U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding hasn’t made it easy for President Barack Obama to appoint a new top federal prosecutor in North Carolina’s Eastern District. The George W. Bush appointee is overseeing investigations of two prominent Democrats — former Gov. Mike Easley and John Edwards — and hasn’t shown any inclination he’ll step down.
The situation has caused Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) to take the contorted position that the White House should move ahead with a Democratic nominee and keep Holding on to finish the probes. The predictable result: No nomination has moved for the Eastern District.
With Hagan bending over backwards not to appear partisan, what about Holding? He appears less concerned with appearances. Last week, he attended the conservative Federalist Society meeting in Washington and expressed concern about the direction Obama is taking the judiciary, the National Law Journal reported.
Holding made his remarks during a question-and-answer period following a speech from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) last Thursday at the society’s National Lawyer Convention. He identified himself as a “prosecutor from North Carolina,” a C-Span video of event shows.
“I’m concerned about the changing makeup of the 4th Circuit,” said Holding, who has served as U.S. Attorney since September 2006.
President Barack Obama tapped James A. Wynn Jr. and Albert Diaz, both of North Carolina, and Barbara Milano Keenan of Virginia for judgeships in the 4th Circuit.
Sessions said he is concerned with 4th Circuit judge Andres David of Maryland, who was confirmed Nov. 9. But he said Republicans are reluctant to hold up judicial nominees.
“We’ve resisted filibusters of judges, thinking it’s not a good idea,” Sessions said.
Hagan recommended that Obama nominate one of three men: Benjamin David, district attorney for New Hanover and Pender counties; Hampton Dellinger, a partner at the Chapel Hill law firm Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson; or Thomas Walker, a partner at Charlotte law firm Alston and Bird, for the post. David on Wednesday said he has removed his name from consideration.
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We drove two hours to the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va., yesterday, hoping for a glimmer of sunlight in a long-running, largely secret court battle between the government and a cluster of Islamic organizations that came under investigation in a terrorism-financing probe after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
It was our understanding that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals hearings in Richmond were open to the public; after all, this New York Sun report described the proceedings from a related March 2008 hearing in detail.
To its credit, the panel — composed of Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Chief Judge William B. Traxler, Jr., and Judge Margaret Seymour, who is on loan from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of South Carolina – planned on hearing arguments in open court. The organizations would be identified as entity No.1, entity No. 2, etc., and counsel would use pronouns rather than individuals’ names.
So, imagine our surprise when the panel of judges abruptly announced that defense lawyers Nancy Luque and Steven Barentzen had asked to close the proceedings, citing the need to preserve grand jury secrecy.
We know, from the previous New York Sun report, that the issue before the 4th Circuit revolves at least in part around a civil contempt of court ruling against the now-defunct SAAR Foundation in Herndon, Va. The Sun reporter, Joe Goldstein, described in his report how he had to fight to keep that 2008 hearing open. But his success last year yielded the information that the SAAR Foundation had paid $500,000 to the government in connection with the contempt finding.
Founded by a Saudi banker to spread the harsh interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism, the SAAR Foundation, its officers, and a network of related Islamic organizations and businesses were at the center of the aforementioned major post-9/11 terrorism financing investigation, once dubbed Operation Green Quest, news reports have said.
That probe wielded a treasure trove of public information over the years about what government investigators believe were the operations of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States and related organizations, including Hamas. After winning several related convictions, it appears to have petered out. We’ll try to delve more into what happened to Green Quest in later reports.
But back to our story.
After taking a vote behind closed doors, the judges granted the motion from the defense attorneys. We scrawled a thoroughly inadequate objection on our legal pad and passed it to the courtroom deputy, who fed it to the judges. They took our note under advisement. When the panel reconvened, Chief Judge Traxler said the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings had won the day. We had been ejected.
There are many reasons to view the 4th Circuit’s decision to keep its proceedings secret as somewhat farcical, not the least of which is that we already know who Luque’s clients are. She’s on the public record as an attorney for Mar-Jac Poultry, a Georgia chicken-processing plant that was under investigation in the Green Quest probe. One of the Mar-Jac officers was M. Yaqub Mirza, another of Luque’s clients. Mirza was an officer of the SAAR Foundation, and a board member of a company called Ptech. An indictment unsealed in July charged Ptech officers with making false statements on a loan application to the Small Business Administration to conceal the ownership interest of a Saudi national named Yassin Qadi, designated by the U.S. government as a financier of terrorism.
We wish we could tell you what happened in Richmond on Wednesday. Maybe another day.
Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.