The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department Tuesday related to missing e-mails from former DOJ official John Yoo, the author of the so-called “torture memos.”
Yoo served in the Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003. Earlier this year, the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility cleared Yoo and fellow OLC lawyer Jay Bybee of any wrongdoing in connection with the memos, which authorized harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects. In the report, OPR investigators said they could not recover some of Yoo’s e-mails from the time the memos were written.
In February, CREW filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the DOJ asking for any information the OLC provided to employees on e-mail preservation. The group also filed a FOIA request in March asking for all e-mails sent to or received by Yoo.
According to CREW, the DOJ has so far only provided two documents related to the request.
“Given that millions of emails disappeared from Bush White House servers, no one should be surprised to find that emails disappeared from the Bush Justice Department as well. What’s violating federal records laws compared with avoiding accountability?” CREW’s Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement. “The public deserves to know the truth behind the OLC torture memos and the Obama administration faces a choice: it can cover-up the Bush administration’s misdeeds or allow the truth to come out and help the country confront and move past this shameful episode.”
CREW is no stranger to lawsuits over FOIA requests. Last year, the group settled a lawsuit against the White House and the National Archives and Records Administration over missing e-mails from Bush administration White House staffers.
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) isn’t worried about a group of activists’ calls for an investigation into his personal finances, the Arkansas News reported yesterday.
Citing a September report from the non-profit investigative journalism Web site Pro-Publica, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent a letter to the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section asking them to probe a two-year-old real estate transaction.
The DOJ responded to CREW’s letter with a boilerplate response telling the watchdogs they took the complaint “seriously,” the group announced yesterday.
In 2007, Ross and his wife Holly sold a pharmacy they owned in Prescott, Ark., to USA Drug, a company based in Pine Bluff, Ark. According to CREW, USA Drug overvalued the sale by at least $140,000 when they bought it for $420,000.
Pro-Publica said in their investigation that the Ross family made much more money. In addition to the $420,000, USA Drug owner Stephen LaFrance paid the Ross family between $500,000 and $1 million for the pharmacy’s assets, and paid Holly Ross an additional sum valued between $100,001 and $250,000 for signing a non-compete agreement.
That’s a haul worth somewhere between $1 million and $1.67 million, Pro-Publica said.
The question for CREW is whether the pharmaceutical industry used the sale to influence Ross, chairman of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Ross has been an outspoken opponent of Democratic health care reform measures supported by liberals, including the public option.
With the sale of the business, CREW wrote in their letter, Ross “has gone from accepting campaign contributions from those with legislative interests before him to accepting significant personal benefits of dubious legality.”
The sale occurred well before President Obama’s efforts to reform health care got underway. According to the News, Ross responded to the complaint:
“This business transaction had nothing to do with my being a member of Congress and everything to do with an Arkansas-based family pharmacy business buying a pharmacy my family and I have worked hard since 1993 to develop into a successful, trusted and respected business in my hometown.”
According to the News, Ross spokesman Brad Howard dismissed CREW’s concerns. “Anyone with a pen and piece of paper can file a complaint with the Department of Justice,” Howard said. “This was nothing more than a standard DOJ form letter acknowledging they received a complaint. There is really no news here.”
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The Department of Justice has responded to an ethics group’s request for an investigation into whether Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) engaged in criminal violations of federal campaign finance law by suggesting that the group forward its complaint to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The ethics group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), sent a letter on July 9 to Attorney General Eric Holder and Public Integrity Section Chief William Welch urging an investigation into Ensign’s failure to report severance payments made to his former employee and mistress Cynthia Hampton when he fired her from his campaign and political action committees.
In his response, Welch told CREW’s Executive Director Melanie Sloan that she should provide any information she has to the FBI, which will decide whether a federal investigation is warranted. Sloan did as she was told, but threw in a not so subtle jab at Welch in her forwarded complaint to the FBI:
In a letter dated July 16, 2009, Mr. Welch advised me that the FBI, not the Public Integrity Section, will determine whether a federal investigation is warranted. Mr. Welch’s deferral of jurisdiction is surprising, given that the Public Integrity Section’s own website indicates the section “monitors the investigation and prosecution of election and conflict of interest crimes.” http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/pin. Perhaps in the aftermath of the mishandling of the prosecution of former Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), the Public Integrity Section is not eager to investigate another sitting senator.
Sloan went so far as to tell TPMMuckraker that the Public Integrity Section “punted” on the complaint.
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Last week, Obama administration officials gave arguments for why former Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2004 interview with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald should remain secret. Fitzgerald was investigating how CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity got leaked. Ultimately, Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was convicted of obstruction of justice in the matter. The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) wants to know why Cheney didn’t get prosecuted, and has sued for release of the interview.
But Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Smith said disclosure would have a “chilling effect” on future administration officials’ willingness to cooperate voluntarily with investigations, and that officials might not comply with future requests out of fear ”that it’s going to get on ‘The Daily Show’.”
Read our report here.
Last night, Jon Stewart responded to the Justice Department’s newest justification for blocking transparency and protecting Cheney, and the irony was lost on no one:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
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U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan was on another tear yesterday. At a hearing, he scoffed at Obama administration arguments for why former Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2004 interview with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald should remain secret. Fitzgerald was investigating how CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity got leaked. Ultimately, Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was convicted of obstruction of justice in the matter.. The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) wants to know why Cheney didn’t get prosecuted, and has sued for release of the interview.
But Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Smith said disclosure would have a “chilling effect” on future administration officials’ willingness to cooperate voluntarily with investigations, and that officials might not comply with future requests out of fear ”that it’s going to get on ‘The Daily Show’ .”
“Says who?” Sullivan said.
Former Attorney Genreal Michael Mukasey — that’s who, Smith said. Problem is, the Bush administration’s formal argument against release of the interview came in a filing from former Office of Legal Counsel head Steven Bradbury, who is also under investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility for his role in authorizing torture. Not the most credible advocate.
“Bradbury’s a political appointee. I don’t know what his experience was,” Sullivan said, according to news accounts.
David Sobel, the attorney for CREW, called it “disappointing” that the Obama administration is taking the same line as the Bush administration. But hey – the Obama people must know they’ll eventually be under investigation themselves for something, god knows what. But it’s inevitable.