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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pled guilty to, Bloch and the DOJ conspired to get the plea, which had already been accepted and entered by the court, withdrawn.

When Bloch and DOJ both worked together to get the plea withdrawn, and frustrate justice, the egregious nature of the attempt was documented here in a fully argued and supported post published on Tuesday March 1, 2011.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

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.

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

Our DOJ Refuses to Send Officials to Jail – Scott Bloch Edition

This is getting ridiculous.

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.

In a nice touch, DOJ cited the case of Elliott Abrams–a quintessential example of lack of accountability–for their argument that lying to Congress didn’t require jail time. And why not? He’s among the many criminals Obama now regularly takes advice from.

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. In spite of the fact that is exactly what the law clearly specifies on its face. Again, from Judge Robinson:

In 1857, Congress enacted a statutory criminal contempt procedure, largely in response to a proceeding in the House of Representatives that year. CRS Report RL34114, Congress’s Contempt Power: A Sketch, by Morton Rosenberg and Todd B. Tatelman at 7. In the enactment, Congress provided for trial of the contemnor before a court, rather than a trial at the bar of the House or Senate. Id. “It is clear from the floor debates and the subsequent practice of both Houses that the legislation was intended as an alternative to the inherent contempt procedure, not as a substitute for it.” Id. (emphasis supplied). In a discussion of the legislative history of the statute, the Supreme Court observed that “[t]his statute was passed . . . as a direct result of an incident which caused the Congress to feel that it needed more severe sanctions to compel disclosures than were available in the historical procedure of summoning the . . . witness before the bar of either House of Congress . . .” Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 207 n.45 (1957) (emphasis supplied). Thus, Congress’s intent was to make the penalty for violating the statute punitive. See Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749, 755 (1962) (“In enacting the criminal statute . . . Congress invoked the aid of the federal judicial system in protecting itself against contumacious conduct.”) (quoting Watkins, 354 U.S. at 207). With respect to sentencing, the statute, as enacted in 1857, provided that “on conviction,” a person “shall” pay a fine and “suffer imprisonment in the common jail not less than one month nor more than twelve months.” Act of January 24, 1857, ch. 19, 11 Stat. 155 (emphasis

supplied).

But avoiding this crystal clear statutory mandate would be utterly consistent with one of the first things Read more

Vaughn Walker Issues Final al-Haramain Opinion on Damages and Attorney Fees

As you may recall, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California (NDCA), who has handled two of the most critical and transcendent litigations of the last decade, Perry v. Schwarzenegger and al-Haramain v. Bush/Obama, is retiring. Today, he has issued his last big opinion left on his table pre-retirement, the ruling on damages to be awarded Plaintiff in al-Haramain, assignment of attorney fees to Plaintiffs, and whether or not to impose punitive damages against the government for their offending illegal conduct.

The government, in its brief objecting to the Plaintiffs’ proposed form of judgment, basically poked the court in the eye with a stick by continuing their obstreperous refusal to accept the court’s jurisdiction over their assertion of state secrets, continued to argue there were no facts competently of record despite Walker’s crystal clear determinations to the contrary, and denied that Plaintiffs were entitled to attorney fees or punitive damages. They just say NO. The Plaintiffs went on to properly lodge their calculation of damages, detailed request for attorney fees and affidavit in support thereof. Plaintiffs al-Haramain, separately, filed a very compelling brief on why the court should award them punitive damages against the government. The government, of course, objected some more.

As lead Plaintiffs counsel Jon Eisenberg stated in the punitive damages brief:

Defendants abused the extraordinary power of the Executive Branch by committing unlawful electronic surveillance of the plaintiffs with full knowledge of, and in flagrant disregard for, determinations by top officials in the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the surveillance lacked constitutional or other legal support. Defendants sought to put themselves above the law, in the manner of a monarch. That is a profound abuse of America’s trust. It calls for strong medicine.

And thus it all comes down to today’s decision by Judge Walker, and here is the full text of his 47 page order.

In short, Walker has ordered that Plaintiffs Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor (a-Haramain’s attorneys wrongfully surveilled) receive $20,400.00 each in liquidated damages. Walker denied damages to al-Haramain itself. In regards to punitive damages, Judge Walker has denied in full Plaintiffs’ request. As to attorney fees, the court grants the motion as to Plaintiffs Ghafoor and Belew only (again, not as to al-Haramain itself, and awards attorney fees and expenses in the amount of $2,537,399.45.

There is a lot to chew on in this order, and both Marcy and I will be coming back to do just that after chewing and digesting it further. But so far, it is clear that the court sided completely with the plaintiffs on compensatory/liquidated damages, giving Belew and Ghafoor every penny they asked for and finding the government’s opposition meritless. This passage by the court is telling: Read more

DOJ PIN Head Steps Into More Malfeasance Poo

Central to the prosecutorial misconduct directly resulting in the criminal charges against former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens being dismissed was Brenda Morris, the Principal Deputy Chief of the DOJ Public Integrity Section (PIN). The misconduct was so egregious, and the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) so infirm, the trial judge, Emmet Sullivan, appointed a special court investigator to handle a criminal contempt probe.

Has the DOJ itself taken any action in light of the heinous conduct? No, of course not, they never do at the Roach Motel that is the OPR. Instead, the DOJ banished Morris to the Atlanta USA office apparently still as some kind of functioning authority in the Public Integrity (PIN) section. The DOJ is nothing if not consistent, whether under Bush or Obama.

Morris has promptly inserted herself into another high charged political mess, and done so with questionable ethics and curious basis for involvement. From Joe Palazzolo at Main Justice:

Brenda Morris, a veteran trial lawyer in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, was among a group of federal law enforcement officials who met with Alabama legislators on April 1 to inform them of the probe, which is related to a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would legalize electronic bingo.

The investigation has inflamed tensions between state Democrats and Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who prosecuted former Gov. Don Siegelman (D) and whose husband has close ties to Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who strongly opposes the amendment. Canary’s office and the Public Integrity Section are jointly investigating bingo proponents’ quest for votes in support of the amendment, which the Senate passed on March 30.

The state House of Representatives has yet to vote. Alabama Democrats sent a letter to the Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, charging that the “unprecedented” disclosure of the investigation was meant to have a “chilling effect” on state legislators who otherwise might have voted for the amendment.

Here, from the Alabama Press Register, are a few quotes from local Alabama legal experts familiar with the facts and history:

Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney now in private practice in Birmingham, called the private meeting a “virtually unprecedented” break from standard FBI procedures.

“I can’t think of a legitimate law enforcement purpose to do something like this,” said Jones, who represents members of the Alabama Democratic Caucus.

“I have never, in all my years of practicing law, heard of an event like what happened (on Thursday)” said Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. “It was stunning to me.”

Former U.S. Attorney William Kimbrough of Mobile said he’d seen nothing like it in a legal career that spans nearly five decades.

So what in the world was Brenda Morris doing smack dab in the middle of such a contentious political mess and how could the Obama/Holder DOJ think it appropriate? The answer is hard to fathom. Morris was supposed to have been tasked to the Atlanta US Attorney’s office as a litigation attorney while she is being investigated by the court for criminal contempt from her last case. You really have to wonder who is running the asylum at DOJ Main to think that there could ever be positive optics from Morris being involved in anything politically contentious.

You also have to wonder how exactly it is the Obama Administration has seen fit to leave Leura Canary, the Karl Rove acolyte who persecuted Don Siegelman, in office as the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Local blogs are not amused; from Legal Schnauzer:

According to press reports, representatives from the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama played a key role in Thursday’s meeting. Bush appointee Leura Canary, who oversaw the prosecution of former Democratic governor and Bob Riley opponent Don Siegelman, remains in the charge of that office. Alabama’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, have scuttled various Obama nominees for the position, and the White House, so far, has chosen not to fight for the two candidates (Michel Nicrosi and Joseph Van Heest) favored by Democrats.

Canary’s lingering presence in office almost certainly is driving the bingo investigation. Angela Tobon, an FBI special agent in Mobile, Alabama, told The Birmingham News that the Public Integrity Section (PIN) of the Justice Department is leading the inquiry. Tobon refused to elaborate when contacted by a reporter from the Montgomery Advertiser.
….
Does that mean Leura Canary was able to take advantage of a leaderless organization, contacting “loyal Bushies” still embedded in the Justice Department to help get PIN involved in a bogus Alabama operation?

It sure looks that way.

I honestly do not know enough to make the call on the underlying electronic bingo investigation, but the locals sure look to be raising a lot of very good questions about how it is being used to manipulate the local political landscape. Irrespective of the merits of the underlying investigation, leaving tainted authorities, of questionable ethics, like Leura Canary and Brenda Morris to be the face of this unusual and politically charged matter is simply inexcusable.

DOJ Apparently Doesn’t Know Whether It Told Fielding that Rove’s “Official Duties” Include Witch Hunts

That’s not exactly correct. Apparently they’re still thinking about whether or not they told Fred Fielding that Rove’s "official duties" include obstruction of justice and channeling oppo research from Alabama Republicans to the DOJ. I called DOJ at the following times today:

8:30

12:30

3:00

4:45

Each time asking them whether Fred Fielding’s claim that,

We have been further advised that because Mr. Rove was an immediate presidential adviser and because the Committee seeks to question him regarding matters that arose during his tenure and relate to his official duties in that capacity, Mr. Rove is not required to appear in response to the Committee’s subpoena. Accordingly, the President has directed him not to do so.

…Means that DOJ told the White House that the subpoena requiring Rove to testify about his actions in the Siegelman prosecution "relate[d] to his official duties" in his capacity as Presidential Advisor.

Did DOJ, I asked, tell the White House they believed Karl Rove’s alleged actions in the Siegelman prosecution were part of his "official duties" as Senior Advisor to the President? Because that is the implication of Fielding’s representation to the House Judiciary Committee. If the matters the Committee seeks to question Rove about–the Siegelman prosecution, primarily–fall within his "official duties," then–at least according to an opinion from Steven Bradbury never validated by any court–Rove may choose not to appear in response to the subpoena. And Fielding strongly implies that DOJ has advised the White House as much–though to support that claim, he only provides documentation from a different subpoena seeking testimony about the hiring and firing of US Attorneys. I wanted to know–was Fred Fielding making that representation to Congress based on an eleven-month old memo dealing with a different subpoena entirely, or was the White House really advised–as Fielding asserts–that the matters the Committee subpoenaed Rove to testify about this time fall under his "official duties"?

Easy enough to figure that out, I thought! I’ll call DOJ and see if they have any record of advising the White House that Karl Rove’s alleged actions in the Siegelman prosecution pertained to his "official duties" while he was at the White House. It’s an easy, yes or no question. I’m sure they’ll be able to answer that question right away, I thought.

So I called. And I called. And I called. And I called.

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