Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will hold hearings this month on possible changes to the filibuster rule to address what Democrats deem as Republican obstruction.
Democratic leaders have complained since last year that Republicans have made it difficult for the Senate to consider bills and nominations — including some for Justice Department positions – in a timely fashion. The Democrats said they had to file for cloture to end debate on several nominations and bills because Republicans rebuffed time agreements on debate.
If there isn’t a time agreement, the Senate must vote to end debate, a procedure known as invoking cloture, which requires 60 votes in order to move to a nomination or legislation. The cloture process is time-consuming and in some cases takes several days. In addition, Democrats do not currently have a filibuster-proof majority, as there are only 59 members in their caucus after Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown was elected in January.
“[Filibuster reform] is something we are very serious about,” Schumer said Wednesday at a summit for progressive reporters, according to Talking Points Memo.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the reporters Wednesday that the spitball in baseball, like the filibuster, did not receive many complaints but “the ball got wetter and wetter,” according to TPM. He said filibuster rules will probably have to change.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a proponent of filibuster reform, drafted a proposal in January to change filibuster rules. Any changes to Senate rules must pass the body by a two-thirds vote.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has pointed to stalled several DOJ nominees, including Dawn Johnsen for the Office of Legal Counsel, Mary L. Smith for the Tax Division and Christopher Schroeder for the Office of Legal Policy, as examples of Republican obstruction.
The nominees waited several months for votes in the Senate last year before they were returned to the White House in December. The three were re-nominated in January and are again awaiting votes on the Senate floor.
Republicans maintain they are not blocking nominations and that the Senate Democratic leadership could bring nominees up for votes at any time.
Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., introduced legislation Tuesday that would make it a federal crime to intimidate or threaten witnesses in state court proceedings, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The legislation would give state witnesses the same legal protections that federal witnesses have.
“It is a violation of state law to intimidate a witness, but making it a federal offense imports a great deal more pressure, more power to the situation,” Specter said in a floor statement Tuesday. Here is Specter’s news release about the bill.
According to Specter, the State Witness Protection Act of 2010 is in response to a Philadelphia Inquirer series that found witness fear to be a factor in virtually every violent-crime prosecution in Philadelphia. The legislation would help protect the integrity of the judicial process, Specter said.
“Unless witnesses can be assured they will be protected, the problem of witness intimidation cannot be expected to go away,” he said.
The bill would allow the FBI and federal prosecutors to investigate and bring charges against people who intimidate witnesses in local court cases and would set tough new penalties for those crimes.
It would impose maximum penalties of up to 20 years for intimidating or harming a witness, up to 30 years for the attempted murder of a witness, and the possibility of the death penalty for the murder of a witness, according to the Inquirer.
According to The Inquirer, Specter’s effort was supported by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Barbara Clowden, whose 17-year-old son was killed two days before he was to testify as a witness in an arson trial in 2006. Clowden was profiled in the Inquirer series.
The Inquirer stories documented conviction rates that are among the lowest in the nation and described how thousands of cases collapse after terrified witnesses fail to appear in court.
The legislation is cosponsored by three other Senate Judiciary Committee members: Ted Kaufman, D-Del., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Posted in News | 1 Comment »
New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer is urging President Obama to nominate a key prosecutor in the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office for a seat on a federal appeals court, the senator’s office announced this week.
Schumer is recommending Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond Lohier for the judgeship on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. The vacancy was created by the elevation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
Lohier is the chief of the securities and commodities fraud task force in the criminal division for the U.S. Attorney’s office. He has also served as deputy chief and chief of the office’s narcotics unit and deputy chief of the securities and commodities fraud task force during his 10 years at the office.
“Raymond J. Lohier has had a long and distinguished career in public service serving the people of Brooklyn and all of New York,” Schumer said in a statement. “His outstanding leadership skills, his intellect, his commitment to justice, his deep connections to Brooklyn, and his extensive experience make him an exceptional choice for a position on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.”
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the story first here.
Posted in News | Comments Off
Allan Lengel, over at ticklethewire.com, brought to our attention this news release from the office of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Yesterday, Schumer announced he is recommending former federal prosecutor Daniel Alter for a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Alter, who was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District, “is a history-making pick, as he is the first openly gay male nominated for the federal court in American history,” Schumer’s release said. (According to our friends over at Above the Law, Judge Deborah Batts, also of New York’s Southern District, is the only openly lesbian federal judge.)
Alter (Columbia, Yale Law) spent six years as an AUSA, specializing in First Amendment matters. He is also an expert on terrorism and national security, having worked on al-Qaeda cases and on the prosecution team for the African embassy bombing trials, the release said.
Here’s what Schumer had to say about Alter:
His outstanding leadership skills, his commitment to justice, and his extensive experience make him an exceptional choice for a position on the federal bench. I’m proud to nominate Daniel Alter. Period. But I am equally proud to nominate him because he is a history-maker who will be the first openly gay male judge in American history.
It should be noted that President Obama nominated an openly lesbian magistrate judge — Marisa Demeo – for a spot on the D.C. Superior Court. (Judges on the District’s local bench are nominated by the president and require Senate confirmation.)
The National Law Journal’s David Ingram reported here [registration required] that Demeo’s nomination has dragged on eight months — longer than any of Obama’s other judicial picks, including his most controversial nominees for federal appellate courts.
Typically, Superior Court nominations chug through the Senate, but Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told Ingram that he is holding up Demeo’s nomination in his role as chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, a caucus of conservative senators.
“A number of Republicans had concerns and asked me, as chairman of Steering, to ask for limited debate and a recorded vote because of a history of very leftist activism,” he said.
DeMint declined to discuss specific criticisms when pressed by Ingram.
“There are just a number of things that don’t look like a fair and balanced approach that you’d like in a judge,” he said.
Posted in News | 1 Comment »
The Justice Department is now “scrambling” to assess sites outside Manhattan for a civilian trial of accused 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged al-Qaeda terrorists, the New York Times reported late Thursday night, in an update to a previous version of the article that said a “chorus” of opposition had arisen.
The updated New York Times story suggested the administration’s response to the trial location issue was evolving quickly on Thursday, and that the Justice Department may have been caught off guard by the strength of the opposition to a Manhattan trial.
Earlier Thursday evening, the New York Daily News reported that the White House had “ordered” the Justice Department to evaluate other locations for a trial, while Fox News reported that the White House “has begun discussing alternate locations with the Justice Department.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s opposition to trying five alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in federal court in Manhattan has ballooned into a major political problem for the Obama administration. It lent momentum to moving the trial out of the city.
According to the New York Times, “the apparent collapse of what had seemed since November to be a settled decision to hold the trial in lower Manhattan” became clear when New York’s senior senator, Democrat Charles Schumer, said Thursday he was encouraging the Obama administration “to find suitable alternatives.” New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat, added she was “open to alternative locations,” the newspaper said. And New York’s Democratic governor, David Patterson, reiterated his opposition to the trial location.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported Thursday night that the White House had “ordered” the Justice Department to evaluate other locations for a trial, though it cited no source for the information. Fox News reported that the White House “has begun discussing alternate locations with the Justice Department.”
Department spokesman Dean Boyd told The New York Times that no decision has been reached on moving the trial.
The growing uproar over the trials is a political setback for Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced his decision in November to try the accused 9/11 plotters in New York, including the self-confessed 9/11 “mastermind,” Mohammed. The alleged terrorists had been held at the military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which the administration has been trying to shutter.
Holder has also come under criticism by conservatives for the decision to charge alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab criminally rather than hold him as a military detainee for questioning by intelligence experts. Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) decried that decision Wednesday evening in giving the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.
Opposition to a civilian trial for KSM, as Mohammed is known in government circles, cropped up immediately after Holder announced his decision in November. Within hours, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served under George W. Bush, slammed the decision in a speech before a meeting of the Federalist Society in Washington.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other conservatives piled on, arguing that military tribunals are a more proper setting to weigh charges against the alleged 9/11 plotters.
But what brought the controversy to a boil were remarks on Wednesday by Bloomberg, who had previously supported the trial in federal court, blocks in lower Manhattan from the site where the World Trade Center towers were brought down in 2001 after al-Qaeda operative crashed hijacked commercial airliners into the buildings.
Bloomberg, a Republican, objected to the security costs, estimated to be $200 million a year for a Manhattan trial. “It would be great if the federal government could find a site that didn’t cost a billion dollars, which using downtown will,” he told reporters Wednesday, according to The New York Times. On Thursday Bloomberg stepped back a little from his earlier comments. “[W]ould I prefer that they did it elsewhere? Yes, but if we are called on, we will do what we’re supposed to do,” he said, according to the Times.
According to the Daily News, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly catalyzed opposition among Manhattan business leaders, who then leaned on Bloomberg to reverse his position. Kelley gave a speech arguing the trial would be too disruptive and costly at a Jan. 13 policy charity event, the tabloid reported.
“What turned this around was when Ray made a presentation to the Police Foundation,” the Daily New quoted an unnamed source. “Everyone went from thinking, ‘Justice will be served’ to thinking ‘We are screwed.’”
In Congress, New York Republican Rep. Peter King (R) introduced a bill Wednesday to cut off financing for civilian trials of accused 9/11 terrorists, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) said he would introduce companion legislation in the Senate next week.
Posted in News | 1 Comment »
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have estimated the cost of security operations for the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other terrorism suspects connected to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, at more than $200 million.
In a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, released by the office of the mayor on Wednesday, Bloomberg seeks federal reimbursement for the full costs of providing security for the trials, reports The New York Times.
In the letter, the mayor said the cost for security operations would be $216 million for the first year and $206 million per year in subsequent years. Much of the expense — about $200 million each year — would be for personnel, the mayor wrote.
The rest of the money would be directed to equipment-related expenses of $12.5 million in the first year and $2.5 million in any subsequent years.
Although the mayor stressed that the city needed the “federal government to shoulder the significant costs we will incur and ease this burden,” he did not argue that the trials should not be held in New York.
Mr. Bloomberg also sought to cast the cost estimate in a realistic light, comparing it with the $50 million spent on security for the Republican National Convention in 2004.
The letter was also sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Earlier this week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced he would request that the Obama administration agree to cover the costs of the trial by including a separate line in its upcoming fiscal year 2011 budget. His press release is reprinted below:
SCHUMER TO OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: FEDS MUST COVER ENTIRE SECURITY COSTS OF NYC TERROR TRIALS – NEED TO PUT SEPARATE LINE IN THIS YEARS BUDGET NOW TO SECURE FUNDING
Federal Terror Trials Set to Begin As Early As This Year Will Require Massive Security Mobilization – Costs to NYPD Could be in the Hundreds of Millions
Senator to Request Obama Administration Include Separate, Ironclad Line in Upcoming Budget
Without Separate Budget Line, Funding Could Well Come Out of Existing Terror Programs, Would “Rob Peter to Pay Paul”
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer will request that the Obama Administration include a separate line in its upcoming Fiscal Year 2011 budget, now being drawn up and set to be released next month, that devotes federal funding to cover the full costs to the NYPD and other local law enforcement of providing security for the upcoming terror trials. The trials, which could begin as early as this year, will require a massive security mobilization and though the FBI and U.S. Marshal service will be the lead the security effort, the supporting role provided by the NYPD could cost the department and the city hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The bottom line is these are federal terror cases that will bring to justice, in federal court, the evil men behind the attack on our nation on 9-11. It‘s common sense that the federal government pay for security costs because these trials will place a significant burden on the NYPD and the city to keep lower Manhattan safe and secure.”
Schumer spoke personally with Budget Director Peter Orszag and Attorney General Holder asking that the Administration include a separate line item dedicating funding to cover the full costs of security to the city, the NYPD, and other local law enforcement. Schumer said a separate line will help ensure that no funding has to be diverted away from other key programs the city relies on.
The U.S. marshals will handle security for the courthouse with the FBI and the NYPD charged with protecting the public and the surrounding area. Security will include 24-hour fixed canine posts and a counterassault team, along with the NYPD’s heavily armed Hercules teams to lock down and sweep the area before suspects are moved from the federal lockup to the courtroom.
Posted in News | Comments Off
Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats decided today not to move a media shield bill directly on the Senate calendar, skipping the normal step of a committee markup, despite growing Democratic frustration over the legislation’s lack of progress in the committee.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a sponsor of the legislation that would make it harder for courts to order reporters to divulge their sources, initially asked that the bill be taken off the committee’s agenda and moved to the floor calendar. But, after discussion, he withdrew the request, saying he would be willing to meet with panel Republicans before the next committee business meeting to discuss GOP concerns about the bill, which has languished in committee since April.
“I haven’t seen a bill like this that has been around so long,” Schumer said at Thursday’s meeting.
Republicans have been skeptical of the legislation’s effect on national security. A substitute amendment adopted during the last committee meeting that addressed some of those issues failed to ease GOP concerns about the bill.
Panel Republicans said they plan to offer more than 20 amendments to the bill, irking Democrats who want to move the bill out of committee before Christmas.
“The fact of the matter is I think it’s not unusual for this committee to work through amendments,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who once chaired the panel.
The committee did take some action on the bill Thursday. Lawmakers adopted, by unanimous consent, an amendment offered by Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona. The amendment would require the Justice Department’s Inspector General to audit the use of the legislation from the time of bill’s enactment to the end of 2012.
But the panel held over a Republican amendment offered by Hatch. The amendment would not prevent courts from obtaining information from journalists who are reporting on cases that involve sex offenses or threats of those crimes.
The work on the journalist shield bill came in the same session that the panel approved two nominations for Justice Department posts and two U.S. Attorneys.
Death Benefits for First Responders. The committee also gave its voice-vote approval legislation that would authorize the use $5 million from the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund to finance death benefits for volunteer and nonprofit first responders and ambulance crew members. The forfeiture fund helps finance state and local law enforcement activities with proceeds from the sale of forfeited assets.
Posted in News | Comments Off
If you’re wondering what went into Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to prosecute Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his alleged confederates in federal court, and why he settled on the Southern District of New York, The Washington Post’s Carrie Johnson has some answers.
Top prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., and Manhattan twice made their pitch to Holder in the command center in department headquarters. Holder favored New York for security reasons. According to Johnson:
In the end, the biggest factor that influenced Holder’s decision-making, according to senior Justice Department officials, turned out to be a confidential security study prepared by the U.S. Marshals Service. That agency operates behind the scenes to protect courthouses, judges and witnesses in scores of facilities across the country. The marshals concluded that the Southern District of New York — with its hardened courthouse, secure Metropolitan Correctional Center and underground transportation tunnels through which to bring defendants to and from court each day — was, hands down, the safest option.
The politics were easier, too. In New York, Holder enjoyed the support of New York Gov. David A. Paterson (D), New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, as well as Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). But in Virginia, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) and Sen. James Webb (D) have opposed bringing detainees to U.S. soil.
When the decision was made, Holder called Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney in Alexandria, and Preet Bharara, the top prosecutor in the Southern District. MacBride pledged his support without complaint, Johnson reported.
Prosecutors from EDVA will head to New York to present evidence to a grand jury and help try the case. Holder’s national security adviser, Amy Jeffress, will decide the final composition of the trial team.
Posted in News | 2 Comments »
Attorneys General rarely venture out of Washington to attend swearing-in ceremonies for new U.S. Attorneys, according to former Justice Department officials. But Eric Holder has done so three times — deploying the power of his office to anoint rising stars or draw subtle contrasts with the Bush administration.
So far this year, Holder has attended the ceremonial investitures for U.S. Attorneys Joyce Vance in the Northern District of Alabama, B. Todd Jones in Minnesota and Preet Bharara in the Southern District of New York. Both Vance and Jones run offices that were in turmoil during the Bush administration, and Holder — who has said he wants to restore professionalism to the Justice Department — emphasized the department’s new direction by attending the ceremonies.
At the same time, Jones is also an old friend of Holder, while Vance is a respected veteran who is considered an up-and-comer in the department.
And in Manhattan, Bharara heads the largest and most prestigious U.S. Attorney office outside Washington, which prosecutes high-profile financial fraud and national security cases. Bharara is also close to an important Democratic ally on the Hill, Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Bharara was Schumer’s chief counsel before he was confirmed as U.S. Attorney.
Holder’s visits show his willingness to deploy the authority of his office for public relations purposes and to build internal morale. But it remains fairly unusual for an Attorney General to attend swearing-in ceremonies, according to ex-U.S. Attorneys.
The Justice Department doesn’t keep formal count, according to a DOJ spokesperson. It’s unclear how many — if any — ceremonies President George W. Bush’s first AG John Ashcroft attended. Ashcroft told Main Justice in that he couldn’t recall. Also, many of the federal prosecutors who were sworn in under Ashcroft arrived not long after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — not a time for pomp and circumstance. Still, Bush’s first AG commended Holder for attending investitures.
“The more you attend, the better,” Ashcroft said, adding that during his four years of service, he eventually visited about half of the U.S. Attorneys offices.
Ron Woods, National Association of Former U.S. Attorneys executive director, told Main Justice that Attorneys General have attended investitures for the District of Columbia U.S. Attorney in the past. But he said their appearances at swearing-in ceremonies outside of Washington are “fairly rare.”
“Our members recall the Attorney General making office visits during their term, but not individual investitures,” said Woods, who served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas from 1990 to 1993. “Keep in mind that there are 93 U. S. Attorneys and most of the investitures will occur within a few months of each other. That would be a significant commitment of time and travel by the Attorney General.”
Holder developed close relationships with the federal prosecutorial community while serving President Bill Clinton as District of Columbia U.S. Attorney and later as Deputy Attorney General, former prosecutors interviewed by Main Justice said. Only three of the last 10 Attorneys General worked as federal prosecutors before becoming the nation’s top cop.
One of the prosecutors Holder got to know was Jones, who was the Minnesota U.S. Attorney during the Clinton administration. Shortly after Jones returned as U.S. Attorney in August, Holder named him chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, an influential policy-making and advisory body that serves as the voice of the U.S. Attorneys in Washington.
But an Attorney General does not show up to an investiture just to say hello to an old friend, according to former DOJ officials. The nation’s top federal prosecutor also attends swearing-in ceremonies for political and public relations reasons.
An official trip to a U.S. Attorney’s office by an Attorney General for an investiture or another event will often attract the media, which will draw attention to the office. It is also an opportunity to energize prosecutors in the field. ”When the Attorney General shows up, it shows the importance of the work being done,” Ashcroft told Main Justice.
A Justice Department spokesperson told Main Justice in August that Holder’s first trip to a U.S. Attorney investiture was part of ongoing effort by the Attorney General to reach out to the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices.
“The Attorney General is making it a priority to visit U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country to personally meet with prosecutors and other staff to hear firsthand about the cases they’re working on, the issues they face, and ways in which he can help them do their jobs,” spokesperson Hannah August said this summer. “The visit to the Northern District of Alabama was made to coincide with U.S. Attorney Vance’s swearing-in.”
Regardless of the Attorney’s General reasons behind a trip to a U.S. Attorney’s office, former prosecutors told Main Justice that a visit by the nation’s top federal prosecutor has a major impact on the office. ”It is very meaningful when the Attorney General visits,” said John Richter, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma from 2005 to 2009.
Posted in News | Comments Off
A controversial Bush Justice Department official got a break from Attorney General Eric Holder.
Bradley Schlozman, former Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division, will not be prosecuted by the Justice Department, according to a letter from Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich to Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Holder affirmed an earlier decision by the District of Columbia U.S. Attorney’s office not to pursue charges against Schlozman related to sworn testimony the Bush official gave before Congress in 2007.
A DOJ Office of Inspector General report concluded last year that Schlozman wasn’t truthful when he told Congress he hadn’t taken politics or ideology into account when hiring career DOJ lawyers. The report said Schlozman referred to liberal applicants for positions as “mold spores,” “commies” and “crazy pinkos.” The report concluded that he was “unsuitable for public service.”
The IG said Schlozman’s partisan hiring standards violated civil service laws intended to keep politics out of career government hiring decisions. The IG referred its findings to the U.S. Attorney office, which decided not to pursue charges. The office was headed by former Bush DOJ official Jeffrey Taylor, but he recused himself from the case. First Assistant Channing Phillips and six career prosecutors made the final call on the case.
“To be clear, nothing in the Attorney General’s determination to sustain the United States Attorney’s decision should be construed as an endorsement of Mr. Schlozman’s improper hiring and personnel-related practices as described in the Final (IG) Report,” Weich wrote in the letter to Schumer.
Holder began a “extensive” review of the U.S. Attorney’s office decision shortly after taking office, Weich said. The Attorney General said at his confirmation hearing that he was alarmed by the behavior of Schlozman described in the IG report.
“The Attorney General firmly believes that providing false statements to Congress cannot and should not be tolerated and should, where provable beyond a reasonable doubt, be prosecuted,” Weich wrote in the letter.
Schlozman lawyer Bill Jordan said in a statement to Main Justice that Holder “made the right decision.”
“Brad is extremely pleased that he has been fully exonerated by this review,” Jordan said.
Schumer, who urged Holder to review the case, told The Associated Press that the attorney general’s decision was “very disappointing.”
“Perjury is often a close call, but in this case it wasn’t. Mr. Schlozman was way over the line,” Schumer told The AP.
Schlozman served in various capacities in the Bush Justice Department before he resigned in 2007. He was an interim U.S. Attorney for Western District of Missouri, Civil Rights Division Deputy Assistant Attorney General and a counsel to Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.
He is now working for Witchita, Kan. law firm Hinkle Elkouri.