Posts tagged with "Department of Justice"

DOJ widens January inquiry to range of pro-Trump figures

April 1, 2022

Federal prosecutors have substantially widened their January 6 investigation to examine the possible culpability of a broad range of figures involved in former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, reports The New York Times.

The investigation now encompasses the possible involvement of other government officials in Trump’s attempts to obstruct the certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory and in the push by some Trump allies to promote slates of fake electors, they said.

Prosecutors also are asking about planning for the rallies that preceded the assault on the Capitol, including the rally on the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, just before a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.

The federal investigation initially focused largely on the rioters who had entered the Capitol—an effort that has led to more than 700 arrests. But the Justice Department appears to have moved into a new phase, seeking information about people more closely tied to Trump. This development comes amid growing political pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to move more aggressively on the case.

A grand jury sitting in Washington is investigating the rallies that preceded the storming of the Capitol, a person familiar with the matter told the Times.

One of the subpoenas, which was reviewed by The New York Times, sought information about people “classified as VIP attendees” at Trump’s January 6 rally. It also sought information about members of the executive and legislative branches who had been involved in the “planning or execution of any rally or any attempt to obstruct, influence, impede, or delay” the certification of the 2020 election.

And it asked about the effort by Trump supporters to put forward alternate slates of electors as Trump and his allies were seeking to challenge the certification of the Electoral College outcome by Congress on January 6.

Another person briefed on the grand jury investigation said at least one person involved in the logistics of the January 6 rally had been asked to appear.

In pursuing January 6 cases, prosecutors have been assembling evidence documenting how defendants have cited statements from Trump to explain why they stormed the Capitol. And prosecutors have cited in some cases a Twitter post from Trump weeks before January 6 exhorting his followers to come to Washington—a call that motivated extremist groups, in particular.

The expanded criminal inquiry is unfolding just as a separate investigation by the House select committee on the Capitol riot is gathering evidence about Trump’s efforts to hold onto power and weighing the possibility of making a criminal referral of Trump to the Justice Department.

On Monday, March 28,  a federal judge in California, in a civil case involving the House committee, concluded that Trump likely engaged in criminal conduct, including obstructing the work of Congress and conspiring to defraud the United States.

Attorney General Garland has given little public indication of whether the Justice Department would consider prosecuting Trump, saying only that the department will follow the facts wherever they lead.

The House committee’s investigators, like the federal prosecutors, also have been interested in the planning and financing of the January 6 rally on the Ellipse and key figures involved in it. Ali Alexander, a prominent figure in the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement and an organizer of the rally, has been cooperating with the House committee. Alexander marched to the Capitol from the rally with Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and Infowars host.

The House panel has also been seeking information from Amy Kremer, the chairwoman of Women for America First, which helped plan the rally.

According to the Times, the committee has also sent subpoenas seeking information to Katrina Pierson, Trump’s former national campaign spokeswoman; Kylie Jane Kremer, the daughter of Amy Kremer and the director of Women for America First; Lyndon Brentnall, the owner of a Florida-based security company who was the “on-site supervisor” for the rally; Maggie Mulvaney, a niece of the former top Trump aide Mick Mulvaney who is listed on the permit for the event; Megan Powers, an operations manager; and Tim Unes, whose company was listed as the stage manager for the gathering.

The criminal charges against rioters so far have ranged from misdemeanors to obstructing Congress in its duty to certify the Electoral College result. The Justice Department also has lodged conspiracy charges against leaders of two of the extremist groups who figured prominently in the Capitol attack, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

Research contact: @nytimes

Judge rejects plea deal between DOJ and at least one of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers

February 2, 2022

A federal judge on Monday rejected a proposed plea agreement between federal prosecutors and at least one of the men who has been convicted of the February 23, 2020, pursuit and murder of Ahmaud Arbery—a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging in Satilla Shores, a neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia.

According to a report by MSNBC, U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood rejected the plea deal after hearing remarks from members of Arbery’s family, who vehemently opposed the agreement.

Plea deals were filed in court on Sunday, January 30, on behalf of father Gregory McMichael and son Travis McMichael—both of whom were convicted of murder last November and sentenced to life without parole. Another trial—the federal trial of the McMichaels and accomplice William Bryan—is set to begin on February. 7.

The proposed plea deals defied the wishes of Arbery’s parents, who have repeatedly spoken out against the government’s pursuit of lighter sentences for their son’s killers instead of going to trial. Benjamin Crump and Lee Merritt, attorneys representing Arbery’s family, denounced the deal in a statement Sunday. 

“This proposed deal would allow the McMichaels to enter federal custody and serve the first 30 years of their sentence in a preferred federal prison,” Merritt said in a statement. “This proposed plea is a huge accommodation to the men who hunted down and murdered Ahmaud Arbery.” 

Merritt told CNN the proposed deal would allow the McMichaels to serve time in a safer, less-crowded facility than they would otherwise. In a separate video statement, he called the proposed deals “an example of the Department of Justice literally snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Jones-Cooper, said she had been “completely betrayed” by federal prosecutors.

“The DOJ has gone behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to make their time in prison easier for them to serve,” she said in a statement. “I have made it clear at every possible moment that I do not agree to offer these men a plea deal of any kind.”

Merritt said Jones-Cooper would exercise her right to be heard at two scheduled plea hearings for the killers on Monday.

Although a judge ultimately rejected at least one of the plea agreements, news that they were even offered to the McMichaels is a difficult pill to swallow for Black people accustomed to seeing white criminals and would-be criminals given preferential treatment.

Research contact: @MSNBC

Scott Perry says he will not cooperate with the January 6 panel

December 22, 2021

Representative Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania), a central figure in Donald Trump’s effort to weaponize the Justice Department in support of his false election fraud claims, is refusing to cooperate with the House’s January 6 select committee, reports Politico’s Congress Minutes.

Perry rejected an interview request from the panel on Tuesday, December 21—a day after the committee asked him to appear voluntarily.

In a statement, Perry said: “I decline this entity’s request and will continue to fight the failures of the radical Left who desperately seek distraction from their abject failures of crushing inflation, a humiliating surrender in Afghanistan, and the horrendous crisis they created at our border.”

His refusal sets up a potentially unprecedented confrontation between the committee and a fellow member of the House.

The select panel sent Perry— the recently elected chair of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus—a letter on Monday evening asking for an interview, as well as documents related to its inquiry into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and Trump’s efforts to pressure the Department of Justice to intervene in the 2020 election.

Panel Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) said in a letter to Perry that they had uncovered evidence linking the Pennsylvania Republican to the meddling at the Department of Justice as well as texts and communications—including over the encrypted app Signa —with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

The panel also said it had evidence of Perry’s communications with the White House and others involved with conspiracy theories about voting machines made by Dominion.

Despite legal challenges to the committee’s legitimacy, federal courts have repeatedly found the panel to be duly authorized and pursuing a legitimate legislative goal.

A spokesperson for the committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Research contact: @politico

Ex-U.S. attorney reportedly testifies, ‘I quit before Trump could fire me for denying election fraud claims’

August 12, 2021

During closed-door testimony on Wednesday, August  11, Byung J. Pak, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he resigned abruptly last January after being told that then-President Donald Trump was going to fire him for refusing to say there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia, a person familiar with the testimony told The New York Times.

Pak said the warning came on January 3 from top Justice Department officials who relayed that Trump wasn’t happy when Pak announced he had investigated Trump’s claims of voter fraud in Fulton County and found no evidence, the Times notes.

Rather than be publicly fired, Pak wrote a letter of resignation on January 4—stating that he did his best “to be thoughtful and consistent, and to provide justice for my fellow citizens in a fair, effective, and efficient manner,” The Week reports.

On anuary 3, audio was leaked to The Washington Post of a January 2 phone call Trump had with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), during which Trump asked Raffensperger to find the number of votes needed to overturn the state’s election results and deliver him a victory.  During the call, Trump made a reference to “your never-Trumper U.S. attorney there.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating the last weeks of the Trump presidency and pressure his administration put on the Justice Department to falsely claim the election was stolen. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters that Pak “answered all questions in a seemingly honest and candid way, and my impression is that he believes in the rule of law and that he stood up for it.”

The WeeResearch contact: @TheWeek

DOJ declines to defend Trump ally in lawsuit over January 6 insurrection

July 29, 2021

The U.S. Department of Justice declined on Tuesday, July 27, to defend a congressional ally of former President Donald Trump in a lawsuit accusing them both of inciting supporters at a rally in the hours before the January 6 storming of the Capitol, reports The New York Times.

Law enforcement officials determined that Representative Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) was acting outside the scope of his duties in an incendiary speech just before the attack, according to a court filing. Brooks had asked the department to certify that he was acting as a government employee during the rally; had it agreed to defend him, he would have been dismissed from the lawsuit and the United States substituted as a defendant.

“The record indicates that Brooks’s appearance at the January 6 rally was campaign activity, and it is no part of the business of the United States to pick sides among candidates in federal elections,” the Justice Department wrote.

The DOJ added, “Members of Congress are subject to a host of restrictions that carefully distinguish between their official functions, on the one hand, and campaign functions, on the other.”What’s more, the Justice Department’s decision shows it is likely to also decline to provide legal protection for former President Trump in the lawsuit, The New York Times said.

According to the Times, legal experts have closely watched the case because the Biden Justice Department has continued to fight for granting immunity to. Trump in a 2019 defamation lawsuit where he denied allegations that he raped the writer E. Jean Carroll and said she accused him to get attention.

Such a substitution provides broad protections for government officials and is generally reserved for government employees sued over actions that stem from their work. In the Carroll case, the department cited other defamation lawsuits as precedent.

The Brooks decision also ran counter to the Justice Department’s longstanding broad view of actions taken in the scope of a federal employee’s employment, which has served to make it harder to use the courts to hold government employees accountable for wrongdoing.

Brooks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lawyers for the House also said on Tuesday that they declined to defend Brooks in the lawsuit. Given that it “does not challenge any institutional action of the House,” a House lawyer wrote in a court filing, “it is not appropriate for it to participate in the litigation.”

The lawsuit, filed in March by Representative Eric Swalwell (D-California) accuses Mr. Brooks of inciting a riot and conspiring to prevent a person from holding office or performing official duties.

Swalwell accused Brooks, Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr,. and his onetime personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani of playing a key role in inciting the January 6. attack during a rally near the White House in the hours before the storming of the Capitol.

Citing excerpts from their speeches, Swalwell accused the men of violating federal law by conspiring to prevent an elected official from holding office or from performing official duties, arguing that their speeches led Trump’s supporters to believe they were acting on orders to attack the Capitol.

Swalwell alleged that their speeches encouraged Trump’s supporters to unlawfully force members of Congress from their chambers and destroy parts of the Capitol to keep lawmakers from performing their duties.

During the rally, Brooks told attendees that the United States was “at risk unlike it has been in decades, and perhaps centuries.” He said that their ancestors “sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives” for the country.

“Are you willing to do the same?” he asked the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”

Mr. Swalwell said defendants in his lawsuit had incited the mob and had continued to stoke false beliefs that the election was stolen.

“As a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ false and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft, and in direct response to the defendants’ express calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol,” Swalwell said in his complaint. “Many participants in the attack have since revealed that they were acting on what they believed to be former President Trump’s orders in service of their country.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Trump Justice Department secretly subpoenaed records on top Democrats, their families, and staff

June 14, 2021

After a series of damaging leaksto the media about contacts between senior White House functionaries and Russian officials during the early moments of the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice took the extraordinary step of subpoenaing data from Apple on top Democrats, their families, and their staff, in an effort to identify the source of the leaked information, The New York Times was first to report on Thursday night, June 10.

Indeed, the Times reported, at least a dozen people associated with the House Intelligence Committee had their records seized, including then–ranking member of the committee Adam Schiff and committee member Eric Swalwell

According to a report by Slate on Friday, the surveillance reportedly encompassed the subjects’ metadata, whom they were communicating with—not the content of those communications. One of the individuals whose records was subpoenaed was a minor, presumably a family member of one of the targets, because the DOJ suspected officials might be using their children’s computer to leak to avoid detection.

The surveillance was not made known to the targets until last month, due to a gag order on Apple that recently expired.

Other administrations, including the Obama Administration, have aggressively hunted leakers—but, Slate notes, the latest revelations show how far and beyond the Trump administration was willing to go, essentially from the start of the Trump presidency.

The records seized were reportedly from 2017 and early 2018, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions bore the brunt of Trump’s rage about all things Russia. Leaked contacts between Michael Flynn and then–Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak led to Flynn’s ouster and ultimately federal charges.

The leaked information was explosive: It showed the continuation of curious contact between Trump World and Russia; it also revealed that the FBI had used a court-authorized secret wiretap on Kislyak that ensnared the future national security adviser.

“Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry,” the Times notes. “But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. … Barr directed prosecutors to continue investigating, contending that the Justice Department’s National Security Division had allowed the cases to languish, according to three people briefed on the cases.” The moves smacked of political targeting to some in the Justice Department.

The secret targeting of sitting members of Congress by the opposite party—particularly, those leading an investigation related to the White House, is an extraordinary step that requires truly extraordinary evidence, Slate says. Adding that,so far reports indicate no evidence was found linking the targets to the actual leaks.

What was found was that the Trump Administration had an ulterior motive: snooping on its political enemies.

These disturbing revelations come on the heels of news that the Trump DOJ carried out similar, secret surveillance of journalists covering the White House for a host of major news organizations—raising serious questions about the appropriateness of the Trump administration’s use of its surveillance powers in what Slate characterized as “a broad and dangerous overreach.”

Research contact: @Slate

Don McGahn agrees to testify about events described in Mueller report

May 14, 2021

On May 12, the Department of Justice and House Judiciary Committee reached an agreement that will allow former Trump White House Counsel Don McGahn to offer testimony about events described in special counsel Robert Mueller’s 2019 Russia investigation communiqué, The Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the Journal, Wednesday’s agreement, detailed in a court filing to the Washington, D.C., federal appeals court, “sidesteps a messy legal fight that could have reshaped relations between the Executive Branch and Congress.”

Democrats who run the Judiciary Committee have sought. McGahn’s testimony for two years as part of an inquiry into potential obstruction of justice by former President Donald Trump during  Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The agreement, which comes months after the Biden administration assumed control of the Justice Department, limits McGahn’s testimony to a closed-door transcribed interview with the committee to be scheduled as soon as possible. He will be permitted to testify about matters referenced in the public portion of Mueller’s report. A transcript may be released publicly, according to the agreement.

Neither McGahn, nor an attorney representing him, has responded to a request for comment. The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The deal showcases the limits of the federal courts to enforce congressional claims against executive-branch officials. The committee initially sought McGahn’s testimony through a subpoena in April 2019.

Democrats’ effort to compel him to testify prevailed in a lower court, but the Justice Department, representing McGahn, appealed the decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struggled to reach a definitive conclusion, hearing and rehearing the case several times. The matter was set for another hearing in front of the full D.C. circuit later this month and might have landed in the Supreme Court had no agreement been reached.

The agreement for McGahn’s testimony makes the case moot, leaving unresolved the legal issue of whether the House may subpoena a close White House aide.

“The law requires that when there is a dispute in court between the legislative and executive branches, the two must work in good faith to find a compromise—and I am pleased that we have reached an arrangement that satisfies our subpoena, protects the Committee’s constitutional duty to conduct oversight in the future, and safeguards sensitive executive-branch prerogatives,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat.

The case was sparked by a dispute between the House panel and the Trump White House, the Journal notes. Although McGahn already had left government service at the time of the subpoena, White House attorneys refused to allow his appearance, asserting that as a close aide of the president he had absolute immunity against being compelled to testify—a legal theory never before tested in court.

At the time, Democrats said they needed McGahn’s testimony to investigate allegations that Mr. Trump had obstructed justice by repeatedly attempting to shut down the Mueller probe. Trump has long denied obstruction and customarily called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Schumer urges Republicans not to block anti-Asian hate crimes measure

April 14, 2021

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said Tuesday that he plans to bring a bill targeting anti-Asian hate crimes to the floor this week—and urged Republicans not to block it, NBC News reports.

“Combating hate in the Asian American community can and should be bipartisan,” Schumer said at a press conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Asian American lawmakers.

According to NBC, Schumer noted he needs 60 senators to vote to proceed to the legislation—which means that, even if all 50 Democratic members were to vote in favor of taking up the bill, they would still need support from 10 Republicans.

“I hope it’ll be many more than 60. Who would oppose this very simple, but necessary legislation?” Schumer asked.

The legislation, which Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) introduced in March, would direct the Department of Justice to expedite the review of COVID-19-related hate crimes reported to law enforcement agencies and help them establish ways to report such incidents online and perform public outreach.

The bill also would direct the attorney general and the Department of Health and Human Services to issue best-practices guidance on how to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID–19 pandemic.

If the bill advances to debate, Schumer said he intends to hold a vote on a bipartisan amendment from Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), stemming from their own anti-hate crime proposal. Their bill would streamline the national reporting systems used by law enforcement agencies and train them in investigating hate crimes. It would also create a hate crimes hotline, establish programs to rehabilitate offenders, and expand assistance and resources for victims.

Pelosi, meanwhile, said a similar measure proposed by Representative Grace Meng (D-New York) will be marked up in committee in the House in the next week and will get passed immediately on the floor.

Research contact: @NBCNews

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

 

Judge appoints ‘hard-charging former prosecutor and judge’ to take on DOJ in Flynn case

May 15, 2020

Not so fast: Although the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Bill Barr, dropped charges against Michael Flynn on May 7, Judge Emmet Sullivan—the federal adjudicator on the case—refused to simply fall in line.

After reassessing the evidence and arguments against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Judge Sullivan appointed “a hard-charging former prosecutor and judge”on Wednesday, May 13, to oppose the DOJ’s effort to drop the case and to explore a perjury charge against Flynn, The New York Times reported.

The Times noted that the appointment of retired judge, John Gleeson, was an “extraordinary move in a case with acute political overtones.” Flynn had pleaded guilty twice to lying to investigators as part of a larger inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Flynn later began fighting the charge and sought to withdraw his guilty plea. Then last week, the Justice Department abruptly moved to drop the charge after a long campaign by President Trump and his supporters, prompting accusations that Attorney General Bill Barr had undermined the rule of law and further politicized the department.

Judge Sullivan also asked Judge Gleeson to explore the possibility that by trying to withdraw his pleas, Flynn opened himself to perjury charges.

The Justice Department declined to comment, when contacted by the Times. Judge Gleeson did not respond to a request for comment. Judge Sullivan had said on Tuesday that he would consider briefs from outsiders known as amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” who opposed the government’s request to dismiss the case against Flynn.

While judges do sometimes appoint such third parties to represent an interest they feel is not being heard in a case, Judge Sullivan’s move was highly unusual, Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches criminal law at Duke University, told the Times.

Judge Sullivan, he said, is essentially bringing in an outsider to represent the point of view of the original prosecutors, who believed Flynn had committed a crime before Barr intervened and essentially replaced them with a prosecutor willing to say he had not.

“This is extraordinary for the judge to appoint somebody to argue against a prosecutors’ motion to dismiss a criminal case,” Buell told the news outlet. “But it’s extraordinary for a prosecutor to move to dismiss this sort of criminal case.”

Research contact: @nytimes