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Tag: U.S. Attorney

James Comey on Firing of U.S. Attorney Berman: ‘Something Stinks’

James Comey (Twitter photo)

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Ex-FBI Director James Comey weighs in on the weekend firing of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in an Op-ed piece in the Washington Post titled “Geoffrey Berman upheld the finest tradition of the SDNY office.”

Berman on Friday refused to step down, so President Trump fired him.

Comey writes:

Geoffrey Berman’s office has apparently been handling cases very close to the president. In 136 days, there is an election that the incumbent appears likely to lose. The attorney general, surely not proceeding on his own, acts to bump the well-regarded head of the Office on a Friday night, in the middle of a pandemic. Something stinks.

The country is well-served by the independent spirit and reputation of the Southern District of New York. It has long been the place where hard cases could be done in a way Americans trusted. It was where Bill Clinton’s 11th-hour pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich could be credibly investigated. It is also the place with jurisdiction over so much of this president’s complicated life.

And it is a place that follows the facts alone to reach conclusions, without regard to politics, just as Stimson wanted. Maybe that’s why William P. Barr moved to knock off Berman on a Friday night and announced President Trump’s intention to replace him with someone who has never worked there. And maybe that’s why Berman, in the finest traditions of the office, stood up.

Ex-U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard Jr.: ‘This Is Not the Day or Time to Be Quiet’ After the Death of George Floyd

The author was U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. from 2001 to 2004. He is currently a partner at the firm, Barnes & Thornburg LLP.

By Roscoe C. Howard Jr.

Roscoe Howard Jr.

When I was growing up in ‘50’s and early 60’s, I visited my Mother’s home town in the Northern Neck of Virginia, and sat around while the adults discussed other family members and indulged in shell and fish foods that came from the nearby Rappahannock River.

As a child it would shock me to learn that African Americans from the area had been lynched in recent times. It was hard for me to even comprehend a violent death, but it was just as hard to understand how calmly it would be discussed by relatives and neighbors in that small Virginia town. My extended family seemed to be numb to the fact that such a murder was common place. I, on the other hand, thought I would never recover from hearing the stories.

Now, I don’t have to hear the stories because I read them. I think I would be derelict to not discuss the tragic event in Minneapolis, where forty six year old African American was pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer who put his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck in an effort to detain him.

George Floyd.

Despite audible pleas, the officer did not relent, choked him and directly caused Mr. Floyd’s death. At my age I am becoming numb to news of African American joggers killed in Brusnwick, Georgia, to a young African American man being shot during a police encounter outside of St. Louis, to the countless other senseless killings of young African American men when confronted by white law enforcement officers or those who think that they are.

It is not an apology or money that any parent, friend or concerned citizen of these victims want. What we all want is for it to stop. I feel like my relatives on those summer evenings in Northern Neck of Virginia where I was so many years ago – I am numb. But, I am the father of two young African American men, so I feel compelled to bring this to our collective attention.

Silence No Longer 

This is not the day or time to be quiet. I would ask of all of us to have the courage and conviction to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. I ask you not to countenance this outrage when it is senselessly defended by those who believe these young men bring this kind of abuse and death on themselves. I ask that you help make sure that no other African American mother outlives her son because of this sort of unjustified violence visited upon him.

I ask that in any way you can try to be that voice. In any way you can help the moral arc of the universe, although long, bend toward justice. In any way you can help a man like me recover from the nightmares of the stories I heard all those many summers ago.

Barr Appoints U.S. Attorney to Investigate Origins of Russia Probe

U.S. Attorney John Durham.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Attorney General William Barr has assigned a U.S. prosecutor to examine what prompted the Russia probe and whether federal authorities overstepped their authority in investigating the Trump campaign, the AP and New York Times report.

The appointment of John Durham, a Republican and U.S. attorney in Connecticut, comes a month after Barr told members of Congress that he believed “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has defended the bureau’s involvement, saying he was unaware of anyone overstepping their authority to investigate the Trump campaign in 2016.

Trump has long claimed the investigation was a “witch hunt” by “angry Democrats.”

A person familiar with the appointment told the AP that Barr wants to determine whether the investigation into Trump’s campaign was “lawful and appropriate.”

The Justice Department’s inspector general is conducting a similar investigation, which is expected to be completed in May or June.

Durham’s long career includes investigating national security officials and whether they act appropriately during their inquiries.

Ex-Border Patrol Agent Gets 7 1/2 Years For Taking Bribe

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

An ex-Border Patrol agent was sentenced Monday in Tucson to 7.5 years in federal prison for accepting bribes and acting as a scout for drug smugglers near Marana.

Alberto M. Michel pleaded guilty earlier this year to taking $12,000 in exchange for providing counter-surveillance for marijuana smugglers while on duty in November, The Arizona Daily Star reports. 

Michel, 41, joined the Border Patrol in 2009 and was promoted to the Tucson Sector Border Patrol Intelligence Unit in 2016, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Ex-U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade: ‘Trump Sees The Position of Attorney General as His Personal Lawyer’

Barbara McQuade was  the first woman to serve as the U.S. Attorney in Detroit.  She was appointed by President Barack Obama and was sworn in Jan. 4, 2010. In March, she was among the remaining 46 U.S. Attorneys in the country from the Obama administration who were forced to resign. She is currently a professor at the University of Michigan Law School.

U.S. Attorney McQuade

U.S. Attorney McQuade

By Barbara McQuade

The President’s comments disparaging the attorney general are damaging to the Department of Justice and the American public.  Regardless of whether you agree with the policies of Jeff Sessions, Trump’s efforts to insult, marginalize or push him out should be deeply concerning.

Trump’s comments that Sessions should not have recused himself from the Russia investigation suggests that Trump sees the position of attorney general as his personal lawyer.  In fact, the attorney general takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution.

By complying with DOJ ethics rules, Sessions was doing his job properly.  Trump would rather have Sessions ignore ethics rules so that he could maintain control of the Russia investigation, rather than allow that duty to fall to his deputy from Baltimore, where, as Trump says, there are not a lot of Republicans. This statement wrongly suggests that DOJ makes decisions based on politics, and undermines public confidence in its decisions.

Trump’s comments about investigating Hillary Clinton are also deeply troubling.  The case was declined last summer.  To suggest reopening it now creates the impression that Trump is seeking to use the Department of Justice to punish his political enemies.  It is critically important that the Department of Justice act with independence in bringing criminal cases, and that it not become the machinery of partisan politics.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

I also think that Trump’s comments about the attorney general are demoralizing to the rank and file employees of the Department of Justice. They need a leader who is advocating for them and their priorities in the President’s cabinet. To see their leader disparaged by the President diminishes the stature of the office of attorney general and the Department of Justice.  The men and women who have dedicated their talents in careers to seeking justice and serving the public deserve much better.

It may be that the President is trying to coerce sessions into resigning.  If Sessions resigns rather than is fired, Trump has more options available to replacing him, including appointing an acting attorney general from among any of his already confirmed appointees, without any additional Senate confirmation.

Eric Starkman: The Unethical Preet Bharara and His Despicable Media Enablers

Eric Starkman is founder and president of STARKMAN, a public relations and crisis communications firm based in Los Angeles.  He was previously a reporter at major newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

By Eric Starkman
For ticklethewire.com

preet-bharara-time

Growing up in Toronto I had a quintessentially Canadian view about government authority: Only bad people ran afoul of the law.

But my innocence was shattered when I was a young reporter at The Toronto Star and Ontario’s Attorney General leaked me some information about some entrepreneurs who had embarrassed his Administration that I knew to be untrue. I didn’t write the story but other reporters happily picked up the narrative, ultimately giving the government the PR cover to seize the businesses of the entrepreneurs without any due process. I’m still shaken by the abuse of power.

I naively believed that such prosecutorial wrongdoing could never happen in the U.S. My bubble was quickly burst when The Detroit News hired me as a business reporter and assigned me to cover the high profile administrative hearing of Stanford Stoddard, a maverick Michigan banker who the Comptroller of the Currency alleged had misappropriated funds from the bank he founded. In her opening statement, a young ambitious OCC attorney alleged that among Stoddard’s wrongdoings was using bank funds to purchase alcohol. As Stoddard was a devout Mormon the charge was exceptionally damning, so I asked Stoddard’s attorney about the allegation. Turns out the alcohol in question was a bottle of wine for a religious ceremony.

Former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who was lionized in the media as “The Sherriff of Wall Street,” jolted me with another wakeup call about prosecutorial wrongdoing. Spitzer and his minions routinely spread false or misleading information about my former client Dick Grasso after he was forced out of the New York Stock Exchange because of bogus allegations the former chairman and CEO was overpaid. An example of Team Spitzer’s dishonesty was leaking a document that showed Grasso’s son accompanied him on the private jet the NYSE chartered so Grasso could host a reception at Davos, Switzerland. Spitzer’s team neglected to provide the documentation showing that Grasso reimbursed the NYSE for the cost of his son’s trip.

Preet Bharara, who was just fired as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, took Spitzer’s prosecutorial abuse to an even higher level. For a time, Bharara was an even bigger media darling than Spitzer, garnering fawning media coverage for his high-profile cases, including this gusher of a puff piece by William Cohan in Fortune. Bharara loved the media limelight, routinely holding news conferences to trump up publicity for his cases and leaking damaging allegations to obsequious reporters who gladly published them and abetted in the smearing of his targets before they had an opportunity to defend themselves.

As Jesse Eisinger noted last week in Pro Publica, Bharara was no hero. His prosecutorial track record was mixed, as several of his high-profile cases were overturned on appeal. And his practice of arguing his cases in the media earned him the opprobrium of the judge overseeing his case against Sheldon Silver, the former NY Democratic State Assembly speaker, who charged that Bharara’s media blitz “strayed so close to the rules governing his own conduct.”

Even Cohan came to appreciate Bharara’s unethical behavior, publishing this impressive story about the questionable tactics used to pressure former hedge fund manager Todd Newman to settle insider trading charges. Bharara tellingly was too tongue tied to talk to Cohan for a story that was critical of him.

Sadly, the universe of reporters who appreciate the dangers of prosecutorial abuse is limited to a handful of some very experienced reporters.  One of them is New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, who has written critically about Bharara and presumably played a meaningful role in the critical portrayal of U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades in the Showtime series “Billions.” (Sorkin is one of the show’s creators).  The Rhoades character is clearly based on Bharara, replete with the latter’s petulance and media manipulation. The show also admirably is unkind in its portrayal of a reporter and his pursuit of a scoop.

Best-selling author Michael Lewis took up the cause of Sergey Aleynikov, the Goldman Sachs programmer who was convicted and sentenced to prison for stealing computer code, Jim Stewart wrote about the questionable charges leveled against Zachary Warren, and Joe Norcera wrote an admirable column about the shameful prosecution of Charlie Engle.

Diane Brady, among the fairest and most ethical journalists, recently commented that stories based on leaked documents should be held to the same reporting standards as any news story.  That’s an admirable requirement, but regretfully we’ve entered the Brian Stelter media age, where reporters who publish leaked documents and give anonymous people a platform for their political agendas are deemed “investigative journalists.”

The media can’t be counted on to protect against prosecutorial wrongdoing. But with Bharara out of office, the Southern District is momentarily a safer place for innocent people.

 

D.C. U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips Named ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year for 2016

Channing Phillips/doj photo

Channing Phillips/DOJ photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

D.C. U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips has been named ticklethewire.com’s Fed of the Year for 2016.

Phillips, who began working for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. in 1994, was nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Attorney post in Washington in October 2015. From 2011 to 2015, he served as counselor to the U.S. Attorney General, and was regarded as a calm, steady voice of reason at Main Justice during some bumpy times, which included the fallout from ATF’s Fast and Furious scandal.

He also served as executive director for the Attorney General’s Diversity Management Advisory Council and was the day-to-day coordinator for diversity-management issues within the Justice Department.

He’s continued to manage with a steady, calm hand at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which under his tenure, has handled everything from public corruption and terrorism related cases to local crimes.  The yearly award is given to federal law enforcement officials who exemplify integrity, leadership and concern for their workers.  His contributions over the many years makes him worthy of the 2016 award.

As a side note, the U.S. Senate has yet to confirm Phillips.  And considering he was appointed by President Obama, he’s not likely to get confirmed after Donald Trump takes office.

Previous recipients of the ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year award include: Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (2008):   Warren Bamford, who headed the Boston FBI (2009), Joseph Evans, regional director for the DEA’s North and Central Americas Region in Mexico City (2010);  Thomas Brandon, deputy Director of ATF (2011); John G. Perren, who was assistant director of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Directorate (2012); David Bowdich, special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Los Angeles (2013);  Loretta Lynch, who was U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn at the time (2014) and John “Jack” Riley,  the DEA’s acting deputy administrator (2015).

 

Justice Department Says It May Have Found Way to Unlock iPhone Without Apple’s Help

Apple logo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The Justice Department on Monday asked for a delay of a court hearing in its battle with Apple over the encryption of an iPhone from San Bernardino shooting, saying it may have found a way to unlock the phone without Apple’s help.

In a motion filed Monday in federal court in Central California, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles wrote:

Since the attacks in San Bernardino on December 2, 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) has continued to pursue all avenues available to discover all relevant evidence related to the attacks.

Specifically, since recovering Farook’s iPhone on December 3, 2015, the FBI has
continued to research methods to gain access to the data stored on it. The FBI did not cease its efforts after this litigation began. As the FBI continued to conduct its own research, and as a result of the worldwide publicity and attention on this case, others outside the U.S. government have continued to contact the U.S. government offering avenues of possible research.

On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible
method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone. Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook’s iPhone. If the method is
viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple Inc. (“Apple”) set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case.

Read Justice Motion