Bickering between Republicans and Democrats over how to pay for the Cobell settlement means Congress has shot past Friday’s deadline to approve a settlement in the long-running case involving discrimination against American Indians. Meanwhile, Cobell’s lawyers are debating their next step, reported The National Law Journal.
On Thursday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) argued that the settlement in the Indian case needs work and proposed an alternative, according to the Associated Press. The Cobell legislation had been tied to a separate settlement for black farmers.
The stall in the Senate meant Congress did not meet the Aug. 6 deadline for the Cobell legislation to be passed, and since the chamber is entering August recess, it will not take further action until at least mid-September.
Dennis Gingold, a solo practitioner representing the plaintiffs, told the paper that Obama administration officials should lobby Congress harder. “Why bother doing something that is this much of a landmark if you’re not willing to do what it takes to get it done?” Gingold said.
The Aug. 6 deadline was the sixth set by lawyers for Cobell and those from the Justice Department representing the government. A conference is scheduled to be held in the chambers of U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan on Aug. 17.
A Justice Department spokesman had no immediate comment.
The settlement, named for Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the suit, was filed in 1996 on behalf of more than 300,000 American Indians.
Last December, the government and plaintiffs reached a $1.4 billion deal to settle the case, Cobell v. Salazar. However, the settlement requires congressional approval, and the original deadline, set for Dec. 31, 2009, has been extended six times.
An increasing number of individuals have been captivated by extremist ideology, Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference Thursday announcing charges against 14 individuals for supporting a terrorist group operating in Somalia.
But those in the American Muslim community are strong partners in fighting the threat, Holder said, and there needs to be more recognition of their efforts.
“It’s a disturbing trend that we have been intensely investigating in recent years and will continue to investigate and root out,” Holder said. “But we must also work to prevent this type of radicalization from ever taking hold.”
The Justice Department announced the charges against 14 individuals in Minnesota, California and Alabama at the mid-day news conference Thursday. The defendants are charged with providing material support for the terrorist group al-Shabab, which is based in Somalia and has ties to al-Qaeda. Just two of those charged have been arrested as of Thursday.
Of the 14 individuals charged, 26-year-old Alabama native Omar Hamammi is the most well-known. He has appeared in videos for al-Shabab, including at least two which show him rapping in English, according to NBC.
Hamammi has taken on an operational role within the organization, Holder said. He declined to elaborate.
With the latest indictments, the Justice Department has charged 40 U.S. citizens with category 1 international terrorism violations — the most serious charges such as the use of weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to murder persons overseas or providing material support for terrorism — in 2009 and 2010. That number does not include any foreign citizens, permanent U.S. residents or visa holders.
Holder was joined at the news conference by Sean Joyce, the Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch; Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris; U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota B. Todd Jones; U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Kenyen R. Brown; and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Laura E. Duffy.
“Members of the American Muslim community have been – and continue to be – strong partners in fighting this emerging threat. They have regularly denounced terrorist acts and those who carry them out. And they have provided critical assistance to law enforcement in helping to disrupt terrorist plots and combat radicalization,” Holder said.
Holder said individuals in the American Muslim community have consistently expressed deep concern about the recruitment of their youth by terrorist groups. The community has taken proactive steps to stop the recruitment, Holder said, such as a video made by a group of American Muslims that repudiates the tactics used by radical terrorists to recruit young followers online.
That video was produced by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which has taken on a prominent liaison role at the Justice Department and the FBI. At a speech in June, Holder said he found it “intolerable” that Arab and Muslim Americans feel uncomfortable about their relationship with law enforcement.
“There needs to be more recognition of these efforts and of the losses suffered in the Muslim community here and around the world,” Holder said Thursday. “Many of the victims of terror attacks by al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups are innocent Muslims.”
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A sense of complacency about potential terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction has developed in the federal government following the Sept. 11 attacks, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine told members of Congress Wednesday.
An Inspector General’s report issued last month found that most DOJ agencies were unprepared to respond to a WMD attack and only the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken appropriate steps to prepare for a potential attack. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had been in charge of coordinating the department’s response, but many other parts of DOJ were not even aware that ATF was supposed to lead the effort.
“Our report identified significant deficiencies in the department’s preparations to respond to a WMD attack,” Fine told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. “These deficiencies could have disastrous consequences because the use of a weapon of mass destruction poses a serious potential threat to the United States.”
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D- Md.), who chaired the hearing, called the findings for the Inspector General’s report disturbing.
“We know that terrorists are training every day to launch another attack in the United States, and [the] first line of defense must be to disrupt and prevent a successful terrorist attack,” Cardin said. “But we also have to make sure we are ready and prepared [for] a terrorist attack at home, whether it is from a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapon.”
Cardin said he was concerned that the ATF — the lead agency on DOJ’s WMD response — had made so little progress in preparing for an attack. The hearing came the same day at a new name emerged as a possible candidate to take over ATF.
“There’s a lot of things going on in the Department of Justice,” said Cardin. “But I really want to focus in on how we’re going to implement this.”
Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) — the only other senator to attend the hearing — said the depth of the department’s commitment to the issue was “highly questionable.”
Fine said he believes the Justice Department is taking the report’s findings seriously and taking steps to remedy the deficiencies.
Associate Deputy Attorney General James A. Baker, who also testified Wednesday, called Fine “dogged”and said he expects the Inspector General’s office will hold DOJ’s feet to the fire.
Baker said Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler and others in DOJ leadership were not happy to read the results of the report and had prioritized the issue.
“The Acting Deputy Attorney General has been clear: The crush of other business is no excuse. The Department must review and resolve the issues identified by the Inspector General,” Baker testified.
Grindler established the Emergency Preparedness Committee, which Baker chairs. That committee, said Baker, has been meeting all summer and will issue a final report by Oct. 10.
Attorney General Eric Holder said shortly after the report was issued that the Justice Department would deal with the issue “very quickly.”
Responsibility for the government’s WMD response is dispersed among too many agencies, said Randall J. Larsen, chief executive officer of the WMD Center, a non-profit research organization he founded with former Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fl.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.).
He noted that more than two dozen officials had a piece of the WMD puzzle. Larsen suggested that the Vice President should be designated as the point person for coordinating the government’s response.
“There’s no head coach,” Larsen said. “Nobody is in charge.”
The Justice Department is proposing new regulations aimed at cracking down on the diversion of legal tobacco products onto the illegal market. The new regulations would expand a cigarette trafficking law, the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act, to cover smokeless tobacco, set up new reporting requirements and lower the minimum number of cigarettes required for a shipment to constitute illegal smuggling.
Organized crime and international terrorist groups including Hezbollah and al-Qaeda have links to illegal tobacco trafficking, according to investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other law enforcement agencies.
ATF would have an expanded mandate under the new rules, which were proposed in the Federal Register last week. The proposed rules would impose new reporting requirements on companies that have delivery sales of more than 10,000 cigarettes.
They also would make it a crime for any person knowingly to ship, transport, receive, possess, sell, distribute, or purchase in excess of 10,000 cigarettes without paying state taxes. The previous definition of contraband cigarettes applied to purchases of more than 60,000 cigarettes.
The regulations would extend the law to apply to contraband smokeless tobacco, defined as any quantity above 500 single-unit consumer-sized cans or packages. Smokeless tobacco seized under the law could be either used in law enforcement operations or destroyed under the new guidelines.
The regulations would allow state and local governments or anyone with a federal tobacco permit to a bring civil lawsuit against companies and distributors who violate the law.
According to the Justice Department, billions of dollars in tax revenue are lost each year because of illegal tobacco trafficking. Since the enactment of the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act in 1978, cigarette smuggling has grown in complexity. Smugglers are not only crossing state borders, but international borders as well, ATF said.
Garland called his decision to return to private practice “bittersweet,” but said it was difficult to maintain the pace of his Justice Department job with his three young children.
“In this job, the schedule is so crisis driven, so emergency driven, you don’t have the ability in a real practical sense to plan your life, to plan your day,” Garland told the NLJ. “The pace of this job is like nothing I’ve ever known. It’s not sustainable for the long run with a family. The person who gets that most of all is the attorney general. He was supportive of my decision.”
Holder praised Garland’s work, pointing to his efforts on financial fraud, antitrust and intellectual property law.
Garland has been “instrumental in helping to reinvigorate the department’s core missions and re-establish its reputation for independence,” Holder said. “I’m grateful for his wise counsel, as well as his friendship, his sense of humor, and his tremendous respect for the work he’s helped to advance. Jim has served the Department of Justice—and his country—well, and we will truly miss him.”
In an interview with the newspaper last week, Garland described his time at the Justice Department as “an incredible life experience.”
Garland was born in Columbus, Ohio and graduated from Columbus Academy before heading to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. After graduation, he took a job with Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). After two years, Garland enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law.
He worked as a summer associate at Covington during law school and later clerked for Appeals Judge R. Guy Cole of the 6th Circuit. When he returned to Covington in 2001, Garland worked as a litigator on commercial cases, antitrust issues and white-collar criminal defense, often working directly with Holder, then a partner at Covington.
Because his job did not require Senate confirmation, Garland was part of the so-called “Day One Group” at the Justice Department, according to WhoRunsGov.com. After President Barack Obama took his oath of office, Garland and a handful of other political appointees also took their oaths and started work.
At the Justice Department, Garland handled antitrust issues, state and local law enforcement, and all criminal matters not related to national security. He served as the Attorney General’s point man for the department response to the economic crisis and advised Holder about when the federal government should seek the death penalty.
Garland is not the first top Holder aide to announce his departure; national security adviser Amy Jeffress is also leaving her position to become the Justice Department’s attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London.
Read the full interview with The National Law Journal here.
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A federal judge on Monday allowed a lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s health care reform law brought by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to move forward, declining the Justice Department’s request to dismiss the case.
In a 32-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson refused to throw out the state’s lawsuit, reported Reuters. Cuccinelli had argued that the requirement that residents have health insurance was unconstitutional.
Hudson noted that his ruling was only an initial step, but said that the question raised in the lawsuit – whether it was constitutional to force citizens to buy something – had not been fully tested in court.
“The congressional enactment under review — the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision — literally forges new ground and extends (the U.S. Constitution’s) Commerce Clause powers beyond its current high watermark,” Hudson said, according to Reuters.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement to Main Justice that the ruling was “merely a procedural decision by the court” to allow the case to move forward.
“We believe there is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. We are confident that the health care reform statute is constitutional and that we will ultimately prevail,” Schmaler said.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said the law was unconstitutional and congratulated Cuccinelli on the ruling, reported the Washington Post.
“The requirement that all Americans must purchase health insurance or face a penalty is not permitted under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution,” McDonnell said in a statement. “It would also violate Virginia’s Health Care Freedom Act, which was passed by a bipartisan majority of the Commonwealth’s democratically elected representatives and I signed into law this spring.”
If White House staff members were worried, they weren’t showing it.
“This is nothing new,” wrote Stephanie Cutter, reacting to the judge’s ruling on the White House blog. “We saw this with the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act – constitutional challenges were brought to all three of these monumental pieces of legislation, and all of those challenges failed. So too will the challenge to health reform.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius agreed with the Justice Department that the ruling was simply formality.
“We remain confident that the case is solid,” Sebelius told reporters during a conference call, reported Reuters. “This is just a step to move us to the debate on the merits of the case.”
Cuccinelli’s suit was filed shortly after Obama signed the legislation into law in March.
The Justice Department on Monday issued the National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, which officials said provided the first-ever comprehensive threat assessment of the dangers facing children from child pornography, online enticement, child sex tourism, commercial sexual exploitation and sexual exploitation in Indian Country.
Attorney General Eric Holder, announcing the plan on Monday, also said the U.S. Marshals Service would be launching a nationwide operation targeting the top 500 most dangerous non-compliant sex offenders in the country.
The 280-page document outlines a blueprint to strengthen the fight against child exploitation, said DOJ. It concludes that cooperation and coordination “at all levels of government” will lead to better results.
The Department of Justice has filed 8,464 Project Safe Childhood cases against 8,637 defendants, according to the report. While the report touts the progress that has been made, it says the Department recognizes that more work must be done.
U.S. Attorneys offices have allocated 38 additional Assistant U.S. Attorney positions to devote to child exploitation cases, according to the report. The Justice Department is working to fill the positions and provide additional training to those prosecutors. Under the plan, the U.S. Marshals Service will set up a “fully operational” National Sex Offender Targeting Center to better track and apprehend fugitive sex offenders.
To help with public outreach, DOJ is re-launching ProjectSafeChildhood.gov. Project Safe Childhood is an initiative launched in 2006 that aims to combat the proliferation of crimes that use modern technology to sexually exploit children.
The report is embedded below.