Posts tagged with "AG Merrick Garland"

Biden seeks $33 billion for Ukraine, plus go-ahead to liquidate assets of Russian oligarchs

April 29, 2022

On April 28, the White House announced a proposal to allow U.S. authorities to liquidate the assets of Russian oligarchs and donate the proceeds to Ukraine—seeking what appears to be broad new legal powers to expand America’s financial war on the Kremlin amid bipartisan pressure in Congress, reports The Washington Post.

President Joe Biden will send the new plan to Congress along with a broader request for $33 billion to help the Ukrainians fight Russia’s invasion. Biden’s funding request includes:

  • $20 billion in military assistance for Ukraine,
  • $8.5 billion in economic assistance, and
  • $3 billion in humanitarian aid.

He also is seeking other funding, including $500 million to support production of U.S. crops to address the global food shock caused by the war.

The White House has not revealed the legislative text behind its proposal regarding the Russian oligarchs, but has said that the proposal “would improve” the federal government’s ability to send seized funds to Ukraine. Under current law, the United States can typically only freeze—not seize or liquidate—the assets of sanctioned individuals.

Civil liberties groups had raised concerned that prior congressional proposals ran afoul of constitutional protections by allowing federal law enforcement to circumvent judicial procedure. It was not immediately clear how the White House would seek to change the existing statute without violating those protections.

“This package of proposals will establish new authorities for the forfeiture of property linked to Russian kleptocracy, allow the government to use the proceeds to support Ukraine, and further strengthen related law enforcement tools,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The White House said the roughly $20 billion in military aid it is seeking would help provide Ukraine and the “Eastern flank” allies with artillery, armored vehicles, anti-armor capabilities, and advanced air defense systems, among other weaponry.

The $8.5 billion in economic assistance would help Ukraine’s government pay for food, energy, and healthcare; while the humanitarian assistance is intended to buffer a growing international hunger crisis. Ukraine’s government has asked for at least $2 billion per month from the United States to meet its short-term economic needs.

The White House said its plan for liquidating Russian oligarch assets was released in close coordination with the Treasury Department, State Department, and Commerce Department.

Attorney General Merrick Garland previously told congressional lawmakers that he supports the efforts to repurpose seized Russian funds to Ukraine. But even some senior Biden administration officials had emphasized the need for caution around a potentially significant change in precedent to U.S. seizure law.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters last week that lawmakers needed to be careful when she was asked about a plan to give to the Ukrainians billions of dollars in seized Russian bank reserves.

“I would say that is very significant, and it is one that we would carefully need to think through the consequences of before undertaking it,” Yellen told reporters last week. “I wouldn’t want to do so lightly, and it’s something that I think our coalition and partners would need to feel comfortable with and be supportive of.”

The new powers sought by the White House reflect the pressure on the Western allies to intensify its economic campaign against Russia over its ongoing war against Ukraine. The Biden Administration’s proposal also includes a directive to make it a federal crime to “knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government,” and the Western allies are coordinating a response to Russia’s move to cut off natural gas to two NATO countries.

The latest White House proposal also calls for improving protections against money laundering and would give the United States the authority to seize proceeds of attempts to facilitate the evasion of sanctions.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

DOJ issues warning amid spike in threats against school boards, principals, and teachers

October 6, 2021

U.S. Attorney-General Merrick Garland announced a crackdown on Monday, October 4, on threats against schools and teachers after a surge in verbal attacks by parents opposed to mask and vaccine mandates, and education on race bias, The Straits Times reports.

“In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against teachers, school administrators and other staff, Garland said in a memo to the Justice Department and FBI.

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal; they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Garland said.

“The department takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate,” he said.

Garland did not mention what was driving the spike, and said he respected “spirited debate”.

But the memo came after dozens of incidents across the country in which irate parents—who object to mandates for student masking, vaccine requirements, and teaching children about structural racism in society—have been seen threatening school boards, teachers and school principals.

Last week, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) called on President Joe Biden to intervene after a surge in threats, many of them seen on viral videos taken at community meetings.

“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” said NSBA President Viola Garcia and CEO Chip Slaven in a letter to the president.

“The National School Boards Association respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation,” they said.

They detailed numerous violent threats and physical attacks, by parents angered by COVID-19 policies and opposed to what they wrongly believe is primary and secondary schools teaching “critical race theory,” an approach to social justice studies mostly taught at the university level.

“As the threats grow and news of extremist hate organizations showing up at school board meetings is being reported, this is a critical time for a proactive approach to deal with this difficult issue,” they said.

A similar statement was issued by the School Superintendents Association (AASA) on September 22.

Research contact: @thestraitstimes

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

Biden targets ‘ghost guns’ and ‘red flag’ laws in new gun control measures

April 9, 2021

In a Rose Garden speech on March 8, President Joe Biden announced that he would introduce regulations to limit “ghost guns;” and would make it easier for people to flag family members who shouldn’t be allowed to purchase firearms with a series of executive actions taken in the wake of recent mass shootings, NBC News reported.

The actions Biden intends to take are limited—and will still likely face legal opposition from gun rights advocates, who view any efforts to limit access as a violation of the Second Amendment.

The changes come in the wake of shootings in Georgia and Colorado and focus not just on trying to limit mass shootings, but also at reducing other forms of gun violence, such as suicides and domestic violence, Biden said.

“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic and it is an international embarrassment,” Biden said in remarks he made in the Rose Garden. He was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland. A number of Democratic congressional members, gun control advocates, and local officials also attended.

Biden also announced he is nominating David Chipman, a gun control advocate, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.

The White House detailed the planned executive actions, arguing that Biden’s instructions to the Department of Justice will curb access to guns, NBC News said.

Biden directed the DOJ to write rules that will reduce the proliferation of “ghost guns,” homemade firearms often made from parts bought online and that do not have traceable serial numbers. Biden said he wants kits and parts used to make guns to be treated as firearms where the parts have serial numbers and are subject to a background check.

Biden also sought to reduce access to stabilizing braces, which can effectively turn a pistol into a more lethal rifle while not being subject to the same regulations that a rifle of similar size would be. Biden said the alleged shooter in Boulder appears to have used one of these devices.

Finally, he asked the DOJ to publish model “red flag” laws for states to use as guides. Red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement agencies to petition state courts to temporarily block people from obtaining firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. Biden said states with such red flag laws have seen a reduction in the number of suicides.

Biden directed the DOJ to issue a report on firearms trafficking, which hasn’t been done since 2000. He also will announce support for programs aimed at “reducing gun violence in urban communities through tools other than incarceration,” according to a fact sheet shared by the White House.

The new guidelines are bound to face opposition from both sides of the aisle in Congress, NBC noted.

“The idea is just bizarre to suggest some of the things we are recommending is contrary to the Constitution,” Biden said.

And he has vowed to do more. In a call with reporters Wednesday night, administration officials stressed that Thursday’s actions were just the first step and that Biden would still pursue legislative solutions to gun violence.

“This is an initial set of actions to make progress on President Biden’s gun violence reduction agenda,” one official said. “The administration will be pursuing legislative and executive actions at the same time. You will continue to hear the president call for Congress to pass legislation to reduce gun violence.”

“The job of any president is to protect the American people, whether Congress acts or not,” Biden said. “I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal to keep the American people safe from gun violence. But there’s much more that Congress can do to help that effort.”

Biden asked Congress to pass legislation already through the House to tighten background checks and reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. He also called again for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; and removed liability protections for gun makers.

Research contact: @NBCNews