Mark Richard, a Justice Department legend who served 16 Attorneys General in his more than 40 years at DOJ, died last year. Now a former colleague and a research group are trying to make sure his last project — a report on the history of the DOJ’s Office of Special Investigations — is released to the public.
As a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division for 20 years, Richard oversaw the OSI. The section, known as the U.S. government’s “Nazi hunters,” was established to probe ex-Nazi war criminals living in the United States and had jurisdiction over U.S. citizens accused of human rights crimes.
In 1999, then-Attorney General Janet Reno authorized a report documenting the work and history of the office, and Richard enthusiastically agreed to edit the piece, according to Judy Feigin, a former DOJ lawyer and the principle author of the 700-page report report.
Feigin, who had served in various capacities as a lawyer at the Justice Department since 1972, began writing the report in 1999. She spent most of her working time on it until she retired in 2005 and came back to the DOJ on a part-time basis after her retirement to finish up the piece, she said. Their final product — over six-and-a-half years in the making — was edited by Richard and was sent up the chain-of-command in 2006.
But the report was never published, even though Richard was working to have it released until the day he died, Feigin told Main Justice.
In October, the National Security Archive at George Washington University submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the report.
One month later, the DOJ rejected the request, using a broad interpretation of FOIA’s exemption for draft documents. In a letter responding to the request, a DOJ representative claimed that the document was “deliberative and pre-decisional.” The letter also said that because the report was never approved by the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, its status as a draft allowed it to be exempt from the FOIA.
Critics said that blocking the report’s release is at odds with Attorney General Eric Holder’s March 2009 memo, which instructed government lawyers to lean toward disclosure when considering FOIA requests.
“It’s unclear to me what would be deliberative or policy related in the document,” said David Sobel, a lawyer representing the National Security Archives on a pro-bono basis. Sobel filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department this week appealing the decision to block the report’s release. The decision, he said, is “specifically at odds with the guidance in the Holder memo.”
According to Feigin, the report covered the history of the OSI, touching on its failures, but was a balanced and would be of be valuable to researchers, academia and the public. The recent merger of the OSI into the new Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section makes the report on the now-defunct office more relevant, Feigin said.
Feigin said she was told the document may need to be screened for privacy concerns. But still, Feigen said she knows of no reason to hold back the entire report and was disappointed and frustrated that the Justice Department had not updated her on the status of the report since she completed work four years ago.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit or on the current status of the report.
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Ten years after Elian Gonzalez was removed from his relatives’ home in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami by the United States Border Patrol, the federal officials who were involved in the international custody case are keeping silent on the incident, The Associated Press reported.
The Gonzalez custody case received international attention when in November 1999 the then-five-year-old and his mother fled their native Cuba for the U.S. with 12 others on a small aluminum boat with a faulty engine. Gonzalez was one of three who survived the trip; his mother did not. After being rescued by fishermen who turned him over to the U.S. Coast Guard, Gonzalez was released to relatives who lived in Little Havana.
In January 2000, Gonzalez’s Cuba-based relatives, including his father, called for his return and initiated an international custody case that ended when then-Attorney General Janet Reno ordered Gonzalez to be returned to his relatives in Cuba by April 13, 2000. When the deadline wasn’t met by the boy’s U.S. relatives, Reno made the decision to remove Gonzalez from his relatives’ home. That took place in the early morning hours of April 22, 2000. Current Attorney General Eric Holder, who was Reno’s deputy at the time, said she wept after giving the order to raid the Little Havana home. He was returned to his relatives in Cuba, where he lives today.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, taken by an AP photographer, of a border patrol officer pointing a gun at a crying Gonzalez as he was removed from his uncle’s home garnered international attention and increased the criticism of the Justice Department.
To date, DOJ has not released the name of the agent in the photo, the AP said.
During a visit to Miami last weekend, President Bill Clinton said he would make the same decision today. “I did everything I could to try to have this resolved in a peaceful way,” he said. “Believe me, I hated what happened because I thought we would be able to do it in a different way.”
Kendall Coffey, who had been the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida from 1993 to 1996 and who represented Gonzalez’s Miami relatives during the custody fight, said “There was no doubt in the minds of many in this community that the Democratic administration had to be accountable for what was seen as the terrible treatment of a child and the terrible treatment of the child’s family.”
Former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick said that President Barack Obama should speak in front of members of the militia movement to calm down rhetoric in the midst of a resurgent anti-government movement.
Gorelick was speaking Friday as part of a panel discussion marking the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing on Monday. On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people. McVeigh, an anti-government extremist who was hoping to spark a revolt against the federal government, was convicted, sentenced to the death penalty and executed on June 11, 2001.
“It is harder to demonize someone who is real and right in front of you,” said Gorelick, now of WilmerHale. “Although it was a long time ago, our experience dealing with militia groups in the aftermath of Oklahoma City was pretty powerful.”
According to Gorelick, after the bombing, the Justice Department asked the FBI to approach militia movements across the country and tell them they could speak out and hold exercises in the woods but that they couldn’t threaten violence against the government. President Bill Clinton also went to Michigan State and spoke to students and members of the militia movement and thanked those who had opposed the bombing.
Gorelick recommended that Obama try a similar approach.
“I see these things as waves, and I believe we’re having another wave right now, it feels that way to me, and I’m hoping there’s something short of a catharsis — which in the case of Oklahoma City and the abortion clinic bombings and others has been death — that will stop that pendulum swing,” said Gorelick.
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We recently wrote about the Attorney General’s communication strategy over the past several weeks, as Republican criticisms of his national security decisions intensified. Holder’s approach had been very low-key — to a fault, his supporters told us — until about two weeks ago, when the Attorney General wrote a pointed letter to Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) defending his decision to charge the alleged Christmas Day bomber in the criminal justice system.
The New York Times today has a story that sheds more light on Holder’s messaging since his November announcement that the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other alleged conspirators would be tried in federal court in Manhattan. The plan crumbled in the face of intense criticism, but Holder never reemerged to explain himself — by White House design.
The Times reports:
The White House, wanting to move on quickly, overruled Mr. Holder’s request for more public appearances to explain the decision, administration officials said. In the resulting vacuum, critics denounced the civilian trial plan as a soft-on-terror capitulation to liberals.
Two weeks ago, probably just before the Feb. 3 letter to McConnell, Holder met with White House advisers “to discuss how to unite against common foes,” as the Times describes the meeting. The advisers agreed to let Holder speak out more — as we noted, he has not appeared on a Sunday talk show since his confirmation and has given few extended interviews, until this point — and Holder agreed to allow the White House to help sharpen his message.
Holder told the Times in an interview last week that the political attacks were “starting to constrain my ability to function as attorney general.”
“I have to do a better job in explaining the decisions that I have made,” he said, adding, “I have to be more forceful in advocating for why I believe these are trials that should be held on the civilian side.”
The Times story begins with an anecdote that highlights Holder’s shifting views of his role as department spokesman. (It also touches on his strained relationship with David Ogden, who stepped down as Holder’s deputy this month.)
After Holder gave a speech last year calling the United States a “nation of cowards” for avoiding discussions on race, President Obama distanced himself the remark. But his advisers went much further. According to the Times:
Rahm Emanuel and Jim Messina, the White House chief and deputy chief of staff, proposed installing a minder alongside Mr. Holder to prevent further gaffes — someone with better “political antennae,” as one administration official put it.
When he heard of the proposal at a White House meeting, Mr. Holder fumed; soon after, he confronted his deputy, David W. Ogden, who knew of the plan but had not alerted his boss, according to several officials. Mr. Holder fought off the proposal, signaling that his job was about the law, not political messaging.
His most important plan — to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, in federal court in Manhattan — collapsed before it even began, after support from the public and local officials withered.
A year later, he is no longer so certain.
It appears we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Attorney General.
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A former deputy chief of staff to Attorney General Janet Reno is expected to be nominated as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, The Miami Herald reports.
Wifredo Ferrer, who currently is an assistant Dade County, Fla., attorney, reportedly is undergoing a final FBI review before the nomination is made. If nominated and confirmed, Ferrer, who is the son of Cuban immigrants, would be the fourth lawyer of Cuban descent to be the U.S. Attorney in Miami, though only the first nominated by a Democratic president.
The last Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney in Miami, R. Alexander Acosta, became the dean of Miami’s Florida International University law school on July 1. Since then, veteran prosecutor Jeffrey Sloman has been running the office on an acting basis.
Reno praised her former aide in an interview with the Herald.
“First of all, he understood better than anybody I’ve worked with how the federal government works with local and state governments,” Reno said, adding, “If I wanted to write the book about how to be the U.S. attorney, Willy would be one of my models.”
John Hogan, Reno’s former chief of staff, told the newspaper: “When you look at the power of the U.S. attorney and that office, it’s essential that someone with a good moral compass heads it.” Hogan told The Miami Herald he encouraged Ferrer early on to pursue the position.
Ferrer was one of three finalists for the office. The others were former Assistant U.S. Attorney David M. Buckner of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton in Miami; and Daryl E. Trawick, a Dade County, Fla. Circuit Court judge who stirred controversy by keeping a non-public secret docket at the request of state prosecutors to shield a drug informant.
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When President Barack Obama signed sweeping hate crimes legislation into law at a ceremony last month, new Northern District of Ohio U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach was there – a sign of the Cleveland prosecutor’s rising influence in civil rights enforcement.
Dettelbach, who was confirmed by the Senate in September, is the new chair of the civil rights subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys.
The AGAC advises Attorney General Eric Holder on policy and law enforcement issues. And civil rights is a top priority of the Obama administration.
At his Oct. 26 investiture ceremony, Dettelbach made clear his commitment to enforcing anti-discrimination laws by invoking Tom Perez, the new Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.
“We can and must follow Tom Perez’s example of relentless dedication to civil rights, because our citizens must understand that the laws we enforce apply equally to all, not just some,” he said in prepared remarks.
Dettelbach has a long history working on civil rights issues. He successfully prosecuted several civil rights cases during his almost two decades as a federal prosecutor at U.S. Attorney’s offices in Cleveland and Maryland and at Justice Department headquarters in Washington.
He told Main Justice in a recent interview that among his office’s “usual assortment of prosecutorial plaques and knickknacks” are two awards from former Attorney General Janet Reno that he received when he was an attorney in the DOJ Civil Rights Division.
One plaque honors Dettelbach’s work on a case that involved an Indian woman who was brought to Miami as a slave. She endured regular beatings over the course of seven months and was even branded with an iron, according to Dettelbach.
Another award commemorates the prosecution of Ku Klux Klan members who tried to undermine the integration of housing projects in Vidor, Texas.
“He is deeply committed to fighting for crime victims and to holding those who commit crimes, even the most powerful, accountable,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Mythili Raman, who worked with Dettelbach in the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office.
But Dettelbach’s experience extends beyond civil rights cases.
He was a part of the organized crime and corruption strike force during his time as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Cleveland. As deputy chief of the Greenbelt branch of the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, he prosecuted fraud cases. Dettelbach also worked as a Senate Judiciary Committee counsel to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and most recently as a partner in the Cleveland office of law firm Baker & Hostetler.
“He brings a good, well-rounded experience to the table,” said former Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford, who once supervised Dettelbach in the Cleveland U.S. Attorney’s office.
Dettelbach said while his diverse experience has prepared him to be U.S. Attorney, the job presents new challenges.
“There is no typical day,” Dettelbach said. “That’s what makes the job both so rewarding and so challenging. On any day, you are doing a mixture of managing the cases and the investigations that the assistants and agents are doing in the office, representing the office in the community and representing the office within the Department of Justice as a whole.”
The U.S. Attorney said taking over the reins of the Northern District office is “like getting on a train that going 100 miles per hour.”
“Even though I had worked here as an Assistant, it’s a much different perspective being the U.S. Attorney than it is being an Assistant,” he said.
His office is working a number of major prosecutions including a corruption scandal in Cuyahoga County and a civil rights case involving a white supremacist who mailed a noose to an Ohio chapter of the NAACP.
Dettelbach said terrorism will remain his office’s top priority, even as he puts a renewed focus on civil rights enforcement and financial fraud.
The U.S. Attorney said he is meeting with all of the office’s Assistant U.S. Attorneys to discuss his plans and hear their suggestions.
Dettelbach said his new responsibilities have cut into his personal time with his wife and two children. He works a lot and is “not allowed to talk to my wife about it,” he said.
But long hours are nothing new for Dettelbach, said Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein. Dettelbach often worked nights and weekends as the deputy chief of the Greenbelt branch office, he recalled.
“He is a guy who really enjoys working for DOJ,” Rosenstein said.
Dettelbach said his work as a federal prosecutor has “made me the happiest.”
“I have to say one of the great things about this job is you can even explain to a four- and six-year-old the importance of what we do. And that to me is a great thing that Assistant U.S. Attorneys get to do and U.S. Attorneys get to do,” Dettelbach said. “Even at the most basic level, people can understand what you’re doing is something that is important in your community.”
This post has been corrected from an earlier version.
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Former Attorney General Janet Reno is helping the U.S. residency bid of a Cuban refugee wrongfully convicted of sexual assault, The Miami Herald reported today.
Reno, who served during the Clinton administration, wrote a letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on behalf of Orlando Boquete, who had his 1983 conviction overturned in 2006 after DNA testing proved his innocence. The Cuban expatriate, who came to the United States during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, became ineligible for U.S. residency and citizenship when he admitted to various felonies he committed after he escaped from prison twice, according to The Associated Press.
Authorities captured Boquete in 1995 after he spent 10 years on the run, according to The Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that helps prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing. He then escaped again in 1995 and spent one year on the lam, according to the organization. The Cuban refugee spent about a dozen years behind bars before he was released in 2006.
“While no official action can give him back those years, allowing him to earn a living and rebuild his life in his adopted country as a permanent resident without facing continued uncertainty about the risk that he will be deported, is an important step,” Reno wrote in a letter obtained by The Herald.
Reno’s letter is part of a package that Tal Winer, Boquete’s attorney at Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, sent to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last weekend to begin the green card process for Boquete, The Herald reported. Officials have said Boquete will not be deported, but a softening of U.S. relations with Cuba could result in his extradition, according to the AP.
Read more about Boquete in a 2007 New York Times Magazine article here.
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Elena Kagan, the first woman to serve as Solicitor General, wore “a dark suit and an open-necked sky-blue blouse” for her Supreme Court debut yesterday, Washington Post columnist Al Kamen reported. She ditched the old-fashioned “morning coat” traditionally worn by government lawyers who argue before the court, Kamen noted.
Her wardrobe (and no doubt, her gender) likely would have shocked Horace Gray, who served on the Supreme Court from 1882 to 1902. Gray once whispered to a colleague that he was appalled by the “street clothes” George Wharton Pepper tried to wear before the court in the 1890s, before he became a senator from Pennsylvania, Kamen recounted.
“Who is that beast who dares to come in here with a grey coat?” Gray said, according to a story told by Pepper.
The lawyer wasn’t allowed to enter the court until he borrowed a “morning coat” with coattails.
Kagan consulted her colleagues in the SG office about ditching the unflattering “morning coat,” and the justices discreetly signaled it would be okay for Kagan to don a 21st century wardrobe, according to Kamen.
Justice Department spokeswoman Beverly Lumpkin told Kamen that “the men in OSG will continue to wear it, as will whichever women choose to wear it.”
Kamen speculated that Attorney General Eric Holder might not dust off his “morning coat” anytime soon to argue before the court.
The Attorney General traditionally argues at least one case before the Supreme Court. But the buzz is that Holder “really doesn’t feel like palling around with some of those folks,” Kamen wrote. About three-fourths of the 81 attorneys general made appearances, Kamen reported. Attorneys General Michael Mukasey and Janet Reno went up. Alberto Gonzales and John Ashcroft did not, Kamen said.
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The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy has picked up a veteran of the Clinton administration, Neil Kinkopf, a respected constitutional law scholar and former lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel. Kinkopf, who is leaving his teaching position at Georgia State University College of Law, will join the office as counselor to the assistant attorney general.
Kinkopf (Boston College, Case Western Law) has long-standing ties with Christopher Schroeder, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head OLP. The two were colleagues in the Justice Department under Janet Reno and have since collaborated on several projects. In 1999, Kinkopf was counselor to then-Sen. Joe Biden for the impeachment trial of President Clinton. Schroeder was Biden’s trial counsel.
Schroeder was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in late July, and congressional aides say they expect him to win confirmation easily once the Senate reconvenes.
Kinkopf was special assistant in OLC from 1993 to 1997. During that time he worked closely with Dawn Johnsen, then a deputy in the office and now the nominee to lead it; David Barron, who was an attorney-adviser and is now the principal deputy in OLC (and acting head of the office pending the outcome of Johnsen’s nomination); Martin Lederman, who was also an attorney-adviser in OLC and now is a deputy in the office; and Schroeder, who was a deputy in OLC.
Kinkopf, reached today, said he took the job on short notice. He received a call in July and formally accepted the position a couple weeks ago, forcing him to cancel his fall-semester classes. Kinkopf is leaving for Washington this evening. When asked about his duties at OLP, Kinkopf said, “I hope to figure that out tomorrow.”
OLP provides policy advice to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general. The office also coordinates with the Office of Legislative Affairs to push the department’s initiatives in Congress and shepherds judicial nominees through the confirmation process.
This original version of this post incorrectly stated that Amanda Miller is a deputy in the Office of Legal Policy.
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The discussions lapsed during the Bush administration, as it dealt with events of 9/11 and reconstituted the Justice Department to counter terrorist threats. Holder, like Reno and Meese, has been gregarious in his first months in office, addressing groups of all kinds — from federal judges to corporate defense lawyers to public defenders.
In remarks at the American Council of Chief Defenders Conference, Holder said he wanted to pick up where Meese and Reno left off:
During these meetings, I want to discuss topical issues of interest and concern to you and to explore how we can find the resources necessary to address the challenges that have been identified. This will be a chance for public defense representatives to give us their feedback on how well our criminal justice system works.
Holder’s talk, at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown, painted a bleak picture of the state of indigent defense. He spoke of contract attorneys and assigned lawyers who don’t receive enough compensation to cover their overhead, of overwhelming caseloads that prevent lawyers from fulfilling their legal and ethical responsibilities to their clients, and of budget shortfalls in the public defense system.
In addition to more dialogue, the department, he said, would expand its collection of data on public defense programs and host a national conference to develop best practices and to strategize on how to get more funding for a system that has been walloped by the financial crisis.
“As you can tell, this is an ambitious agenda – that’s because there is a lot that can be done,” Holder said. “Putting together the conference and achieving its goals will require help from people like you, who are in the trenches of indigent defense.”
For a copy of Holder’s full remarks, click here.