Conyers Calls for Liberal Agenda, Skirts Justice Issues

Longtime Michigan congressman John Conyers, Jr. held a press conference March 14 in the nation's capital seeking a more progressive congressional agenda. But he opened himself to criticism that he didn’t do enough to fight injustice during his just-ended four-year term as House Judiciary Committee chairman.

The Democrat from Detroit called at the National Press Club for increased gun control, more spending on jobs creation as well as evolution of the Obama health care program into a “single-payer” health care law providing universal coverage. In doing so, he made clear that he hoped to nudge President Obama to the left on such policies.

On behalf of the Justice Integrity Project, I asked Conyers why he didn’t push the Obama administration harder on civil liberties issues, such as the lack of redress for victims of political prosecutions around the nation and for whistleblowers who are being prosecuted far more under Obama than Bush. Conyers, portrayed above by photographer Rodrigo Valderrama, asked for amplification of what I meant.

I noted that his committee issued thorough reports about political prosecutions under President Bush, but has taken no such action under the Obama administration and indeed has never provided an opportunity for major victims or whistleblowers to testify.

More specifically, I pointed out that the Justice Department fired Alabama paralegal Tamarah Grimes on trumped-up grounds after she gave evidence to the Conyers committee and to Attorney Gen. Eric Holder that she saw government abuses first-hand in working on the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Among our project's many exposes on the Siegelman case, we explored the Grimes case in depth in 2009 for the national paralegal magazine KNOW in a profile headlined, “From Justice Dream Job to Nightmare…Why This Whistleblower Was Dissed & Dismissed.”

Conyers responded that he has spoken with Siegelman but doesn’t recall anything about Grimes (portrayed at right).  Also, he says he still has some power for oversight, even as part of the congressional minority as of January. Also, he joked that his Judiciary successor as chairman, Lamar Smith (R-TX), would probably be glad to embarrass the Obama Justice Department, albeit not to help the Democrat Siegelman. The Obama Justice Department has continued the Bush jihad against Siegelman on corruption charges, and has even left in place U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, left, named by Bush in 2001 to run the Montgomery-based office that would persecute Siegelman others like Grimes who dared speak out.

Conyers delivered his comments in his usual affable tone. But his recent lack of focus on the issues is deeply unsatisfying in view of his oversight responsibilities and the suffering by those whose lives and families have been destroyed by unjust charges. Grimes lost her career and home over speaking up about injustice, and has told me she would give anything for a chance to tell her story under oath at a congressional hearing. The Conyers press conference at least provided an opportunity to raise awareness.

Conyers, long used to the give-and-take of politics, spent the bulk of the news conference urging the President and Congress to work harder on progressive issues. Illustrating the different slants possible with the same material, the experienced congressional correspondent for Reuters Tom Ferraro subtly underscored Conyers' skeptical outlook toward the President's policies with a story headlined, “Democratic Congressman Says He wants to Make Obama a Better President.” It said in part:

Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, was first elected to Congress in 1964 — three years before after Obama was born. He backs Obama, but says, “I just want to make him a better president.” Conyers is not alone in his complaints. A number of Democrats in Congress have expressed frustration with Obama, particularly for what they describe as his failure to push harder on liberal issues.

“The recent debate on healthcare has allowed opponents of the new law to say we have gone too far — when the truth is we have not gone far enough,” said Conyers, a backer of “a single payer” approach that would have a greater government involvement in delivery of health care. “We’ve been in Afghanistan and Iraq for a decade and it’s time to leave both,” he said.

The National Press Club Wire reported, Conyers urges legislation to prevent gun violence in wake of Giffords shooting. The article was by lined by Lisa Gillespie and Bob Weiner. The latter moderated the session. Fox News went with, "Conyers Admits Truth About Obamacare.” The column by Nicholas Ballasy said that the health-care law that President Barack Obama signed last March is a "platform" for a building single-payer health care system in the U.S. The story continued:

Conyers said that after discussing the issue with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D.-Ohio) he voted for the health-care law because he saw it as a necessary "platform" for building toward a single-payer health-care system in the United States.

Speaking with after the event at the National Press Club, Conyers said, "What we're trying to do is insure everybody, right? We're trying to insure more people, not less and so it's my feeling that the rising costs that are going on will not be solved by getting rid of people's health insurance--that throws them into emergency rooms and charity and other things. That's why HR 676 is our ultimate solution--is that everybody's insured from birth on and that's what we're still fighting for."

Listed below are selected articles on legal reform and political, security and media factors. The articles contain a sample of news. See the full article by visiting the Project home page's section on News Reports, and clicking the link.

Boston Globe, Tipping  the Scales of Justice, Harvey A. Silverglate, March 14, 2011. Endowed with enormous powers, federal prosecutors are inducing more and more defendants to plead guilty. At last report, a mere 10 percent of those accused of federal felonies asked for a trial. Are more defendants owning up to their guilt, or are there other forces producing this cascade of mea culpas? Enter Joseph P. Lally Jr., who announced Monday that he was making a deal with the US attorney’s office to plead guilty and become a witness against former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and co-defendant Richard Vitale. In connection with a federal inquiry into an alleged kickback scheme, Lally, who had steadfastly asserted his innocence, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, extortion, and mail and wire fraud. In turn, prosecutors promised to recommend that Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf impose a sentence of between two and three years, instead of the nine years he faced under prevailing sentencing guidelines. How did the system come to this, where the government can trade freedom and money for testimony?

Salon / Unclaimed Territory, The clarifying Manning/Crowley controversy, Glenn Greenwald, March 15, 2011. It's long been obvious that the Obama administration's unprecedented war on whistleblowers "comes from the President himself," notwithstanding his campaign decree -- under the inspiring title "Protect Whistleblowers" -- that "such acts of courage and patriotism should be encouraged rather than stifled."  The inhumane treatment of Manning plainly has two principal effects: it intimidates future would-be whistleblowers into knowing that they, too, will be abused without recourse, and it will break him psychologically (as prolonged solitary confinement and degrading treatment inevitably do) to render him incapable of a defense and to ensure he provides whatever statements they want about WikiLeaks.

War is a Crime, Is Obama Even Worse Than Bush? David Swanson, March 15, 2011. Obama has publicly instructed the Justice Department not to prosecute torturers at the CIA, and his Justice Department has worked night and day to protect the architects of countless war crimes, including through the establishing of privileges of secrecy and immunity that Bush never even sought. This Justice Department and our courts are establishing the right of powerful officials to immunity from criminal or civil suits that might expose what they have done while employed by our government. Obama has set records for rejecting Freedom of Information Act requests and for prosecutions of whistleblowers -- not to mention the lawless imprisonment and torture of alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning, a policy Obama has defended by reference to unnamed secret standards set by the military.

KPFK 90.7 FM (Los Angeles), Rep. Dennis Kucinich discusses the run-around he’s been getting from the Department of Defense after requesting a visit with Bradley Manning, Interview with Scott Horton, March 12, 2011. Kucinich: No one held prisoner anywhere in America should be tortured. And the fact that he’s awaiting trial and they’re doing this to him raises serious questions about our criminal justice process. And I’m going to continue my efforts to address the plight of Private Manning and to try to stop this outrageous treatment of him.

Legal Schnauzer, The Assange Case: Police Official and Accuser Are Friends, Roger Shuler, March 14, 2011. The police interrogator and one of the accusers in the Julian Assange case are friends, according to a new report out of Sweden. The interrogator and one of the two accusers had known each other for at least 16 months when rape allegations were raised against Assange, according to the newspaper Expressen. Neither the interrogator nor the accuser is named in the Expressen report. But the Web site identifies the Stockholm interrogator as Irmeli Krans. Meanwhile, the hacker group Anonymous has launched a civil-disobedience campaign against the U.S. Federal Reserve and major financial institutions, which it says have damaged the global economy and mocked the rule of law.

Washington Post, An ethics code for the high court, Nan Aron, March 14, 2011. The Supreme Court, whose members are shielded with lifetime appointments, is the only entity in our government that is not subject to mandatory ethics requirements. That is why reformers are calling for the Code of Conduct that governs all other federal judges to apply to the justices. Surely it makes no sense to have lesser standards for the highest court than those in place for lower courts.

TPMMuckraker, Abramoff's Partner Doesn't Want to Cough Up Ill-Gotten Millions, Susan Crabtree, March 16, 2011. Michael Scanlon, Jack Abramoff's partner in crime, doesn't want to pony up the ill-gotten millions he owes to Abramoff's former lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, and he doesn't think he has to, his attorneys said Tuesday in a court filing. Scanlon, who worked hand-in-glove with Abramoff, pleaded guilty to defrauding a group of Native American tribes out of tens of millions of dollars and last month was sentenced to 20 months in prison and ordered to pay Greenberg for its losses. Greenberg has settled a series of actual and threatened lawsuits from the tribes that Scanlon and Abramoff defrauded, and now the K Street giant is demanding that Scanlon make good on the court-ordered compensation payments and pay the firm more than $17 million.

Jersey Journal, Federal hearing for non-officials charged with corruption is canceled as U.S. Attorney's Office mulls further appeal, Michaelangelo Conte, March 16, 2011.This morning's highly anticipated federal court hearing on corruption charges against several Jersey City people caught up in the massive 2009 sting has been canceled. A court clerk told defense attorneys waiting in Judge Jose Linares' Newark courtroom that the hearing was put off because the U.S. Attorney's office is still deciding whether to further appeal a  decision throwing out the most serious charges against two of the defendants. The reasoning behind the ruling -- that the defendants weren't city officials -- was expected to have an effect on the cases of three other people accused in the case, including two who have already pleaded guilty. The government has until April 4 to apply for an en banc appeal, asking the full Third District Court of Appeals, as opposed to a three-member panel, to hear the case.

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