Justice Integrity Project

Mike Gravel: Sanders Could Win Despite Campaign Financing Systemic Corruption

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on August 16, 2015


Mike GravelThe 2008 presidential candidate and former Alaskan senator Mike Gravel criticized the current campaign finance system as a corruption of democracy but nonetheless foresaw a victory path to the presidency for Vermont’s junior Democratic senator.

“The most interesting campaign is that of Bernie Sanders,” Gravel told the Justice Integrity Project in an interview Aug. 15. Gravel, now 85 and shown at right in an official photo from his 2008 campaign, made his comments by phone from his home in California. Our project sought his opinion on the under-reported story of how campaign finance regulations are affecting the race, especially regarding public financing of long-shot candidates.

The two-term Democratic senator (1969-1981), a hero of the Pentagon Papers transparency battle in the 1970s, said of Sanders: “He’s got a very viable shot at winning the primary and the presidency. He’s capturing the sense of economic outrage. He may have jumped in just when people are fed up enough to nominate and elect him.”

Sanders is shown below in a photo taken by the Justice Integrity Project March 9 at the National Press Club. Sanders told the audience he was trying to decide then whether he could gather enough financial Bernie Sanders National Press Club JIP Photosupport for a viable race, which he entered six weeks later.

Gravel's critique follows former President Jimmy Carter's comment last month that The U.S. Is an "Oligarchy With Unlimited Political Bribery," and the rise of insurgents Sanders and Donald Trump in polling for the Democratic and Republican nominations, respectively.

Gravel described the current financing system as a mess, especially after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowed a non-profit corporation to spend for independent political campaigns. A Republican majority decided the case on First Amendment case grounds. The holding was extended to enable donations supposedly "independent" of campaigns to for-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations.

The decision was on a 5-4 party line vote on its most important provisions. It has enabled what some predict to be a 2016 contest that will cost $4 billion total for Democrats and Republicans.

The essential fifth vote for the Republican decision was provided by Justice Clarence Thomas. Yet he ruled with a major conflict of interest. The litigant Citizens Union had provided him with massive public relations support two Clarence Thomasdecades previously in its lobbying campaign urging Senate confirmation despite the notorious sexual misconduct allegations raised against Thomas by such former Thomas staffers as Anita Hill.

Shortly before the Citizens United decision was announced, Virginia Lamp Thomas, the justice's wife and a longtime Republican lobbyist and advocate, incorporated a consulting business in late 2010 with the help of one of the couple's longtime wealthy financial backers in order to take early advantage of the vast business opportunities that would become available for political consultants under the decision. Our Justice Integrity Project reported that story in multiple columns in 2011 after the Los Angeles Times learned that Thomas had failed for years to report his wife's income, as required under his sworn financial statements,

In sum, and as illustrated by Common Cause Files Against Justice Thomas's Wife's Group, a greedy and conflicted justice helped change the nation's laws in a scheme with his puppet masters to profit personally with a minimum of oversight by other legal authorities and the mainstream media.

Research Trip Probing Political Corruption Strikes Paydirt

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on August 11, 2015

The Justice Integrity Project’s research trip to Ohio and Chicago last week developed promising new angles on federal abuses, especially regarding high-level political corruption investigations involving famed figures. Names include Obama, Emanuel, Jarrett, Hastert, Kirk, Blagojevich.

The trip was a joint effort with the investigative reporter and author Wayne Madsen, who generously shared sources and undertook joint radio interviews in Ohio and Illinois about our preliminary findings. The editor of the Wayne Madsen Report, an online subscription news service.

Shown in a file photo, Madsen is a former Naval intelligence officer and NSA analyst. His often-controversial muckraking has been vindicated many times, including by a federal indictment in May of more than three million dollars in blackmail payments allegedly paid by former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a former "Family Values" congressman from Illinois shown at right during a C-SPAN appearance.

Dennis Hastert C-SPANBeginning in September 2006, Madsen reported in a four-part 2006 series that Hastert — then third in succession for the presidency behind President Bush and Vice President Cheney — was a gay pedophile subject to blackmail by powerful interests who knew his secret. Hastert has pleaded not guilty in the complex case, which centers on violations of banking laws not the alleged underlying reasons. Details: Here's how the "breaking" story of Dennis Hastert's taste for young wrestlers actually broke nine years ago.

Much of our research during our trip dealt with similar still-hidden sexual, financial, and political scandals that can help sway political races and public policy in law enforcement, civil rights, the justice system, budgets, foreign policy, and almost anything else in the nation's capital.

Our take is that the recent support for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders stems partly from voter resentment over the results of corruption, even if the media only rarely share specifics.  

Details will follow in future columns here and in my revised and updated book, Presidential Puppetry 2016: The Candidate Charade Continues, which derives in part from Madsen's The Manufacturing of a President, one of his dozen books. Madsen has already published several columns.

Unfortunately, the trip revealed also widespread disillusionment with the mainstream media from sources in finance, politics, law, policing, and other governmental operations. Several sources criticized local reporters as cowardly, incurious about new evidence, and otherwise unwilling to research complicated or controversial issues while they instead devote themselves to celebrity and other personality-focused stories.

For such reasons, the trip represented an evocative if not bittersweet homecoming for this Washington-based editor, who was born on Chicago’s South Side and whose first big story was covering the riotous 1968 Democratic National Convention in the city during the reign of “The Boss,” former Mayor Richard Daley. My late mother, Margaret Kreig, had been a crusading freelance magazine writer and author, and my first journalism compensation came from tiny stringer’s checks from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Daily News.

That was enough to foster the notion journalism can be a high calling despite the demonstrably low tactics and methods of some of its most famous practitioners, both in Hollywood portrayals and in real life.

Adolph Menjou in "The Front Page" (Directed by Howard Hughes, 1931)Ben Hecht, who began his Chicago newspaper career as a “picture-snatcher” stealing family photos of crime victims a century ago to sensationalize the news, co-authored the iconic and comedic love-letter to journalism in The Front Page.

The photo at left is from the play's 1931 adaptation to film by director Howard Hughes, the aviation pioneer and tycoon. In this scene, Adolphe Menjou at center portrays the scheming editor "Walter Burns" (modeled on Chicago American Managing Editor Walter Howey, who ran the paper on behalf of William Randolph Hearst, "The Chief").

Burns is shown protecting a scoop in the press room of the Cook County Criminal Courts building by ordering one of his thugs to kidnap his reporter’s prospective mother-in-law to get her out of the way. Meanwhile, the affianced reporter at left timidly apologizes to her on the grounds that the story was important. It wasn't, of course, and instead was pure hokum.

The movie scene and many like it glamorized headline-hungry journalists who puffed up a murder case against a hapless defendant whom officials wanted to smear and then hang promptly on a new gallows outside the press room to boost their popularity before elections.

That’s part of the tradition, in a sense. So are the countless and usually prosaic daily efforts of journalists working with civic-minded sources to put important information before the public.

Frances O. Kelsey receives medal from President Kennedy FDA photoA stellar example last week was the inspiring obituary of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) researcher Frances Kelsey, who held both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago. She is shown at right receiving from President Kennedy in 1962 the nation's top annual award for distinguished service by a civilian federal employee.

Against profiteers and bureaucrats, Kelsey had fought against marketing of the dangerous morning-sickness drug Thalidomide, which caused severe birth defects. The Washington Post's obituary was headlined Heroine of thalidomide tragedy kept the drug off U.S. market. 

Margaret KreigKelsey had also been a source and friend to my mother, a former medical editor of Parent’s Magazine shown at left in a National Science Foundation photo. Her globe-trotting investigative work took her to the Amazon jungle and then-Communist China for pioneering research on natural remedies, and to Congress to expose mob-produced counterfeit medicine. For the latter, she was the much-praised star witness in June 1967 before the Government Operations Committee, which was then holding a major hearing to reveal the Mafia's varied threats to the nation.

Below at right is a surveillance photo of her working undercover for the FDA to help it obtain evidence for convictions — and also exclusive material for her courageous 1967 book Black Market Medicine. She was pretending to be a madam seeking illegal prescription drugs for “my girls.” The context is provided by a 2011 column on this site, Learning from Heroes Who Fought the Mafia.

Reader advisory: This page may load slowly on some systems because of the many photos below

Whistleblower Summit Provided Powerful Investigative Fare On NSA Snooping

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on August 2, 2015

Joseph  Nacchio at NPC

The annual Whistle Blower Summit provided shocking and inspirational material three days last week for anyone concerned about the nation's future.

Highlights on the positive side during the conference beginning July 29 in the nation's capital included an unprecedented commitment by U.S. senators to speak of their commitment to create a Whistleblower Caucus. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley was the leader on that. Additionally, the event saw an outstanding array of courageous and expert speakers share their insights. Details are in our previous columns, to be updated soon.

 Joseph P. Nacchio, former chairman/CEO of Qwest Communications, spoke at a Summit panel denouncing the new USA Freedom Act passed in June as providing merely the illusion of protection for the from illegal electronic surveillance and police state prosecution tactics.

He is shown at right at a related event arranged by the Justice Integrity Project at the National Press Club July 29 on NSA reform. Journalist Mike Smith (seated) of the Newsmakers Committee moderated the event. Photo/Image: Noel St. John.

Whistle Blower Summit In DC Features Senators, Free Film Screening, Book Signing, Awards Starting July 29

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on July 26, 2015


Kill the MessengerAmong the special events at the annual Whistle Blowers Summit July 29-31 will be awards presentations, a free film screening of Kill the Messenger, and author book-signings July 30 at the Busboys & Poets flagship store in Washington, DC.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyIn addition to the panels that are the core of the free program, U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden are among seven U.S. senators scheduled to speak July 30 on Capitol Hill. Both are longtime supporters of accountability in government, co-founders of the Senate Whistleblower Caucus, and previous winner's of the Summit's "Pillar Award."

A unprecedented total of seven senators are expected to convene for the first time to celebrate the nation’s whistleblowers, according to an announcement by the National Whistleblower Center. It organized a luncheon for “National Whistleblower Day” in commemoration of the Founding Fathers’ passing the first ever whistleblower law in 1778, as well as the crucial role of whistleblowers play in defending our nation from waste, fraud and abuse. 

Grassley (shown in a file photo) chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Wyden is the ranking Democrat on the Joint Senate-House Committee on Taxation, and has been especially active on the Select Committee on Intelligence in advocating greater public awareness of excesses in electronic surveillance.

Beginning in May 2007, whistleblowers have convened annually for education and advocacy at a free conference in Washington, DC. The theme for this year’s Summit is “Black Lives Matter — This Is the Movement!” See: Summit schedule

Two of the major organizers for years have been Arkansas-based attorney and CPA Michael McCray and DC-area whistleblower Marcel Reid, a former ACORN National Director, chair of DC ACORN, and one of a three-member Interim Management Committee to reorganize ACORN after the discovery of a major embezzlement. They collaborated on the book ACORN 8: Race, Power & Politics that they will sign at the event.

The Pillar Journalism Awards for Human Rights recognize those activists whose talent and courage make them "Pillars" of democracy. This year's winners are: 

  • For print: Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch.
  • For broadcast: Abby Martin, independent journalist and formerly with RTV, and Dennis Bernstein, host of Flashpoint Radio on KPFA.  
  • Sharyl AttkissonFor documentaries: Kristina Borjesson, producer/director/writer of TWA Flight 800, a documentary featuring six investigators-turned whistleblowers. Also, she is scheduled guest this week on "From a Woman’s Point of View," a show broadcast and available online via the 70,000-watt non-commercial station WMNF-FM (88.5) in Tampa. 
  • For activism: Dr. Riki Ott, an activist, speaker and author who is a trained marine toxicologist and former commercial fisher woman. She has written books on oil spill impacts to ecosystems, people, and communities and starred in Black Wave, an award-winning feature film. This week, she will also be a guest on the WMNF-FM, whose programming is available online.

Also, former Qwest Communications International Chairman and CEO Joseph Nacchio receives in person before his 4 p.m. presentation July 29 a Pillar "Corporate Courage" award designated last year for his opposition in 2001 to Bush administration requests in early 2001 without a warrant for bulk access to Qwest electronic records of customers.

The film screening and book signing session will be from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m on July 30. It will include a free screening of Kill The Messenger about the late San Jose Mercury investigative reporter and Dark Alliance author Gary Webb, who died despondent after a firestorm of criticism for his 1990s work alleging official complicity in the crack epidemic plaguing inner cities. The screening may include another of the following films nominated for the Summit’s Pillar Award: A2-B-C ; Silenced; The Hidden Enemy; and TWA Flight 800.

The special event is sponsored by Sharyl Attkisson (shown in a file photo) from the proceeds of her best-selling 2014 memoir of her two decades as a CBS News reporter: Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington. The locale is Busboys and Poets at 2021 14th Street, NW, near V Street.

Feds Crushed Telecom CEO Who Protected Customer Data from NSA Snoops…But He’s Back, Protesting New Reform Law

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on July 26, 2015


Long before 9/11 in 2001 or the reformist surveillance law signed last month, one of the nation’s top telecom executives reminded federal officials they needed court approval before his company could hand over en masse private customer data to the National Security Agency (NSA).

Joseph P. NacchioQwest Chairman and CEO Joseph P. Nacchio, shown at right, thus followed traditional business and legal principles regarding government requests for electronic data. He chaired two national telecom advisory commissions under the then-new Bush administration after 26 years with AT&T. So, he was an expert even though Qwest (a fiber company that acquired US West) was best known in the Western states it primarily served as one of the nation's four regional Bell carriers during that era.

But Nacchio then endured a long nightmare of reprisal that is relevant to the supposed protections of the USA Freedom Act signed last month.

President Obama and other backers of the new law say it protects the public by keeping data with private companies except upon valid request from authorities.

That protection is questionable in the real world, however, especially after the reported compliance of all major telecom CEOs in 2001 except Nacchio to the NSA warrantless requests -- and the brutal, little-known reprisal against Nacchio, the holdout.

Nacchio will speak of these factors July 29 10 a.m. at the National Press Club and then at a 4 p.m. panel on political prosecutions as a threat to democracy at the Whistle Blowers Summit in Washington, DC.

Authorities cancelled hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for Qwest to provide services for federal agencies. The company’s stock price spiraled down from $38 to $2 amid the general decline in telecom in 2001 and factors specific to Qwest.

NSA Official LogoEven worse for Nacchio, he then received a six-year prison sentence on questionable federal convictions for his sales during a trading window in April 2001. His prison term came with a $19 million fine and an additional $44 million in forfeiture penalties.

The punishment appears to have been reprisal via a political prosecution of a kind rare in U.S. securities law history. Today's column focuses primarily on Nacchio's perspective on the viability of the USA Freedom Act. Details of his court cases are for another day except for a brief overview:

Authorities convicted Nacchio of insider trading for selling stock during April 2001, a designated window when he was permitted by the company to sell stock. This followed internal discussions that Qwest (later acquired by CenturyLink in 2011) had income that would not continue.

Nacchio has unsuccessfully argued in filings extending to the U.S. Supreme Court that CEOs frequently hear both good and bad internal predictions that do not arise to "material" information whose disclosure to the stock-trading public is required to avoid liability under securities law. Thus, he argued, he remained optimistic about the company's prospects and forbade his broker from selling his shares if prices dipped below $38. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, endorsed his legal position in briefs to the Supreme Court in Nacchio v. United States.

An additional obstacle for him, as for other litigants protesting "political" prosecution when authorities ignore similar acts, is that legal rules prevented Nacchio from arguing during his criminal case that he had been the victim of "selective" prosecution. But he did argue reprisal more recently in tax litigation before the U.S. Court of Claims.

During the criminal trial, Chief U.S. District Judge George Nottingham of Denver made many pro-prosecution rulings.

Former U.S. District Judge Edward NottinghamAs it turned out, the married judge was also hiding a secret sex scandal. This raises the additional question -- relevant to ordinary citizens also who might have reason to fear electronic surveillance -- of whether the married judge was under pressure from his shame of being a big spender on prostitutes and strippers.

Whatever the answer on that, Nottingham (shown in a file photo and now off the bench in disgrace after his wife blew the whistle) denied Nacchio some basic fair trial safeguards.

For example, Nottingham forbade University of Chicago law professor Daniel Fischel, Nacchio’s main defense witness, from testifying about industry-wide norms for CEOs handling confidential information and trading shares. Stock was Nacchio’s main form of compensation following his three decades in telecom. A divided appellate court later sustained Nottingham's ruling.

Although a jury is supposed to be neutral, Nacchio faced also a popularity problem in Qwest's home region because the savings of many retirees were locked into a pension plan. Nonetheless, many telecom companies went bankrupt outright during "The Tech Wreck" of 2001 on the stock market and only a few of their CEOs were indicted for making optimistic comments typical for the job.

Businessman, Siegelman Co-Defendant, DOJ Victim Richard Scrushy To Provide Litigation Lessons For Whistleblowers In DC July 29

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on July 24, 2015


Richard Scrushy, the founder and former CEO of the multi-billion-dollar HealthSouth, Inc. and co-defendant in one of the most widely condemned federal prosecutions in recent U.S. history, will share his hard-won insights July 29 on Capitol Hill and at the National Press Club.

Richard Scrushy on FoxScrushy, still an entrepreneur and now also an author and motivational speaker, speaks at 4 p.m. on the opening day of the annual Whistle Blowers Summit to advise others on coping with the legal hardships that many whistleblowers must endure. At 6:30 p.m., he talks to the National Press Club’s McClendon Group at an informal dinner open to the press and public.

Along with advice, Scrushy provides his take on the long prison terms he and former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman have endured on corruption charges stemming from 1999 actions despite gross courtroom irregularities and unprecedented nationwide protests by legal experts. Siegelman is scheduled for release in mid-2017.

Scrushy was convicted solely for what he describes as a $250,000 HealthSouth donation much like that of several other big Alabama companies. It was to defray the costs of a failed 1998 referendum to increase state funding for K-12 schools with state lottery proceeds. He says prosecutors won their case by exaggerating the donation’s size, source, destination, and purpose – and pressuring their star witness Nick Bailey into a false testimony motivated by the serious charges Bailey faced in another case.

Scrushy received a 78-month term from federal trial judge Mark Fuller, who has since become so scandal-ridden that he resigns his lifetime post Aug. 1 after a wife-beating arrest last year. Judge Mark FullerOur project has covered the judge (shown in a file photo) in depth for years, as in our column last month: Wife-Beating Siegelman Judge Resigns, Ends Horrid Career With Civic Lesson.

Many whistleblowers and other critics have documented irregularities of the federal Siegelman-Scrushy prosecution.

In 2008, CBS “60 Minutes” presented Republican lawyer Dana Jill Simpson, shown at left. She said Scrushy, a Republican, was a fall guy targeted in a political plot to end the career of Siegelman, Alabama’s state’s most popular Democrat.

Jill SimpsonIn an unprecedented filing to the U.S. Supreme Court, 113 former state attorneys general — former chief law enforcers of more than 40 states — protested the legal basis of the prosecution. Conservative syndicated columnist George Will is among those who wrote that there was no basis for Scrushy's imprisonment, and Fox News host Neal Cavuto is among those who have hosted the defendant following his release in highly sympathetic interviews.

Yet courts have consistently rejected the defendants’ major appeals while dismissing some of the charges and slightly reducing the original sentences.

Among many rejected appeals was Scrushy’s argument that the trial judge Fuller should have recused himself instead of hiding secret ownership of up to 44 percent of Doss Aviation, Inc.

Unknown to defendants, Doss received $300 million in no-bid federal contracts for such purposes as training U.S. and Saudi Air Force pilots, and refueling Air Force planes, including the presidential Air Force One.

Underscoring bizarre military undercurrents of the prosecution, an Air Force Reserves colonel served as one of the top prosecutors. At great expense, a special joint federal-state task force was created also at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery for the purpose of investigating Siegelman.

The secret procedures continue. Siegelman and Scrushy have been denied materials supposed to be delivered to defendants before their trials under Supreme Court rules. CBS showed, for example, that authorities coached and threatened their witness Bailey up to 70 times without required pre-trial disclosure to defendants. Post-trial investigation by defendants indicated that authorities threatened the witness with up to ten years in prison for his separate offenses and warned that he would likely be raped during such a long sentence.

Stat trackers