Archive for the ‘Government Reform’ Category

Alabama’s Democratic Senate Nominee Barnes Questions Rival’s Health As Issue

October 17, 2010

Bill Barnes

Bill Barnes, the Democratic nominee for an Alabama U.S. Senate seat in the Nov. 2 election, raised a number of sensitive issues on my radio interview Oct. 14.

Among them, he questioned his opponent’s commitment to fighting for BP Gulf disaster victims and to serving out his term.

In an exclusive interview on Washington Update radio, Barnes said his Republican opponent Richard Shelby, 76, portrayed below in his longtime official photo, has shown scant interest in the plight of Alabama’s victims of the oil tragedy.

Sen. Richard Shelby

In response to a listener call, Barnes also voiced for the first time in his campaign suspicions among high-level Alabama Democrats that Shelby’s health might encourage him to resign shortly after the election to enable Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to shift to the Senate before his gubernatorial term expires in January.

“It’s a strong possibility that Mr. Shelby, Sen. Shelby, is suffering from some health issues,” Barnes said in his interview, noting that Shelby has made few campaign appearances. “Gov. Riley has been in the media quite regularly, drawing a lot of attention to himself, it appears. And I often wonder in my own mind, what’s the angle? Is he [Sen. Shelby] my true opponent?”

Gov. Bob Riley


Access the show nationwide on the My Technology Lawyer Radio Network archive. The weekly public affairs show’s founder Scott Draughon and I interviewed Barnes at 17 minutes past the hour.

See our attached news release for a more thorough description of quotations from the Barnes interview. The other guest was Jim Baldauf, president and co-founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & GAS – USA, a non-profit, non-partisan research and public education initiative.

Jersey Democrat, Justice Integrity Project Urge ‘No’ on Kagan, Citing Rights Concerns

July 19, 2010

Louis M. Manzo

The Senate should reject Democrat Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination based on her shabby civil rights record that’s apparent from her Department of Justice work, according to a Democratic former New Jersey legislator and Jersey City mayoral candidate.

Louis M. Manzo, drawing on his experience fighting one of the nation’s most explosive political prosecutions, said the Senate should reject Kagan because of “her indefensible support of restrictions on constitutional freedoms and her failures to defend due process.”

My bipartisan Justice Integrity Project (JIP) today released Manzo’s statement by video to illustrate the project’s objections to Kagan on similar executive power grounds. We announced our objections on June 28, just before the Supreme Court thwarted Kagan’s effort to block a hearing for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Manzo complemented our views with his first-hand experience, available before Senate voting at JIP’s website http://www.justice-integrity.org, which links to Manzo’s video and descriptions of his case, Siegelman’s and others, plus Kagan’s background.

“While serving as Solicitor General arguing against certiorari in Siegelman v. United States, Kagan ignored constitutional protections provided by due process,” Manzo said, continuing:

Also troubling is the manner by which Kagan feigned ignorance to what is frightfully apparent in Siegelman’s case – prosecutorial misconduct. Instead of questioning the bizarre prosecution tactics employed against Siegelman, Kagan blindly supported positions taken by prosecutors with obvious personal and political agendas.

“What all cases involving wrongful prosecutions share in common,” said Manzo, a target in the Bid Rig III case in New Jersey that helped propel Republican U.S. Attorney Chris Christie to New Jersey’s governorship last fall, “is the necessity of a fair judicial system.” In Bid Rig III, DOJ gave a felon large sums to donate to New Jersey campaigns such as Manzo’s, with Democrats overwhelmingly indicted. Manzo won a major victory this spring when his trial judge dismissed the most serious charges.

Expanding on Manzo’s themes, I cited compelling evidence that Siegelman, 64, was framed by DOJ, which seeks to imprison him for 20 more years.

The gist is that Kagan acted selfishly to advance her technocrat career, combining bad legal judgment with a monstrous cover-up. This opens a window to her other failings, which don’t receive the attention they deserve. Senate confirmation these days is largely kabuki-style theater for the public, fostered by a bipartisan, back-scratching elite. Here, a president’s loyalists seek to install one of their cronies over timid, partisan objections about a few special-interest topics. But we are skipping big issues about due process and our other basic liberties, which would inflame the public if ever fully aired.


Louis M. Manzo Statement*
Opposing Confirmation of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court

As a case study of the Justice Integrity Project, I am speaking today to urge defeat of Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

What all cases involving wrongful prosecutions share in common is the necessity of a fair judicial system where redress can be attained in the courts of our land.

While serving as Solicitor General, arguing against certiorari in Siegelman v. United States, Kagan ignored Constitutional protections provided by due process. She argued a position that supported the “standard-less sweep [of the law], which allows policemen, prosecutors and juries to pursue their personal predilections” – something previous courts had guarded against.

Her position was an assault on due process.

Despite concerns raised in the opposing argument – the danger posed by vague interpretations of criminal statutes, which infringe on the protections of free speech as provided by the First Amendment – Kagan ignored the sound opinion of the unprecedented position taken by 42 former United States State Attorneys General** and a United States Attorney General who filed an amicus brief in support of Siegelman’s argument.***

Kagan defended a position that would restrict Constitutional freedoms.

Also troubling is the manner by which Kagan feigned ignorance to what is frightfully apparent in Siegelman’s case – prosecutorial misconduct. Instead of questioning the bizarre prosecution tactics employed against Siegelman, Kagan blindly supported positions taken by prosecutors with obvious personal and political agendas.

These are attributes which are ill-suited for members of the highest Court in our land. Due process is the examination of the means used to justify the end. Her nomination would pose a grave threat to victims of due process violations, whose only redress is the courts.

For her indefensible support of restrictions on Constitutional freedoms and her failures to defend due process, Elena Kagan should be denied confirmation as a Supreme Court nominee. ###
_____________________________________________
*Democratic former New Jersey State Assemblyman and Jersey City candidate for mayor
** The number of former chief law enforcers of their states signing the petition rose to 91, from more than 40 states
*** Republican Former U.S. Attorney Gen. Dick Thornburgh criticized what he described as politicized DOJ decision-making during his 2007 testimony to the House Judiciary Committee

Feds Bully ‘Die Hard’ Filmmaker McTiernan Into False Statement Plea

July 14, 2010

Rollerball Poster

A noted Hollywood filmmaker faces prison after a conditional guilty plea July 12 in a wiretapping case so interesting that it deserves two alternative news accounts.

Here’s the version provided to the vast majority of Americans by Reuters, via such conduits as ABC Entertainment:

Die Hard film director John McTiernan pleaded guilty to lying to law enforcement officials in connection with the racketeering case of a private detective who represented many Hollywood stars.

A trial for McTiernan had been expected to begin on Tuesday in Los Angeles on two counts of making false statements to federal agents and one count of perjury. McTiernan, 59, originally pleaded guilty in 2006 to a charge of knowingly lying to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the criminal case against private detective Anthony Pellicano, who has since been jailed.

But the film director later withdrew his plea, saying he had received poor legal advice, had been drinking and was jet-lagged from traveling when FBI agents questioned him. Federal officials again charged McTiernan with crimes in 2009, leading to Monday’s guilty plea. A judge set a sentencing date of Oct. 4….

I’ve written at least a hundred variants of this kind of traditional guilty plea story while covering federal courts fulltime from 1976 to 1980 for the Hartford Courant. But times have changed, and IMO the essence of McTiernan’s case is better conveyed this way:

Yet again, federal authorities abused their vast powers for their greater glory by manufacturing a crime and ruining a defendant’s career ─ at needless expense to federal taxpayers.

Too tough a verdict? You be the judge. First, kindly note that McTiernan’s plea was “conditional” on his appeal, a fact totally omitted by the Reuters story and thus by such headlines around the nation as that by the July 13 Washington Post, which blares: “John McTiernan is headed to jail.”

Wiretappers Unmasked
In 2002, a federal investigative team led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Saunders and FBI agent Stanley Ornellas exposed a scheme whereby the famous LA private eye Pellicano systematically broke wiretapping laws to help his clients in big-dollar entertainment industry battles.

In 2004, Howard Blum and John Connolly authored an in-depth overview for Vanity Fair entitled, “The Pellicano Brief.” It described Pellicano’s “A-list” clients and a pivotal raid of the detective’s offices by the feds, who seized guns, $200,000 in cash, plastic explosives and hand grenades on their way to winning a 15-year prison term for the PI.

The article didn’t mention McTiernan among the detective’s many famous clients. But we now know that McTiernan by then had sampled Pellicano’s services in 2000 by paying him $50,000 for a two-week investigation of fellow moviemaker Charles Rovan as the two struggled for creative control over their film, Rollerball, which was destined to be a box office flop.

Fast forward to early 2006. More than three years after the big raid on Pellicano’s office, none of the “A-list” Hollywood stars, managers, producers and lawyers had been jailed.

As sometimes happens in such situations, authorities sprang a perjury trap on McTiernan, who was famous for directing such action films as Predator, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October. In a perjury trap, authorities can create a crime by inducing a target in an unguarded moment to forgo the right to silence and give a false statement about an embarrassing matter that might otherwise not provide a basis for a criminal charge.

The concept became notorious after Independent Counsel Ken Starr relied on it to try to save his otherwise failed Watergate investigation of Bill Clinton by surprising the president at a grand jury with unrelated questions about Monica Lewinsky.

The Lewinsky case illustrated how reporters and readers alike tend to focus, understandably enough, on the sensational specifics of a scandal without reflecting that a perjury trap is often unfair. Why? Almost anyone has done something embarrassing. So, it’s just not right for authorities to use all-out tactics to create a crime by trapping some miscreants instead of focusing on whether the underlying activity is criminal.

Unfair or not, these kinds of traps are generally legal under the vast discretion that we provide to authorities. Here’s how the one against McTiernan unfolded, according to court records:

After returning ill from a film shoot in Thailand and after drinking McTiernan received an evening phone call at home from Ornellas, the FBI’s lead agent in the Pellicano case. Towards the end of a brief conversation, McTiernan falsely denied that he’d engaged Pellicano for illegal services.

McTiernan was promptly indicted, pleaded guilty to false statement, and received four months in prison and $100,000 fine as the first big-name Hollywood defendant nailed in the case. U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer, a 2003 appointee of President Bush, denounced McTiernan at sentencing for what she called his arrogance.

The defendant changed lawyers, and won a 2008 federal appeals court decision that enabled him to withdraw his guilty plea. Authorities responded with a new indictment that increased the defendant’s liabilities by reconfiguring the original false statement into two separate felonies, plus a perjury charge arising from his pursuit of his appeal.

These maneuvers increased McTiernan’s potential prison sentence to multiple years if he dares offend authorities further by proceeding to trial. I’ve reviewed the jury instructions approved by the judge, which almost guarantee a guilty verdict by limiting the defendant’s ability to argue that he wasn’t in a position to know if the person asking him questions by phone really was an FBI agent. McTiernan’s work inevitably brings calls from imposter “reporters” and others seeking details about such stars as Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

McTiernan doubtless didn’t ingratiate himself with authorities by helping found a non-profit, Project Save Justice, which filmed a 2009 documentary entitled, The Political Prosecutions of Karl Rove. The film, available for free use in schools and for other free viewing on the project’s website, powerfully documents the travails of U.S. victims of political prosecutions. The movie and a congressional report have helped publicize academic studies showing that local Democrats were investigated at a nearly 5:1 ratio during 1,200 DOJ official corruption probes during the Bush administration around the nation

McTiernan describes his background as being a moderate Republican. But the director, like many in the civil rights field, including at my bipartisan Justice Integrity Project, has come to see since 2008 that the Obama DOJ is permeated also by a win-at-any-cost mentality that transcends traditional party divisions.

After Monday’s hearing McTiernan’s attorney, Oliver E. Diaz, noted that his client’s conditional guilty plea maintains his right to appeal numerous per-trial motions filed by the government and granted by the judge. Diaz, a Republican former Mississippi Supreme Court justice, himself had been one of the Bush DOJ’s political prosecution targets before twice being acquitted of federal corruption charges. The Diaz story is described in the Project Save Justice documentary, at his subsite at the Justice Integrity Project, and in a Harper’s article by Scott Horton.

Last month, McTiernan failed in his attempt to recuse the judge, a Republican whose courtroom comments suggest that she despises the defendant. Part of the issue seems to be that some federal authorities become personally offended if defendants use up courtroom time by failing to plead guilty, as do 95 percent of those accused.

I saw something similar up earlier this year in covering the sentencing of Republican former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

His Democratic federal judge seemed to become almost unhinged in denouncing the defendant, citing such factors as Kerik’s making more money than the judge and prolonging proceedings by not pleading guilty. The judge has now quit the federal bench to join a law firm with an annual per-partner compensation of $2.1 million. The hypocrisy has inflamed Kerik’s supporters around the country, as illustrated by this Oklahoma criminal justice site.

Solutions?
The good news is that solutions shouldn’t be hard to devise. My three suggestions are:

First, authorities should focus on underlying crimes, not creating new ones to save face. If we as a society hate illegal surveillance let’s focus directly on that and its perpetrators, who are far more numerous and effective than John McTiernan’s two-week foray into those dark arts in 2000.

Second and much more important, lots of these trial problems would go away if judges would encourage both sides to proceed with proportion. For authorities to insist, as they did, that McTiernan spend at least a year in prison if he pleads guilty inevitability stretches out the proceedings at vast cost to everyone. To what purpose? Do taxpayers really have unlimited funds for these kinds of selective prosecution jihads?

This spring, authors Jesse Ventura and Dick Russell cited my recent article about Dr. Cyril Wecht in their best-selling book American Conspiracies. Until a Pennsylvania judge threw out the case last year, the feds forced Wecht , in his late 70s and in the twilight of his distinguished career, to spend $8.6 million in legal fees. This was largely to defend himself from 43 federal felony charges that on 43 occasions when he’d sent personal faxes costing his county a total of $3.86 — yes, that’s less than $4 — during his 20 years as a county coroner. Even after all the charges were dismissed the federal prosecutor had the gall to run for Congress last fall. But the public seems to be getting wise, and she was defeated.

Finally, we’ve got to find new ways of providing oversight. The U.S. Senate rubber-stamps most federal prosecution and judicial appointments. The Senate provided unanimous approval, for example, for the judges overseeing both the McTiernan and Kerik cases. Congress rarely enforces subpoenas on sensitive oversight matters anymore if DOJ doesn’t want to comply. And the traditional courthouse news reporter that I used to know in olden days have disappeared for cost reasons, replaced by visiting stenographers from wire services who primarily amplify whatever information federal authorities want to emphasize.

But if the public must be burdened with multiple information sources at least they should be entertaining. In that spirit, we’ve presented above, Rashomon-style, two different accounts of the same crime story. The first is the one that went out on the wires, and the second is my opinion-style commentary.

Even more on target than Rashomon is a telling comment by the Sally Field character in Absence of Malice, the 1981 film about the interplay of federal prosecutors and reporters. My perspective on it has changed. Upon its release, I denounced it to my friends as an unwarranted slur on the news and legal professions. Live and learn, and I’ve highly recommended it for the past two decades.

At the end, Field’s character comments about a news story that omits vital context in describing her: “It’s accurate,” she says. “But it isn’t true.”

A few questions for Karl Rove on his book tour

May 30, 2010

Karl Rove

Bush’s brain shouldn’t mind answering a few questions as he goes around the South and Midwest selling his book. Just might enliven the events, and end up selling more copies. So here are a few, as I suggested recently in a Nieman Watchdog article.

While Karl Rove’s national book tour continues, reporters along the route should ask the important questions Rove has avoided – or hasn’t been asked – by DC pundits and in a once-over-lightly by the House Judiciary Committee last summer.

Rove’s Courage and Consequence tour puts him in seven states in the Midwest and South between now and early June, possibly in contact with many local and regional reporters who could make news if they ask good questions.  
 
The questions should be focused. Rove served the first 6½ years of the Bush presidency as senior advisor before leaving after the U.S. attorney firing scandal. Even his 596-page memoir can’t reasonably cover that period and his life story except by generalized summaries and selective illustrations.
 
To drill down, I suggest asking about political prosecutions. These are instances of using Justice Department probes not to solve crimes but to destroy political opponents and their funding. My 18 months of ongoing research suggest that such prosecutions have greatly affected the public through altered government policies, both locally and nationally. 
 
Evidence presented by the Judiciary majority shows that Justice Department chief of staff Kyle Sampson urged Rove in 2005 to rely on “loyal Bushies” to make prosecution decisions. Democrats in Congress later cited an academic study showing that the Bush DOJ targeted Democrats over Republicans by almost 5 to 1 in 820 official corruption investigations. This altered the nation’s political map and destroyed many political careers in a process that was largely secret.
 
The libertarian Cato Institute presented an expert seminar that I covered last fall in Nieman Watchdog, preserved in a video. I’ve since assembled case studies from around the nation at the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project that I founded this year. We explore the past, as well as emerging evidence of tolerance for political prosecutions under the Obama administration.
 
Rove’s memoir denies that he or others in the Bush White House exerted any improper role at the Justice Department. The book blames “conspiracy buffs” for suspicions he acted improperly in the 2006 U.S. attorney purge of such Republicans as New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, whose memoir, In Justice, sums up the unprecedented mid-term firings with a chapter entitled, “All Roads Lead to Rove.”
 
Similarly, Rove dismisses as preposterous claims reported in the New York Times that he helped frame Alabama’s Democratic former Gov. Don Siegelman in 2006 on corruption charges. Rove wrote:
 
One of the nation’s least reliable papers was relying on two unreliable sources – Dana Jill Simpson and Don Siegelman. Siegelman was trying to avoid prison. And Simpson, well, because I never met the woman, or had any of the dealings with her that she claims, I could only conclude that she must be a nut looking for a television camera and brief celebrity-hood.
 
Last month, I published sharply worded retorts to Rove from Simpson and Siegelman. The latter, now 64, is free on bond but facing 20 additional years in prison. Simpson is an Alabama attorney who gave courts, Congress and CBS 60 Minutes in 2007 evidence that her fellow Republicans had worked for years to frame Siegelman for political purposes. 
 
Each also attacked the Obama administration and the mainstream media for lax follow-up on evidence of political prosecutions. “By failing to restore justice,” Siegelman told me, “they leave our democracy vulnerable to future subversions by those like Rove. By failing to investigate Karl Rove’s subversion of our constitutional rights, abuse of power and the use of the DOJ as a political weapon, Congress and the mainstream media will be held in contempt by history.”
 
A recent book signing in Alabama shows the kind of questions reporters may want to ask. Usually reporters defer to Rove as a visiting celebrity and amplify his commentary, which he delivers also via his Newsweek and Wall Street Journal columns, and as a Fox News contributor. But not always. For example, the Birmingham News showed a protester photo demanding Rove’s jailing, then had Rove repeating his denial he helped frame Siegelman.  
 
One reporter was very tough. Locust Fork News-Journal Publisher Glynn Wilson, who has written for the New York Times, had a column entitled, ”Karl ‘Turd Blossom’ Rove Signs Books in Birmingham.” In it was this exchange, unlike almost anything you’ll see in the “respectable” press:
 
When the broadcast reporters seemed to be out of questions, I jumped in and asked the final question that set Rove back on his heels and basically ended the press conference.
 
Since Rove once made the claim that as Bush’s so-called “brain” and “architect” he would deliver an American majority to the Republican Party for “a generation,” and since that didn’t quite work out after he was forced to resign from the White House along with then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez in August, 2007, and since a black guy from Chicago named Barack Obama sort of stomped the Republican Party in the presidential election of 2008, I asked: “How does it feel to be an utter failure?”
 
Rove refused to answer the question.
 
When I identified myself as the editor and publisher of the Locust Fork News-Journal, Rove at first said, flippantly, “Never heard of it.” Then he changed his response to, “Oh, yeah I have. That little website.”
 
Rove had reason to remember the site; in 2007, Wilson had helped spur national coverage of how Simpson broke with her party to describe the impact of partisan prosecutors in a court affidavit to Siegelman’s sentencing judge and later in testimony to Judiciary committee staff.
 
My suggested questions focus on developments in Alabama, including his 1990s work advising on how to transform Alabama’s elective office-holders from primarily Democratic to Republican. Rove omits that period from his memoir, but a 2004 Atlantic piece explores it.
 
Siegelman has a long political history. In 1964, he was a student leader at Mobile’s Murphy High School, the state’s first to undergo court-ordered integration. (In the small world category, one of his classmates, I’ve been told, was a girl named Darby, later to become Rove’s wife for 24 years until their divorce last winter.)
 
Alabama had been a center of massive resistance to integration led by Gov. George Wallace. Siegelman advocated peaceful desegregation. He went on to win statewide office in Alabama almost continuously from 1978 to 2003.
 
Here, then, are suggested questions for Rove:
 
Q. Your Wall Street Journal column last summer derided Simpson as a publicity-seeker, and claimed she didn’t have the nerve to make her allegations under oath. But that was wrong and she promptly requested a correction from you and the Journal. Did you publish one? If not, why not?
 
Q. In your House Judiciary testimony last July, you said your national responsibilities prevented you from following the Siegelman case and Alabama politics closely. In your memoir, you wrote, “I almost felt sorry for my chief interrogator, California Congressman Adam Schiff. He clearly was not prepared.” Suppose the congressman and his colleagues had asked you a simple question: Did you and your wife host some of Siegelman’s prosecutors at a party at your Rosemary Beach home in March 2007 about eight months after his conviction, not long before he was sentenced? If yes, was there any particular reason for that party?
Q. Federal courts have just ordered a new trial for the Garza family in Texas, who allege they were prosecuted because they refused to hire the corrupt DC lobbyist Jack Abramoff to represent their Kickapoo tribal business for their state’s first gambling casino. Out of all the people in the world you could have hired as your top assistant at the White House, why did you hire Abramoff’s former assistant Susan Ralston? Did you ever talk with her about Indian tribal casinos, Justice Department prosecutions or inviting Abramoff to the White House?
 
Q. Would you be willing to square off in a sworn setting against David Iglesias, the first U.S. attorney for New Mexico in 2001 and a prosecutor who entitled a book chapter “All Roads Lead to Rove” in his book about his political purge in 2006?
 

President George W. Bush and Kickapoo Chief Raul Garza, center, with Karl Rove partially visible at right and lobbyist Jack Abramoff in background over President's left shoulder (White House photo).

In late March, I sent Rove the first two questions to check the facts for this article. The last need no preamble because of such hearings as a unanimous Senate Indian Affairs Committee report in 2006 that asserted that Abramoff arranged vast sums from Indian casinos in Mississippi to fight Siegelman and his plan for an Alabama lottery to compete with casinos.

 
I invited Rove to call in to my weekly public affairs radio show as a featured guest at his convenience to discuss his book. Karl Rove & Co. Chief of Staff Sheena Tahilramani responded with a pleasant email that I received at 12:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday. 

Karl Rove's "Courage and Consequence"

She granted permission for me to use his photo and book jacket. “As far as any background on this subject,” she wrote, “it’s just not something Karl’s able to delve into while he’s in the middle of the tour. I’ve already got him fully committed and his plate is full. Thanks for reaching out.”

 
Clearly, Rove and his staff are hard-working, professional and successful. But let’s not miss the unique opportunity of a local book tour to learn more than his memoir provides about what he’s doing.