June NSA Trial Looms, Obama DOJ Crusades Against Critics

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

The Obama administration’s shocking crackdown on government whistleblowers became more prominent last week with the New Yorker Magazine’s publication of a hard-hitting article about the plight of former National Security Agency officer Thomas Drake. CBS News weighed in also, with a May 22 report questioning why authorities accuse Drake of violating the Espionage Act, obstructing justice and lying to federal agents. The trial is scheduled to begin June 13.

Drake’s supporters raised his profile further May 18 by releasing a

of his acceptance speech for the annual Ridenhour “Truth-Telling Prize.” His speech accused the Obama Justice Department of instilling fear amongst government employees who might consider informing the public about official waste and other misconduct, including criminal violations. Drake said:

Truth-tellers, such as myself, are those who are simply doing their jobs and honoring their oaths to serve their nation under the law of the land. We are dedicated to the proposition that government service is of, for, by the people. We emphatically do not serve in order to manipulate on behalf of the powerful, nor to conceal unlawful, illegal or embarrassing secrets from the public, because truth does matter.

In January, our Justice Integrity Project broke on OpEd News, “Whistleblower Says: Obama's DOJ Declares War on Whistleblowers,” about the Obama crackdown on critics of government waste and misconduct. The column quoted four of the country’s most prominent recent internal government critics (aside from Drake) as describing why they thought the Obama administration was worse than the Bush administration in punishing critics.

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Judges Who Refuse to Recuse Taint Our Justice System

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

Three recent state, federal and Supreme Court controversies show how the public is nearly powerless to obtain due process when apparently conflicted judges refuse to recuse themselves. The latest example is Texas judge Tracy A. Gilbert, right, who presided over a child custody case. In it, the judge ended a father's legal relationship with his daughter. Before that, the judge refused to withdraw from the case even when the father showed in mid-trial that the mother's attorney was also representing the judge in a separate paternity case.

The law of recusal is clear-cut: It’s not enough for judges to act in an unbiased manner when suspected of a potential conflict of interest. A judge must avoid even the appearance of bias. A test is whether any independent and reasonable observer would think that an appearance of bias is likely. If so a judge must withdraw from supervising a case.

In reality, however, litigants have scant power to enforce the rule, especially if a judge is determined to retain control. Among the reasons illustrated by recent disputes.

First, litigants may not know of the judge’s conflicts until late in the process. Second, litigants and their attorneys may fear a judge’s power too much to push the issue. Third, a judge may become so arrogant or deeply compromised that he or she rejects all evidence, no matter how solid or embarrassing. Finally, other judges and opinion leaders show scant interest in scrutinizing each other more rigorously, especially if any scandal seems likely to fade away.

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Obama DOJ Continues War Against Bush Prosecution Victims

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

The Obama/Holder Justice Department’s win-at-all-costs campaign against political prosecution victims of the Bush administration continued this week. In unrelated prosecutions of Democrats in New Jersey and Alabama, the Department illustrated once again the unfairness of its procedures and its self-serving ethic of silencing critics.

In New Jersey, prosecutors disclosed they would indict former Jersey City mayoral candidate Louis Manzo, left, for a third time after four federal judges threw out previous bribery charges against him because prosecutors improperly expanded the law’s reach to cover candidates. The law is supposed to apply only to those in office. Wouldn't the Justice Department have known that before ruining the lives of Manzo and multiple other candidates by indicting them in the much-touted 2009 “Bid Rig III” sting? To pull off the government-run sting, Soloman Dwek, the perpetrator of a $50 million bank fraud, worked out a sweetheart deal with authorities. Dwek was paid to be paid between $10,000 and $12,000 a month from a victim's fund under government control. Then Dwek went to work for ambitious prosecutors in a scheme devised by Bush-appointed New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, now governor, to offer money to local New Jersey politicians and others suspected of wrongdoing. When prosecutors don't know well-settled law before issuing indictments they should admit the mistake. Instead, the Obama Justice Department will take up to 45 days to devise a legal strategy to indict Manzo is some new way, as yet undisclose. “It’s like being waterboarded,” the defendant Manzo told me last evening about his ongoing ordeal. His brother Ronald, his campaign manager, succumbed to the pressure and pleaded guilty this week to federal charges in an unrelated case.

In Alabama, DOJ prosecutors who have relentlessly pursued former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman won a victory this week when a federal appeals court again side-stepped the injustice in the case by issuing a ruling that ensures the government’s decade-long jihad against the defendant continues. More specifically, the all-Republican appeals court panel announced that it was vacating 2006 two corruption convictions, counts eight and nine, against Siegelman. Upon first impression, the decision to vacate seemed to address concerns expressed by the Supreme Court last June when it remanded Siegelman’s case to the appeals court. In fact, the appeals court had already dismissed the charges in March 2009 for lack of any evidence to support the jury verdict. Therefore, some initial news reports last week were misleading. This week's ruling is here, and the 2009 decision is here

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JIP Hits the Road, Fighting for Women’s Civil Rights

By Andrew Kreig / Justice Integrity Project Director

On May 10, it was my privilege to address a Virginia women’s group on how we can fight more effectively for women’s rights as part of a larger struggle for due process and other civil rights. My invitation from the McLean Chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) came more than a year ago. But the occasion coincides also with our Justice Integrity Project (JIP) effort to meet with groups across the country and across the political spectrum to share ideas on more effective strategies for preserving and enhancing civil rights.

To that end, we welcome similar invitations from other groups.  As an illustration, my prepared remarks are below. The talk differed slightly. For example, I started by saying that I was delighted to be there speaking to such stalwart members of the UAW [not AAUW] after one of the leaders advised me that they liked a few laughs along with more substantive fare. We had a blast, and I look forward to working in the future with their members and any of our readers here who might be similarly inclined to share ideas at a meeting. Contact me at Andrew (at) justice-integrity.org to discuss such an event. In the meantime, click
for a video excerpt of this week's talk, with text below. 
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Reform Needed After Court Drops Siegelman Charges

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

A federal appeals court in Atlanta May 10 reversed two bribery convictions of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and businessman Richard Scrushy but upheld the rest of their 2006 corruption convictions in what our Project has long denounced as the nation’s most notorious political frame-up. The ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sending the case back to the district court for resentencing is yet another reason for the public to demand a thorough investigation of the case.

We and others, including CBS 60 Minutes, have published many exposes describing massive irregularities in the politically orchestrated prosecution of Alabama’s leading Democrat under the Bush Administration. The Obama Administration has continued the prosecution and cover-up, despite evidence that the trial judge hated Siegelman and benefitted from $300 million in Bush federal contracts to a closely held company the judge controls as its top shareholder. Imprisoning Scrushy has also proven to be a bonanza for well-connected lawyers from both parties able to prosper from some $500 million in damage awards in a civil fraud settlement by insurers of his former company, HealthSouth, while he’s been imprisoned on a seven-year term imposed in 2007.

Our project has called for public protests unless the Senate Judiciary Committee rigorously examines the case as part of its confirmation hearing for the Obama administration’s nominee to become U.S. attorney for Alabama’s middle district, based in the state capital of Montgomery.

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Deferential New Bio of Obama’s Mother Fills Gaps

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

Janny Scott, an award-winning New York Times reporter, took a leave of absence in 2008 to research and write A Singular Woman, the recently published biography of President Obama’s late mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. Based on the author’s nearly 200 interviews and unique access to many personal records held by Dunham-Obama friends and family, the book fills in many gaps of what is popularly known. Dunham died at age 52 after marriage to Barack Obama, Sr., of Kenya and Lolo Soetoro of Indonesia, each of whom she met as fellow students at the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center.

The author, at left, clearly has made vital contributions towards greater understanding of the president’s family. This is a first-of its kind book that doubtless will be much-cited and otherwise of historical importance. But in the end, A Singular Woman is a flawed and highly deferential account that leaves many mysteries remaining. Also, the book illustrates the limitations of biography that is based in significant part on the author’s currying access to the powerful.

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