Posts tagged with "Department of Justice"

Just humor him: Trump was joking about loving WikiLeaks, Sarah Sanders says

April 16, 2019

“I love WikiLeaks,” Donald Trump exulted in October 2016 during a campaign rally. “Boy, they are good. You gotta read WikiLeaks!” ended

But on April 11—after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by the Metropolitan Police in London and ejected from Ecuador’s embassy following his seven-year asylum there—President Trump told reporters at the White House, “I know nothing about WikiLeaks.”

“It’s not my thing,” he added, according to an April 14 report by NBC News.

And White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was quick to come to his defense. “Look, clearly the president was making a joke during the 2016 campaign,” Sanders told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace about Trump’s past praise for WikiLeaks.

Sanders spoke about Trump’s WikiLeaks remarks after the Department of Justice charged the website’s fugitive founder Julian Assange with computer hacking following his arrest in London, partly in connection with a U.S. extradition warrant.

The Department of Justice indicted Assange on a charge of conspiring with former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning to hack a classified government computer. Manning provided WikiLeaks with a trove of secret government documents that the website published in 2010.

In his own defense, NBC News reports, Assange has insisted that the United States is trying to infringe on journalistic freedom.

Assange and WIkiLeaks were at the forefront of leaking stolen emails during the 2016 presidential campaign, including from 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Democrats: Trump’s move to terminate Obamacare gives us a gift ahead of 2020

March 28, 2019

In a move that has appalled his own advisers, and alarmed the G.O.P. as a whole, President Donald Trump on March 27 began a legal effort to “essentially terminate” the entire Affordable Care Act ―including its heretofore sacrosanct pre-existing conditions protections.

About half of Americans—133 million—have a health issue that qualifies as a pre-existing condition. Under the ACA, also known as Obamacare, insurers have been banned from denying coverage for (or from charging more for plans that cover) pre-existing conditions.

And American voters have made it clear that they like it that way. According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation just before the midterm elections last November, fully 58% of Americans said they were “very concerned” that Republicans would remove this safeguard—and expose them either to higher costs or no coverage at all.

In fact, at that time, healthcare was top-of-mind for U.S. voters—and indications are that it continues to be.

According to a report by the Huffington Post,  Democrats are saying that the president’s extreme position on the ACA will matter far more to voters in 2020 than anything coming out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election.

And while Republicans have said for years that the ACA should be “repealed and replaced,” they are not so sure that the issue should be revisited at this time.

It comes down to this: On March 25, the Department of Justice asked federal courts to throw out all of Obamacare, not just one part of it, as it had done previously. If the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is weighing the lawsuit, agrees with the government, the matter will almost certainly go before the Supreme Court, which has already turned away two major challenges to the 2010 healthcare law, the Huffington Post notes. With two new Trump-picked justices on the high court, however, there is no telling whether the law would survive a third.

“This move by the Trump administration to take away health care will prove far more detrimental to the administration and the Republican Party than any gains they might have made by the issuance” of Attorney General William Barr’s letter summarizing the findings of Mueller’s investigation, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York.) said on March 26.

 “They are literally teeing this up as an issue for Democrats for the next year and a half. They’re not even making a laughable attempt to save the most popular parts of the Affordable Care Act,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) told reporters on Tuesday.

Vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election in 2020, whose seats Democrats need to win in order to take back control of the Senate, are likely to face additional attacks over healthcare following the Trump administration’s new stance on the lawsuit. But GOP leaders say they have confidence in their members to fend off attacks over Obamacare going into the 2020 election.

By contrast, the Huffington Post reports, G.O.P. senators facing tough re-election fights in 2020 said they support popular elements of the Affordable Care Act even as they continue to maintain that the law should be repealed ― a delicate rhetorical balancing act that failed to save many GOP members of Congress in the 2018 midterm election.

“I support coverage for pre-existing provisions, and Congress should act to make sure that happens. I think what we need to do is make sure we have affordable health care,” Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), who is facing a tough campaign, told reporters.

Only Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who voted against repealing Obamacare in 2017, criticized the decision to argue in court that the entire law should be struck down as unconstitutional.

“It is highly unusual for the [Department of Justice] not to defend duly enacted laws, which the Affordable Care Act certainly was. This decision to even go more broadly in failing to defend the law is very disappointing,” Collins said.

Research contact: @HuffPost

House chairs to AG Barr: Trump is ‘not above the law’ and Mueller report should be public

February 24, 2019

On February 22, the chairs of six House committees wrote to newly confirmed U.S. Attorney General William Barr to inform him of their expectation that he will make Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report public “without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law.” The letter follows news reports that suggest the Special Counsel investigation is nearing an end.

The letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, Committee on Financial Services Chairperson Maxine Waters, Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, and Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel.

“As you know,” they said, “Department of Justice regulations require that, ‘[a]t the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.’”

The American people, they said, have a right to see the findings—noting, “After nearly two years of investigation—accompanied by two years of direct attacks on the integrity of the investigation by the President—the public is entitled to know what the Special Counsel has found.  We write to you to express, in the strongest possible terms, our expectation that the Department of Justice will release to the public the report Special Counsel Mueller submits to you—without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

In addition, they said, there is “significant public interest” in the full disclosure of information learned by the Special Counsel about the nature and scope of the Russian government’s efforts to undermine our democracy.

Therefore, “…[if] the Department believes that certain aspects of the report are not suitable for immediate public release, we ask that you provide that information to Congress, along with your reasoning for withholding the information from the public, in order for us to judge the appropriateness of any redactions for ourselves.”

Specifically addressing comments by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concerning the agency’s reluctance to release materials on individuals who are not under indictment, the committee chairpersons wrote, “Finally, although we recognize the policy of the Department to remain sensitive to the privacy and reputation interests of individuals who will not face criminal charges, we feel that it is necessary to address the particular danger of withholding evidence of misconduct by President Trump from the relevant committees.”

They concluded with a strong demand—stating that, “If the Special Counsel has reason to believe that the President has engaged in criminal or other serious misconduct, then the President must be subject to accountability either in a court or to the Congress.

“But because the Department has taken the position that a sitting President is immune from indictment and prosecution,” the chairpersons said, “Congress could be the only institution currently situated to act on evidence of the President’s misconduct.  To maintain that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and then to withhold evidence of wrongdoing from Congress because the President will not be charged, is to convert Department policy into the means for a cover-up.  The President is not above the law.”

Research contact: @HouseIntel

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