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Tag Archive: Justice Department

White House Fired Attorneys; Domenici Got Iglesias Axed

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With two stories out today, one from the New York Times and the other from the Washington Post, we learn that everything the Justice Department told Congress was factually-impaired. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez claimed that there was nothing political about the firings, except that the President's Counsel Harriet Miers and the President's chief political operative created the list of Attorney's to axe and Justice was in discussions all along. In the beginning the White House wanted to fire all 93 Attorneys only to scale back this plan when it was deemed by Rove to be politically impossible. (For those paying attention that would have included U.S. Attorney for the District of Illinois (Northern) Patrick Fitzgerald, the guy prosecuting a case against the Vice President's right-hand man.)

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Two N.M. Lawmakers May Have Pressed Attorney Purge

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Back at the beginning of the year the Justice Department announced that it was replacing seven U.S. Attorneys in an unprecedented move. The Attorney ‘purge’ was able to take place due to a provision allowing the Justice Department to unilaterally replace U.S. Attorneys for any reason that was snuck into the PATRIOT Act reauthorization by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA). McClatchy Newspapers reports today that one of those Attorneys, David Iglesias, U.S. Attorney from New Mexico, was pressured by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) to bring down indictments on local Democratic officials prior to the 2006 midterm election. Iglesias refused and has since been purged by the Justice Department. If Wilson and Domenici did attempt to pressure a sitting U.S. Attorney for the political benefit of the oft-endangered Wilson it would be a serious ethical violation.

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Justice Gives Ground on Jefferson Docs:

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The Justice Department is willing to give Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) the opportunity to view the documents that the FBI took in a late night raid on his office. According to the Los Angeles Times, Jefferson would get access to all of the seized documents and "would then be given an opportunity to raise objections about whether individual documents were properly seized." A judge would settle whether or not Jefferson's objections were valid.

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Justice Responds; Jefferson Hid Papers:

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The Justice Department responded today to the fierce reaction by Congress against the raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office. Apparently the Justice Department investigators could not trust Jefferson to hand over documents because he had previously hid them from federal agents. Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker explains:

But beyond the legal argumentation, prosecutors supply the most detailed version of their case against him so far. And they explain why it is that they needed to raid his office - because they don't trust him to turn over evidence. According to an FBI agent's affidavit appended to the filing, Jefferson tried to "surreptitiously remove" documents while the FBI was searching his home in August of last year.
Jefferson took documents and hid them in a blue bag that had already been searched. An FBI agent observed his actions and explained them in the affidavit. The Washington Post provides more information on what Jefferson is alleged to have done:
"After a copy had been brought to him and he reviewed it, I observed Congressman Jefferson then take the subpoena and the documents he had been reading earlier and place them together under his elbow on the kitchen table." At one point, she said, he moved to the living room, which had just been searched, and sat on a recliner. While sitting, he slipped the subpoena and the documents into a blue bag that he knew had already been searched, Kent's affidavit said. "After several minutes, I approached Congressman Jefferson and told him that I needed to look at the documents that he had placed into the bag," the agent stated. "Congressman Jefferson told me the documents were subpoenas." He finally pulled out the documents that were from a B.K. Son. The search warrant had asked for all communications between Jefferson and Son, the affidavit said. Son is the chief technology officer of iGate
. If this is true it is unbelievably shocking behavior by a member of Congress. This ranks up there with Duke Cunningham's bribe menu as the most offensive and ugly thing a member could do. Beyond that, the issuance of this affidavit shows that the Justice Department is not playing around and that they are clearly dealing with a man who could use the privacy of his congressional office to hide information relevant to the investigation.

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Jefferson Raid Controversy Continues:

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The controversy over the FBI raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office continued today despite efforts by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) to put it to rest over the weekend. Frist, who was on "Fox New Sunday", stated about the FBI, "I don't think it abused separation of powers ... I think there's allegations of criminal activity, and the American people need to have the law enforced." House Judiciary Committee James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) feels differently and today he held a hearing titled "Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?" Sensenbrenner and the ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) agreed that the raid was out of bounds with the chairman saying, "It is about the ability of the Congress to be able to do its job free of coercion from the executive branch." Conyers stated, "We've never learned why the member in question was not permitted to have his attorneys present while his offices were searched for some 18 hours."

Personally, I believe that this was an extraordinary case, but was not conducted "out of bounds". The affidavit against Jefferson was unbelievably detailed, showing an almost unparalleled level of corruption by an elected official. The FBI was carrying out a legally obtained warrant to search Jefferson's office in relation to activities that did not include any legislative action nor any activity directly related to his elected role. I don't think that members can live above the law just because they have been chosen by the people of their district or state to represent them. That is essentially the argument of people who are against the raid: that members may operate their congressional office as though it were a Cayman Islands bank account (hat tip to Bill Allison). This is what Josh Marshall is getting at when he states his support of the raid:

If the Feds can raid a congressman's house, it's not clear to me why they can't raid his office. Sure, there's some room for prudential restraint and a respect for comity. But if the DOJ can't search a congressman's office, then the power to investigate and prosecute close to falls apart since that creates a safe harbor for incriminating information. Any serious claim that the functioning of Congress falls outside the bounds of the DOJ would apply to acts as well as work product. And that means that any bribery prosecution is impossible since official acts are an element of the crime.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) makes the same point in issuing his support for the raid and surprise at the bipartisan reaction against the raid:
I understand that the speech and debate clause is in the Constitution. It is there because Queen Elizabeth I and King James I were disrespectful of Parliament. It ought to be, in my judgment, construed narrowly. It should not be in any way interpreted as meaning that we as Members of Congress have legal protections superior to those of the average citizen.
If you want to read a selection of arguments made by law professors Josh has a number of links here (pro and con).

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Capitol Hill Is A Mess:

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Justin Rood examines why Congress, the House in particular, has devolved into chaos. Rood, looking at the Majority Republicans, states that a mixture of the loss of Tom DeLay (R-TX), who clearly was amazing at his job as partisan enforcer, the disastrous drop in public opinion of President Bush, and the steady stream of corruption investigations and guilty pleas has sent Republican members into a frenzy. Without any clear, strong leader and with Feds snooping around claiming that campaign contributions can be seen as bribes these members are, rightfully, unsettled. The lack of a strong charismatic figure is terrible for the Republican caucus. Since the 1994 revolution they have always had a strong and determined conservative leader, whether it be Newt Gingrich, DeLay or the President, who has led them in lock step support of conservative issues. It should be noted that DeLay was the one who put Dennis Hastert (R-IL) into the Speakership while he ruled the House from the Whip and Majority Leader post. The combination of Hastert, John Boehner (R-OH), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) has not been able to stop Republican hemmoraging.

This disorder and caucus revolt even bleeds over to the Democratic side where Rood states that they should be "placing advance orders for champagne and cigars and slapping each other on the back". The Congressional Black Caucus, a powerful 40-plus member gourp in the Democratic caucus, is in open revolt against Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) over her public effort to remove the discredited William Jefferson (D-LA) from the Ways and Means Committee. The CBC has had problems with the Democratic leadership for some time now and now that the leadership refuses to support Jefferson those problems are becoming even more strained. So why is Congress in such disarray? They feel that they are besieged and the walls have been breached. As Rood writes:

It should have been no secret to those on the Hilll that Hastert -- and the 30-plus other members who did legislative favors for Jack Abramoff and his clients -- would draw at least a passing query from the Justice Department. But as long as they were asked quietly and off the front pages, the situation was manageable.
Members are besieged by the press, distrusted by their constituents, and the Justice Department is invading their territory. It is no wonder that they have turned inward and begun to devour each other.

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Hastert Slammed by Conservatives, Says He’ll Cooperate With Justice:

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The Associated Press reports that Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) will put the tussle between Congress and the Justice Department over the raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office "in the past" and work to "set up guidelines for the FBI to review materials it seized from a lawmaker's office and any other searches of Congress' offices." This occured after Hastert took direct criticism from conservatives in his party over his reaction over the raid of a Democrat's office. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called Hastert "politically tone-deaf" and former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) stated, "Only thing I can figure is that Denny got up one morning and said, 'Our approval with the public is at 27 percent -- how can I drive that down further?'"

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Bush Orders Jefferson Docs Sealed:

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President Bush has stepped into the roiling feud between Congress and the Justice Department over the FBI's weekend raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) congressional office and ordered the FBI to seal the documents for 45 days. According to the Associated Press:

The president directed that no one involved in the investigation have access to the documents taken last weekend from the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., and that they remain in the custody of the solicitor general. Bush's move was described as an attempt to cool off a heated confrontation between his administration and leaders of the House and Senate. ... "Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries," the president said. "Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."
This whole FBI raid has thrown everybody in Washington off script. It's bizarre, but at the same time kind of refreshing to see politicians react to something that they didn't already have a pre-scripted reaction to. I would love to have a fly on the wall when Bush and his aides discussed sealing the documents. What did Congress threaten them with? Instapundit wonders, "Could Al Qaeda have slipped mind-altering drugs into the DC water supply? What's gotten into these people? Or has some sort of deal been cut?" Since I haven't seen any UFOs split the sky like a sheet today I would have to go with his latter hunch.

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Feds Boost Force to Investigate Corruption:

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The cavalry has arrived. According to The Hill, the Justice Department is boosting the number of prosecutors and investigators focused on public corruption by federal, state, and local officials. Justice is determined to bring public corruption to heel after the high profile crimes committed by Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, Brent Wilkes, along with the questionable activities of Tom DeLay, and what the Justice Department says was "a dramatic jump in campaign-finance and other election-related crimes in the 2004 presidential election year". The key here is that Justice is looking at campaign contributions as a form of bribery for the first time. This could lead to, as Jeff Birnbaum suggests, an legal to the system of legalized bribery that is our campaign finance system.

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Congress Is Whiny:

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So let me get this straight. If you are a private citizen the police are free to search your car without your consent and use whatever they find against you in court; give you a few seconds to open your door before kicking it down if they SUSPECT you might destroy evidence, like a joint, before they enter; take your possessions to fund their police department whether you are guilty of a crime or not; and essentially pull you out of your house and arrest you with little to no evidence at all if they are arresting you on drug charges. And now Congress gets all testy when one of their members gets his office raided by the Feds after he is caught on tape accepting $100,000 in cold, hard cash. Speaker Dennis Hastert is demanding that the FBI return the files that they took:

"We think those materials ought to be returned," Hastert said, adding that the FBI agents involved "ought to be frozen out of that (case) just for the sake of the constitutional aspects of it."
And Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is calling the raid an abuse of executive power:
"Not anyone here is above the law," Pelosi told reporters Tuesday, as she prepared to meet with the House speaker. But, she added, "I think you've seen abuse of power of the executive branch over this weekend."
Maybe the Congress needs to read up on how the modern police force acts and how they use forceful measures to instill fear and reactivate power. These kind of raids -- and in some communities they are done in a paramilitary fashion -- are common in parts of this country. Perhaps instead of complaining about how they are being treated Congress should recognize that they are being treated in the manner that they decided that the rest of the populace ought to be treated.

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