’s case, Emmet Sullivan, appropriately wary of the department’s ethics office, appointed a special prosecutor, Henry F. Schuelke, III, an eminent Washington attorney and former prosecutor, to probe the DOJ’s conduct. Late last week, Schuelke’s 525-page report was released, over the loud objections of DOJ lawyers. The report revealed gross misconduct by the prosecutorial team, stretching over the entire course of the case and reaching into the upper echelons of the department. It concluded there had been “systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated [Stevens’s] defense.”

Having laid out the above bill of particulars as to David Margolis, I’d like to return to where we started. As I said in the intro, “I am sure Mr. Margolis was a kind, personable and decent chap”. That was not cheap rhetoric, from all I can discern, both from reading accounts and talking to people who knew Mr. Margolis well, he was exactly that. Ellen Nakashima did a fantastic review of Margolis in the Washington Post last year. And, let’s be honest, the man she described is a guy you would love to know, work with and be around. I know I would. David Margolis was a man dedicated. And an incredibly significant man, even if few in the public understood it.

Say what you will, but Mr. Margolis was truly a giant. While I have no issue delineating what appear to be quite pernicious effects of David Margolis’ gargantuan footprint on the lack of accountability of the Department of Justice to the American citizenry, I have some real abiding respect for what, and who, he was as a man. Seriously, read the Nakashima article and tell me David Margolis is not a man you would love to kill some serious beers with by a peaceful lake somewhere.

But David Margolis, both the good and the bad, is gone now. Where will his legacy live? One of our very longtime friends here at Emptywheel, Avattoir, eruditely said just yesterday:

Focus instead on the institution, not the players. The players are just data points, hopefully leading to greater understanding of the institutional realities.

Those words were literally the first I thought of yesterday when I received the phone call David Margolis had passed. They are true and important words that I, and all, need to take heed of more frequently.

David Margolis, it turns out from all appearances and reports, was a complex man. Clearly great, and clearly detrimental, edges to him. So what will his legacy be at the Department of Justice? Will the closing of the Margolis era, and it was truly that, finally bring the institution of the Department into a modern and appropriate light of transparency, accountability and sunshine?

Or will the dirty deeds of David Margolis’ historical ratification and concealment of pervasive and gross misconduct by Department of Justice attorneys become permanently enshrined as a living legacy to the man?

We shall see.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Judge Lamberth Takes DOJ to Woodshed; DOJ Moves Peas Under Different Pods

CryingJusticeThere was an interesting, albeit little noticed, order issued about ten days ago in the somewhat below the radar case of Royer v. Federal Bureau of Prisons. Royer is a federal inmate who has served about half of his 20 year sentence who in 2010 started bringing a mandamus action complaining that he was improperly classified as a “terrorist inmate” causing him to be wrongfully placed in Communication Management Unit (CMU) detention. The case has meandered along ever since.

Frankly, beyond that, the root case facts are not important to the January 15, 2014 Memorandum and Order issued by Judge Royce Lamberth in the case. Instead, Lamberth focused, like a white hot laser, on misconduct, obstreperousness and sheer incompetence on the part of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) who represents the Defendant BOP in the case.

Here are some samples straight off of Royce Lamberth’s pen:

Plaintiff’s discovery requests were served on June 19, 2013. Defendant failed to respond on July 19, 2013, as required, nor did defendant file a motion for extension of time. Defendant’s first error, therefore, was egregious—arrogating to itself when it would respond to outstanding discovery.

and

Defendant’s fourth error was on August 5, 2013, when it filed its responses to interrogatories and produced a few additional documents. The answers to interrogatories contained no signature under oath, with untimely objections signed by counsel. Even novices to litigation know that answers to interrogatories must be signed under oath. Any attorney who practices before this Court should know that this Court does not tolerate discovery responses being filed on a “rolling” basis

Lamberth then goes on to grant the inmate plaintiff pretty much all his discovery motion and hammers the DOJ by telling plaintiff to submit its request for sanctions in the form of award of Read more

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Jay Bybee Wrote Memo Permitting Broad Sharing of Intelligence-Related Grand Jury Information

In March 2011, I noted a previously unreleased OLC memo mentioned in Jack Goldsmith’s May 6, 2004 illegal wiretapping memo seemingly giving the President broad authority to learn about grand jury investigations.

For example, this Office has concluded that, despite statutory restrictions upon the use of Title III wiretap information and restrictions on the use of grand jury information under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), the President has an inherent constitutional authority to receive all foreign intelligence information in the hands of the government necessary for him to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities and that statutes and rules should be understood to include an implied exception so as not to interfere with that authority. See Memorandum for the Deputy Attorney General from Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Effect of the Patriot Act on Disclosure to the President and Other Federal Officials of Grand Jury and Title III Information Relating to National Security and Foreign Affairs 1 (July 22, 2002)

The Brennan Center has now liberated that memo (though they don’t yet have it linked). And it shows that in July 2002, Jay Bybee interpreted a section of the PATRIOT Act that expanded information-sharing to include sharing grand jury information, with no disclosure, with the President and his close aides.

The notion that grand jury testimony should be secret dates back to at least the seventeenth century. The rules governing disclosure of grand jury proceedings are set by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure; prior to the PATRIOT Act, those rules declared that grand jury information could be shared only under certain circumstances, such as when the material was necessary to assist a prosecutor. However, disclosures had to be reported to a judge, and everyone receiving the information had to be told of its confidentiality.

The PATRIOT Act changed these rules significantly. Government lawyers could now share “any grand-jury matter involving foreign intelligence, counterintelligence …, or foreign intelligence information” with nearly any federal official, including those working in law enforcement, intelligence, immigration, national defense, or national security. Even records about a grand jury’s deliberations or a particular grand juror’s vote were apparently fair game. And the standard for sharing the information was not whether the material was “necessary” to the official’s duties; instead, the information need only “assist” the official in some way.

[snip]

First, although the rule expressly requires that disclosures of grand jury information be reported to the court, Bybee advised that disclosures to the president need not be reported lest they “infringe on the presumptively confidential nature of presidential communications.” (OLC had previously decided that similar disclosures to the president would be reportable in some circumstances but not in others.)  In addition, disclosures to the president’s “close advisors” – including the president’s chief of staff, the vice president, and counsel to the president – could be kept secret as well. While only “information that is actually necessary for the President to discharge his constitutional duties” could be secretly disclosed to the president or his advisors, that requirement is highly unlikely to be tested in practice.

Permitting the content of deliberations or a grand juror’s vote to be shared secretly with the vice president is surprising enough.  The memo goes much further, however.  Once an attorney for the government has shared grand jury information with anyone – the president, one of his close advisors, or any other federal official whose duties are listed above – the person receiving the information can share it with anyone else without reporting to the court.  That later disclosure, according to the memo’s crabbed reasoning, is not a disclosure “under” the rule, and therefore is not bound by the reporting requirement.

And there’s more: the recipient of one of those subsequent distributions can use the information for any purpose.  Because these down-the-line releases are not technically disclosures “under” the rule, the “official duties” constraint does not apply.

I’ll have more to say about this once I get the memo.

But imagine how it might be used in, say, the Valerie Plame or the Thomas Drake investigations. They were, after all, investigations about the unauthorized disclosure of foreign intelligence information. They also happened to be investigations into Dick Cheney’s law-breaking, but they were ostensibly about leaks of precisely the kind of information Jay Bybee permitted be shared with the President and … the Vice President. And in the case of the Plame leak, once Cheney got a hold of the information, he could share it with Karl Rove who could do whatever the fuck he wanted with it.

Mind you, once Pat Fitzgerald got put in charge, I doubt such sharing happened on the Plame case–at least not before August 2005, when Jim Comey retired. After that, who’s to say what David Margolis, the master of institutional self-preservation, might have done with grand jury information implicating top White House officials?

And, yes, by all appearances, this memo remains operative.

Update: Here’s the memo. And here’s the operative passage:

 Although the new provision in Rule 6(e) requires that any such disclosures be reported to the district court responsible for supervising the grand jury, disclosures made to the President fall outside the scope of the reporting requirement contained in that amendment, as do related subsequent disclosures made to other officials on the President’s behalf.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

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

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

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

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

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

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Pat Fitzgerald Chose Not to Consult with Margolis on Rove Indictment

I recognize that at some point I’m going to have to read Karl Rove’s book propaganda. But until I find it lying around somewhere for almost-free right next to at least a six-pack of equally almost-free beer, I’m going to let Main Justice read it so I don’t have to. They’ve got a fairly detailed post of Rove’s spin on his interactions with Fitz–one of the most interesting tidbits of which (given recent events) is that Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin tried to get Fitz to allow David Margolis to review his decision to indict Rove, but he chose not to do that.

After the October [2005] grand jury testimony, Fitzgerald called Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, and said they were leaning towards an indictment, Rove wrote. Luskin arranged to fly to Chicago to talk with Fitzgerald about the case and urged the prosecutor to consult with others in the Justice Department. In particular, Luskin recommended Fitzgerald talk to David Margolis, the DOJ’s highest-ranking career official and a 45-year veteran of the department. Fitzgerald eventually decided against contacting Margolis, Rove wrote, but agreed to bring in two other lawyers in the Chicago U.S. attorney’s office who had previously been uninvolved with the case to re-examine his thinking.

In an epic five-hour meeting, Luskin and Fitzgerald hashed out the various aspects of the case against the White House adviser. At the meeting, Fitzgerald said he was bothered by Rove’s non-recollection of the conversation with Cooper. If Rove did not remember the conversation with Cooper, Fitzgerald asked, why did he ask his aides in January 2004 to go through his phone records and notes to find any evidence of contact with Cooper? Luskin had the surprising answer, Rove wrote. The lawyer had learned from a friend who worked at Time that Cooper told colleagues he had spoken with Rove about Plame.

The tidbit is interesting not just because Fitz chose not to let DOJ’s fixer decide whether or not Karl would get indicted, but also for what that suggests about how much oversight Margolis had over Fitz’s decisions more generally. And remember, Margolis would have just barely taken over from Comey (who left DOJ in August 2005) as Fitz’s direct supervisor on this case in fall 2005.

Oh–and as I said probably 4 years ago–it was a journalist who helped Rove avoid any consequences for his role in leaking Plame’s identity.

Go figure.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

“We all benefited” from Margolis’ tenure

A bunch of former DOJ bigwigs just wrote a seemingly pointless letter to Pat Leahy to assure him that David Margolis does not have a partisan–and they mean Left-Right partisan–bias. (h/t Main Justice)

I say “pointless,” to begin with, because after last Friday’s flaccid hearing on the OPR report, is anyone actually imagining that Pat Leahy is going to make a stink because the OPR Report got spiked?

And besides, no one thinks Margolis is a flaming political partisan. He’s a DOJ partisan, always putting the Department first, even ahead of justice. Hearing from a bunch of former DOJ bigwigs claiming he has no bias isn’t going to allay those concerns.

What’s particularly pathetic about this document, though, is the number people with a vested interest making the following weak claims:

we all benefited during our tenures from the wise counsel and good judgment of David Margolis

[snip]

While we do not comment here on the merits of the decision regarding the discipline of John Y00 and Jay Bybee, we are certain that it was reached conscientiously and wholly without partisan purposes.

[snip]

As those who have benefited from David Margolis’s counsel, we know he remains a great asset to the Department and the country for the present and future.

Let’s start with Alberto Gonzales, who gave approval for the use of torture techniques long before OLC did, and who was therefore perhaps the person most in need of the Get Out of Jail Free card that John Yoo wrote him. He signed this document.

So did George Terwilliger, Alberto Gonzales’ defense attorney, representing him on a number of ethical and potentially criminal issues, and therefore, presumably, on torture, if it ever came to that.

There’s Michael Mukasey, about whom Mary wrote a 2,000 word post describing his many conflicts on this issue. And Mark Filip, who helped Mukasey try to spike this report from the start. And Craig Morford, who was Acting DAG when Mukasey reviewed the Steven Bradbury memos and found them reasonable, which was itself a key part of spiking this investigation.

And how about John Ashcroft, huh? He wants you to know that he’s sure that Margolis judged correctly when Margolis determined that Ashcroft’s subordinates did not willfully do wrong when they shredded the Constitution eight years ago under Ashcroft’s inattentive watch. The same Ashcroft who reportedly pushed for some kind of “advance pardon” for the torturers. I sure trust him to tell me whether Margolis judged rightly or wrongly.

Then there’s Paul McNulty who, as US Attorney for Eastern District of VA, declined to charge people who engaged in torture and murder pursuant to these memos. The same guy whose decision to decline prosecution was reconsidered, given all the damning evidence in the OPR Report. Do you honestly believe that McNulty doesn’t want to have his decisions–which shortly preceded his promotion to be Deputy Attorney General–scrutinized that closely?

There’s Jim Comey, who may be one of those refusing to comment on the merits of the decision here (well then, why comment?), but who, when he lost the battle on the torture memos, expressed sadness “for the Department and the AG.” But not, it should be said, for the rule of law.

Add in Larry Thompson, who is another of the lawyers who, at least according to the OPR Report, reviewed and approved of the Bybee Memos. He thinks Margolis did the right thing too.

And, finally, David Ogden, who got fired not long ago, perhaps because he was happy to put politics above the law.

Now I’ll leave it for comments to unpack why people like lobbyist hack Jamie Gorelick wants to boost Margolis. But for now, just know that when at least 10 of these 17 bigwigs say they benefited from Margolis’ “wise counsel and good judgment,” they may well be talking about personal–and significant–benefit.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Inherent Conflict Of Interest With DOJ's OPR And David Margolis

Who watches the watchers? Always a valid question; today I want to look at the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility and its conduct in the investigation of United States governmental attorneys, specifically within the Office of Legal Counsel, involved in the Bush/Cheney torture program. Aside from the facts and conclusions (discussion underway here, here and here), the report is notable for the process producing it, namely the DOJ investigating itself and, not so shockingly, exculpating itself. This will be the first in a series of more specific posts on this blog discussing the multiple, and severe, conflict of interest issues inherent in the OPR Report.

The first, and most obvious, issue of conflict with OPR is that it places evaluation and resolution of ethical complaints against DOJ attorneys in the hands of the DOJ. The power to determine whether there is any impropriety is solely within the hands of those supervising and/or ultimately responsible for the impropriety. Pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 0.39a, OPR reports directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. A vested interest if there ever was one.

Most governmental agencies have independent Inspectors General which operate independently of the agency leadership, have jurisdiction of the entire agency including legal counsel, and thus have credibility as somewhat neutral and detached evaluators and voices. Not so the DOJ, who has arrogated upon themselves the sole right to sit in judgment of themselves. This action to grab the exclusive authority for themselves and exclude the independent IG was first accomplished by Attorney General Order 1931-94 dated November 8, 1994 subsequently codified into the Code of Federal Regulations and reinforced through section 308 of the 2002 Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Just in time for the war on terror legal shenanigans!

Glenn Fine, the DOJ IG has given Congressional testimony to the US Senate regarding the inherent conflict:

Second, the current limitation on the DOJ OIG’s jurisdiction prevents the OIG – which by statute operates independent of the agency – from investigating an entire class of misconduct allegations involving DOJ attorneys’ actions, and instead assigns this responsibility to OPR, which is not statutorily independent and reports directly to the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. In effect, the limitation on the OIG’s jurisdiction creates a conflict of interest and contravenes the rationale for establishing independent Inspectors General throughout the government. It also permits an Attorney General to assign an investigation that raises questions about his conduct or the conduct of his senior staff to OPR, an entity that reports to and is supervised by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General and that lacks the insulation and independence guaranteed by the IG Act.

This concern is not merely hypothetical. Recently, the Attorney General directed Read more

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.