Learning from Heroes Who Fought the Mafia


The nation’s top leaders from both parties put aside their differences in the late 1960s to create tough-but-fair law enforcement tools that broke the Mafia’s horrid power.

That process was the focus of a fascinating panel organized last week by the Richard Nixon Foundation, which recorded the session and provides it here for viewing. The issues are in the news also because on June 22 the FBI arrested James "Whitey" Bulger, who had been on the run since 1995. The FBI put up $2 million reward in a worldwide manhunt for their former Mafia informant, the subject of two major books and inspiration for the 2006 movie, "The Departed," as portrayed by Jack Nicholson. Bulger now faces charges of participating in 13 murders. 

The federal crusade against the Mafia carries a strong personal link for me. My mother was an author during the 1960s who volunteered to federal officials to make underworld drug buys as part of her book research about the mob's role in counterfeiting prescription drugs dispensed by the nation's pharmacies and physicians. Then In 1967, she was invited to be a star witness kicking off one of the major congressional oversight hearings about the Mafia after its existence was revealed. More recently, the Justice Integrity Richard NixonProject that I lead exposes misconduct by officials at today's Justice Department in situations where politics leads to dire results for the public.

Let’s start with last week’s forum in Washington, DC.

The foundation convened four Justice Department alumns instrumental in helping top national political leaders win public support for vital anti-racketeering legislation. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act signed in 1970 by President Nixon, portrayed at right, provided the legal tools to crush the long-powerful secret society. The Mafia, or what New Yorkers call Cosa Nostra, was virtually unknown to others until longtime member Joe Valachi began talking in 1962 to trusted federal prosecutors and Bureau of Narcotics agents. Even then, many in the public and law enforcement did not know about his account or appreciate that he was providing a roadmap to vast corruption of American business, unions and politics.

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NY Times Reports White House, High Court Legal SNAFUs

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

Barack ObamaThree major news reports by the New York Times since June 17 about dubious legal conduct at the White House and Supreme Court illustrate why the mainstream media remains irreplaceable in our democratic discourse. Reporters can break courageous, careful and vital work in the independent media on these topics but it's largely without impact unless and until the corporate-owned media make the news available to millions.

In this instance, the Times landed Mike Tyson-style attention-getters to the jaw of President Obama and, separately, to Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.To be more clear, we're not talking about the dainty version of SNAFU suitable for the parlor. Instead, this is in the spirit of the original military vernacular. Conditions could even be approaching FUBAR, scandal and worse. 

Specifically, the Times reported that Obama began hostile operations against Libya's government despite warnings from his political appointees at the Justice and Defense Departments that his plan violated the governing 1973 War Powers Act. Regarding Thomas, the paper reported that favors bestowed on the justice and his wife by a wealthy Georgia conservative activist raise new and serious questions about the ethics of justice whose fitness for the bench has been harshly disputed ever since the scandals surrounding his 52-48 Senate confirmation. The third Times report describes how the Obama White House, even after its outrageous prosecution of former National Security Agency (NSA) executive Thomas Drake that ended in a misdemeanor plea, is still pushing ahead on its unprecedented crackdown against officials who cooperate with news reporters.

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Let’s Question Questionable Federal Anti-Corruption Tactics

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

Andrew KreigMajor developments during recent days in federal anti-corruption probes in Maryland, North Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama underscore the scandalous conditions within the Justice Department that most Democrats and Republicans dare not to address, in part because  law enforcers could implicate so many elected officials in financing and sex scandals. Meanwhile, a Washington, DC forum June 13 for former Justice Department Mafia-fighters from the Nixon-era recalled a time when major parties were able to work together far better than now to craft useful legislation. Among other things, those valuable laws broke the power of the Mafia with enhanced enforcement tools (such as federal wiretaps) that devastated the mob even while being far more carefully supervised by the courts than now. We’ll write separately later to review those historic law enforcement victories.

For now, the big news this week is how our era’s federal law enforcers are proceeding so erratically that they recklessly destroy public confidence that their predecessors earned for the justice system. Read legal commentator Roger Shuler's summary June 13 of the most recent legal shenanigans in Alabama over the weekend -- and remember that the Justice Department (emphasis added !!) wants to avoid courtroom questioning of whether a two-term governor illegally received $13 million from gamblers. Shuler, a blogger in Birmingham, wrote:

In a decision that should surprise no one, a federal magistrate ruled yesterday that former Alabama Governor Bob Riley will not have to testify in the federal bingo trial that heats up today with the calling of the first witness in Montgomery....The bingo trial is a national story because it grew largely from $13 million that Mississippi Choctaw gaming interests spent to help get Riley elected in 2002. Those funds reportedly were laundered through Republican felons Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, meaning the bingo trial touches heavily on perhaps the worst political scandal in American history.Robert S. Muellar

Here in Washington, it's clear that Congress has become so immersed in fund-raising and related scandals that its members do next to nothing these days in terms of meaningful oversight on such matters. The DOJ, with increasing access to wiretap information and vast freedom to select among a large array of  politicians for indictment, increasingly ignores oversight requests from Congress on sensitive matters. Moreover, the New York Times just reported, F.B.I. Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds. This should prompt  alarms -- particularly in view of the Obama administration's effort reported last month to extend the term of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, right, for two years. His retirement date is next October under a 10-year limit. The limit is to prevent the kind of abuses created by longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover because of his organization's vast power to collect unsavory information on politicians and ordinary citizens alike. Why ignore the reason for term-limits exactly when authorities are vastly increasing their surveillance powers? NSA and other whistleblowers say surveillance in violation of historic constitutional rights involves collecting and storing billions of emails and phone calls of U.S. citizens. The rationale to the public is terror control. But it's really information control.

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Radio Show: Jack Fuller On ‘What is Happening to the News’

My radio show guest this week on June 16 will be Jack Fuller, right, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, former Tribune Publishing Co. president and author of the insightful book, What is Happening to the News. In answering that question, the veteran newsman reaches deep into psychology and other social studies to suggest how news is changing because the audience is changing.

Click here to listen to the show live worldwide at noon (EDT) on the My Technology Lawyer (MTL) radio network founded by myJack Fuller co-host, Scott Draughon. The one-hour show is available shortly after its completion by archive.The interview begins after we summarize Washington-related national news. This week's topics will include Republican Pesidential debate in New Hampshire this week and the 475-page report the FCC issued June 9 on “Information Needs of Communities."

Another topic is the roundtable I attended June 13 organized by the Richard Nixon Foundation to convene top Justice Department executives from the 1960s and early 1970s instrumental in the nation's successful fight against the Mafia. They described how presidential-congressional leadership broke the power of the Mafia in the United States, a topic I covered closely as a newspaper reporter and later as law clerk to a Boston federal judge presided over racketeering charges against New England's Mafia leadership.

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DC Radio: Georgetown’s John Mayo on U.S. Regulation

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

As tDr. John Mayohe MTL Washington Update radio show that I've co-hosted celebrates its fifth year this month, we welcomed to today's show Dr. John W. Mayo of Georgetown University, who summarized the United States regulatory changes that his university highlighted in a major conference this week. Dr. Mayo, left, is the former dean of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. He hosted the first of what will be an annual conference on U.S. regulation, organized by the Center of Business and Public Policy that he founded in 2002 and leads as executive director.
Cass Sunstein
White House regulatory “czar” Cass Sunstein, right, keynoted the Georgetown event by providing highlights of the Obama administration’s agenda to eliminate needless business regulation that does not meet cost-benefit tests. Sunstein is adminScott Draughonistrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which oversees federal regulatory efforts nationwide. He summarized the Obama initiative in a column for the Wall Street Journal, “21st-Century Regulation." Its subtitle is "An Update on the President's Reforms: Federal agencies are eliminating unnecessary rules to save businesses money.”

Scott Draughon, left, is founder of the My Technology Lawyer (MTL) radio network and has become my good  friend and co-host these past five years of public affairs progamming. Our hour-long show can be heard worldwide by archive. Click here to access it. Advisory: Mac listeners need “Parallels.”

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Shame on Weiner, Congress and the Media

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s pathetic Twitter scandal perfectly illustrates why Congress has just a 9 percent approval rating, according to a new Rasmussen  poll. Public approval of the news media is doubtless only slightly higher.   

Anthony WeinerRevelations that the House Judiciary Committee member Weiner, left, age 46, repeatedly sent lewd pictures of himself to young women both before and after his marriage last June exemplify also why our Justice Integrity Project expanded our focus last year beyond our original mission of documenting injustice around the nation. All too many officials in Congress, courts and the executive branch show that they care little about their actual duties, even though most of them are adept at bloviating about reform. The recent Weiner, John Edwards and John Ensign sex scandals are just tiny samples of the selfish behavior portrayed four decades ago in the movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” These problems -- portrayed in the movie as pervasive -- continue unabated (if not expanded) into our era. As indicated below, the crass self-interest of our governing institutions threatens our country. How can we address problems if Congress, supposedly the most responsive branch to the public in our constitutional system, performs so poorly in the view of the vast majority?

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