Lanny Breuer’s Conflicts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ironically, that was also for a CREW FOIA.

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

Why Can’t DOJ Investigate as Well as the Hapless Senate?

There’s a lot to loathe about the current incarnation of the Senate, that elite club of millionaires where legislation goes to either get rewritten to serve corporate interests or killed.

What does that say about DOJ, then, that the Senate is doing such a better job at investigating crimes? In just one month’s time the Senate has produced two investigations that have left DOJ–and the SEC and FEC–looking toothless by comparison.

First there was Carl Levin’s investigation of the banksters, released last month. Matt Taibbi does us the favor of outlining the case Levin’s investigators made.

Here is where the supporters of Goldman and other big banks will stand up and start wanding the air full of confusing terms like “scienter” and “loss causation” — legalese mumbo jumbo that attempts to convince the ignorantly enraged onlooker that, according to American law, these grotesque tales of grand theft and fraud you’ve just heard are actually more innocent than you think. Yes, they will say, it may very well be a prosecutable crime for a corner-store Arab to take $2 from a customer selling tap water as Perrier. But that does not mean it’s a crime for Goldman Sachs to take $100 million from a foreign hedge fund doing the same thing! No, sir, not at all! Then you’ll be told that the Supreme Court has been limiting corporate liability for fraud for decades, that in order to gain a conviction one must prove a conscious intent to deceive, that the 1976 ruling in Ernst and Ernst clearly states….Leave all that aside for a moment. Though many legal experts agree there is a powerful argument that the Levin report supports a criminal charge of fraud, this stuff can keep the lawyers tied up for years. So let’s move on to something much simpler. In the spring of 2010, about a year into his investigation, Sen. Levin hauled all of the principals from these rotten Goldman deals to Washington, made them put their hands on the Bible and take oaths just like normal people, and demanded that they explain themselves. The legal definition of financial fraud may be murky and complex, but everybody knows you can’t lie to Congress.

“Article 18 of the United States Code, Section 1001,” says Loyola University law professor Michael Kaufman. “There are statutes that prohibit perjury and obstruction of justice, but this is the federal statute that explicitly prohibits lying to Congress.”

The law is simple: You’re guilty if you “knowingly and willfully” make a “materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation.” The punishment is up to five years in federal prison.

When Roger Clemens went to Washington and denied taking a shot of steroids in his ass, the feds indicted him — relying not on a year’s worth of graphically self-incriminating e-mails, but chiefly on the testimony of a single individual who had been given a deal by the government. Yet the Justice Department has shown no such prosecutorial zeal since April 27th of last year, when the Goldman executives who oversaw the Timberwolf, Hudson and Abacus deals arrived on the Hill and one by one — each seemingly wearing the same mask of faint boredom and irritated condescension — sat before Levin’s committee and dodged volleys of questions.


Lloyd Blankfein went to Washington and testified under oath that Goldman Sachs didn’t make a massive short bet and didn’t bet against its clients. The Levin report proves that Goldman spent the whole summer of 2007 riding a “big short” and took a multibillion-dollar bet against its clients, a bet that incidentally made them enormous profits. Are we all missing something? Is there some different and higher standard of triple- and quadruple-lying that applies to bank CEOs but not to baseball players?

Then there’s the investigation of John Ensign. Scott Horton lambastes DOJ’s decision to indict Ensign’s cuckold but not Ensign himself.

Alarmingly, the Justice Department not only failed to act against Ensign, it actually indicted Doug Hampton, Ensign’s former senior staffer, who was clearly a victim of Ensign’s predatory conduct and who had blown the whistle on him. The new report does suggest that Hampton may have engaged in improper lobbying activities, with Ensign’s connivance. But it also makes clear that Hampton’s statements about what happened were truthful and complete, whereas Ensign’s were often cleverly misleading, and sometimes rank falsehoods. In this context, the Justice Department’s decision—to prosecute the victim who spoke with candor and against his own interests, and let the malefactor who lied about his conduct go free—is perverse. It is also completely in line with recent Justice Department pubic integrity prosecutions, which have displayed an unseemly appetite for political intrigue and an irrepressible desire to accommodate the powerful.

And the NYT writes a more sheepish article featuring both an FEC official who apparently wouldn’t go on the record with his shock–shock! that there was gambling going on in the casino someone lied to the FEC.

An election commission official, who asked not to be identified while the case was pending, acknowledged that the commission took the senator at his word, whereas the Senate dug deeper. This official expressed anger to learn the true circumstances behind the $96,000 payment.

“I hate it when people lie to us,” the official said, adding: “If somebody submits a sworn affidavit, we usually do not go back and question it, unless we have something else to go on. Maybe we should not be so trusting.”

The NYT also cites several legal experts attributing DOJ’s impotence to embarrassment over the Ted Stevens trial (without, at the same time, wondering why William Welch is still at DOJ acting just as recklessly, only this time against whistleblowers and other leakers).

Several of these reviews of DOJ’s failure to act wonder why the understaffed Senate Ethics Committee or Levin’s Permanent Committee on Investigations–again, this is the hapless Senate!–managed to find so much dirt that the better staffed DOJ and regulatory bodies did not.

But Taibbi really gets at the underlying issue.

If the Justice Department fails to give the American people a chance to judge this case — if Goldman skates without so much as a trial — it will confirm once and for all the embarrassing truth: that the law in America is subjective, and crime is defined not by what you did, but by who you are.

These two Senate committees did an excellent job mapping out the crimes of the powerful. But unless we see action from DOJ, the committees will also have, by comparison, mapped out the stark truth that DOJ refuses to apply the same laws we peons abide by to those powerful people.

DC’s Newest Reality Show

Picture 138And speaking of C Street, it looks like the moralizing hypocrites at C Street are shopping for a new roomie.

Sen. John Ensign has moved out of the C Street house, the Christian home he shared with other elected officials on Capitol Hill that came under scrutiny for its residents’ beliefs and practices and their role in trying to end the Nevada Republican’s affair with a campaign staff member.The red brick town house emerged this summer as the subject of political intrigue — not only as a pivotal location in Ensign’s affair with Cynthia Hampton, but also that of South Carolina Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who sought guidance there as he wrestled with his own affair.

As fallout from Ensign’s affair continues with a preliminary Senate Ethics Committee investigation and talk of a possible criminal inquiry by the Justice Department, Ensign decided to move out, not wanting to draw further attention to his longtime home.

There’s only one way to replace Ensign. To invite six avowed Christian Freshman Congressmen to participate in a reality show–a test, week by week, of who can be a bigger moral hypocrite. Each week, we’ll vote off one participant (who, thereafter, will have to pay market rates for a place in DC).

So I’m looking for two kinds of input. First, candidates to enter the reality show. You might start with this list.

And then we need a catchy name, so we can pitch the show to Bravo. My suggestion (which sucks–but then I’m busy watching football) is Praying for the Pay.

Enter your candidates–and name suggestions–in comments.

Why Is Hampton Embarrassing “the Family”?

Last night, Rachel did a superb job on a story we were the first to cover: Doug Hampton’s efforts to get "the Family" to get John Ensign to stop sleeping with Hampton’s wife (see Hampton’s full interview here).

Now, in Hampton’s description of "the Family," he emphasizes they’re good men. And when Hampton first spoke, he did not mention "the Family" directly–we figured that out based on Ensign roomie’s Tom Coburn’s involvement. 

But I wonder. Are Hampton’s now-extensive discussion of "the Family" and Sanford’s off-hand reference to it mistakes, or intentional efforts to expose the group?

For Hampton’s part, I suspect he may have appealed to "the Family" because he knew–or hoped–it would be a quick way to a pay-off. And, given Coburn’s statement that Ensign should have done as "the Family" told him to do, Hampton may have had good reason to believe so. That is, the reference that initially got me and Citizen92 looking at the circumstances of this confrontation closely …

In fact one of the confrontations took place in February 2008 at his home in Washington DC (sic) with a group of his peers. One of the attendee’s (sic) was Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma as well as several other men who are close to the Senator.

… May have been an implicit threat to expose the group, a reference explicit enough to communicate to Ensign and "the Family" that he’d describe the group’s involvement if he did not get the pay-off they had recommended last year. Which is what we’re seeing now, Hampton’s revenge for the failure of "the Family" to resolve it amicably.

Then what of Sanford’s weepy reference, coming just a week or so after Hampton’s partial exposure of "the Family"?

Did your wife and your family know about the affair before the trip to Argentina?

Yeah. We’ve been working through this thing for about the last five months. I’ve been to a lot of different–I was part of a group called C Street when I was in Washington, it was a Christian Bible study of some folks that ask Members of Congress hard questions that I think were very very important. I’ve been working with them. 


It was discovered five months ago.

That’s a part of me that wonders whether Sanford–who appears to be discovering emotions usually first experienced during adolescence–just lost all filter in his confusion. But I’m not sure. Read more

WaPo Discovers C Street

Kudos to Citizen92 who first asked where Tom Coburn and John Ensign lived together, which led me to figure out that it was at "the Family’s" C Street residence. Because, now that TPMM and I keep posting on the connection between a shady Christian group and the latest Republican affairs, the WaPo has decided to cover it (or at least the house, without much discussion of "the Family," and certainly no link to the blog that first covered it).

Mostly, though, the WaPo catches people trying to disassociate from the hypocritical adulterers.

First, at least one resident learned of both the Sanford and Ensign affairs and tried to talk each politician into ending his philandering, a source close to the congressman said. Then the house drama escalated. It was then that Doug Hampton, the husband of Ensign’s mistress, endured an emotional meeting with  Sen. Tom Coburn, who lives there, according to the source. The topic was forgiveness.

"He was trying to be a peacemaker," the source said of Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma.

Although Sanford visited the house, there is no indication that he was ever a resident; when he was in Congress from 1995 to 2000, the parsimonious lawmaker was famous for forgoing his housing allowance and bunking in his Capitol Hill office. But it is not uncommon for residents to invite fellow congressmen to the home for spiritual bonding. There, Sanford enjoyed a kind of alumnus status. Richard Carver, president of the Fellowship Foundation, said, "I don’t think it’s intended to have someone from South Carolina get counseling there." But he posited that Sanford turned to C Street "because he built a relationship with people who live in the house."

People familiar with the house say the downstairs is generally used for meals and prayer meetings. Volunteers help facilitate prayer meetings, they said. Residents include  Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.),  Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), Ensign and Coburn. None of the congressmen agreed to be interviewed for this article. But associates of some of Ensign’s housemates privately worried that the other residents would be tarred by the scandals.

"That two fell doesn’t prove that the house — which has seen many members of Congress pass through and engage in Bible studies — doesn’t mean that the house has failed," Read more

Yes, an Adulterer WAS Living in “the Family’s” House; Yes, “teh Gays” Are Ruining Marriage

In the last post, I asked whether Cindy Hampton–John Ensign’s mistress–is the one who failed to report the severance she is said to have received.

But the Politico article has two more important details. First, this paragraph all-but confirms that the confrontation over the affair that took place in Tom Coburn’s presence took place in the home owned by "the Family."

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), another of Ensign’s housemates, told POLITICO on Monday that he wasn’t at the confrontation and knew nothing of the affair until Ensign’s news conference last week.

Others lawmakers who live with Ensign include Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.). An aide to Stupak declined to comment on the matter, and Wamp’s spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

DeMint, Stupak, and Wamp have all been reported to live in "the Family’s" house on C Street.

Also note, Tom Coburn still doesn’t want to talk about the fact that he was being a moral scold for the two months of time when he knew his colleagues was conducting an affair.

And speaking of moral scolds, here’s the reception you get these days in the Senate if you’re a straight man abusing his marital vows.

During a vote Monday evening, Ensign was greeted warmly by both Democrats and Republicans, who approached him, shook his hand and gave him hugs. He was greeted by a slew of senators, including Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, Bill Nelson, Jon Kyl, John Thune, Saxby Chambliss, Mel Martinez, John Barrasso, Lamar Alexander, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, John Kerry, Kent Conrad and Chuck Schumer.  

Most of these men, of course, like to claim teh Gays are ruining the institution of marriage. And most of these men, of course, gave Larry Craig a far different reception when his sex scandal was exposed.

It’s nice to see moral hypocrisy is alive and well on the Hill. 

Did Ensign’s Mistress Fail to Report Her Own Payoff?

The Politico reports that Senator Ensign may have a campaign finance problem–because he did not report the "severance payment" he is said to have given his mistress, Cindy Hampton, when he fired her last year (h/t CREW).

There continue to be a number of outstanding questions on the scandal, including whether Ensign gave a "severance package" to Cindy Hampton, his former campaign treasurer. The affair between Ensign and Cindy Hampton lasted from December 2007 to August 2008, Ensign said. She and her husband both left Ensign’s payroll at the end of April 2008.

POLITICO and The New York Times both reported that Cindy Hampton received a severance package from the senator, but Ensign’s camp has declined to confirm whether any such payments actually took place.

If Ensign, or any other entity, did provide Cindy Hampton with a severance payment, those payments were not recorded on Ensign’s disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

"If the payment was compensation for her work for the PAC, it has to be reported," said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance expert with the firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. "It doesn’t matter when the payment was made."

But, as Citizen92 pointed out, Cindy Hampton was the one in charge of reporting that payoff. And when they got rid of her, they brought in the same woman, Lisa Lisker, brought in to clean up after the NRCC embezzlement scandal. (See also this comment from Citizen92 where he was connecting some of these dots back in February 2008.)

Anyway, that confrontation in front of Coburn, the NRCC embezzlement scandal and Ward’s retirement may be coincedental timing – or there may be more to it.

Ward was the treasurer of Ensign’s Battle Born PAC. Ward was replaced by Hampton.

Ward was the treasurer of the (Republican) Senate Majority Committee, headed by Ensign. Ward was replaced by Hampton.

And, of course, Ward was the treasuer of the NRCC (his primary embezzlement dipping well). Ward was briefly replaced by the incumbent assistant treasurer, but in June 2008 was replaced by Lisa Lisker, a partner in the DC based powerhouse firm Huckaby Davis Lisker.

What’s interesting is that after the Hamptons left DC “for medical reasons”, Ensign’s Battle Born PAC made Lisa Lisker treasurer.

Any chance that Ensign (or the Hamptons) were personally plugged into the embezzlement scandal? There sure are a lot of common players here.

Read more

Did the Ensign Confrontation over His Affair Take Place at a “Family” Gathering?

picture-105.thumbnail.pngAs I linked to unwittingly in a past post, journalists are particularly interested in Tom Coburn’s take on John Ensign’s affair because they live together. 

Reporters mobbed Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who shares an apartment with Ensign on Capitol Hill. "I’m not answering any Ensign questions," he announced. "You can ask all you want."

That home, of course, is where Doug Hampton claims a confrontation about Ensign’s affair occurred in February 2008.

Citizen92 asked a very good question in a past thread–where John Ensign and Tom Coburn share a place together.

I searched and the Hamptons didn’t own property in DC (city). Neither do the Ensigns. Neither do the Coburns. At least under their own names. Any ideas who owns the Coburn-Ensign pad? Or are they renters?

To which I asked whether or not Ensign and Coburn are members of The Family.

The Family, as Jeff Sharlet has reported, is a secretive fellowship that aims to mobilize pseudo-Christian issues to accrue power–what he described "a good old boy’s club blessed by God."

They were striving, ultimately, for what Coe calls "Jesus plus nothing" — a government led by Christ’s will alone. In the future envisioned by Coe, everything — sex and taxes, war and the price of oil — will be decided upon not according to democracy or the church or even Scripture. The Bible itself is for the masses; in the Fellowship, Christ reveals a higher set of commands to the anointed few. It’s a good old boy’s club blessed by God.

As Jeff has reported, the Family owns a C Street house in which–at least as recently as 2002 or 2003–Ensign lived.

The brothers also served at the Family’s four-story, redbrick Washington town house, a former convent at 133 C Street S.E. complete with stained-glass windows. Eight congressmen—including Senator Ensign and seven representatives—lived there, brothers in Christ just like us, only more powerful. We scrubbed their toilets, hoovered their carpets, polished their silver.

And in his book, Jeff reported that Coburn lived in the house when still a Congressman.

The rules forbid Brownback to reveal the names of his fellow members, but those in the [prayer] cell likely include some of the men with whom he lived in the Family’s C Street House for congressmen: Representative Zach Wamp of Tennessee, former representative Steve Largent of Oklahoma, and Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, then a representative …

In other words, the Ensign-Coburn "home" Read more

Fox’s Non-Denial Denial

Loo Hoo linked to this, and it has me laughing, so I thought I’d share. Fox News says it didn’t "receive the letter" that John Ensign’s cuckold sent to them and they didn’t tip off Ensign to it. But that claim all depends on what your definition of "receive" is:

Tom Lowell, senior producer of "America’s Newsroom," hosted by Kelly and Bill Hemmer, says no one at Fox News ever received a printed letter, but that a booker on the show received an email from Hampton with the letter attached on June 15 — the day before the Senator’s press conference.

"We never received any letter from Mr. Hampton," Lowell told the Huffington Post. "He might have sent it, but we never received it. He did reach out to us about 24 hours before the news conference, and he sent an e-mail to a booker on my staff."

Lowell said that a member of his editorial staff followed up with Hampton that day.

"We followed up with him, but he seemed evasive and not credible, thus we didn’t pursue it," he said. "We certainly weren’t going to rush to air with accusations against a sitting Senator without doing due diligence on the reputability of the claims. [my emphasis]

I guess Fox routinely "follows up" on things they claim they haven’t received, huh?

And when they get around to denying that they tipped off Ensign, they limit their denial to the editorial staff of one particular show. 

Lowell also stated emphatically that no one at Fox News reached out to the Senator to alert him about the story.

"I know there are people asking if we alerted the senator," Lowell said. "Definitely no one on our editorial team called anyone in Senator Ensign’s office prior to our announcement. We just hadn’t gotten to that point of confirming the story yet. Somehow, somebody told the Senator something and I don’t know how that happened. [my emphasis]

So at Fox News, its denials that it tipped off a Republican friend all rely on your definition of "received" and "editorial team," but they do agree that somehow Ensign found out about a letter that–they confirm–got emailed to a Fox employee in plenty of time for Ensign to come clean on his affair. 

You know, I originally thought this story was going to be your garden variety Republican adultery and hush money. But it’s beginning to get interesting. 

Ensign’s Senate Colleagues Confronted Him about His Affair in February 2008

The Las Vegas Sun has posted the letter John Ensign’s cuckold, Doug Hampton, sent Fox News not long before Ensign admitted his affair. In it, he reveals there was a confrontation over the affair in February 2008 that Tom Coburn attended.

The unethical behavior and immoral choice of Senator Ensign has been confronted by me and others on a number of occasions over this past year. In fact one of the confrontations took place in February 2008 at his home in Washington DC (sic) with a group of his peers. One of the attendee’s (sic) was Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma as well as several other men who are close to the Senator. Senator Ensign’s conduct and relentless pursuit of my wife led to our dismissal in April of 2008. I would like to say he stopped his heinous conduct and pursuit upon our leaving, but that was not the case and his actions did not subside until August of 2008.

No wonder the Republicans don’t really want to talk about this–they’ve known about it for over a year. Here’s what Coburn had to say:

Reporters mobbed Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who shares an apartment with Ensign on Capitol Hill. "I’m not answering any Ensign questions," he announced. "You can ask all you want."

"You don’t have any thoughts?"

"I don’t have any thoughts."

"Have you had a chance to talk about it?"

"I’m just not going to comment."

Finally, Coburn was badgered into making a defense. "He is a bright young man," the senator said of his 51-year-old colleague. "Lots of people make mistakes."

Also in the letter, Hampton describes his fears that efforts to pursue justice in this matter may put his family "in harm’s way."

The actions of Senator Ensign have ruined our lives and careers and left my family in shambles. We have lost significant income, suffered indescribable pain and emotional suffering. We find ourselves today with an overwhelming loss of relationships, career opportunities and hope for recovery. Our pursuit of justice continues to place me and my family in harm’s way as we fear for our well being (sic).

Ut oh–this is Las Vegas this guy is talking about. 

Hampton talks about a lot more details in this affar–I wonder who Hampton is going to give the exclusive to for that story?