Posts tagged with "DOJ"

Trump’s tax returns can be released to Congress, Justice Department says

August 2, 2021

The Treasury Department should hand over former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to House Democrats, the Justice Department said on Friday, July 29, according to a report by Bloomberg Law.

In a written opinion,  the DOJ ruled that, “the Secretary of the Treasury (“Secretary”) “shall furnish” such information to any of the three congressional tax committees—the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the Joint Committee on Taxation—“[u]pon written request from the chairman” of one of those committees.”

More specifically, the 39-page opinion stated, “We conclude that the [Treasury] Secretary must comply with the Ways and Means Committee’s June 16, 2021 request” for the tax returns and related tax information.

That decision reverses a 2019 opinion that the Treasury Department should not release the returns, which “rested upon the assertion that the Committee was disingenuous about its true objective in seeking President Trump’s tax information.”

According to Bloomberg Law, the Biden Administration has repeatedly delayed its response in court to a lawsuit seeking six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Lawyers for Trump, who have intervened in the suit filed by lawmakers, said in January they’d almost certainly seek to block the handover in court, making it unlikely that Democrats will get access to the documents anytime soon.

The court case is part of a multi-pronged legal effort by House Democrats to gain access to the returns, after Trump became the first president in modern history not to release them to the public. This case dates to 2019, when the House Ways and Means Committee sued to compel then-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to hand over the tax records. Under Trump, the Justice Department fought subpoenas issued by the committee, which filed a lawsuit.

Other lawsuits over the president’s tax records involving his accountants and bankers reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that Congress could not compel disclosure, at least for the time being. Those cases were sent back to the lower courts to assess whether lawmakers should narrow the scope of the information they sought.

The court has granted the district attorney in Manhattan, Cyrus Vance, access to Trump’s tax records as part of a criminal investigation into the former president’s business dealings. It’s unclear whether Vance will make those documents public.

In September 2020, The New York Times cited previously undisclosed returns in reporting that Trump had claimed chronic losses for years as a way to avoid taxes. He paid $750 in federal income tax in 2016, and paid no taxes at all in ten of the previous 15 years, the newspaper reported.

The case is Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, 19-cv-1974, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

Research contact: @bloomberglaw

Justice Department says Trump’s talk of reinstatment could fuel more violence from his supporters

July 12, 2021

The Justice Department is warning that former President Donald Donald Trump’s delusional claims that he’ll be reinstated to the White House could fuel more political violence from his supporters, CNN reports.

Trump and some of his allies on the right-wing fringe have pushed what CNN characterizes as “the ridiculous theory” that he could be reinstated as president in August. There is no legal or constitutional mechanism for that to happen, and Trump’s claims of a “stolen” 2020 election have been fully debunked.

Federal prosecutors brought up Trump’s rhetoric this week in one of the US Capitol riot cases.

The rioter, Marine Corps veteran Alex Harkrider, asked a judge to discontinue his GPS tracking and remove his ankle monitor. The Justice Department opposes this request, saying Trump’s rhetoric could inspire Harkrider to become violent in the future. Harkrider has pleaded not guilty.

“Former President Trump continues to make false claims about the election, insinuate that he may be reinstalled in the near future as President without another election, and minimize the violent attack on the Capitol,” prosecutors wrote in the filing. “Television networks continue to carry and report on those claims, with some actually giving credence to the false reporting.”

Prosecutors continued, linking Trump’s rhetoric to the Capitol rioter’s case: “The defendant in this case is not a good candidate to be out in the community without electronic monitoring to ensure the safety of the community and the safety of democracy in the current environment.”

Indeed, according to CNN, this isn’t the first time Trump’s post-presidency lying about the 2020 election has become an issue for some of his ardent supporters who were charged in connection with the Capitol insurrection.

Earlier this spring, federal judges and prosecutors cited Trump’s rhetoric during detention hearings for some of the Capitol rioters. Judges and prosecutors alike were concerned that Trump’s words could once again incite political violence. Trump’s language made it more difficult for some of his supporters to argue that they could safely be released from jail before trial.

In the Harkrider case, prosecutors say he tried to “obstruct the historically peaceful transition of power and overthrow the government” on January 6. He brought a tomahawk ax to the Capitol that day—his lawyers claimed it was only for self-protection from Black Lives Matter and Antifa.

He asked the judge to remove his GPS tracking. His lawyer says he’s paying a monthly fee of $110 for the monitoring, which is difficult because he “lives on a small pension from the Government, which he receives for his total disability” from his military service. He was a lance corporal in the Marines and served in Iraq and Afghanistan before exiting the military in 2012.

“This is a financial, emotional and physical hardship for Mr. Harkrider,” his lawyer wrote.

As of Friday morning, federal Judge Thomas Hogan hasn’t issued a decision about the GPS monitoring. He released Harkrider from jail in April after he spent three months behind bars.

Research contact: @CNN

Department of Justice sues Georgia over voting law

June 28, 2021

The Department of Justice is suing the State of Georgia over its controversial new law imposing a number of restrictions on voting, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Friday, June 25, according to a report by The Hill.

“Today, the Department of Justice is suing the state of Georgia,” Garland said. “Our complaint alleges that recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”

The Georgia law—passed in March along party lines in the span of just a few hours—imposes restrictions that voting rights groups say will fall most heavily on minorities: It sets new voter ID requirements for absentee ballots, limits drop boxes and even bars passing out food and water to those waiting in line to vote.

The suit is the first from the Justice Department to challenge an influx of state laws that they say will limit access to the ballot.

In a speech earlier this month, Garland pointed to 14 “new laws that make it harder to vote,” vowing to scrutinize “current laws and practices in order to determine whether they discriminate against Black voters and other voters of color.”

Georgia Republicans argued the law was needed to protect the integrity of elections. Its swift passage into law followed a loss by former President  Donald Trump in the state, followed by claims of election fraud from Trump along with a call from him to Georgia’s secretary of state asking him to “find” the president votes,  The Hill notes.

A review of pending state legislation by the Brennan Center for Justice found a wave of bills with restrictive voting provisions—and warned that the activity is outpacing other years and leaving “the United States … on track to far exceed its most recent period of significant voter suppression,”

Research contact: @thehill

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