Posts tagged with "Department of Justice"

16 states file suit in California to block Trump’s national emergency declaration

February 20, 2019

A coalition of 16 states—led by California—filed suit on February 18 to block President Donald Trump’s ploy to fund a southern border wall by declaring a national emergency.

In addition to California, the other states that joined the lawsuit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia.

The plaintiffs called Trump’s declaration—which side-stepped a firm “no” to his request for $5 billion in funding for the wall from Congress— a “flagrant disregard of fundamental separation of powers principles,” Politico reported.

The complaint (State of California et. al. v. Trump et. al.)—which requested injunctive relief from the U.S. District Court for Northern California under proceeding #3:19-cv-00872—is the third in a string of legal challenges already launched against Trump’s use of emergency powers since he announced the move during a meandering White House news conference on January 15, the political news outlet said.

Public Citizen, a liberal advocacy group, along with Frontera Audobon Society of South Texas, also filed a suit (Case No. 19-ev-404) late Friday—this one, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia— on behalf of three Texas landowners who would be impacted by the construction of a wall along the border.

“Rather than responding to an emergency requiring immediate action, the Declaration seeks to address a long-running disagreement between the President and Congress about whether to build a wall along the southwestern border and Congress’s refusal to appropriate funds for that purpose,” the complaint said.

“However,:” it continued, “under our Constitution, built on the principle of separation of powers, a disagreement between the President and Congress about how to spend money does not constitute an emergency authorizing unilateral executive action. The Declaration and the planned expenditure of Department of Defense funds for construction of the wall exceed President Trump’s authority under the National Emergencies Act, other statutes invoked by the President as authority to fund the wall, and the Constitution. The invocation of emergency powers and exercise of those powers, and the diversion of funds to build a wall, are thus contrary to law.”

And Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics—a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC— has filed a motion against the Department of Justice demanding that the agency provide documents pertaining to the legal justification of the president’s emergency declaration.

Americans deserve to know the true basis for President Trump’s unprecedented decision to enact emergency powers to pay for a border wall,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder, in a release from the group, adding, “We’re suing because the government has so far failed to produce the requested documents or provide an explanation for their delay.”

The states that filed against the president on February 18 argued that Trump engaged in an “unlawful scheme” when he “used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction, and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border,” according to a copy of the complaint obtained by Politico.

“It’s kind of awkward to say that on Presidents’ Day we’re going to be suing the president of the United States, but sometimes that’s what you have to do,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said during a Monday appearance on CNN, after telegraphing for weeks that he was prepared to take swift legal action if Trump followed through on his repeated vows to invoke an immigration emergency to justify diverting wall funding.

Becerra, who is leading the states coalition, alleges that Trump “has veered the country toward a constitutional crisis of his own making” despite a refusal by Congress refusing to allocate the funds needed to start construction. It cites his remarks in the Friday news conference that he “didn’t need to do this” as evidence his emergency declaration was without merit.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

Research contact: @priscialva 

Up against the wall: DOJ seeks eminent domain for barrier in Texas, but postpones asylum cases

January 22, 2019

Thirty-one days and counting into the partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump still is hitting a brick wall in his demands for Congress to approve his $5.7 billion budget for a “barrier” on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But, Vox reports, that hasn’t stopped Justice Department attorneys from working to seize private land for the barrier by eminent domain, even as they have to postpone most other lawsuits due to the shutdown. Government attorneys even filed a new case in January, after the shutdown began.

And all of this is happening, even after DOJ instructed federal attorneys to postpone any lawsuits that weren’t necessary to safeguard “the safety of human life or the protection of property” until the shutdown was over. The Trump administration has even put cases on hold that it previously has argued are essential to national security, the news outlet says—including the lawsuit over its asylum ban, which has been put on hold by a federal judge in California.

Indeed, the news outlet reports, land condemnation cases in the Southern District of Texas, where the Trump administration has declared its interest in building 104 miles of bollard fencing, are still “chugging along.”

The Texas Civil Rights Project is representing defendants in two active eminent domain cases to date—with a third coming up soon and many more in the works—and has seen no evidence of a shutdown delay.

In a hearing on a government lawsuit over a tiny, tent-of-an-acre parcel, Judge Micaela Alvarez noted that “even with the shutdown, I understand that the attorneys handling these matters on behalf of the Government are not being furloughed and they still have to appear.” The attorney for the Southern District of Texas confirmed it: “This is all I’m allowed to work on.”

It has been more than ten days since the Department of Justice has received funding from Congress, Vox points out. Since then, the agency has been allowed by law only to do certain things— either activities that don’t require funding from Congress or actions that are essential to the functioning of government or the protection of human life or property.

Lawsuits from immigrants seeking habeas corpus petitions to be released from detention have been delayed for the shutdown. So has ongoing litigation in the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Research contact: Dara Linddara@vox.com

Behind Barr: Trump announces choice for attorney general

December 10, 2018

During a week when former President George H.W. Bush’s legacy has been validated and his choices lauded, President Donald Trump confirmed that he will nominate former Attorney General William P. Barr—who served in same role in the Bush administration from 1991 to 1993— to lead the Justice Department again, telling reporters on December 7 that Barr was “my first choice since day one.”

Barr is, perhaps, best known for successfully urging the elder Bush in 2001 to pardon a number of key figures involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. He also has been critical of the Mueller investigation—perhaps explaining why Trump is so enamored of this candidate.

According to a December 7 report by The Washington Post, “Barr is likely to face tough questions at his confirmation hearing about how he will handle the ongoing special counsel investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.”

Assuming that the nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Barr would replace Acting AG Matthew Whittaker, whom Trump elevated to that role after requesting the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions early in November.

That move—which leapfrogged the DOJ professional who actually was next in line for the job, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—has been widely criticized on the grounds that Whittaker is not qualified; is under investigation, himself; and has said that the president “made the right call” when he fired FBI Director James Comey.

In another round of musical chairs in the administration, Chief of Staff John Kelly was reportedly expected to resign on Friday night, December 7. Kelly had worn out his welcome with the POTUS, who stopped talking to him in recent days in hopes that we would take the hint and depart the White House.

Finally, Trump also has said, according to The Washington Post, that he will nominate Heather Nauert to replace Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, describing the State Department spokesperson, a relative novice on foreign policy, as “very talented, very smart, very quick.” Haley announced her pending resignation in October.

Research contact: matt.zapotosky@washpost.com

Judge gives go-ahead to subpoenas in Trump Hotel emoluments lawsuit

December 5, 2018

Peter J. Messitte, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court of Maryland ruled on December 3 that lawyers for Maryland and Washington, D.C., plaintiffs in an emoluments-related lawsuit can start issuing subpoenas. The suit alleges that President Donald Trump has used his luxury hotel near the White House to unconstitutionally profit from his political office, Politico reported on December 3.

The case would set the stage either for potentially shutting down the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., or for requiring Trump to divest entirely from the property—where many foreign diplomats currently are staying when they visit the Beltway and where many U.S. politicians are holding dinners and events to gain favor with the president.

In fact, the GSA lease for the property—which governs the use of the Old Post Office Building in the District of Columbia, where the hotel is situated—clearly states: “No … elected official of the Government of the United States … shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.

According to Politico, the attorneys general in Maryland and Washington said they planned to serve as many as 20 companies and government agencies with subpoenas by midday on December 4.

It’s the first time a lawsuit alleging a president violated the Constitution’s emoluments, or anti-corruption, clauses has advanced to the discovery stage, the political news outlet noted.

In response, Politico reported, the Justice Department on November 30 said it would try to halt the attorneys’ general case with an appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, but by the end of the day on Monday, December 3, the DOJ had yet to file anything in that court.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said that, if Justice Department lawyers do seek to stop the case, he said he was confident the delay would be temporary.

“They have a very high burden to win on a Writ of Mandamus, I don’t think they can meet that standard here,” Frosh told Politico. “They’ve done everything they possibly can to stop us from getting discovery.”

Research contact: @Woellert

Flake: Mueller protection bill has votes to pass Senate

December 3, 2018

Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) said on November 30 that he believes legislation protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller—and prevent President Donald Trump from carrying out another Nixon-style Saturday Night Massacre—could pass the Senate, if Republican leadership would agree to bring it up for a vote, The Hill reported.

“I do believe the votes are there on the floor if we can just get a vote, and that’s what I’m calling, let’s just have a vote,” Flake told CNN, asked about a measure that would protect Mueller from being fired without good cause.

The legislation—originally drafted by Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Christopher Coons (D-Delaware), Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina)— has been given the cold shoulder for months by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

At a press conference last week, McConnell characterized it as “A solution in search of a problem,” adding that “The president is not going to fire Robert Mueller.”

“I don’t know how we can be sanguine about what’s going on over at the Department of Justice in terms of the Mueller probe. It’s important to protect it,” Flake added on Friday. 

Flake, joined by Coons and Booker, appeared on the Senate floor twice in November, attempting to get a vote,  and has been blocked both times. Flake is pledging to oppose all of Trump’s judicial nominees until he gets a vote on the bill, rankling his colleagues who have made confirming the president’s picks their top priority.

Flake and Senator Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) are joining all 49 Democrats to oppose Thomas Farr’s district judge nomination— denying him the 50 votes needed to let Vice President Mike Pence break a tie.

“We need to protect the special counsel; it’s important. Confirming judges is important,” Flake, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, said, according to The Hill report. “I want to confirm more judges … but this has to be priority now. And you have to take a stand. I have leverage because we have a narrow majority on the Judiciary Committee, so I’m using it.”

Research contact: @jordainc

Democrats file suit impugning Whitaker appointment

November 20, 2018

Three Democratic senators filed a lawsuit on November 19 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the appointment of Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, and in doing so, ratcheting up the court effort to declare his placement atop the Justice Department as unconstitutional, CNN reported.

Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii filed the suit, represented by the groups Protect Democracy and the Constitutional Accountability Center.

The lawsuit is only the latest challenge to Whitaker’s appointment to replace former AG Jeff Sessions after President Donald Trump fired his attorney general the day after the election.

In a joint statement, the senators said, “On November 7, President Trump appointed Whitaker to oversee the Department of Justice–including the Special Counsel’s investigation—in violation of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. The Senators’ complaint asks the Court to declare Whitaker’s appointment unconstitutional and to enjoin him from serving as, or carrying out the duties of, Acting Attorney General.”

Senator Blumenthal personally commented, “Installing Matthew Whitaker so flagrantly defies constitutional law that any viewer of School House Rock would recognize it. Americans prize a system of checks and balances, which President Trump’s dictatorial appointment betrays.”

He said. “President Trump is denying Senators our constitutional obligation and opportunity to do our job: scrutinizing the nomination of our nation’s top law enforcement official. The reason is simple: Whitaker would never pass the advice and consent test. In selecting a so-called “constitutional nobody” and thwarting every Senator’s constitutional duty, Trump leaves us no choice but to seek recourse through the courts.”

For his part, Senator Whitehouse noted, The stakes are too high to allow the president to install an unconfirmed lackey to lead the Department of Justice – a lackey whose stated purpose, apparently, is undermining a major investigation into the president.  Unless the courts intercede, this troubling move creates a plain road map for persistent and deliberate evasion by the executive branch of the Senate’s constitutionally mandated advice and consent.  Indeed, this appointment appears planned to accomplish that goal.”

Senator Hirono, an outspoken opponent of the administration, stated, “Donald Trump cannot subvert the Constitution to protect himself and evade accountability. We want the court to make clear that the Senate must confirm Matthew Whitaker’s appointment as Acting Attorney General—otherwise this temporary appointment violates the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. Without exception for President Trump’s allies, principal officers who report directly to the president must be subject to a hearing and confirmed by the Senate.”

Last week, the Justice Department issued a memo defending Whitaker’s appointment, concluding that it was legally justified under the Vacancies Reform Act.

The Senate Democrats’ lawsuit, however, argues that his appointment his unconstitutional under the Constitution’s Appointments Clause requiring Senate confirmation of high-level federal appointees, CNN reported.

In addition to the lawsuit filed Monday, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed suit last week asking a federal judge to replace Whitaker with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Research contact: @jeremyherb

Nearly all asylum applicants from the last migrant caravan were allowed U.S. entry

October 29, 2018

More than 90% of the Central Americans who applied for asylum after arriving at the U.S. border in last spring’s caravan passed the first step of the application process and were allowed into the country, according to figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, BuzzFeed reported on October 26.

Of the 401 people whom USCIS considered to be part of the caravan, 374 (or 93%) passed what’s known as a credible fear of torture or persecution interview, during which immigration officials determine whether an asylum applicant has a well-founded suspicion that he or she will be tortured or persecuted back home because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

If they pass the interview with an asylum officer, their case goes before an immigration judge.

The high success rate of asylum seekers in the spring caravan—which arrived at the border in May following a month(s)-long trek across Mexico, may explain why the Trump administration now is considering ways to prevent new arrivals from applying for asylum at the border — something that is allowed under US immigration law. The overall success rate for asylum seekers’ credible fear interview has been 76% in 2018, BuzzFeed said.

Under a proposal that is still being debated inside the Trump administration, the president would issue a proclamation barring residents of certain countries from entering the United States as security risks. The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice would then cite that proclamation to bar the asylum applicants.

According to the news outlet, “The move would be a sweeping change by the Trump administration to longstanding immigration practice and would undoubtedly draw a legal challenge. But advocates of the proposal believe a Supreme Court decision that allowed the Trump travel ban to go into effect earlier this year paved the way for such a step.”

Indeed, the president has repeatedly denounced the new caravan—which at one time numbered more than 7,000 people and is now about half that size—saying that it includes criminals, although nearly two-thirds of those fleeing persecution appear to be women and children. The majority of those in the new caravan are from Honduras and Guatemala.

“All of these threats and deterrents aren’t working because there is an actual credible refugee crisis,” Allegra Love, an immigration attorney who helped screen potential asylum-seekers during the last caravan, told BuzzFeed in an interview. “Short of closing the border to migrants and refugees there’s not a lot you can do,”

Love is concerned the Trump administration will close ports of entry to people with lawful asylum claims. “There are children on this caravan, I think we have to always remember we’re going to be closing doors to a child, not that adults don’t deserve the same compassion,” Love said. “We’re creating an international crisis.”

Research contact: adolfo.flores@buzzfeed.com

DoJ argues businesses can legally discriminate against transgender workers

October 26. 2018

The Department of Justice argued in the Supreme Court on October 24 that businesses can discriminate against employees based on their gender identity without violating federal sex discrimination laws, Bloomberg Law reported.

“The court of appeals misread the statute and this Court’s decisions in concluding that Title VII encompasses discrimination on the basis of gender identity,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a brief regarding a case against a Michigan funeral home. R&G Harris and G&R Harris Funeral Homes, a family-owned business in the Detroit area, is accused of violating federal employment laws when it fired transgender worker Aimee Stephens in 2013.

Specifically, after Stephens said she was transitioning, her boss—a devout Christian, according to CNN—told her the situation was “not going to work out,” according to court documents. She was offered a severance package, but she declined to accept it—instead filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued the funeral home.

The EEOC, which enforces civil rights law in the workplace, successfully sued on Stephens’ behalf in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. But the Michigan funeral home has appealed the case to the Supreme Court, where the Justice Department represents the government.

The Justice Department’s argument that federal civil rights law does not apply to transgender workers comes after The New York Times reported on October 21  that the Department of Health and Human Services was moving ahead with efforts to limit the definition of gender—saying that gender can only be defined by the genitals a person had at birth.

A leading transgender advocate called the government’s reported action a “super aggressive, dismissive, dangerous move,” according to the Times.

“They are saying we don’t exist,” said Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Rights, in an interview.

What’s more, this is not the first time that the rights of transgender people have been challenged by the current administration. The Trump administration also has attempted to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military — a move that was blocked by the courts in November 2017.

Research contact: copfer@bloomberglaw.com

StarKist faces $100 million fine for fixing tuna prices

October 23, 2018

Charlie the Tuna is “on the hook” for a felony. StarKist—which has long been represented by the cartoon mascot (or spokes-tuna) in its brand advertising—has agreed to plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States, the Department of Justice announced on October 18.

The DOJ said StarKist—which is owned by Dongwon Industries of South Korea— faces up to a $100 million fine when it is sentenced, the Chicago Tribune reported. In addition to pleading guilty, StarKist has agreed to cooperate in the investigation.

Prosecutors allege that the industry’s top three companies conspired between 2010 and 2013 to keep prices artificially high.

“The conspiracy to fix prices on these household staples had direct effects on the pocketbooks of American consumers,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “All Americans have the right to the benefits of free and open competition—the best goods and services at a price free from collusion.  We will continue to hold companies and individuals who cheat consumers accountable.”

“Our citizens’ confidence in the ability to buy goods within an unbiased market is key to sustaining an efficient and fair economy,” said Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett, FBI-San Francisco. “This investigation stands as a symbol of our commitment to holding corporations and senior leadership accountable and ensuring that activities such as price-fixing will not be tolerated.”

“We have cooperated with the DOJ during the course of its investigation and accept responsibility,” said StarKist CEO Andrew Choe in a formal company statement, adding, “We will continue to conduct our business with the utmost transparency and integrity.  While this process is long-term in nature, we have addressed the necessary actions required in this plea agreement, including continuing to strengthen related compliance best practices.”

The scheme came to light when Thai Union Group‘s Chicken of the Sea tuna brand attempted to buy San Diego-based Bumble Bee failed in 2015, according to court records. Chicken of the Sea executives then alerted federal investigators, who agreed to shield the company from criminal prosecution in exchange for cooperation.

Bumble Bee Foods last year pleaded guilty to the same charge and paid a $25 million fine—$111 million lower than prosecutors said it should have been, the Tribune reported. Prosecutors said they feared putting the financially struggling Bumble Bee out of business with a high fine and agreed to let the company make interest-free payments for five years.

Two former executives of Bumble Bee and one from StarKist have also each pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges. None of them have been sentenced, the Tribune said..

In addition, the three companies face mounting lawsuits from wholesalers, food service companies, and retailers—among them, Walmart, Target, and Kroger.

Research contact: @TheJusticeDept

Is the POTUS ‘obstructing justice’ by demanding declassification of Mueller probe documents?

September 19, 2018

The POTUS is treading a thin line, between obstruction of justice and presidential privilege.

On September 17, President Donald Trump directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice to immediately declassify portions of the June 2017 FISA court application regarding former Trump campaign adviser Carter W.Page, according to a report by the Huffington Post.

The president also demanded the public release of text messages exchanged by former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Trump’s defenders on Capitol Hill and in the conservative media have routinely used the Strzok-Page text messages to undermine the Mueller probe and suggest that the FBI is biased against Trump, the news outlet said.

In immediate response to the order, Representative Adam Schiff (D-California-28th District), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, sent out a tweet at 8:08 p.m. on September 17, remarking: “President Trump has intervened again in a pending investigation by ordering the selective disclosure of classified materials he believes to be helpful to his defense. The DOJ and FBI have previously informed me that release of some of this information would cross a ‘red line.’”

In a statement picked up by MSN, Schiff characterized the president’s order as “a clear abuse of power,” suggesting that Trump  “has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative.”

Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia-11th District) also came out against the release of documents, tweeting shortly after 8 p.m. on September 17, “More obstruction from the President.”

And Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) tweeted on September 18,”The President is trying to undermine an active investigation through reckless declassification. We need an independent DOJ to do everything possible to protect sources and methods.”

The FBI previously had released a heavily redacted version of the Page FISA application in July. Trump also ordered the public release of texts messages sent by former FBI Director James Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, as well as Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. The president also ordered the release of notes on meetings with Ohr, who relayed information to the FBI collected by former British spy Christopher Steele about Trump’s relationship with Russia.

According to the Huffington Post, a Justice Department spokesperson said late on September 17 that the DOJ and FBI were “already working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the President’s order.”

The president’s order, the spokesperson said, triggered “a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House Counsel, to seek to ensure the safety of America’s national security interests.”

Research contact: ryan.reilly@huffingtonpost.com