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Archive for March, 2021

Garland Sworn in As Attorney General, Vows to Restore Faith in DOJ

Attorney General Merrick Garland is sworn in. Photo via DOJ.

By Steve Neavling

Attorney General Merrick Garland was sworn-in Thursday and pledged to “adhere to norms” and restore the Justice Department’s reputation for political independence. 

“We are united by our commitment to protecting our country as our oath says, ‘from all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ And by our commitment to enforcing our country’s laws and to ensuring the civil rights and the civil liberties of our people,” Garland said in an address to the DOJ’s 115,000 employees on his first day of work. “The only way we can succeed and retain the trust of the American people is to adhere to the norms that have become part of the DNA of every Justice Department employee since Edward Levi’s stint as the first post-Watergate attorney general.” 

He concluded the speech by saying, “I am honored to work with you once again. Together, we will show the American people by word and deed that the Department of Justice pursues equal justice and adheres to the rule of law.”

Read Garland’s full speech here.

The Senate confirmed Garland on Wednesday with a 70-30 vote. 

Garland, 68, rose to national prominence in 2016 when President Obama nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Republicans denied him a hearing. 

Garland was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997. 

Garland is a graduate of Harvard University’s college and law school. 

HSI Returns Nearly 300 Pre-Columbia Artifacts to Mexican Officials

One of the recovered artifacts. Photo courtesy of Homeland Security.

By Steve Neavling

Homeland Security Investigations returned nearly 300 pre-Columbia artifacts to Mexican officials this week during a repatriation ceremony at the Mexican Consulate in Nogales. 

The 277 pieces included arrow heads, axe heads, hammer heads, spear heads and small stone carvings that were between 1,000 and 5,000 years old and “of significant cultural value,” HSI said in a news release.

The repatriation follows two separate HSI investigations by special agents in Phoenix and Nogales. 

Scott Brown, special agent in charge of HSI Phoenix, presented the relics to Ricardo Santana, Mexican consul general ambassador in Nogales, and Jose Luis Perea, director of the Mexican Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH) in Sonora.

“The cultural significance of artifacts from regions around the world extends beyond any monetary value,” Brown said. “The pieces, like those discovered, are fragments of history; and it is an honor to return them to their rightful home country. HSI fully supports the importance of antiquities and cultural property, and it is through these repatriations that new generations are able to experience a part of their nation’s story.”

Perara said the timing was culturaly significant. 

“This repatriation comes at an opportune time, in the year of a very significant commemoration for Mexico – the 500th anniversary of the taking of Tenochtitlan, which was a heartrending encounter between the cultural universes of Western Europe and America,” Perea said. “This event allows us to deeply recognize the pre-Hispanic cultures of Mexico, as well as the resistance and presence of its contemporary indigenous peoples.”

HSI conducts investigations for the Department of Homeland Security. Among its roles is investigating thefts of cultural property. 

Whistleblowers Accuse High-Ranking DOJ Official of Injecting Politics into Hiring

By Steve Neavling

Two whistleblowers have accused a high-ranking Justice Department official of injecting politics into the hiring process by appointing an inexperienced attorney over more qualified candidates. 

Jeffrey Bossert Clark was acting assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s Civil Division when he conducted a bogus interview process for the assistant director position of the Civil Division, the whistleblowers alleged in documents obtained by NPR.

The whistleblowers are calling for an investigation in a letter to House and Senate lawmakers and the DOJ’s inspector general. 

The appointment came just days before Clark left the post in January. 

The five-page letter states that Clark appointed an attorney who “volunteered and was part of the DOJ litigation team defending a controversial Trump administration policy … that barred pregnant, unaccompanied minors in federal immigration custody from obtaining abortions.”

In an email to CNN, Clark defended the appointment. 

“Civil Division managers sent me three candidates to interview, each of whom they rated well-qualified. I interviewed all three using the same process I had used for other positions. I think it’s very unfortunate that the disappointed applicants would attack their own colleague’s selection,” he said. “That candidate had strong leadership qualities and was the best qualified. Pointing to that lawyer’s work on the Garza litigation, with a D.C. Circuit decision that came out years befoe I joined the Civil Division, is just a baseless attempt to cast aspersions.”

Senate Confirms Merrick Garland as Attorney General

By Allan Lengel

Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Well, the second time was the charm.

After failing to even get a vote before the Senate on his Supreme Court nomination in 2016, the Senate on Wednesday confirmed Merrick Garland as the new attorney general.

The vote was 70-30, with nearly half the Republicans voting in his favor.

Garland is known as a moderate.

Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Garland had a “long reputation as a straight-shooter and legal expert” and that his left-leaning views were “within the legal mainstream,” the Washington Post reports.

Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, issued a statement after the confirmation:

“We congratulate Judge Garland on his successful confirmation vote today. During this confirmation process, we were encouraged to hear that he agrees with us on many very important drug policy issues, such as allowing states to regulate marijuana without fear of federal intervention, eradicating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, and ending mandatory minimums.”

Biden Administration Calls on Iran for Answers on 14th Anniversary of Robert Levinson’s Disappearance

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared while in Iran.

By Steve Neavling

On the 14th anniversary of Robert Levinson’s disappearance on Tuesday, President Biden’s administration called on Iran to return the former FBI agent to his family and provide answers about what happened to him. 

Levinson, whose 73rd birthday is today, disappeared while on Kish Island, a tourist spot off the coast of Iran. He worked part-time for the CIA, and U.S. officials believed he died while in Iranian custody. 

“For 14 years the Iranian government has denied the U.S. government, the FBI, and most importantly, the Levinson family any answers about the circumstances surrounding Bob’s abduction,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “The FBI continues to mourn the loss of our beloved friend and colleague, and the Levinson family continues to grieve the loss of their husband, father, and grandfather. It’s appalling that the Iranian government has yet to cooperate, and we, along with our interagency partners, remain resolute in our efforts to investigate and seek the truth of what happened to Bob.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Levinson’s family.

“I was honored to speak with the Levinson family yesterday,” said Blinken, according to a State Department release. “Since his abduction in 2007, Bob, a father and husband, has missed graduations, marriages and the birth of all but one of his grandchildren. Bob’s family continues to advocate for the answers about what happened after he went to Kish Island in Iran 14 years ago.”

Blinken added, “We call on the Iranian government to provide credible answers to what happened to Bob Levinson, and to immediately and safely release all U.S. citizens who are unjustly held captive in Iran.”

Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. “will remain resolute in our support to the Levinson family and our commitment to pursuing justice for Mr. Levinson and his family.”

“After 14 years and repeated, persistent efforts to secure Iran’s cooperation in locating Mr. Levinson, we are still without answers,” Psaki said. “Nevertheless, we will continue to demand answers and to hold Iran accountable for his abduction, detention, and probable death. We will not relent until all of our citizens who continue to be wrongfully detained in Iran and around the world, are returned to their families.”

FBI Releases New Footage of Washington D.C. Bomb Suspect

Screenshot of the pipe bomb suspect.

By Steve Neavling

The FBI on Tuesday released new security footage of the person believed to have planted pipe bombs outside the Republican and Democratic national committees in Washington D.C. on the day before the U.S. Capitol riot. 

The devices were placed outside the headquarters sometime between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 5. The suspect was wearing a face mask, gray hooded sweatshirt, and black and gray Nike Air Max Speed Turf shoes with a yellow logo. 

“The American people have provided invaluable assistance in this investigation, and the FBI and our law enforcement partners are very grateful for that cooperation,” Steven M. D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, said in a statement. “We still believe there is someone out there who has information they may not have realized was significant until now. We know it can be a difficult decision to report information about family or friends—but this is about protecting human life. These pipe bombs were viable devices that could have been detonated, resulting in serious injury or death. We need the public’s help to identify the individual responsible for placing these pipe bombs to ensure they will not harm themselves or anyone else.”

The FBI previously released photos of the suspect, along with suspect’s shoes, the devices, and kitchen timers. 

Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to call the bureau at (800) CALL-FBI or send an email to tips.fbi.gov. Tips may be anonymous.

Record Number of Migrant Children Stuck in CBP Facilities, Waiting for Shelter Space

By Steve Neavling

A record number of unaccompanied migrant children are stuck in CBP facilities intended to briefly hold adult men. 

Of the more than 3,200 migrant children in the facilities, nearly half were held beyond the three-day legal limit, according to documents obtained by CBS News. The agency is required to transfer children to shelters no longer than 72 hours after they were taken into custody.

About 170 children in CBP custody are under the age of 13. 

By comparison, nine unaccompanied children were held beyond the three-day limit on Feb. 21. 

The children are waiting to be transferred to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

HHS told CNN that the Office of Refugee Resettlement “is aggressively working with our interagency partners to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are safe and unified with family members or other suitable sponsors as quickly and safely as possible.”

FBI Was Digging for Fabled Cache of Gold in Pennsylvania Forest, Emails Show

Gold bars, via Wikipedia

By Steve Neavling

The FBI was digging for a legendary cache of Civil War-era gold in a Pennsylvania forest three years ago this month, according to recently obtained emails. 

In March 2018, FBI agents, led by treasure hunters, trekked to a remote site about 138 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, where legend has it that a gold shipment was lost or hidden during the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, according to the Associated Press.

Since then, the FBI has been mum about why they were digging. The bureau has repeatedly said no gold was uncovered.

The emails were obtained by a father and son who led FBI agents to the state-owned site and have believed the dig did not come up empty. But many documents related to the dig remain sealed, leaving the father and son searching for more clues.