Republicans on Capitol Hill this week escalated their attacks on Obama administration by claiming improper national security leaks, fatal lapses in gun-control and interference with state power to curtail voting fraud. More than 100 House Republicans have called for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder, below left, a close friend of President Obama.
Democrats are used to relying on the civil liberties community for support in such political battles. But Obama officials who have pooh-poohed domestic civil rights issues for most of their administration don't deserve much support as they withstand attacks, fairly or not, for their own conduct.
Led by Holder, the Obama administration has whitewashed bogus Bush-era political prosecutions in Alabama, New Jersey, North Carolina and elsewhere. Also, it has crushed civil rights protections for torture victims and other detainees and whistleblowers. Further, it has fostered an unprecedented crusade against news reporters such as James Risen of the New York Times who cover such issues. The DOJ's overall strategy clearly came from high levels at the White House. Why, therefore, should civil rights advocates grieve if Republicans hound Holder and snipe at the White House?
Holder, his team and superiors deserve a chance to experience what they've been dealing out. The one exception, I argue, is in the area of "voting fraud," where Holder's DOJ has taken necessary -- albeit overly timid -- steps to curtail repetition of the scandalous GOP purge of some 90,000 eligible Florida voters in 2000. As documented by BBC investigatror and author Greg Palast, the purge of Democrats from voter rolls by a private contractor working for the administration of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush essentially decided that year's Presidential race. The general public was distracted by "chads" and the Ralph Nader candidacy. But those involved relatively tiny numbers of ballots, and never focused on the real issues.
In the "gun-walking" controversy, Senate and House GOP officials this week demanded that Holder provide tens of thousands of still-secret documents regarding the federal "Fast and Furious" operation to track illegal gun usage along the U.S. Mexican border. The Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unit of the Treasury Department apparently allowed 2,000 confiscated guns to be recirculated under still-mysterious circumstances beginning in 2009 to Mexican drug suspects in hopes of tracking illicit use. Tragic results included the fatal shooting of a U.S. border guard, Brian Terry, as well as other suspected deaths. House Government Operations Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican at right, scheduled a contempt of Congress hearing because Holder has provided only 7,000 or so of a reported 150,000 reputedly relevant documents.
Separately, House and Senate Republicans have widened their attack on Holder and the President because of news reports reputedly based on national security leaks. Some, for example, helped document a major New York Times article describing how the administration selected drone targets in a classified program that officials normally deny as even existing. Similarly, ongoing newspaper and broadcast puffery based on anonymous sources tends to portray the administration as tough and otherwise effective in dealing with terrorist and similar national security threats to the nation. The White House has denied improprieties and a new book by former Newsweek managing editor Daniel Klaidman portrays Holder as feeling unfairly victimized by Republican criticism. .
To appease GOP critics, Holder named two administration-appointed regional U.S. attorneys to conduct an investigation of whether anyone in the administration has been improperly leaking secret information. Republicans say that's not enough independence because the prosecutors work for the administration. One, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, was a Bush appointee retained by Obama. The other, District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., is a Democrat.
The administration is in hot water with Republicans also for its effort to curtail at least temporarily a number of Republican state initiatives to restrict voting registration. Republicans say their goal is to thwart voter fraud next November by removing deceased or otherwise invalid names from the rolls. The Republican governor of Florida has been especially aggressive.
These Republican-led state efforts ignore, in my mind, evidence that vote-suppression strategies present a huge danger to democracy. So does the related threat of fraud via manipulation of the software in electronic voting machines and in the tabulation of results. Previously, our Justice Integrity Project described why the mainstream media are extremely reluctant to report on such problems. The DOJ's current scrutiny of dubious state tactics is thus in the public interest. But it falls far short of the thorough investigations that are needed to prosecute vote fraud criminals and thereby deter those tempted to corrupt future elections, including in November, on a massive scale.
National Security Hypocrisy
One measure of civil libertarian dismay with the Obama Justice Department pertains to pro-administration leaks of sensitive information. Ironically, suspected leaks are occurring at the same time as unprecedented Justice Department spy charge prosecution of former CIA, NSA and DOJ officials suspected of discussing sensitive information with reporters. "I don't know how you can have a democracy without aggressive reporting," the New York Times reporter Risen told a National Press Club audience last month. This was two weeks before a federal appeals court heard administration arguments that he should be jailed unless he confirms that a former CIA employee, John Kiriakou, was one of his sources. In January, authorities indicted Kiriakou, one of six former federal employees criminally charged by the Obama administration on spy or similar charges for serving as suspected sources for reporters.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, this week published in the Washington Post, Obama’s ‘Kill List’ Is Unchecked Presidential Power. Her column began, "A stunning report in the New York Times depicted President Obama poring over the equivalent of terrorist baseball cards, deciding who on a 'kill list' would be targeted for elimination by drone attack." In this, her theme was similar to those of Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, a conservative former Reagan official and Wall Street Journal editor, and Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald. In a strangely diverse group of experts, they have repeatedly decried Obama administration hypocrisy in pursuing whistleblowers and reporters while claiming that the United States staunchly protects such freedoms.
Domestic Political Prosecutions
To be sure, White House claims whether by Democrats or Republicans of national security concerns are usually enough to silence critics in Congress, as elsewhere.
Therefore,criticism of Holder and Obama from grassroots Democrats and independents on a variety of regional domestic due process issues may have even more impact in undermining perceptions that Obama is committed, as a former law school instructor, to due process and other fairness under the law. The mainstream national media defer to the wisdom of courts and Congress on such matters. But the alternative independent media are filled with reports suggesting that Holder's Justice Department is highly political and self-serving, and willing to sabotage the rights of Democrats and others for short-term reasons.
Such claims are percolating around the country, often involving allegations that our Project has previously documented. The gist is that the Obama Justice Department is pursuing transparently unfair prosecutions trumped up by predecessors in the Bush Justice Department for political reasons.
The most notorious of these cases is the federal prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, convicted of corruption charges in 2006 and this week denied by the Supreme Court of what may be his final appeal before he is resentenced by federal judge Mark Fuller in Alabama. Other notorious cases pursued by the Obama/Holder DOJ include the failed prosecution of former New Jersey assemblyman Louis Manzo initiated by Bush U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, now the state's governor. Another is the failed campaign finance prosecution in North Carolina of former Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards. That case was initiated by Bush U.S. attorney George Holding, now a GOP congressional candidate.
New articles, including from our Project, are excerpted below on each of these cases. For simplicity, let's focus here just on commentaries regarding the Siegelman prosecution, which Republicans have pursued since 1999 in a vendetta to destroy him the year he took office as governor and alter his state's political orientation. Not coincidentally, we among others have reported how Siegelman was cheated out of re-election in 2002 by a particularly blatant prima facie case of electronic voting machine fraud that was never investigated by authorities, in contrast to the tens of millions spent to persecute Siegelman and prevent continuation of his policies.
The Siegelman Case, Again
Let's start with a Huffington Post column June 13 by Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman, a former New York City prosecutor and author of the authoritative book, Prosecutorial Misconduct. Gershman, in a wide-ranging essay describing breakdowns in the rule of law, writes:
The Siegelman case may be one of the most egregiously bad faith prosecutions by the Justice Department ever, maybe even worse than the bad faith prosecutions of the late Senator Ted Stevens and John Edwards. Indeed, 113 state Attorneys General of both political parties decried the Siegelman prosecution and supported, unsuccessfully, review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Judges also make a difference in corruption trials, and the stark difference in verdicts....may be attributable, in part, to the competence and ethics of the presiding judges.
Alabama court observers have claimed that the judge in the Siegelman trial -- Mark Fuller -- harbored a strong bias against Siegelman. His bribery instruction to the jury has been assailed for diluting the quid pro quo requirement for bribery -- he did not advise the jury that it had to find an explicit promise or understanding -- before it could convict. Even with that deficient instruction, the jury deliberated 11 days and reported itself deadlocked several times before finding guilt on only a few of the numerous counts.
That's a scholarly appraisal of the work of Holder and his minions. Here's one by a blogger going by the handle of Abby Big City, who recorded one of the highest levels of readership and endorsements June 12 on the pro-Democratic website "Democratic Underground." The screed has several misspellings and transposed words. But the gist is otherwise congruent to more formal essays, including many I have authored. Here it is:
I’M ONLY GONNA SHOUT THIS at the top of my lungs so listen above the din. Don Siegelman is a political prisoner in one of the most backward countries in the world. THAT’S RIGHT I SAID IT.
He was jailed after threatening the scheme of bastard Jack Abramoff with Indian casinos and whatnot. Governor Siegelman stood up against outright election thievery....Representative Bob Riley defeated Siegelman’s November 2002 reelection bid by the narrowest margin in Alabama history: approximately 3,000 votes. The result was controversial, as on the night of the election, Siegelman was initially declared the winner by the Associated Press and all sources. Later, Republican electioneers were employed to betray our greater purpose. A voting machine malfunction in a single county, Baldwin County, was claimed to have produced the votes needed to give Siegelman [Sic. Editor's Note: The author clearly means Riley] the election. When the malfunction was corrected, Riley emerged the winner. Democratic Party officials objected, stating that the recount had been performed by local Republican election officials after Democratic observers had left the site of the vote counting, thus rendering verification of the recount results impossible. However, the state’s Attorney General, Republican Bill Pryor, affirmed the recounted vote totals, securing Riley’s election.
The lack of media coverage of both sides of this story is appalled [sic], alarming even. The fact that Barack Obama hasn’t intervened in this but to buttress the original government prosecution once again proves the corporate machine rules all, and the elites, on both sides of the aisle despise us and all the Siegelman-like qualities we exhibit....WHAT CONCERNS ME MOST is he was popular enough to be elected Governor twice, although the second was stolen, and therefore ALL THOSE ALABAMANS have been duped or shuttered into submission.
In more decorous tones but with even more-obvious dedication through the years, Alabama Democrat Pam Miles years ago created an email list-serve going directly to hundreds of recipients who have opted in to receive on virtually a daily basis messages about the Siegelman case and similar political prosecutions. The list-serve's main purpose has been to keep readers abreast of Siegelman's fight for freedom. With her tireless efforts at all hours of the day and night, it has since branched out to cover a variety of Deep South-oriented topics. These are primarily but not exclusively from a pro-Democratic perspective, often with a score of postings a day. Because some recipients are highly active bloggers or other journalists, many of the postings reach an estimated national audience of 30,000. I submit comments there often, as in a post today. My topic was why a Tuscaloosa News editorial was highly misleading when it praised the Supreme Court's denial of Siegelman's petition. I noted that the editorial falsely suggested that either the Obama or Bush administration had ever investigated Siegelman's evidence that he was the victim of a frame-up by Karl Rove and others.
More telling than anything I could muster is the demonstrated dedication of Miles and her readers through the years. A recent visible indication is the sign she created, shown above left, while she attended last week's Netroots, a major national convention of Democratic bloggers and other activists held in Providence, RI.
In 2009 there, I led a panel featuring Siegelman and Dr. Cyril Wecht, the distinguished consultant, author and medical school professor who was another victim of bogus Bush prosecutions left to suffer by Holder's DOJ. Shortly before the panel, Siegelman encountered Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, right, and begged her to use her influence have the President look into such situations. She responded, according to what Siegelman told the Netroots audience, that it is up to defendants and not the White House to look out for themselves by building political support. That heartless, self-centered advice from one of the President's top advisers provided a stark lesson for those who heard it, albeit just a hundred or so in that panel's audience.
Three years and many such disgraces later, the message is increasingly loud and clear: Victims are on their own while administration officials look out for their own careers. Siegelman faces resentencing from Fuller on the trumped-up corruption charges. Most national Democratic office-holders of stature long ago abandoned him as radio-active in deference to Republicans, the perceived wisdom of courts and the Justice Department, conventional wisdom and self-preservation in politics.
Siegelman himself must be very careful about what he says these days. The Obama administration requested 20 years more in prison for him in 2009. Then it cruelly fired a Republican paralegal who alleged serious irregularities during the trial under the Bush administration.
Siegelman nonetheless wrote a message this week to his longstanding supporters on "Pam's List," saying in reference to the current attacks by Republicans on Holder [EH] and the President:
Thanks. What Would EH Do if this happens to Obama..would he...ask for 25 years to life or say it's the way democracy works...
Governor of Alabama 1999-2003
I have covered a lot of ground here.It's complicated. So a review of previous articles excerpted below is doubtless helpful to those who haven't been following these myriads strands for years previously. Bottom line? Abundant evidence exists that some Democrats, not just Republicans, are upset with Holder and his colleagues even though most in the mainstream media portray current controversies in simplistic, partisan terms.
Holder has Democratic critics even in Alabama, one of the reddest states. It's also the birthplace of his wife, who is a younger sister of the civil rights heroine who integrated the University of Alabama. That said, few Democrats would probably want Holder to resign. That's because they fear that Republicans would never approve a replacement who would stand up to them on voting rights issues.
But here's a prediction: Do not be surprised if the name "Siegelman" appears as a write-in on Presidential ballots around the country, at least in jurisdictions where the vote will not be close. A vote for a political prisoner likely, as a tragic finale to his career, to be rotting in prison by then would be a symbolic protest. It is one way those forgotten grassroots proselytizers for Obama could make a statement to a DOJ and White House that have ignored what most estimate as 100,000 emails and letters on Siegelman's behalf over the years.
Justice may not be fast in all cases. But in its own bizarre way, the people's process can be furious.
Related News Coverage
Updated: Legal Schnauzer, Eric Holder Is Feeling the Heat He Deserves From Republicans On Capitol Hill, Roger Shuler, June 14, 2012. Attorney General Eric Holder is under increasing fire from Congressional Republicans for a variety of alleged lapses. As a progressive blogger, I normally would come to the support of a relatively competent official in a Democratic administration. But Holder has been an abject failure as "the people's lawyer," and if right wingers can force him out, they have my full support. To put it in blunt terms, Holder is getting what he deserves for allowing a fiasco like the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to remain intact. For that matter, Holder's boss, President Obama, also is having a pretty horrific month of June--and he deserves it for failing to support investigations into gross justice-related abuses during the George W. Bush years. Andrew Kreig, of the D.C.-based Justice-Integrity Project, puts it in perspective with a splendid piece titled "Obama, Holder Merit Scant Pity After GOP Attacks on DOJ."
Congressional Probe of "Fast and Furious' Mexican Border Gun Plan
Washington Post, Washington Post, Holder embattled on two fronts, David A. Fahrenthold and Sari Horwitz, June 13, 2012. For more than three years, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has tried to play a double role — political and apolitical at once. He has cast himself as the country’s nonpartisan top cop, but also as the Obama administration’s best weapon for a liberal view of justice. But now, more than ever, Holder is struggling to do both jobs. An inquiry involving the apolitical side of his position — involving a botched gun-trafficking investigation in Arizona — has made the attorney general newly vulnerable to his political opponents. Next week, a House committee could vote to cite him for contempt of Congress, accusing him of withholding information in that case. That would be the latest in a series of setbacks for Holder, a soft-spoken former judge and close friend of President Obama. He also is facing questions about his oversight of an investigation of national security data leaked to reporters. Holder is a lightning rod for anger in the administration — viewed by his supporters as a symbol of Obama’s ambitions and by his enemies as a symbol of the president’s aloofness and overreach.
Los Angeles Times, Eric Holder grilled over Fast and Furious in Congress, Richard A. Serrano, June 7, 2012. Los Angeles Times, Eric Holder grilled over Fast and Furious in Congress, Richard A. Serrano, June 7, 2012. One at a time, Rep. Darrell Issa held up a thick wiretap application form and slammed it on his dais in the elaborate House Judiciary Committee hearing room. The packages were proof, Issa contended, that the Department of Justice in Washington and perhaps the Obama White House were aware of the flawed tactics in the ATF’s Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation in Arizona that allowed more than 2,000 firearms to “walk” into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.Issa said he obtained the materials from “a furious group of whistle-blowers” who are angry with the Justice Department and Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., left, for not providing more material to Issa’s investigation into Fast and Furious. The whistle-blowers, he told Holder at the hearing, “are tired of your stonewalling.” Holder, under fire for more than a year now in the Fast and Furious case, said he had read the documents but told Issa the documents do not disclose the improper tactics. Exactly what the wiretap applications say, however, remains unclear. They have not been made public.
Roll Call, GOP Smells Blood, Bores In on Eric Holder, Jonathan Strong, June 12, 2012. A top Senate Republican called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign today, even as Holder said he was ready to make major concessions to Republicans investigating “Fast and Furious,” a botched gun-smuggling operation. Holder, saying he wanted to avoid an “impending constitutional crisis,” told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I am prepared to make compromises,” but “I’ve got to have a willing partner.” However, Republicans in both chambers were in no mood to give quarter. To start, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) called on Holder to resign at the Senate Judiciary hearing. Citing the Fast and Furious scandal and recent national security leaks, Cornyn said, “It’s more with sorrow than with anger that I would say that you leave me no alternative then to join those that call upon you to resign your office.” Holder pushed back, saying a long statement by Cornyn of Holder’s faults was “breathtaking in its inaccuracy” and that “I don’t have any intention of resigning.” Holder said he’d done far more to stop the controversial tactics at issue in Fast and Furious than officials in the George W. Bush administration had.
Hill, Contempt vote is set on Holder, Jordy Yager, June 11, 2012. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Monday announced that his panel will vote next week to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress if he fails to provide documents related to the controversial Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation. The dramatic move is the culmination of a 15-month battle between Holder and Issa. A spokesman for Issa told The Hill on Monday that in order to avoid a vote on the contempt measure next week, the DOJ needs to signal a marked shift in its desire to cooperate with the committee, as well as present the panel’s chairman with a detailed list of documents it cannot give him.
Investigation of Pro-Obama National Security Leaks
FireDogLake, Leaks Investigation Does Not Include Disclosures on Obama’s Drone Wars, Kevin Gosztola, June 14, 2012. Information shared by senior Obama administration officials with journalists on the “kill list” and drone wars in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen is not the subject of a leaks investigation being investigated by two US attorneys, according to Reuters. The investigation, which was launched as result of bipartisan concern about intelligence leaks, will focus on disclosures on a CIA underwear bomb plot sting operation in Yemen and the Stuxnet virus that was used to attack Iran.
Huffington Post, White House Leaks: Whistleblower Jesselyn Radack Expresses Concern About Investigations (VIDEO), Jack Mirkinson, June 15, 2012. As the investigation into possible White House leaks gets underway, one notable whistleblower said on Thursday that she worries about the consequences of the controversy. The fallout from the appearance of high-level security details in a number of New York Times stories has quickly grown, with Attorney General Eric Holder opening a probe and with Republicans and conservative pundits hammering the White House for what they say are calculated leaks. (The White House has vehemently denied this.) On Thursday's "Democracy Now," Jesselyn Radack, who exposed flaws in the interrogation of the so-called "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, spoke about the controversy. While she said that she thought the information had been leaked "for political gain," and that the Obama administration was guilty of "hypocrisy" for also waging an unprecedented war against whistleblowers, Raddack expressed concern about the investigations. "The answer is not to have even more leak investigations," she said. "The answer is to take a serious look at what the administration discloses, both good and bad, which should be out there for public debate."
Washington Post, Criminalizing Leaks, Editorial Board, June 13, 2012. Last week Mr. Obama indignantly denied that “my White House would purposefully release classified national security information.” But the president has authority to declassify and disclose such information and did so this year when he spoke about the use of drones to target al-Qaeda operatives. In general, the more that can be made public about a president’s decision-making — whether it is in selecting terrorists for drone strikes or ordering a cyberattack — the better the public is served. Whatever their impact on his reelection prospects, the recent stories about Mr. Obama’s national security decisions were illuminating about critical areas of policymaking. They deserve more airing and debate, not a criminal investigation.
Harper's No Comment, Obama’s Intelligence Striptease, Scott Horton, June 11, 2012. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced the appointment of two prosecutors to investigate recent leaks of classified intelligence. At issue are disclosures concerning the CIA’s drone war in Pakistan and Yemen and a covert cyberattack launched against Iran’s nuclear program....The debate triggered by the disclosures of the last two weeks is focused on the wrong questions. We should be asking why more of this information was not made available to the public earlier, and why issues surrounding the current military operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other nations do not feature more prominently in American political debate. The public does not need to know every tactical detail about current operations, but it does need a deeper understanding of the country’s strategic objectives and of the analyses driving proposed actions. Washington today floats in a sea of cognitive dissonance, of which no aspect is more disturbing than the secrecy conundrum. We have a system in which whistleblowers—frequently persons of high integrity who are serving a legitimate public purpose and ought to be shielded—are persecuted, while those who game the national-security system for political gain are rarely investigated. The Justice Department’s usual handling of these matters is an almost perfect inversion of its actual legal duties. The current secrecy regime, which has been in place for several decades, serves the agenda of politicians in both parties who want a public less engaged with, and less informed about, national-security affairs. It is a dagger pointed at the heart of American democracy.
FireDogLake, Holder Appoints Chain-of-Command US Attorneys to Investigate White House Leaks, Teddy Partridge, June 9, 2012. Missing every lesson from Richard Nixon’s behavior during the Watergate investigation, Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two sitting United States Attorneys (one from Maryland, one from DC) to investigate the national security leaks that resulted in disclosures in the Paper of Record of America’s drone and assassination programs overseas. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has appointed the two U.S. attorneys from the District and Maryland to lead investigations into the possible leak of classified information by the White House to reporters, even as President Obama defended his administration against claims that it was complicit. In a statement issued late Friday, Holder said that he has notified members of Congress that he has assigned the U.S. attorney for the District, Ronald C. Machen Jr., and his counterpart for Maryland, Rod J. Rosenstein, left, to lead criminal investigations into “possible unauthorized” leaks to reporters for several recent news articles and books. As Karl Rove made very clear during the previous administration, United States Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. It is impossible for them to conduct an investigation that might involve direct White House subordinates or even the President himself. This is a sham investigation from the outset and it’s a shame who stands alone saying so:
Salon, Leon Panetta: Macho Renaissance man, Glenn Greenwald, June 11, 2012. Last night, 60 Minutes aired a profile by Scott Pelley of Obama’s Defense Secretary and former CIA chief Leon Panetta that is reverent as anything you’ll see, as pure as propaganda gets (the video of the full segment is below). Panetta is a top government official presiding over some of the most violent, legally dubious, controversial military and intelligence policies in the world, but there wasn’t a single word uttered about any of that. It was, instead, 13 uninterrupted minutes of drooling propaganda: Leon Panetta, the tough-minded, patriotic renaissance man who kills Evil Men to protect us all, and does it all with a heart of gold. Pelley began by noting that Panetta, despite never having worked in intelligence before becoming CIA Director, “put a Navy SEAL in bin Laden’s bedroom.” According to Pelley, the job description of the American Pentagon Chief is this: “fighting three wars and stopping Iran from building an atom bomb.” Early in the interview, Pelley asked Panetta: “in how many countries are we currently engaged in a shooting war?” After a long pause, Panetta replied: “it’s a good question. I’ll have to stop and think about that,” followed by hearty laughter. After pondering, Panetta ultimately named Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa (Pelley later added that “American and its allies are waging war [on Iran] without sending thousands of troops”). At one point, Panetta, as though he were choosing a meal from a lunch menu, casually though emphatically vowed to go to war against Iran if they “proceed with developing a nuclear weapon.” None of these multiple wars or covert attacks or bellicose threats of aggression prompted any challenges or even real questions from Pelley.
Washington Post, Obama’s ‘Kill List’ Is Unchecked Presidential Power, Katrina vanden Heuvel, June 12, 2012. A stunning report in the New York Times depicted President Obama poring over the equivalent of terrorist baseball cards, deciding who on a “kill list” would be targeted for elimination by drone attack. The revelations — as well as those in Daniel Klaidman’s recent book — sparked public outrage and calls for congressional inquiry.Obama needs to be held to account for his assassination program, says vanden Heuvel, arguing it's vital that Congress reassert its constitutional authority. Yet bizarrely, the fury is targeted at the messengers, not the message. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed dismay that presidential aides were leaking national security information to bolster the president’s foreign policy credentials. (Shocking? Think gambling, Casablanca). Republican and Democratic senators joined in condemning the leaks. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. — AWOL in the prosecution of rampant bank fraud — roused himself to name two prosecutors to track down the leakers. Please. Al-Qaeda knows that U.S. drones are hunting them. The Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Afghanis and others know the U.S. is behind the drones that strike suddenly from above. The only people aided by these revelations are the American people who have an overriding right and need to know. The problem isn’t the leaks, it’s the policy. It’s the assertion of a presidential prerogative that the administration can target for death people it decides are terrorists — even American citizens — anywhere in the world, at any time, on secret evidence with no review. "It is vital that Congress reassert its constitutional authority." It is a policy driven largely by the new technological capacity of pilotless aircraft. Drone strikes have rapidly expanded, becoming a centerpiece of the Obama strategy. Over the last three years, the Obama administration has carried out at least 239 covert drone strikes, more than five times the 44 approved under George W. Bush.
Wired / Danger Room, US Military Wants Drones in South America, But Why? Spencer Ackerman, June 12, 2012. Flying, spying robots are addictive. Every military commander who has them wants more. Those who don’t have them covet their colleagues’ supply. And according to Air Force planning, they’re about to go to the military’s redheaded, drone-poor stepchild: the command overseeing South America. That’s according to Gen. Norton Schwartz, the outgoing Air Force chief of staff. As Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk drones start to leave the Afghanistan war behind, Schwartz told a Washington audience on Monday, they’ll go to “operational missions by previously underserved” regional commands — Pacific Command and Southern Command, per National Defense magazine. While US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia have loaded up on drones, they’ve largely been left out of the unmanned escalation. But South America? The list of obvious uses for drones by the US military in South America starts with spying on drug-runners … and ends there. (In case you’re wondering, US Southern Command doesn’t have anything to do with Mexico and its cartel chaos; that’s the province of US Northern Command.)
Justice Integrity Project, Press Club Forum Probes 'Obama's War On Leaks,' Andrew Kreig, May 2, 2012. The nation’s two leading press clubs convened experts on national security May 1 in Washington for a gripping, historically important assessment of the Obama administration’s shocking prosecutions of government news sources. The administration took office on promises to protect whistle-blowers. But it has since repeatedly cracked down on leakers, citing the Espionage Act in six recent cases as a basis for criminal prosecution. New York Times reporter James Risen, who has broken some of the most important national security stories of the decade, was one of the panelists at the National Press Club, which organized the forum at its headquarters in cooperation with the New York-based Overseas Press Club. Risen has undergone years of financially damaging federal investigation and potential imprisonment for refusing to reveal his government sources.
Voter Fraud Controversies
MetroWest Daily (Massachusetts), Hacking the vote, Rick Holmes, June 17, 2012. Many questions hang over the 2012 election. What will the unemployment rate be, and will it hurt Barack Obama’s prospects? How will Mitt Romney hold up in one-on-one debates? ....Here’s one Democrats are asking: Will new state actions requiring photo IDs for voters, purging voter rolls and restricting voter registration drives hurt their candidates? And here’s one almost no one wants to think about: Will the private companies who build and handle voting machines steal the election?
A few people are trying to sound the alarm. Computer experts warn that touch-screen and optical scan voting systems can be easily hacked. Journalists point to irregularities in past elections. Academics analyze voting tallies and exit polls. Activists probe the policies and the politics of the companies to which America has outsourced its elections. Here in Massachusetts, Mike Ferriter and Sally Castleman try to get the attention of elected officials, without much luck. They bring videos, expert studies and serious concerns that U.S. elections could be — and may have been — rigged, and get nothing but shrugs.
Conservative Republicans interested in making it harder to vote have money, media, think tanks and lobbyists pushing their solutions through Red State legislatures. The people pushing for an honest, transparent vote-count haven’t even been able to get an appointment with the Massachusetts Secretary of State.
Judicial Watch, JW and True the Vote Sue Indiana Election Officials for Failing to Maintain Clean Voter Registration Lists, Tom Fitton, June 15, 2012. Election officials in the State of Indiana failed to heed our warning forcing JW to take historic action in federal court. This week JW filed a lawsuit in partnership with True the Vote against election officials in the State of Indiana alleging violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Specifically our lawsuit alleges that Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson and Indiana Elections Division Co-Directors J. Bradley King and Trent Deckard have failed to maintain clean voter registration lists and make records related to voter registration list maintenance available as required by Section 8 of the NVRA. (As a reminder, Judicial Watch's co-plaintiff, True the Vote, is a grassroots election integrity watchdog.)
Huntsville Times, Voting rights groups say Alabama agencies not obeying federal voter registration laws, Brian Lawson, June 13, 2012. A coalition of voting rights and civil rights groups is alleging that Alabama is not meeting the law in providing voter registration materials to residents who seek government assistance. The National Voter Registration Act, passed in 1993 and widely known as the "motor voter" act, requires that applicants for public assistance be given voter registration applications. In a letter sent to Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman and the commissioners of the Department of Human Resources and Alabama Medicaid Agency, the groups said an investigation and interviews found widespread failure to provide registration materials in DHR and Medicaid offices. The New York-based civil rights group Demos and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Project Vote, both out of Washington, D.C., said in a letter dated Wednesday that they want the state to develop a plan to comply with federal voting laws.
The organizations said they will gladly meet with state officials and want to be apprised of the voting plans, but if a plan is not developed, they will sue after a 90-day waiting period. Barry Spear, a spokesman for the Department of Human Resources, said it is department policy to provide voter registration information.
Free Press / News from Underground, Wisconsin: None dare call it vote-rigging, Bob Fitrakis, June 14, 2012. If vote-rigging prospers, none may call it vote-rigging. It simply becomes the new norm. Once again, the universal laws of statistics apply only outside U.S. borders. The recall vote in Wisconsin produced another significant 7% discrepancy between the unadjusted exit poll and the so-called "recorded vote." In actual social science, this level of discrepancy, with the results being so far outside the expected margin of error would not be accepted. When I took Ph.D. statistics to secure my doctorate in political science, we were taught to work through the rubric, sometime referred to as HISMISTER. The "H" stood for an explanation of the discrepancy rooted in some historical intervention, such as one of the candidates being caught in a public restroom with his pants down and a "wide stance" soliciting an undercover cop. The "I" that came next suggested we should check our instrumentation, that is, are the devices adequately reporting the data? Here's where U.S. elections become laughable. A couple of private companies, count our votes with secret proprietary hardware and software, the most notable being ES&S. Every standard of election transparency is routinely violated in the U.S. electronic version of faith-based voting. How the corporate-dominated media deals with the issue is by "adjusting the exit polls." They simply assume the recorded vote on easily hacked and programmed private machines are correct and that the international gold standard for detecting election fraud – exit polls – must be wrong.
International Business Times via OpEd News, In Defiance Of US Justice Department, Florida To Continue Voter Purge, Ashley Portero, June 2, 2012. Florida state officials will continue their quest to purge purportedly ineligible people from voter-registration rolls, a representative of Secretary of State Ken Detzner said Saturday, in defiance of objections from the U.S. Justice Department and county officials who say the policy violates two federal voting laws. On Thursday, T. Christian Herren Jr., the head of the Justice Department's voting section, said the effort to remove voters appears to violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices that disenfranchise minorities. On a list of almost 2,700 voters the state suspects are non-citizens, blacks and Latinos were disproportionately represented, according to an analysis by the Miami Herald, which concluded Democratic and independent voters are the most likely to be targeted. Florida state officials will continue their quest to purge purportedly ineligible people from voter-registration rolls, a representative of Secretary of State Ken Detzner said Saturday, in defiance of objections from the U.S. Justice Department and county officials who say the policy violates two federal voting laws.
Justice Integrity Project, Cutting Through Hype, Hypocrisy of Vote Fraud Claims, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 13, 2011. Recent events show why election theft deserves much more scrutiny than it receives from either government officials or news reporters. Most dramatically, a federal judge has released the 2008 testimony of GOP IT guru Michael Connell, right, as shown on a campaign website. The Ohio resident died in a mysterious plane crash that year after anonymous warnings he would be killed if he testified about his work with Karl Rove and others helping the Bush-Cheney ticket win in 2000 and 2004.
Legal Schnauzer, Justice Department Continues to Play Hide and Seek with Siegelman Documents, Roger Shuler, Sept. 26, 2011. The decision to prosecute Siegelman and Scrushy for "crimes" that do not exist under the law rests with the Bush administration. But the decision to stonewall on DOJ records now rests with the Obama administration.
Huffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows, Andrew Kreig, May 15, 2009. The Alabama federal judge who presided over the 2006 corruption trial of the state's former governor holds a grudge against the defendant for helping to expose the judge's own alleged corruption six years ago. Former Gov. Don Siegelman therefore deserves a new trial with an unbiased judge ─ not one whose privately owned company, Doss Aviation, has been enriched by the Bush administration's award of $300 million in contracts since 2006, making the judge millions in non-judicial income. These are the opinions of Missouri attorney Paul B. Weeks, who is speaking out publicly for the first time since his effort in 2003 to obtain the impeachment of U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery on Doss Aviation-related allegations. Fuller is at right in a photo by Phil Fleming shortly after the jury verdict on June 15, 2006.
Huffington Post, Siegelman's First Trial Judge Blasts U.S. Prosecutors, Seeks Probe of 'Unfounded' Charges, Andrew Kreig, May 21, 2009. One of the most experienced federal judges in recent Alabama history is denouncing the U.S. Justice Department prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Retired Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham calls for a probe of misconduct by federal prosecutors ─ including their alleged "judge-shopping," jury-pool "poisoning" and "unfounded" criminal charges in an effort to imprison Siegelman.
Tuscaloosa News, Court doesn’t buy Siegelman’s Rove conspiracy, June 7, 2012. Can we now put aside all of the silliness about Karl Rove’s plot to undo Don Siegelman? The U.S. Supreme Court’s inaction this week reaffirmed the former Alabama governor’s 2006 conviction in federal district court on bribery and corruption charges. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had twice upheld the jury’s verdict in the case, and the Supreme Court declined Monday to hear his appeal. Now, Siegelman is likely to be resentenced. He had served only about nine months of an 88-month sentence before a federal appeals court ordered him released from prison on an appeal bond in March 2008. Siegelman deserves to do more time for his crimes, but we would be OK if he didn’t go back to jail, if he would just go away. For years, we had to listen to his inane claims that he was the victim of a Republican conspiracy, engineered by Rove, to remove him from office and derail his political career. Those claims, replete with allegations of spying and secret phone conversations, were seized upon by congressional Democrats and some national news outlets eager to tar Rove, a senior adviser to former President George W. Bush and a longtime GOP political strategist, and prove that the White House was trying to influence federal prosecutions for political reasons.
Medill / Northwestern University / Poynter, What the future of news looks like in Alabama after Advance cuts staff by 400, Steve Myers, June 14, 2012. Most coverage of Advance’s decision to stop printing the four papers daily and cut staff has focused on The Times-Picayune. It’s easy to see why: New Orleans is a storied city, and its newspaper has told those stories well....What’s happening in Alabama looks like an extension of the strategy that the company spearheaded in Michigan. First it replaced The Ann Arbor News with AnnArbor.com and curtailed publishing, then it extended the approach to newspapers around the state and gave them one online home: Mlive.com. You can get a picture of what the Alabama Media Group will look like by seeing what was cut this week and what was left. First, the numbers: The news staff in Birmingham has been cut from 102 to 41, according to lists included in Tuesday’s severance offers. (Chuck Clark, managing editor of the News, said in a comment that this figure is off; the true numbers, he said, are 47 left of 112). In Mobile’s newsroom, about 20 of 70 or so are left, according to a source there. (The original version of this story estimated it at about 16.) And in Huntsville, 15 people remain out of 53 in the newsroom, a 72 percent reduction. Overall in Huntsville, 102 of 149 people lost their jobs. Those cuts at the papers come after two rounds of buyouts already had thinned staff. (All sources asked to remain anonymous because they’re worried about keeping their severance or the jobs they were offered Tuesday.)
New Jersey Bush-Obama Political Prosecutions
Star-Ledger (Newark) / NJ.com, N.J. senator wants Solomon Dwek to appear before committee to explain foreclosure tipoff claims, Matt Friedman, June 13, 2012. A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee wants federal informant Solomon Dwek to appear before the panel to discuss his claims that he was tipped off to potential real estate foreclosures by former Monmouth County Sheriff Joseph Oxley, who has been nominated by Gov. Chris Christie to become a Superior Court judge. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) Tuesday said he suggested committee chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) seek subpoena power to compel Dwek to testify when Oxley comes before the committee for a confirmation hearing. Dwek, who is in federal prison in Philadelphia awaiting sentencing for a bank fraud conviction, could not voluntarily travel to Trenton. "Based on Dwek’s information, the U.S. Attorney’s Office raided (former Department of Community Affairs Commissioner) Joe Doria’s house shortly before Christie’s election," said Lesniak. "So obviously they thought that he had credibility in what he was stating."
Star-Ledger (Newark) / NJ.com, Solomon Dwek alleges he received political favors from Monmouth County officials, Matt Friedman, June 11, 2012. The controversial federal informer behind the biggest corruption sting in state history told investigators he was tipped off to foreclosure sales before they were made public by former Monmouth County Sheriff Joseph Oxley, who last month was nominated by Gov. Chris Christie to be a state Superior Court judge. The claim, detailed in an FBI document recently made public, was made by informer Solomon Dwek while Christie was overseeing the case as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. Dwek also alleged that he met with and got political favors from Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, and that he gave Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth) $10,000 worth of raffle tickets to a Deal Yeshiva event, "stacking the deck" so she could win a computer, the document shows.
Main Justice, PolitiFact: Chris Christie’s Town Hall Speech Cites False Statistic, Matthew Volkov, June 11, 2012. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said last week that during his time as the state’s U.S. Attorney he “wound up putting 10 percent of the state legislature in jail” over the course of his seven-year tenure. The statistic is unequivocally false, according to PolitiFact New Jersey, the factchecking arm of New Jersey’s Star-Ledger newspaper. The percentage is closer to 3 percent, according to the group’s analysis. During the Republican governor’s time as U.S. Attorney, from 2002 to the end of 2008, 185 people served — either in the Senate or Assembly — in the state legislature. Christie’s office charged five legislators: state Sens. Wayne Bryant, Joseph Coniglio and Sharpe James and Assemblymen Mims Hackett and Alfred Steele. All five Democrats spent time in jail. The federal investigation of two other state legislators began while Christie was U.S. Attorney, but they did not serve jail time until after he left office, according to PolitiFact. “The fact remains that Christie didn’t jail 10 percent of the state legislature during his time as U.S. Attorney,” according to the PolitiFact report. Christie’s spokesman brushed the report off, telling PolitiFact that the governor was “making a rhetorical point” about his record in combating public corruption and “not … citing … some baseball statistic.” “The governor was emphasizing, conversationally, the gravity of the corruption which in those years reached into the highest levels of the legislature as well as high-ranking party bosses and operatives,” Michael Drewniak, Christie’s spokesman said.
Jersey Journal, Daily poll: Were the Operation Bid Rig III arrests a ploy to get Christie elected governor? Jan. 27, 2012. Former Jersey City Assemblyman Lou Manzo says New Jersey's massive corruption sweep in 2009 was a ploy to help Chris Christie get elected governor. Yes 69.66% (124 votes) No 30.34% (54 votes). Total Votes: 178.
Justice Integrity Project, Court Slaps Feds Again For Christie-Era NJ Prosecutions, Andrew Kreig, Feb. 21, 2011. In a major setback for the U.S. Justice Department and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a federal appeals court last week dismissed federal bribery and conspiracy charges against two New Jersey Democrats targeted in a trap set by Christie. Our non-partisan Justice Integrity Project has repeatedly pointed to the 46-defendant “Bid Rig III” case as one of the nation’s most scandalous political prosecutions of recent years.
Harper's No Comment,The Edwards Circus Leaves Town, Scott Horton, June 1, 2012. The case of United States v. John Edwards has come to an end. The jury acquitted Edwards on the principal charge of accepting an illegal campaign contribution from heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon in 2008, and deadlocked on the remaining charges; a mistrial was declared. The case continues the long string of embarrassing reversals for the Justice Department’s public-integrity prosecutors. The outcome is particularly striking because the circumstances could not have been more favorable to the prosecutors. They targeted a man who is probably the most reviled politician in America. The judge handling the case, Catherine Eagles, initially cautioned prosecutors against playing to the emotions of the jurors, then permitted them to do exactly that, allowing evidence of emotional confrontations between Edwards and the wife he had betrayed—evidence that could easily have fueled a daytime soap opera, but had no place in a federal courtroom. Judge Eagles also blocked Edwards from presenting expert evidence on the proper construction of election-finance laws, allowing federal prosecutors to proceed unchallenged on the issue. That ruling rested on the view that federal election law was so clear that any person of normal intelligence could read and understand it—a proposition that no one who knows anything about the subject would agree is correct. Clearly, the stage was laid for a conviction. The prosecutors failed to get one because their case was built on emotion and lacked substantive merit, which was ultimately clear to enough of the jurors to block it from going forward.
Disillusionment with Obama / Holder and Courts
British Broadcasting Corp., World cools towards Barack Obama – survey; Confidence in Barack Obama is still high in Europe but has dropped in China and Japan, Staff report, June 13, 2012. International approval of US President Barack Obama's foreign policy has dropped sharply during his term in office, a Pew Research survey suggests. Among the 21 countries surveyed, the largest drop in approval -- from 57% to 27% -- was seen in China, the Global Attitudes Project reveals. Most respondents in almost all countries opposed US drone strikes. Despite these numbers, confidence in Mr. Obama remains high among US allies, especially in Europe. "I think where you see the real disappointment is when you deal with specific policies," said Richard Wike, associate director of the Pew Global Attitudes Project. He added that the survey showed big gaps between expectation levels and action over Mr. Obama's policies on climate change and treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
ABA Journal, Poll Finds Declining Approval for Supreme Court, Opposition to Lifetime Tenure, Debra Cassens Weiss, June 8, 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court is suffering from public perception problems, as a new poll shows declining public approval and opposition to lifetime tenure. Sixty percent of those surveyed by the New York Times and CBS News said they believe that appointing Supreme Court justices for life is a bad thing because it gives them too much power. Thirty-three percent, on the other hand, said lifetime appointments were a good thing because it keeps the justices independent. The poll (PDF) also showed declining approval for the Supreme Court. Only 44 percent of the respondents approve of the job being done by the U.S. Supreme Court, while 76 percent said they believe the justices sometimes let personal or political views influence their decisions. Only 13 percent said the justices decide cases based on legal analysis, without regard to their personal or political views. Survey respondents had their own personal opinions on how the court should rule on the health care law. Forty-one percent said the court should overturn the entire law, and 27 percent said the court should strike down the health insurance mandate. The findings “are a fresh indication that the court’s standing with the public has slipped significantly in the past quarter-century,” according to the New York Times. A poll taken earlier this year by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press also found a low favorability rating for the court.
Salon, National Archives: No new JFK docs; Bowing to the CIA, the National Archives says it won't release 1,100 secret assassination documents in 2013, Jefferson Morley, June 14, 2012. Acquiescing to CIA demands for secrecy, the National Archives announced Wednesday that it will not release 1,171 top-secret Agency documents related to the assassination of President Kennedy in time for the 5oth anniversary of JFK’s death in November 2013. “Is the government holding back crucial JFK documents,” asked Russ Baker in a WhoWhatWhy piece that Salon published last month. The answer, unfortunately, is yes. In a letter released this week, Gary Stern, general counsel for the National Archives and Record Administration, said the Archives would not release the records as part of the Obama administration’s ongoing declassification campaign. Stern cited CIA claims that “substantial logistical requirements” prevented their disclosure next year.
Investigating Slavery in the Supply Chains
Schuster Institute Senior Fellow E. Benjamin Skinner, Michael Smith of Bloomberg Markets, and David Voreacos of Bloomberg News will discuss their experiences investigating slavery in the consumer products supply chain, obstacles they encountered, and useful tools. Former CNN investigative correspondent Amber Lyon will moderate.
Showcase Panel: Investigating Power
Schuster Institute Founding Director Florence Graves, Sarah Ganim of The Patriot-News, James Steele of Vanity Fair, and Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times will discuss their investigative reporting experiences and the crucial value of investigative reporting to the health of our democracy.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent:
The role journalists can play in exonerating the innocent
Schuster Institute Senior Reporter Anne Driscoll will moderate a panel including Assistant Director Lindsay Markel, Alec Klein of the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University, and Erin Moriarty of CBS News’ 48 Hours, who will talk about the role journalists can play in investigating cases of suspected wrongful conviction.
Truthiness in Investigative Journalism
Schuster Institute Executive Editor Melissa Ludtke, David Barstow, The New York Times, Tom Fiedler of Boston University, Alex Jones of the Shorenstein Center, and Blake Morrison, Reuters will discuss investigative reporting in an era in which factual accuracy is under relentless pressure to conform to changing standards and expectations.