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Could Blago Verdict Put U.S. Atty. Fitzgerald Back in Running for FBI Director?

Patrick Fitzgerald/doj photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It’s not that Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has to worry about his career.

But on Monday, he got some redemption when a federal jury convicted the ever-too chatty ex-Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich on 17 of 20 public corruption charges.

It was the second trial. The first had a rather embarrassing outcome. The jury convicted Blago on only 1 of 24 counts, and that was for lying  to the FBI, a charge that was not really central to the meat of the case.

What made matters worse, before the first trial, Fitzgerald held a press conference after arresting Blago in December 2008 and displayed a lot of swagger. Some thought he was a little over the top.

Could this redemption help Fitzgerald’s chances of becoming the next FBI director when the job comes up in a couple years?

Possibly.

He  fits the bill. The White House tends to prefer someone with a law degree like the current director Robert S. Mueller III, who is expected to get a two-year extension on his 10-year term.

Before the White House decided to propose a two year extension for Mueller, it began looking for his replacement.

Initially, Fitzgerald’s was one of the names most often heard inside the Beltway.

But his swagger at the press conference and the dismal verdict seemed to sour some people.  His name seemed to fade.

With the latest results in the Blago case, who knows?

Maybe he’ll be back in the race for the FBI director job.

Whatever the case, at least he was able to finally back up the swagger he showed back at the press conference.

I Wish I had Friends Like Ex-Sen. Norm Coleman Has

Norm Coleman smiling (probably because he has generous friends)

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

I have some lousy friends, particularly those with money. They haven’t lavished me with tens of thousands of dollars in gifts.

Maybe a beer. Maybe a meal. And oh yes, one once gave me a Jerry Springer “Uncensored” video for my birthday.

I don’t get it. I’m a good guy.

I wish I had friends like ex-Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman has. He must be a great guy. Why else would a wealthy businessman/friend like Nasser Kazeminy give him $100,000 worth of gifts?

After a 3 1/2 year investigation, the Justice Department decided not to file criminal charges against Coleman or Kazeminy, Kazeminy’s attorneys announced Tuesday. The allegations, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, were reportedly that Kazeminy violated campaign finance laws by trying to funnel $75,000 to the family of former Sen. Norm Coleman through a Minneapolis insurance company that employed Coleman’s wife, Laurie.

One rather well-known attorney, ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh, said he investigated the matter on behalf of Kazeminy and found no wrong doing.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Freeh confirmed in his probe that Kazeminy had given Coleman gifts over the years that totaled more than $100,000 in value. He said Kazeminy and Coleman are good friends.

The gifts included at least two suits from Nieman Marcus in Minneapolis and flights to Florida on Kazeminy’s private jets.

Freeh said, according to the paper, that the two “have a long-term, personal relationship that goes back to when he was mayor. … We looked at the gifts and we found no wrongdoing and no impropriety with respect to that exchange.”

So it really comes down to, some people just have better luck finding generous friends.

Maybe my jokes aren’t good enough, my conversation not stimulating enough to warrant such friends.

Or maybe I just have to run for elected office. That way I’d have a better shot at finding generous friends like Norm did.

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If Congress Extends Dir. Mueller’s Term 2 Years, Let’s Not Do it Again For Anyone Else

Robert Mueller/file fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON –– I have mixed feelings about the White House proposal to have FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III stay two years more beyond his 10-year term, which expires in September. The opinions of newspaper editorial boards around the country reflect my ambivalence.

All recognize the need for continuity in such uncertain times. All praise Mueller for taking on the job at a time of rapid change. They also note that after Hoover’s death in 1972, Congress passed legislation to limit the term to 10-years, pointing to the politics and power Hoover amassed, and how he abused his position and stepped over the line and made many important people, including presidents, fear him.

Continuity. Sure it’s important. But change is constant, a part of life, a part of Washington.  And as the Washington Post rightfully asks:”But when are continuity and stability at the FBI not critical?”

The Post editorial goes on to say: “The president’s request that Congress tinker with the 10-year term limit sets a bad precedent that should not be repeated, if Congress goes along this time. It may be the path of less resistance to retain an FBI director, easier than identifying and winning confirmation for a new nominee. But staffing an administration on schedule is part of the president’s job. For the independence and integrity of the bureau, this shouldn’t happen again.”

Conversely, The Tulsa World editorial page stated:

“There is a good reason why the director of the FBI is limited to a 10-year term. That reason is J. Edgar Hoover. There also is a good reason why there should be an exception to that rule. That exception is Robert S. Mueller III.”

“Mueller took the FBI from being primarily an agency dedicated to criminal investigations to one that is a major factor in the nation’s war on terror.

“He was appointed by President George W. Bush and is now being asked to extend his service by Obama. The post is truly nonpartisan….Obama’s request is likely to be honored. We hope it will be soon.”

The FBI post is somewhat  non-partisan.  But it’s not totally without politics.

We saw that from some of the jockeying going on while the selection process was underway to find a replacement for Mueller. Sen. Charles E. Schumer  (D-NY) was openly lobbying for NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to be the next director. The FBI Agents Association was pushing for ex-FBI official Michael Mason. And assuredly, there was there was lobbying going on for other candidates.

That being said, after the selection process and the confirmation hearing, which is also very political, the politics of selecting a new FBI director ends for 10 years. This proposed  extension seems to brings politics back in play for  a short two-year stint before we go at it again when the White House looks for a new director.

Most members of Congress will quickly pass legislation to approve the extension. But you can count on some, at minimum, questioning the wisdom.

Besides the Hoover issues, there are  good arguments to be made to move on and find a new director.

Fresh eyes. Fresh ideas.

As to reports that  the White House couldn’t find a good candidate to replace Mueller, I say: Hard to believe.

Granted, some prime candidates may not have wanted the job. NBC’s Mike Isikoff reported that folks like former deputy Attorney General James Comey didn’t want it. Ditto for  U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick B. Garland.

Still, there were plenty good candidates out there. To say there weren’t,  is simply a cop out.

The ACLU, perhaps not the FBI’s biggest friend, has also weighed in on the matter.

“FBI Director Robert Mueller should be thanked for his public service during an extraordinarily challenging period in American history,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero in a statement.

“It was for good reason that Congress chose to limit the tenure of future FBI directors. By setting a 10-year term, Congress sought to protect both the FBI director from undue political influence and our democratic institutions from allowing an unelected official to hold the power to examine the lives of Americans, including political leaders, for longer than is appropriate.

All in all, I have to say, if Congress agrees to extend Mueller’s term, it should pass legislation tailored to his specific situation, and leave the 10-year limit intact for all future directors.

The Beltway has was too much politics as it is. We don’t need more.

FBI Dir. Mueller, Steroids and Getting Stranded on 3rd Base

The author (right) Greg Stejskal and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

I recently read the “Time” magazine profile of FBI Director Robert Mueller noting that his 10-year statutory term was coming to an end. It was mentioned that the Director is a big baseball fan especially of the Boston Red Sox. I have also read speculation about what may be in Dir. Mueller’s future, among other things, that he might be a possible replacement for Bud Selig as Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner. Apparently that may have to wait considering the White House has announced that it will ask Congress to extend Dir. Mueller’s tenure by 2 years.

I think there may be some irony in the mentioning of the director and the baseball commissioner job. Without spoiling the whole story, I just want to say maybe one day the director may want to offer me an apology.

It was mid-February, 2005, I was sitting in my office at the FBI Resident Agency in Ann Arbor, Mi., when I received a phone call from a couple of reporters from the “New York Daily News.”

They had been referred to me by Michael Leibson, an Assistant US Attorney in Detroit, who had prosecuted a steroid case with me about 10 years before. (It was actually many cases stemming from an undercover operation. Over 70 steroid dealers were convicted in the US and Canada.)

Let me back up even further. In 1989, Bo Schembechler, the football coach at the University of Michigan convinced me that anabolic steroids were a serious problem in high school and college football. (Not all steroids are anabolic, promoting muscle growth, but for simplicity I will refer to anabolic steroids as just steroids.)

Based on Bo’s concerns and some additional research, I proposed a limited undercover operation (UCO), to target the sale of illegal steroids, the first of its kind.

FBI headquarters begrudgingly authorized it (see my column, “FBI Probe into Illegal Steroids Broke New Ground” ).

What started as regional short-term investigation became a very successful international investigation, codenamed “ Equine”, that ran for over 3 years.

One of the dealers we prosecuted was Curtis Wenzlaff. He told us that he had supplied large amounts of steroids to players on the Oakland A’s baseball team; specifically Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. The undercover operation ended in 1993, but prosecutions continued for a few years thereafter.

Jose Conseco/abc news

In August, 1994, I attended a sports presentation conference at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. (The sports presentation program had been established to train FBI agents to speak to college and pro teams about sports bribery and gambling. The presentations expanded into other topics over time.) Also in attendance at this conference were representatives from the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. From the MLB the representative was Kevin Hallinan, MLB Director of Security.

Prior to this conference, I had written an article for the August, 1994, “FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin,” a national monthly magazine primarily distributed to law enforcement agencies.. The article, “They Shoot Horses Don’t They? Anabolic Steroids and Their Challenge to Law Enforcement,” was distributed to all the attendees at the conference.

That night many of the conference attendees had an informal session in the Board Room, the FBI Academy pub.

At that session Kevin Hallinan and I talked about steroids. I told Hallinan what Curtis Wenzlaff had told us about supplying steroids to players on the Oakland A’s including Jose Canseco, and my belief that steroid use was becoming pervasive in MLB as it had been in football. Hallinan said he had heard rumors of steroid use in MLB and that Canseco was one of the players alleged to be using.

Hallinan didn’t think there was much they could do as the players had rejected any efforts to require testing in the contract that had been negotiated following the strike. I told Hallinan to let me know if we could be of any assistance, but I never heard from him. In 2002, I did arrange through Hallinan to have Wenzlaff debriefed by one of Hallinan’s staff.

In the summer of 2004, I also arranged for Wenzlaff to testify before a Senate hearing regarding steroid use in sports, chaired by Senators Charles Grassley and Joseph Biden.

Christian Red from the “NY Daily News” interviewed Wenzlaff after the hearing. Wenzlaff told Red what he told us about supplying steroids to players on the Oakland As, principally Canseco, in the early 90’s. They asked if Wenzlaff had disclosed this information to the FBI. He told them he had, but he did not know whether the FBI had passed the information on to MLB.

Now back to 2005, my office in Ann Arbor and the phone call from Christian Red and T.J. Quinn (now with ESPN) of the Daily News. Red and Quinn told me they had been referred to me by Mike Leibson, the AUSA, who had prosecuted most of the Equine cases. They also told me about their interview of Wenzlaff. What they wanted to know was, had the FBI passed the Wenzlaff information on to MLB?

A moment of truth: I could have responded, “no comment”, but I knew that if I had, it would be thought that the FBI had not passed on the information.

Here was a situation where the FBI did the right thing. All the criminal cases arising from Equine had long since been adjudicated. (The usual reason for not commenting to the media is that it is inappropriate if a case(s) is being investigated or prosecuted.) So I said I had told MLB about Wenzlaff’s allegations.

I said in August, 1994, I had told the MLB’s Dir.of Security, Kevin Hallinan everything Wenzlaff had told us about his having supplied Canseco and other players on the Oakland A’s with steroids. (It wasn’t until after I had spoken to Hallinan that we learned from Wenzlaff that one of the other Oakland As players being supplied was Mark McGwire.)

The next day the fecal matter hit the air oscillating device as they say.

The front sports page of the Daily News read, “Agent: MLB turned blind eye to steroid warning 10 years ago. FBI says… THEY KNEW!” –over a full-page photo of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, resting his head in his hand. The MLB Commissioner’s office was quick to respond by denying that I had ever warned them. In fact Kevin Hallinan claimed to not even know me.

I had no idea about the Daily News article until I started receiving calls from all over the country including from Mike Wallace from “60 Minutes.”

Then I received a call from my Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC). The Detroit Special Agent in Charge (SAC), who happened to be in Washington at the time, had spoken to the Director (Robert Mueller).

I was instructed by the ASAC to make no further comments to the media. It would seem my 15 minutes of fame were over. I explained that I had not initiated any contact with the media and that the Daily News had been referred to me by the AUSA, who prosecuted the case.

My concern was having made a statement saying the FBI had warned MLB, would it now look like we were backing down in the face of MLB’s denials if the FBI made no further comment?

I did get a follow-up call from the Daily News. I told them I had been instructed not to make any further statements to the media.

Red & Quinn wanted to know if I was now retracting any part of my previous statements. I said I was not, and my reported quote was, “I don’t think I was off-base with anything I said….I hope the Bureau allows me to defend myself if necessary, but I’m not particularly worried. I can weather the storm.”

When Dir. Mueller told me to not talk to the media, (For the record, I have never met nor spoken to the Director, but was told that it was he.) I thought that maybe the FBI would support me. Instead the silence was deafening.

In the meantime the MLB continued to attack my veracity, but slowly over the next few days, they moved from complete denial to admitting, well maybe I had warned them.

The FBI never did provide any support for me or for my statement that the FBI had warned MLB about their steroid problem in 1994. It was gratifying to have others outside the Bureau go to bat for me (so to speak). Bo Schembechler told the Daily News, “If Greg Stejskal said it, that’s the way it is.” I can’t think of a better character reference than that.

I retired from the FBI in the fall of 2006, having served for almost 32 years. I never did hear from the Director although I was given a 6 month extension beyond my mandatory retirement date. The extension had to have been approved by the Director.

None of this is meant to demean the tenure of Dir. Mueller, but there are times when it is important to protect the reputation of the FBI and support the agents when they are fighting the good fight even if it means taking on institutions like MLB.

Maybe some day if Dir. Mueller does become Commissioner of MLB, he can send me an apology.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Legalizing Marijuana

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The case for and against marijuana legalization continues to be a hotly debated issue. Weighing in, even in a subjective and limited way, is tempting after working on a history project about smugglers in the 1970s and the agents who pursued them.

Here’s the pros and cons as I see it.

There is good reason to conclude that many of the trends favor some kind of decriminalization or legalization in the United States. Many point to the growing number of states that have authorized Medical Marijuana as a key sign that we’re moving in that direction.

A dozen or so states have legislatively instituted some form of decriminalization or “harm reduction” program for use or possession of small amounts. Drug policies in several European countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, have established such a system.

Millions of dollars are being invested in a wide variety of public relations and lobbying activities, especially in states where referendums are pending. The arguments in favor of this development seem easier to grasp and calculate, and the well-financed campaigns have achieved some success in promoting this agenda.

On the other hand, proponents of the status quo seem less focused and their arguments more speculative. At times, the assumption of the hippie dealers of a half-century ago, who predicted the drug would eventually be legally available, seems a strong possibility.

Several studies in the 1960s and 1970s concluded that it did not pose a significant health risk to light or moderate consumers. They recommended decriminalization by removing criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce and by reducing the severity of the penalties for distribution. The mood of the time was represented in 1980 by the combination of the highest level of estimated users (33%) and lowest perceived risk (14%) in some demographic groups.

The other arguments in favor of a more permissive policy include the pragmatic assertions that legalization will: Increase tax revenues; reduce ancillary crimes such as theft by users; reduce the number of those incarcerated and resultant prison costs, which have become an increasing burden for cash-strapped states; eliminate some of the opportunities and temptations for corruption at home and abroad; reduce the costs to the criminal justice system; and allow police, prosecutors and courts to concentrate on more serious crimes.

If we follow along those lines of logic, we could allow for the regulation of the purity of the drug by the Food and Drug Administration, thus reducing the dangers from adulteration, and reduce the violence in Mexico and elsewhere among competing organized crime groups. Some of these points have varying degrees of merit.

There is, however, another side to this argument, one that advocates maintaining the status quo legally because the drug poses a danger, which could escalate if legalization resulted in more widespread use.

This seems intuitively likely since legalization would make it cheaper and more easily available, although there is little scientific evidence to support this conclusion. Legalizing marijuana would seem to send a clear message that its use provides a relatively safe form of recreation, not unlike consuming alcohol.

The experience in Alaska shows just how difficult policy making can get on the issue. In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court held in Ravin v. Alaska that under the right to privacy provision of the Alaska Constitution, the state could not interfere with the possession of marijuana for personal use by adults in their own homes.

A study by the University of Alaska in 1988 found that teen use in the state was double the national average. Overall usage (about 10%) is similarly higher than the national average (about 6 %). A voter initiative re-criminalized possession in 1990, and two referendums to decriminalize have failed.

However, in 2003 the Alaska Court of Appeals reaffirmed Ravin in Noy v. Alaska, and the Alaska Supreme Court denied the Attorney General’s petition to appeal.

It is important to recognize that the marijuana of today is, in significant respects, a different drug than that smoked in student apartments and dormitories in the 60s and 70s.

Its potency, as measured by the THC content, has greatly increased from as low as one or two per cent to as high as 15% today.

Some medical studies have shown that this change greatly increases the risk, especially for heavy users, to lungs, reproductive and immune systems. It also increases the heart rate and can impair motor skills and the ability to concentrate. These health dangers provide are more support for deterring its availability. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which keeps track of marijuana-related emergency room visits, reports that this statistic has risen steadily in the past three decades.

A separate but related argument against legalization is the acute problem of use by America’s youth. Marijuana is the most frequently used illegal drug by teenagers. The great majority of them believe that it is far less dangerous than other substances. Treatment programs report a close association between the use of marijuana and other drugs. The long term health effects of this high potency marijuana on young minds and bodies have not been fully studied and has a particularly dangerous potential. Making it legal and more readily available can only compound this danger.

Some of the arguments in favor of legalization seem doubtful, such as increased tax revenue. A recent study concluded that the $15 billion collected in taxes on alcohol sales represent about 10% of the social costs from its use. Perhaps that percentage would be different with marijuana, but with the increase in the number of Emergency Room visits connected to marijuana, the social costs would be appreciable and would surely wipe out extra tax revenue.

The argument that a more permissive policy on marijuana would reduce crime in general and law enforcement costs in particular also seems questionable. We would still need law enforcement to control trafficking to minors as well as other black market enterprises. Increased use would also increase traffic accidents. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that user-drivers are 2.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident.

Another argument is that America’s prisons have substantial numbers of inmates convicted of use or simple possession. This is certainly not true in the federal system where the percentage is minuscule compared with other categories, and most of these involve misdemeanor pleas down from felony charges. Many states have the same situation.

For example in Michigan, of the 47,000 inmates, only 15 were incarcerated for first time possession charges. There are, however, states where the number of possessors of small amounts are considerably higher even with the recent trend to emphasize treatment over incarceration.

There are other arguments against the increased availability that would result from legalizing marijuana: increased health care costs, health risks to pregnant women and as a result of second hand smoke, harm to the economy from loss of labor and reduced work ethic, exacerbation of mental health symptoms, reduced worker productivity, to name a few.

Criminal penalties and law enforcement policies on marijuana have not always been rational, consistent or just. A strong case could be made that the wild claims of danger in the early years, unreasonably long prison sentences, and the complete absence of an integrated program of education, enforcement, prevention, and treatment, have each contributed to the social costs and the poor public understanding of the dangers posed by legalization. The government simply has little persuasive credibility, particularly among today’s youth, on the subject.

Similarly, even after a half-century of being the most prevalent illegal drug on the planet, few comprehensive studies by objective entities have contributed to this search for the truth about the pros and cons of legalization and decriminalization.

The fact is that we do not know the answers to the relevant questions.

The United States is under assault in the 21st Century by a host of threats — social, economic, spiritual, educational .

The country desperately needs a well-motivated and educated citizenry, particularly from the next generation, to face these threats.

So in the end, for now, I lean toward the status quo until we know more. To add one more challenge, even one based on the speculative potential social costs of a permissive drug policy, would seem to be a risky decision in perilous times.

What’s Next for FBI Dir. Robert Mueller III?

Atty. Gen. Holder (left) and FBI Director Mueller/fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — As his 10-year term comes to an end, rumors and speculation are popping up as to what  FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III will do in life.

People who know Mueller say one thing is for certain: He won’t be getting a white belt and white shoes and heading down to Florida to play shuffle board, race to the early bird dinner specials and attend $1 movies.

They say Mueller, who will turn 67 in August, about a month before he steps down,  still wants to stay active professionally.

One rumor — and certainly unconfirmed — is that he has an interest in landing a federal judgeship in California.

One person speculated that he might also have an interest in becoming attorney general if Eric Holder Jr. were to step down after President Obama’s first term.  (Of course, Holder would almost have to if Obama isn’t re-elected).

Another person suggested that Mueller might be a good candidate to take over as baseball commissioner if Bud Selig steps down. Selig first started serving as acting baseball commissioner in 1992 and became the permanent commissioner in 1998.