Posts tagged with "DOJ"

Justice Department opens broad probe of alleged abuses by Minneapolis police

April 22, 2021

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Wednesday, April 21, that the Justice Department will conduct a broad investigation into alleged abuses at the Minneapolis Police Department, examining whether its officers have a “pattern or practice” violating the civil rights of residents, Politico reports.

The move—made public one day after a jury in Minneapolis found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the murder of George Floyd last year—appears to signal a return by the Biden administration to more aggressive and frequent use of such probes aimed at rooting out systemic civil rights abuses in police departments.

“Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis,” Garland told reporters in a brief statement at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Public safety requires public trust.”

While Garland’s predecessors in the Trump administration—Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr—rejected the notion of widespread abuses of Black people by police, Garland struck a decidedly different tone Wednesday—and suggested that such abuses are common.

“I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have experienced since his death. My heart goes out to them and to all those who have experienced similar loss,” Garland said. “I know such wounds have deep roots and that too many communities have experienced those wounds first-hand.”

Under President Donald Trump, the Justice Department announced only one pattern-and-practice probe of a police department: an inquiry into policing in Springfield, Massachusetts. Sessions and Barr said they believed such investigations tended to demonize and stigmatize police and that most officers’ conduct was free of racial bias. They also complained that the consent decrees that often resulted from such investigations effectively tied the hands of officers and sometimes led to increases in crime.

But critics, including civil rights groups, said the reluctance to open such broad inquiries left unchecked broad failures in training and accountability that predictably resulted in tragedies like Floyd’s death, which occurred after Chauvin pinned Floyd’s neck to the pavement with his knee for more than nine minutes.

Under the Obama Administration, the Justice Department opened about two dozen pattern-or-practice investigations. The law allowing for such reviews was passed by Congress in 1994 in the wake of the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles police.

“I know that justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive, and sometimes never comes. The Department of Justice will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under law,” Garland added. “We undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.”

The pattern-or-practice probe will be separate from a criminal investigation into Floyd’s death that the Justice Department launched last year, Garland said. Federal criminal charges related to the episode appear unlikely in light of Chauvin’s conviction for murder, but three other officers on the scene are facing lesser charges in a future trial.

Garland’s announcement indicated that Justice Department officials have done some preliminary work to assess potential deficiencies with Minneapolis police.

“It will include a comprehensive review of Minneapolis police policies training and use-of-force investigations,” the attorney general said, adding that the investigation also will look at excessive use of force against protesters and whether police act improperly towards citizens with “behavioral health disabilities.”

Garland took no questions following his statement, which was his first appearance in the department’s media briefing room before journalists since being sworn in a little over a month ago.

Research contact: @politico

Terror is ‘still with us’: AG Garland warns of domestic terrorism at Oklahoma City bombing memorial

April 20, 2021

The terrorism that led to the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City almost three decades ago has morphed into a heightened threat from domestic violent extremists, Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Monday, April 19, in his first major public address, Bloomberg reports.

Garland, who oversaw the prosecution of bomber Timothy McVeigh and accomplice Terry Nichols, marked the 26th anniversary of the of the most deadly domestic assault in U.S. history—offering a stark reminder that the brand of terror unleashed by the bombers is “still with us, ” USA Today noted.

“It was night, but you would not have known it,” Garland told survivors and officials gathered on the grounds of the downtown memorial. “Bright lights lit the site up as if it were midday. The front of the (Alfred P.) Murrah Building was gone. The parking lot across the street still held cars that had been flattened by the blast.”

Garland’s remarks came just over three months since the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol—a stunning assault that has highlighted a reinvigorated domestic extremist movement. As in Oklahoma City more than two decades ago, Garland now oversees a far-reaching investigation into the siege that has so far resulted in charges against more than 400 people, USA Today said

The attorney general did not directly refer to the Capitol attack, but he cited a recent FBI warning in its aftermath of the “ongoing and heightened threat posed by domestic violent extremists.”

“Those of us who were in Oklahoma City in April 1995 do not need any warning; the  hatred expressed by domestic violent extremists is the opposite of the Oklahoma Standard,” Garland said, recalling the city’s response to the bombing and its continuing campaign against hate. “This memorial is a monument to a community that will not allow hate and division to win.”

Garland, who arrived in Oklahoma City just two days after the attack, has often described his association with the case and a deeply wounded community as “the most important thing I have ever done in my life.”

Indeed, USA Today noted, throughout the investigation and beyond, Garland was known to carry a list of the victims in his briefcase.

That connection was on display throughout his remarks Monday, when his voice quavered at times and paused to collect his emotions, the news outlet reported.

“Oklahoma City, you are always in my heart,” he said.

Research contact: USATODAY

Capitol rioters intended to ‘capture and assassinate’ officials, court filing says

January 18, 2021

Federal prosecutors offered an ominous new assessment of last week’s siege of the U.S. Capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters on January 14, saying in a court filing that rioters intended “to capture and assassinate elected officialsn” The Huffington Post and Reuters reported.

Prosecutors offered that view in a filing asking a judge to detain Jacob Chansley—the Arizona man and QAnon conspiracy theorist who was famously photographed wearing horns as he stood at the desk of Vice President Mike Pence in the chamber of the U.S. Senate.

The detention memo, written by Justice Department lawyers in Arizona, goes into greater detail about the FBI’s investigation into Chansley—revealing that he left a note for Pence warning that “it’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”

“Strong evidence, including Chansley’s own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government,” prosecutors wrote.

A public defender representing Chansley could not be immediately reached for comment. Chansley is due to appear in federal court on Friday.

According to the HuffPost, the prosecutors’ assessment comes as prosecutors and federal agents have begun bringing more serious charges tied to violence at the Capitol, including revealing cases Thursday against one man, retired firefighter Robert Sanford, on charges that he hurled a fire extinguisher at the head of one police officer and another, Peter Stager, of beating a different officer with a pole bearing an American flag.

In Chansley’s case, prosecutors said the charges “involve active participation in an insurrection attempting to violently overthrow the United States government,” and warned that “the insurrection is still in progress” as law enforcement prepares for more demonstrations in Washington and state capitals.

They also suggested he suffers from drug abuse and mental illness, and told the judge he poses a serious flight risk.

“Chansley has spoken openly about his belief that he is an alien, a higher being, and he is here on Earth to ascend to another reality,” they wrote.

The Justice Department has brought more than 80 criminal cases in connection with the violent riots at the U.S. Capitol last week, in which Trump’s supporters stormed the building, ransacked offices and in some cases, attacked police.

Many of the people charged so far were easily tracked down by the FBI, which has more than 200 suspects, thanks in large part to videos and photos posted on social media.

Michael Sherwin, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, has said that while many of the initial charges may seem minor, he expects much more serious charges to be filed as the Justice Department continues its investigation.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Steve Bannon charged with defrauding donors of ‘We Build the Wall’ campaign

August 21, 2020

Steve Bannon—the architect of the Trump campaign’s 2016 win and #45’s former chief strategist in the White House—has been arrested along with three others and charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors who contributed to a fundraising campaign for a private border wall, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced on August 20, according to a report by The Hill.

Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea allegedly defrauded donors to the online crowdfunding campaign known as We Build the Wall, which raised more than $25 million. The four defendants were expected to appear in court Thursday afternoon.

Bannon is just the latest member of the president’s inner circle to face criminal charges:

  • Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his communications with a Russian diplomat. He has since backed out of a plea agreement, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking to withdraw its case against him.
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is serving more than seven years in prison on an array of bank and tax fraud charges.
  • And Trump commuted the three-year-and-four-months prison sentence of his former adviser Roger Stonein July, just days before Stone was scheduled to report to a federal corrections facility.

In a formal press release from the SDNY, Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “[Starting in approximately December 2018] …as alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction. 

She added, “While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle.  We thank the USPIS for their partnership in investigating this case, and we remain dedicated to rooting out and prosecuting fraud wherever we find it.”

According to The Hill’s report, the four men are facing charges including one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

The indictment suggests that federal prosecutors in New York were investigating the organization as early as last October, while Geoffrey Berman was the office’s U.S. attorney. The Trump administration forced Berman out of his position in June in a high-profile spat during which the prosecutor initially refused to resign.

When asked for comment by a pool reporter on Thursday, a White House spokesperson said, “I refer you to DOJ; this is not a White House matter.”

We Build the Wall did not immediately respond to a message from The Hill seeking comment.

Kolfage launched We Build the Wall on GoFundMe in late 2018—quickly raising more than $20 million, before the site threatened to remove his page unless he identified a valid recipient of the funds.

Based on the indictment, Kolfage, Bannon and Badolato then formed a nonprofit called “We Build the Wall, Inc.” to receive the GoFundMe money.

Despite Kolfage’s promises that he wouldn’t be taking a salary, federal prosecutors alleged that the group of defendants schemed to pass along hundreds of thousands of dollars to him to help “fund his lavish lifestyle.”

Kolfage allegedly took a total of $350,000 from the organization, passed through a series of bank accounts, nonprofits and bank accounts between January and October of 2019.

One nonprofit controlled by Bannon received more than a million dollars,  The Hill says—some of which he passed on to Kolfage, while taking a “substantial portion” for personal gain.

In October, prosecutors allege, the defendants realized they might be under criminal investigation, halted their secret payment scheme and amended the organization’s website to note that Kolfage would be paid a salary beginning this January.

Research contact: @thehill

Swalwell: Barr has taken Michael Cohen’s former job as Trump’s fixer

July 29, 2020

On Monday, July 27—one day before Attorney General Bill Barr was scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary CommitteeRepresentative Eric Swalwell (D-15th District-California), a member of that panel, said that ever since President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen has been sentenced to prison (and then, home confinement), Barr “has taken the job.”

“Unfortunately, Bill Barr already had a job—as Attorney General of the United States, our nation’s top law enforcement official,” Swalwell wrote in a Newsweek op-ed published Monday. “And we must not let him do both jobs at once.”

Tuesday is the first time Barr will appear before the committee—where Democrats seek to press him on the alleged politicization of the Department of Justice (DOJ), The Hill reported.

Swalwell maintained that Cohen’s actions to shield the president from ridicule—as in the hush money payout of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016—are similar to actions Barr has taken in public office.

“It was reprehensible, but Cohen has taken responsibility for his actions and now is paying the price,” Swalwell wrote. “Meanwhile, Barr seems to be carrying out similar order—but deploying weapons more powerful than Cohen could’ve dreamed of: the power and authority of the U.S. Justice Department.”

The congressman listed examples in his op-ed that are likely topics during the House hearing, such as the administration’s decision to commute Roger Stone’s sentence and its dismissal Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was leading several investigations into Trump’s associates, including his other personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Swalwell said that during the hearing Barr “will be expected to explain in detail why he has put President Trump’s personal and political needs above the interests of the American people and our justice system.

“Unless he can provide us with valid rationales for his actions—beyond the self-serving excuses he has provided publicly so far—we must assume the Attorney General has been reduced to the role of an underworld fixer for Donald Trump, which has terrible implications for the health of our democracy and for Americans’ faith in government,” Swalwell wrote.

Research contact: @thehill

Judge strikes down Trump Administration rule denying asylum to most migrants at southern border

July 2, 2020

A federal judge has nullified a Trump Administration rule that, since July 2019, has banned most migrants from receiving asylum at America’s southern border with Mexico, The Hill reports.

The rule in question made all applicants at the southern border ineligible for asylum unless they had previously applied from another country or had been the victims of sex trafficking.

Late on Tuesday night, June 30, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly of the District of Columbia ruled that the Trump Administration had failed to follow the procedural law governing how regulations can be implemented—which requires advance notice and a period for the public to comment on the proposal.

“These procedures are not a mere formality,” Kelly, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said in his opinion.

The ruling—one of several that have disappointed the POTUS in recent weeks—will likely have little immediate impact amid the president’s strict border restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic.

Hardy Vieux, an attorney at Human Rights First, one of the plaintiffs in the case, hailed the decision.

“Judge Kelly’s ruling is proof that the administration cannot do an end-run around the law,” Vieux said in a statement. “In the United States of America, we follow the rule of law, even when it benefits asylum-seekers demonized by this administration. We do not follow the rule of one capricious man, who treats the law as something on which to trample, on his way to a photo op.”

The Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition, another plaintiff, added that the decision would remove a barrier for those seeking safety from persecution.

“By striking down this rule, Judge Kelly reaffirmed two fundamental principles,” said Claudia Cubas, the group’s litigation director. “The protection of asylum seekers fleeing for safety is intertwined with our national values and that the United States is a country where the rule of law cannot be tossed aside for political whims.”

Still, the decision could be appealed. A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

Research contact: @thehill

Hillary Clinton trashes Trump over tweeted voter conspiracy theory

August 21, 2019

Hillary Clinton recently said that she “lives rent-free” in President Donald Trump’s mind. Indeed, the POTUS continues to contest the fact that she won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election—by nearly 2.9 million votes.

What’s more, Trump has asked the DOJ to investigate the former Secretary of State’s emails, her server, her business deals, and her husband.

But this week he returned to his familiar “ballot box” theme, according to a report by Politico—forcing Clinton yet again to rebut his conspiracy agenda.

“Wow, Report Just Out! Google manipulated from 2.6 million to 16 million votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016 Election!” Trump tweeted on Monday. “This was put out by a Clinton supporter, not a Trump Supporter! Google should be sued. My victory was even bigger than thought!”

While Trump did not cite the source of his claim, according to Politico, it came minutes after a segment on Fox Business Network referred to congressional testimony in July from behavioral psychologist Robert Epstein.

In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Epstein claimed that, based on his research, “biased search results generated by Google’s search algorithm likely impacted undecided voters in a way that gave at least 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton.”

Epstein appears to have been citing a study based on a collection of tens of thousands of search engine results collected in the run-up to the 2016 election. The study analyzed a relatively small sample size: The results of 95 different voters, just 21 of whom he says were undecided. He based the results on a phenomenon he calls “Search Engine Manipulation Effect.”

Google has denied Epstein’s claims. Company Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in December that Google had investigated Epstein’s findings and found his methodology flawed

According to the Politico report, Epstein also claimed in his congressional testimony that Big Tech, if left unchecked, could shift as many as 15 million votes toward a particular candidate in the 2020 election. Trump appeared to have nudged that number higher in his tweet Monday.

But Hillary clapped back, tweeting, “The debunked study you’re referring to was based on 21 undecided voters. For context that’s about half the number of people associated with your campaign who have been indicted.”

Research contact: @politico

Andrew McCabe sues DOJ and FBI, alleging his ouster was retaliatory and demanded by Trump

August 12, 2019

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe filed suit [Civil Action No. 19-2399] in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on August 8 against Attorney General Bill Barr, the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for ending his career on March 16, 2018—just before he would have qualified for his retirement benefits following 21 years of public service, Politico reported.

“Defendants responded to Plaintiff’s two decades of unblemished and non-partisan public service with a politically motivated and retaliatory demotion in January 2018 and public firing in March 2018— on the very night of Plaintiff’s long-planned retirement from the FBI,” McCabe said in his complaint.

He added, “Defendants’ actions have harmed Plaintiff’s reputation, professional standing, and dramatically reduced his retirement benefits. Plaintiff asks this Court to find that his demotion was unlawful and his purported termination was either a legal nullity or, in the alternative, unlawful, and to award him any and all relief necessary for him to retire as he had originally planned: as the Deputy Director of the FBI and an agent in good standing, with sufficient time in service to enable him to receive his full earned law enforcement pension, healthcare insurance, and other retirement benefits.”

The ousted FBI official also specifically named President DonaldTrump—acting in an official capacity as President of the United States—as the individual who was “responsible and accountable for Defendants’ actions.”

He alleged that the president, in conspiracy with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, executed the scheme to deprive him of his job and retirement funding.

“It was Trump’s unconstitutional plan and scheme to discredit and remove DOJ and FBI employees who were deemed to be his partisan opponents because they were not politically loyal to him,” McCabe said in his complaint, adding, “Plaintiff’s termination was a critical element of Trump’s plan and scheme. Defendants—as well as then-Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Defendant Barr’s predecessor—knowingly acted in furtherance of Trump’s plan and scheme, with knowledge that they were implementing Trump’s unconstitutional motivations for removing Plaintiff from the civil service. “

According to the Politico report, the lawsuit comes just two days after former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok filed a similar lawsuit, alleging that Trump’s vendetta against him led to his unceremonious firing, despite a formal disciplinary process that recommended a less severe punishment.

Strzok is seeking his old job back or compensation for his lost pay and benefits.

Although both men made plain their dislike of Trump, they say it never affected their official actions at the FBI. McCabe argues that Trump’s Twitter threats also coerced his subordinates at the Justice Department to do his bidding.

“Trump demanded [McCabe’s] personal allegiance, he sought retaliation when Plaintiff refused to give it, and [former Attorney General Jeff] Sessions, [FBI Director Christopher] Wray, and others served as Trump’s personal enforcers rather than the nation’s highest law enforcement officials, catering to Trump’s unlawful whims instead of honoring their oaths to uphold the Constitution,” McCabe’s suit charges. “Trump’s use of threats and accusations to cause his subordinates to act is memorialized in his tweets and other public documents, including the Special Counsel Report.”

Research contact: @politico

‘Tanks for the memories,’ President Trump, on July 4

July 4, 2019

For a military school graduate who never served as a combatant, the July 4 Salute to America celebration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., could be the closest President Donald Trump ever gets to the accoutrements of armored warfare.

The event will feature displays of military hardware; flyovers by an array of jets, including Air Force One, the deployment of tanks on the Mall; and an extended pyrotechnics show.

Even more unusual for the nationwide nonpartisan celebration will be a presidential address at the Lincoln Memorial that Democrats fear will ramble across political lines into Trump’s usual campaign rally palaver.

And the expense for all of this, plus the usual concert and parade—and any repairs necessitated afterwards by damage to local roads from the tanks—will be higher than ever before.

The National Park Service is diverting nearly $2.5 million in entrance and recreation fees primarily intended to improve parks across the country to cover costs associated with President Trump’s Independence Day celebration, The Washington Post reported on July 2..

The diverted park fees represent just a fraction of the extra costs the government faces as a result of the event. By comparison, former Park Service deputy director Denis P. Galvin told the Post, the entire Fourth of July celebration on the Mall typically costs the agency about $2 million.

For Trump’s planned speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the White House is distributing VIP tickets to Republican donors and political appointees, the news outlet reported—prompting objections from Democratic lawmakers, who argue that the president has turned the annual celebration into a campaign-like event.

The Republican National Committee and Trump’s reelection campaign confirmed Tuesday that they had received passes they were handing out for the event.

 “We’ve never seen anything like this,” Senator Tom Udall (New Mexico), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the interior, environment and related agencies, said in a phone interview with the Post. “No ticketed political event should be paid for with taxpayer dollars.”

Udall said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had yet to respond to a request he and two other Senate Democrats made two weeks ago for a full accounting of how the event would be conducted and what it would cost.

The White House referred questions about the celebration to the Interior Department, which declined to comment.

Brendan Fischer, federal reform director for the Campaign Legal Center, said in an interview with the newspaper that while it may not violate federal ethics law to distribute limited tickets to the president’s speech to party contributors, “it certainly looks bad.”

Since federal appropriations law prohibits using public money for political purposes, Fischer noted, the issue will depend on what Trump says in his speech. If he refers to some of the 2020 presidential hopefuls, or polling related to the race, Trump’s reelection campaign may be required to reimburse the U.S. Treasury.

“The content of the event, and the nature of the event, is probably the determining factor,” as opposed to donors getting to see Trump up close, he said.

The  Salute to America marks the culmination of Trump’s two-year quest to mount a military-style extravaganza inspired by his visit to a Bastille Day celebration in Paris in 2017, The Washington Post reported. His previous efforts to stage a Veterans Day military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in 2018 were scuttled after estimated costs ballooned to the tens of millions of dollars.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Elizabeth Warren has a plan: She wants to pass a law clarifying that presidents can be indicted

June 3, 2019

Would Special Counsel Robert Mueller have charged President Donald Trump with a crime if Justice Department policy had not prevented him from doing so? On Friday, May 31, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) said the answer was “yes,” according to a report by The New York Times.

But Senator Warren—who is among the more than 20 party hopefuls seeking the nomination for president—predictably enough, has a plan for that.

She has proposed legislation aimed at ensuring that “no President is above the law.” Indeed, in a story posted on Medium, she has made her vision clear: “If Donald Trump were anyone other than the president of the United States right now, he would be in handcuffs and indicted …. Mueller’s statement made clear what those of us who have read his report already knew. He’s referring President Trump for impeachment, and it’s up to Congress to act.”

Now, Warren has called on Congress to pass a law clarifying that the DOJ can, in fact, indict the president of the United States, while also renewing her call to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, the Times reports.

“But impeachment isn’t supposed to be the only way that a President can be held accountable for committing a crime,” she said. “Congress should make it clear that Presidents can be indicted for criminal activity, including obstruction of justice. And when I’m president, I’ll appoint Justice Department officials who will reverse flawed policies so no President is shielded from criminal accountability.”

This is not a new stand for Senator Warren, who declared herself in favor of impeachment about a day after the Mueller report was released on April 18. She also was among several candidates who leveled sharp criticism at Attorney General William Barr for his handling of the report’s release, the news outlet noted.

She renewed her criticism of Barr on May 31, saying he had “disgraced himself by acting like Trump’s personal defense attorney” while also pledging to “appoint an Attorney General who will protect the rule of law.”

She reminded Americans, “No matter what he may think, Donald Trump is not a King. No President is. And our democracy only works if everyone can be held accountable.”

Research contact: @SenWarren