Two moderate Senate Democrats — Jim Webb of Virginia and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who faces a tough re-election fight this year — criticized the attorney general in a letter released Tuesday.
“Your decision to prosecute enemy combatants captured on foreign battlefields like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is without precedent in our nation’s history,” the letter reads. “Today, those who subscribe to the same violent ideology as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed continue to plan and execute attacks against innocent civilians all over the world,” the senators wrote. “It is not in our national interest to provide them further publicity or additional advantage.”
Four other senators, including former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), also signed on to the letter.
O’Connor Criticizes SCOTUS Citizens United Decision
In a rare move, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor offered a critique Tuesday of her former colleagues in their blockbuster campaign finance decision last week, The Washington Post and The New York Times report. Speaking at a conference at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., O’Connor suggested the Citizens United decision, which struck down restrictions on corporate campaign donations, could spark an “arms race” in judicial elections and create a “problem for maintaining an independent judiciary.” The first female justice left the court in 2006 and has since become a staunch advocate for eliminating judicial elections.
“In invalidating some of the existing checks on campaign spending, the majority in Citizens United has signaled that the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse and quite soon,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor had one other reason to feel a bit piqued at her former colleagues: the precedent struck down Tuesday, the 2003 case McConnell v FEC, was an opinion she authored.
Former CIA Officer Pulls Back Waterboarding Claim
A former CIA officer who told ABC News that waterboarding techniques used on high profile detainee Abu Zubaydah led the al Qaeda operative to reveal actionable intelligence has retracted his claim, according to Foreign Policy magazine. In a 2007 interview, Jon Kiriakou told ABC’s Brian Ross that Zubaydah spilled his guts after a single round of waterboarding.
“From that day on, he answered every question,” Kiriakou said. “The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.”
But in a memoir set to be released next month, Kiriakou admits he may have been mistaken.
“What I told Brian Ross in late 2007 was wrong on a couple counts,” Kiriakou wrote, according to FP. “I wasn’t there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I’d heard and read inside the agency at the time.”
Kiriakou’s initial appearance on ABC News sparked intense debate, with pro-waterboarding forces frequently marshalling his interview as evidence of the technique’s effectiveness.
ABC News has since modified its story online.
Former U.S. Attorney to Challenge Carney in Pa.
Another former Bush-era U.S. Attorney is setting his sights on Congress. Former U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Marino, who led the Middle District of Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney’s Office from 2002 to 2007, is expected to announce today that he will seek the Republican nomination to challenge Pennsylvania Rep. Chris Carney, a two-term Democrat.
Marino is the second Republican to enter the race. At least two other candidates have expressed interest in challenging Carney for his seat.
Another GITMO Detainee Released
The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it had transferred another detainee held at Guantanamo Bay to Switzerland for resettlement. The detainee, a man from Uzbekistan whose name was not released, is the 18th person to be released from the Cuban prison since December, according to Reuters.
The Obama administration has sought to close the camp, arguing that its perceived lawlessness has damaged U.S. standing around the world.
Antitrust Looking into Web Betting Site Merger
In the wake of the Justice Department’s approval of the Ticketmaster-Live Nation deal, the Antitrust Division has requested more information on a potential merger between two betting rivals, the Associated Press reports. Churchill Downs, owner of several horse-race tracks, including the namesake track in Louisville, Ky., where the Kentucky Derby is held, announced in November that it would acquire Youbet.com, the leading online horse betting site. Churchill Downs owns a stake in two rival betting sites, Twinspires and XpressBet.
Former Ashcroft Adviser Joins Prison Consulting Firm
At least he found a way to put his experience to good use.
A former adviser to Attorney General John Ashcroft who later served 24 months in prison for tax evasion and fraud has joined ISA White Collar Prison Consultants, a D.C.-based prison consulting firm.
Charles Polk Jr., who helped Ashcroft prepare for his confirmation hearings, was accused of stealing $45,000 from the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District, a client of Polk’s employer, Doepken, Keevican and Weiss. He later pleaded guilty in federal court in 2006 to one count of tax evasion and one count of interstate transportation of money over $5,000 obtained by fraud.
Polk’s new firm specializes in providing non-legal advice to white collar clients. In a news release, ISA touted Polk’s knowledge of the criminal justice system “inside and out” as an asset.
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The White House is having trouble finding a replacement for controversial U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in Alabama’s Middle District, having considered and discarded three candidates over the last year, according to Alabama Democrats.
Both Republicans and Democrats have objected to different candidates, and the White House has been unwilling to cross the state’s powerful GOP senators, according to a Democrat who has spoken to administration officials about the matter. The result has been the continued service of Canary, a bête noire of Alabama Democrats for her prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D), while the administration now considers a fourth candidate.
Over the summer, the White House eliminated white-collar defense lawyer Joe Van Heest of Montgomery, even though he’d already been fully vetted, the Alabama Democrats said.
Van Heest met objections from Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking member of the Senate Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Committee. Shelby had also helped thwart the original candidate for the job, Mobile-based lawyer Michel Nicrosi, the Democrats said. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also opposed Nicrosi.
Then, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Birmingham-based Northern District briefly emerged as a front-runner, only to be shot down by Alabama Democrats who said her past work on politically controversial prosecutions disqualified her.
Last month, Main Justice provided an accounting of U.S. Attorney nominations. The figures — President Barack Obama has nominated 42 U.S. Attorneys, and 31 have been confirmed — painted a picture of a process beset by political interference and a White House counsel’s office in flux. (The latter problem may be solved, with the arrival of White House counsel Bob Bauer, but only time will tell.)
Alabama’s Middle District provides an interesting case study: Republican and Democratic opposition, combined with a hands-off White House, has so gummed up the process, there have been four U.S. Attorney front-runners since the summer – but zero nominations.
Shelby’s objections to Van Heest, as we reported in July, appeared to be related to his efforts to promote the daughter of a political supporter for the job. Shelby pushed Anna Clark Morris for the prosecutor post, Alabama officials and lawyers told Main Justice over the summer. Morris, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Middle District, is the daughter of influential trial lawyer and Shelby supporter Larry Morris. Neither Shelby’s office nor Van Heest returned phone calls seeking comment.
Both Nicrosi and Van Heest enjoyed the support of Rep. Artur Davis, the state’s senior congressional Democrat, and they both reached the interview-at-the-Justice-Department stage of the process before the White House eliminated them. Nicrosi was the first choice of a selection committee formed Davis; Van Heest was the second. Click here and here for a more background on their candidacies.
After Van Heest, according to the Democrat with knowledge of the selection process, several individuals were approached about the job, including two state circuit judges, a former federal magistrate judge, and a former president of the Alabama state bar. All declined to throw in their hats — though it’s not clear why. (An indictment of the current process, perhaps?)
At one point, there was an effort to build some support around Montgomery-based lawyer Ed Parish Jr., the knowledgeable Democrat said. But Davis and others raised objections about Parish’s lack of criminal experience.
In the fall, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamarra Matthews Johnson, 35, of Alabama’s Northern District, emerged as the new front-runner. It’s not clear who recommended her for the post. The knowledgeable Democrat said she applied directly to the White House. Johnson declined to comment.
In any event Johnson, a former clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, wasn’t expected encounter opposition from Sessions and Shelby, the knowledgeable Democrat said.
But she could not overcome her work on corruption cases against Democrats, including the prosecution of Siegelman for alleged bid-rigging. The case, which was overseen by Birmingham-based U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, another villian of the Left, was eventually thrown out. (Siegelman was later indicted and convicted in the Montgomery-based Middle District, on Canary’s turf.)
Democrats have long-maintained the Siegelman cases were politically motivated.
Johnson also worked on the Justice Department’s case against Richard Scrushy, the former chief executive of HealthSouth, who was acquitted in 2005 of masterminding a $2.7 billion accounting fraud. But in 2006, Scrushy was convicted in the Middle District of paying $500,000 to Siegelman in return for a seat on the state hospital regulatory board.
Amid a groundswell of Democratic opposition – Johnson was referred to as a “rabid, right-wing Republican” in one anyonmous quote that gained purchase in the blogosphere, though she and her husband are Democratic donors – Davis approached the White House. The congressman warned that her nomination would generate a backlash, the knowledgeable Democrat said.
The White House, which thus far has been loath to mix it up with Republicans over U.S. Attorney nominations, tread at least as carefully with Democrats, and Johnson’s candidacy dissolved.
The new front-runner, the official said, is George Beck Jr., 68, a white-collar defense lawyer at Capell & Howard and former state prosecutor. Davis recently passed his named to the White House, the official said, but it appears his candidacy will be anything but tidy.
Even if he satisfies the state’s Republican senators, he’ll have to assuage Democrats. Like Johnson, he also was involved in the Siegelman case as a lawyer for government witness Nick Bailey, an ex-aide to the governor who was sentenced to 18 months in prison on bribery-related charges. Bailey, one of the government’s star witnesses, testified in three trials and submitted to more than 40 interviews with federal investigators.
Beck, others noted, also defended Guy Hunt, the first Republican governor of Alabama since Reconstruction, who was convicted of illegaly diverting and spending money raised for his 1987 inauguration.
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