The Washington Post editorial board on Friday criticized Attorney General Eric Holder for his response to the oil spill, calling his announcement that the Justice Department had opened a criminal probe into the matter “odd” and “discomfiting.”
Last month, Holder traveled to the Gulf coast and, during a press conference, said the DOJ had opened a criminal investigation of the spill. Holder declined to say which companies were being investigated.
The announcement was unusual: Justice Department officials almost always decline to confirm or deny the existence of a criminal investigation. According to the U.S. Attorneys manual — the document that governs the behavior of DOJ attorneys in the field — prosecutors can only confirm probes when officials determine that an extraordinary event justifies public acknowledgment.
“In matters that have already received substantial publicity, or about which the community needs to be reassured that the appropriate law enforcement agency is investigating the incident, or where release of information is necessary to protect the public interest, safety, or welfare, comments about or confirmation of an ongoing investigation may need to be made,” the manual states. “In these unusual circumstances, the involved investigative agency will consult and obtain approval from the United States Attorney or Department Division handling the matter prior to disseminating any information to the media.”
One week before Holder announced the probe, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that “consistent with long-standing policy, we neither confirm nor deny the existence of such an investigation,” The Post noted.
In addition, the editorial also was critical of Holder’s appearance at a meeting between White House officials and representatives from BP.
Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, who lead the White House negotiations that resulted in a multibillion-dollar victims’ compensation fund, was “perfectly capable of ensuring that the fund agreement passed legal muster,” the editorial said, and Holder’s presence “inevitably raised the specter of the criminal probe — and the possibility that it could be used to pressure BP on the size and terms of the fund.”
Administration officials pointed out that Holder attended with other Cabinet secretaries and left the meeting before substantive negotiations had begun.
Because he handles both criminal and civil aspects of an issue, the Attorney General “must take great care to avoid even the appearance of conflict,” wrote the editorial board.
“Mr. Holder may not have crossed that line in the gulf oil matter, but he has come close.”
Read the full editorial here.
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At a meeting of the President’s Puerto Rico Task Force Tuesday, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli said the White House was open to the idea of the U.S. territory becoming a state.
“The president strongly believes that the status question is a significant one. He also believes that Puerto Rico’s status must be based on self-determination by the people of Puerto Rico,” said Perrelli in remarks opening the meeting. “And we on the task force are here with open minds on this issue.”
Perrelli, who co-chairs the task force, said that the public hearings were being held because of President Barack Obama’s pledge that the government be open, transparent and accountable. “That’s why as part of the process we have undertaken with the task force on Puerto Rico’s status, everyone around this table agreed that we needed to hold public hearings,” said Perrelli.
The hearings will continue throughout the afternoon, and are streaming on the White House website.
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Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that the Justice Department has to remain independent of improper influences, but that in national security cases like the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the Attorney General should work with the White House.
In response to a question from Main Justice about the politics surrounding the KSM trial, Holder said that because of the subject matter, it was necessary to coordinate with the White House.
“It’s a matter of national security, so in dealing with that and making the ultimate decision, I think it’s appropriate for the Attorney General to be interacting with the national security team at the White House, and discussing it with the President,” said Holder.
Holder did not say whether the White House was advising him on where the trial location or the potential political fallout.
“The Justice Department has to remain independent,” said Holder. “It’s a different thing when you’re talking about national security where I think a more wide ranging discussion is appropriate involving our national security partners in addition to the national security team at the White House.”
Those comments are in line with a May 11 memo sent to all U.S. Attorneys and the leaders of Justice Department components on the issue of communications between the White House and the Justice Department. Holder wrote that Justice “will advise the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal or civil investigations or cases when – but only when – it is important for the performance of the President’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”
The limitations laid out in that memo are meant to avoid politicized communications from taking place, but do not extend to national security matters, including counter-terrorism and counter-espionage issues.
“[T]hese guidelines and procedures are not intended to wall off the Department from legitimate communication,” Holder wrote. “We welcome criticism and advice. What these procedures are intended to do is to route communications to the proper officials so they can be adequately reviewed and considered, free from either the reality or the appearance of improper influence.”
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President Obama will help select the location of the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and insert himself into the process that has faced major political setbacks, The Washington Post reports.
Administration officials acknowledged that Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama advisers were not able to build support for the trail in New York City. Meanwhile, Holder acknowledged in an interview with The Post that the trial may be switched to a military commission.
“At the end of the day, wherever this case is tried, in whatever forum, what we have to do is ensure is that it’s done as transparently as possible and with adherence to all the rules,” Holder said. “If we do that, I’m not sure the location or even the forum is as important as what the world sees is proceeding.”
That position is a major shift from where he stood previously, but reflects the political reality of holding the trial in a city against the will of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several Republican and Democratic senators who have signaled support for a bill which would bar the Justice Department from funding the trail in civilian court.
In November when he announced the decision, he cited the symbolism of bringing the men to justice near the site of the World Trade Center towers, which were demolished in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“After eight years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September the 11th will finally face justice,” Holder said in a statement. “They will be brought to New York to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks from where the twin towers once stood.”
The decision to try Mohammed was Holder’s alone, officials said, and was not influenced by politics.
“Their building represents what they do — justice. It’s rightly not staffed with people who have to worry about congressional relations or federal funding,” one White House official told The Washington Post.
Reflecting on his first year, Holder told The Post: “What I’ve tried to do is reestablish the department in the way that it has always been seen at its best, as an agency that is independent, given the unique responsibilities that it has,” he said. “But to be truly effective in the national security sphere, you’ve got to involve partners outside this building. To make decisions the AG has to make, you have to involve the commander in chief and these other people. I’m part of the national security team in a way that I’m not involved in the environmental resources team, the civil rights team.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Holder again hit back at critics of trying terrorism suspects in civilian court, saying fear and partisanship drove some of the objections to the administration’s decisions.
“I think a substantial number of people who have criticized the decisions I have made have done so on a political basis for partisan motives and have used fear in a way to support their arguments,” he said. “And it’s a difficult thing to overcome fear with facts, to overcome campaign slogans with explanations of complex policy decisions. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult, and it’s an effort that I need to be more engaged in.”
The White House and the Justice Department have been more visible in countering the Republican attacks in recent weeks after seeming to be caught off guard by the political storm over the NYC trials.
The New York Times article pointed out that civilian trials have a much better track record than military commissions:
John Walker Lindh and David Hicks were both young Muslim converts who traveled to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and were captured there in 2001 by American troops. But then their cases diverged — in ways that might surprise anyone following the fierce political debate over how the Obama administration should treat terrorism suspects.
Bush administration officials decided to charge Mr. Lindh, an American, in the civilian criminal justice system. He was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and will not get out until at least 2019.
Mr. Hicks, an Australian, was treated as an enemy combatant — the approach now pressed by President Obama’s Republican critics. He went before a military commission at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and got a seven-year sentence with all but nine months suspended. He is already free.
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Ari Shapiro, the award-winning correspondent for National Public Radio who has covered the Department of Justice for five years, is moving up the media food chain. He’ll begin covering the White House in the coming weeks, focusing on national security and legal issues.
Since he began covering the Justice Department in 2005, Shapiro has broken several major DOJ stories in addition to covering broader legal issues and more recently filling in as host of NPR’s Morning Edition. He was the first NPR reporter to be made a correspondent before age 30, according to his biography on the NPR Web site. He also recently made his on-stage debut at the Hollywood Bowl, singing a song he recorded for the band Pink Martini’s latest album.
Main Justice interviewed Shapiro about his new job on Wednesday morning.
When do you start at the White House?
It’s going to be somewhere in the next few weeks, we don’t have a specific start date yet, partly because NPR is in the process of hiring a new Justice Department correspondent, and they may have me sort of straddle both beats for a little while while they go through that process. But there are two other White House correspondents, and so they have been on the beat for a very long time and do a masterful job at it so there isn’t the most urgent pressing need for me to get over there immediately, but it will be some time in the next few weeks.
What types of stories will you be covering?
Generally the way White House coverage works at NPR is that there is [...] sort of a three-week rotation, so one week you’re in the White House covering the daily breaking news and then two weeks you’re doing sort of more “big picture” stories. The other two White House correspondents are Mara Liasson and Scott Horsley. Mara primarily seems to focus on political issues, Scott has tended to focus on economic issues, and I think that NPR’s thought is that I will focus on national security and legal issues, so I may be reporting on many of the same kinds of things that I have covered at Justice but from the perspective of the White House instead of from DOJ.
As you look back at the stories you’ve covered, what stories are you most proud of and which were the most fun to cover?
Well the most fun is easy — going to Baghdad with Attorney General Michael Mukasey was an amazing experience. Donna Leinwand from USA Today and I went on the trip with him and it was just a whirlwind. By the time we finished our 12-hour stay in Baghdad and landed back in Doha [Qatar], nobody had slept in about three days.
I remember we were leaving the military base in Doha to go to the hotel that we were staying at and the Qatar soldiers would not let the convoy enter the country, would not let the convoy go through the check point to leave the military base and we were stalled there and I kept waiting for Attorney General Mukasey to get out of the SUV and storm up to the guards and say “Do you know who I am?” but he never did.
When we finally showed up at the hotel it must have been two or three in the morning and the Qatari attorney general and his entourage were there waiting to greet Attorney General Mukasey and of course all anybody wanted to do was go to sleep, but there was this reception there. Just the experience of being in the bubble of the Attorney General for 24 hours, and I think I spun out about four stories from that trip, was a great adventure.
In terms of other stories that I’ve done that I think have made a difference, I was proud of the story I did on Leslie Hagan, who was not renewed in her job because of a rumor that she was a lesbian. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about covering Justice was sort of getting out into the county and covering Justice as it relates to specific communities — going to Noxubee County, Miss. and covering the first ever case that alleged a violation of the Voting Rights Act by black elected officials against white voters was a great experience. Just recently going out to Suffolk County, Long Island, and covering a civil rights investigation there into whether local officials there have ignored hate crimes against Latinos in Suffolk County.
It has also been very interesting over the last five years to chart the way the federal government’s approach to terrorism has changed and sort of the way the federal government has figured out how to sort through these very complicated new problems and find the balance between the war model and the law enforcement model, and it’s obviously a debate that is continuing more than ever today. That has been very interesting to chart as court cases have made their way through the system and the Justice Department has changed its approach in response.
Specifically on the national security front, how have you seen that debate about the balance between law enforcement and war manifest itself? Has there been a shift in the new administration?
Just this week there was a New Yorker story in which Brad Berenson, who was in the White House counsel’s staff in the Bush administration, was quoted as saying from his perspective, on the national security front, the glass was 85 percent full, or something to that effect, he said basically things are 85 percent the same as they were during the Bush administration. I don’t know that I would put a specific percentage on it, but I think many people have said before, and I certainly appreciate their point of view, that it is in President Obama’s interest, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest, to portray a greater difference in national security policies between the last administration than in fact there actually is. Certainly, the language used to describe counter-terrorism efforts has changed dramatically. I think that although there have been changes in the policies, those policy changes have not been as dramatic as the language has.
So will you just dive in head first? How do you get a grasp on the broad range of issues the White House beat deals with?
I was just thinking last night about how five years ago when I started this beat, there was so much about the Justice Department that I didn’t know, from the names of officials to acronyms. I can remember doing interviews when I started covering Justice that I would say to the person I was interviewing, ‘Now, most NPR listeners are not familiar with the term habeas corpus, so why don’t you define it for them,’ of course, not knowing myself what habeas corpus meant.
As I start on this White House beat, I think there’s going to be this same kind of learning curve. I was just thinking last night about all the structural things of the White House and learning the names of officials and the things that I’ll have to learn, but I think that’s one of the reasons this is the right choice, having covered Justice for five years, it’s a fantastic experience and I love the beat, but I feel like a good time to try something new.
How do you prepare for your new role? Have you set up your Google Alerts yet?
I actually need to ask for our reference librarian’s help in structuring the right Google Alert, because if I put the Google Alert for Barack Obama, I’m going to get such a tremendous amount of information it’ll be useless. With a Google Alert for Eric Holder, it’s a little bit more digestible, but I’ll have to structure the new ones for the White House beat. But it’s true that I’m going to be relying really heavily upon some of the contacts and sources that I’ve developed over the past five years in starting on this new beat and to a certain extent it’s going to be like drinking from a fire hydrant and I expect that for the first six months to a year, I will be struggling to keep up, and that’s exciting to me.
When I started as a reporter, I felt like there was a long list of mistakes I had to make once in order to make sure that I wouldn’t make them again and then about a year ago when I started filling in as a guest host, there was a whole new list of things that could go wrong, most of which I have now done at least once, and hopefully that means that I will not do them again. So I’m sure that now that I’m starting on a whole new beat at the White House, I’ll have a whole new list of things that could go wrong and mistakes that I might make, and it’s just a matter of hanging in there, forging through them until I’ve sort of exhausted that list and feel comfortable in the routine.
What will you miss most about covering the Justice Department beat?
You know I remember during the U.S. Attorney firing scandal, there were countless hearings into the firings, and at almost every one of those hearings, somebody, whether it was a witness, or a congressman or a senator, would talk about how people who work at the Department of Justice feel a devotion to the Department and a passion for the Department’s mission that other federal government employees don’t feel, and I can’t speak to what other federal government employees do or don’t feel because I’ve never covered another federal department, but I have always been impressed by the way the people at the Department of Justice consider their work to be much more than a job. From national security to civil rights to environment to antitrust, across the board, people at DOJ feel a real devotion to the mission of the Department. John Ashcroft used to say the Department of Justice is the only Department with a value in its name, and there’s really something to that that I will miss.
Do you think there’s a lot more of a political aspect to covering the White House than there is to covering the Justice Department? Obviously at the White House sort of everything is political where at DOJ there’s supposed to be more of a divider line — in just enforcing the law as it’s written, where not everything is thought of politically, sort of what we’re seeing with the handling of the KSM trial.
“Yeah, well one of the major themes of the past five years has been the extent to which politics has or has not improperly affected the decision-making at the Department of Justice. There have been amazing Inspector General reports and hearings about that and I would say that was one of the major themes of the past five years. At the White House, there is a completely different standard as to which politics can influence decision making and that’s going to be a real difference.”
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The massive snowstorm that dumped nearly two feet of snow in the nation’s capital over the weekend closed the Justice Department and all federal government offices in Washington on Monday.
Sidewalks and streets around Justice Department headquarters at 9th & Pennsylvania Ave. NW were mostly passable. But the storm partially shut down the Metro train system which many DOJ employees use to get to work.
At least one tree on the south side of building, formally known as the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, came down under the weight of the snow on its branches. Security guards at the Justice Department were still clearing snow off the top of their booths Monday afternoon.
On Friday Attorney General Eric Holder was scheduled to receive the Medal for Excellence from Columbia Law School, his alma mater. But his trip to New York was canceled because of the weather. Holder conveyed his regrets through a professor at the event.
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger lauded Holder for his long career in public service, according to Columbia.
“Has there ever been an attorney general given more controversies to solve and a department more in need of leadership and respect?” Bollinger said. He also praised President Barack Obama and Holder for what he called not sacrificing constitutional rights to fight crime and terrorism.
“In Eric Holder, we have an Attorney General of the United States who is not afraid of the hard, principled path to the pursuit of justice, the defense of our security, and the fulfillment of our founding ideals,” said Bollinger.
Holder did, however, make it to a Super Bowl party at the White House on Sunday, along with other Cabinet officials and members of Congress.
A series of photos of the main Justice Department building post-snowstorm are placed below.
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Vice President Joe Biden led a round table meeting of high ranking government officials and entertainment industry executives at the White House conference center today, where he pledged that the Obama administration would work to combat piracy in the rapidly changing technological age.
Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller were just two of the officials in attendance at the meeting, which the White House billed as the first of its kind. Others included Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan.
“This is a problem that the United States cannot solve by itself,” said Holder. “We want to confront these nations, quite frankly, where too much of this occurs.”
Holder announced that the Justice Department would be setting up an intellectual property enforcement training and technical assistance program to provide resources to train state and local officials on how to investigate and prevent intellectual property crimes.
While the FBI has been offering such training previously, Biden said this was the first time the government had been making a coordinated effort, which he called “long overdue.”
Biden said he was offended by the violation of copyrights, which he called “flat unadulterated theft.” He said it was important to get the “all the major players in one place, in one room, with one overall, overarching strategy on how to deal with what is a serious, serious problem facing this country.
In a statement, the Motion Picture Association of America said: “We especially appreciate the Vice President’s long history of support for the protection of intellectual property, and thank him for his continued leadership defending American workers and businesses.”
“I’ve been in this battle with y’all since I don’t know how long,” said Biden. “The problem has gotten worse. Intellectual piracy is costing this country and all of you billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, and unless we better coordinate with all the resources of the federal government to deal with this problem, it’s likely to only get worse.”
Holder said he would reinvigorate a DOJ task force on the enforcement of intellectual property rights. “We want to convene an international meeting to start work with our international partners,” said Holder.
At the conclusion of the remarks by government officials, press members were escorted out of the room before the conversation with the industry officials began. CEOs declined to speak with a small group of reporters when they emerged over 50 minutes later, a half hour longer than anticipated.
One consumer group, Public Knowledge, said it was “extremely disappointed to learn of the White House meeting to be held later today on the issue of intellectual property and ‘piracy’,” according to Daily Finance.
“No consumer or public-interest groups, technology companies, technology associations or Internet service providers are on the guest list,” said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge. “No one who questions the need for draconian governmental policies on behalf of the privileged special interest group for whom this meeting is being held is on the guest list.”
UPDATE 12/16: The White House meeting came a day after DOJ Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer and John Morton, assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, held a news conference to announce that authorities had seized $26 million in counterfeit goods earlier this month in a joint operation with Mexico.
The announcement about Operation Holiday Hoax took place at the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center in Crystal City, Va., on Monday. Dan Glickman, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA); and Mitch Bainwol, his counterpart at the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), were also on hand. Both entertainment industry groups have pushed hard for strong intellectual property enforcement.
List of Attendees
Main Justice obtained a list from the White House of those who were confirmed to be in attendance at the Tuesday summit:
The Honorable Joe Biden
Vice President of the United States
The Honorable Eric Holder
United States Attorney General
The Honorable Gary Locke
United States Secretary of Commerce
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
United States Secretary of Homeland Security
The Honorable Robert S. Mueller
Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Honorable John T. Morton
Assistant Secretary, United States Immigration & Customs Enforcement
Department of Homeland Security
The Honorable David Kappos
Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and
Director, United States Patent & Trademark Office
The Honorable Douglas A. Smith
Assistant Secretary, Office of the Private Sector
Department of Homeland Security
Senior Advisor and Director, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement
The White House
Mark J. Sullivan
Director, United States Secret Service
Chairman & CEO, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Chairman & CEO, Warner Bros. Entertainment
Executive Vice President, Time Warner Inc.
Chairman & CEO, Viacom
CEO, NBC Universal
General Counsel, NBC Universal
CEO, Warner Music Group
Vice President, Warner Music Group
President & CEO, Harper Collins
President & COO, Universal Music Group
Executive Vice President, Universal Music Group
Senior Vice President, The Walt Disney Company
Partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
Chairman & CEO, Motion Picture Association of America
Chairman & CEO, Recording Industry Association of America
International President, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage
Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of
the United States
Kim Roberts Hedgpeth
National Executive Director, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
President, Directors Guild of America
President & CEO, National Music Publishers’ Association
National Executive Director & Chief Negotiator, Screen Actors Guild
Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the Vice President
Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Office of Management &
Domestic Policy Advisor, Office of the Vice President
Senior Advisor for Crime Policy, Office of the Vice President
Counselor to the Attorney General and Deputy Chief of Staff, Department of Justice
President & CEO, Entertainment Software Alliance
President & CEO, Business Software Alliance
White House CTO
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Applying lessons from Barack Obama’s tech-savvy presidential campaign, the administration is working to revamp the federal government’s out-dated Web sites, with the Justice Department the latest to undergo a makeover.
Last month the department unveiled a new logo, and new black-and-gold color theme, information organized in a more user-friendly manner and — in a major innovation for government — a big presence on social-networking sites.
In less than a month, the Justice Department has gained about 92,000 followers on the microblogging site Twitter, 1,400 Facebook fans, and 500 MySpace friends. The department was the fifth federal agency to join Twitter.
In 2008, Obama’s presidential campaign made novel use of social media — including texting, email, contests, videos, and blogs — to keep his supporters engaged, informed, connected and donating money.
Republicans have lagged in using social media in political campaigns. Now, as the Obama Justice Department applies some of these same techniques to its government communications strategy, conservative reaction ranges from grudging respect to conspiracy theories.
“Had we done something like this under Attorney General Ashcroft and President Bush, the howls would be deafening,” said Mark Corallo, who served as spokesman for Attorney General John Ashcroft and now works at his consulting firm, The Ashcroft Group. But as Corallo scanned the new site, he added: “This is truly professional. This is really well done.”
The brains behind the new design is Tracy Russo, who was in charge of blogger outreach for John Edwards‘ 2008 presidential campaign. In May, the department hired Russo to handle new media and oversee the site design. The position, in the Office of Public Affairs, is new. Russo, a former blogger for the Democratic National Committee, did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment.
The Web site is graphically driven and more intuitive than its predecessor. The new visual elements include professional photos of DOJ events and personnel, videos, and a new blog covers DOJ officials’ speeches and appearances.
Users can access videos of Holder, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli – on the site and on a DOJ YouTube channel – explaining their jobs and the department’s mission. Soaring music fills the background. One video is aimed solely at highlighting the public service of department employees. “Everyday they come to work thinking, ‘How do I do the right thing for the government?’” Ogden tells an invisible interviewer.
“It’s a very slick public relations campaign, but if it the department can do this and show America a 21st Century approach to communicating the mission, I give them a standing ovation,” Corallo said.
Matt Miller, director of the department’s Office of Public Affairs, said that updating the site and venturing into new media were priorities early on, and that they had “nothing to do with public relations.”
“This is a question of being open and transparent,” he said.
But some conservatives have condemned the changes. “The Obama Justice Department’s Secret Blogging Team — Is It Illegal?” was the headline on a recent post by blogger Warner Todd Huston, who added: “Eric Holder has created his own little propaganda unit.”
The site bears resemblance to whitehouse.gov or any modern Web site, really — uncluttered and dynamic, with a blog prominently displayed on the main page. Miller said the department looked for best practices but did not consult with other agencies or the White House.
The department did not provide Main Justice with figures related to costs; Miller said the efforts drew on existing contracts and in-house staff. Pragmatics, Inc., an IT company based in McLean, Va., had five employees working on the blog, which runs on the WordPress platform, according to this privacy impact study.
With Obama in the White House, it’s no longer unusual for government agencies to communicate via social media services, but today’s announcement that the Justice Department is now on MySpace is something of a milestone. For years, MySpace was under intense pressure from law enforcement officials from all levels of government to clean up what some considered to be a breeding ground for dangerous and criminal activity.
On both Facebook and MySpace, users can post comments on the department’s pages. On MySpace, there is an open forum. People have posted solicitations, requests for criminal investigations, aspersions, messages of gratitude and cat pictures.
“How sad it is that a government organization is on myspace… propaganda is becoming easier every day….,” wrote one user.
Another enthused: “I think it’s a great idea to set up a MySpace page for this kind of content. I wish everyone at the DoJ a wonderful day; thanks for everything you do!”
The department’s Web site was last updated in the middle of the Bush administration. But it lacked horsepower and offered little aesthetically. Other agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, were years ahead.
A working group was formed to explore legal and privacy issues related to new media, laying the foundation for DOJ 2.0. But the department under Bush had less of an appetite for a major overhaul, said former Justice officials. One concern was that the efforts would be perceived as political, said a former DOJ communications official.
“DOJ was clearly antiquated in its ability to communicate,” said the former official. “But these are the kind of changes that make a lot of noise. They can appear political, and therein lies the challenge.”
Pete Snyder, the CEO of New Media Strategies, suggested a formula: “About 80 percent of the time, you should be informing the public. Twenty percent of the time, it should be about pushing your message.”
Snyder, a former GOP pollster and media consultant, said it was too early to tell how the department was deploying its new media.
Still, he offered measured praise.
“[The department] can communicate with millions now versus what it used to be 15 or 20 years ago when you had community liasons going out there and having coffee,” Snyder said. “With the right leadership, this could be a great thing.”
Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of communication at George Mason University said concerns about the Justice Department’s efforts were misplaced. The new site reflects the evolution of technology and “somewhat different message delivery” used by the Democratic and Republican parties, said Farnsworth, author of ”Spinner in Chief: How Presidents Sell Their Policies and Themselves.”
There’s a huge difference between the [Democratic National Committee's] Web site and the Justice Department’s — as there should be,” he said.
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Break out the auto pen – the Department of Justice has some mail to answer.
The White House has told the office of the DOJ Executive Secretariat, which handles Justice Department correspondence, to prepare for a deluge of citizen mail, Main Justice has learned.
There are about 25,000 pieces of backlogged mail from citizens, which the White House is sorting by issue and re-routing to several different agencies. The Justice Department is expecting 2,000 to 3,000 pieces of mail, which the White House has labeled as a priority, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Department of Justice employees are expected to respond to the letters within ten days of receiving the mail, which should start arriving in the next few weeks. The mail, which will mostly be answered with pre-written form letters, could date back to January.
Such mail backlogged have occurred in the past with changes in administrations. A Justice Department spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
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Capitol Hill staffer Kenyen Brown was nominated Thursday to be U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Read the White House news release here.
According to Sean Reilly at the Mobile Press-Register, Brown would be the first African-American to hold a top federal prosecuting position in Alabama.
Main Justice broke the story of the surprise choice for the Mobile-based district two months ago. Brown, a former AUSA in the district, has worked on Capitol Hill as a staffer on the Senate and House ethics committees since 2000. He didn’t lobby for the job and wasn’t one of the two candidates formally recommended to the White House by Rep. Artur Davis, the senior Alabama Democrat in the House.
News that Brown was vetted for the job raised eyebrows in Alabama’s gossipy legal community, in part because one of his former mentors is a close friend of arch-conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Read our June 6 report here.
Since then, we learned more about the events that led to Brown’s unexpected selection. And we can confidently lay to rest the rumor that Sessions secretly had a hand in engineering Brown’s selection.
What rumor? Well, we originally didn’t report it because we couldn’t find any evidence for it. But we can’t debunk something you haven’t heard, so here goes:
When Brown was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District in the 1990s, he was befriended by a veteran prosecutor named Richard Moore, according to people in Alabama who know both men. Moore had been hired by Sessions, who served as U.S. Attorney for the district from 1981 to 1993. Sessions later sponsored Moore for the Inspector General post at the Tennessee Valley Authority and publicly praised him as a “good friend” during his 2003 Senate confirmation hearing. Read our previous report about Moore and Sessions here.
The rumor in Alabama was that Sessions put Brown’s name forward with some kind of wink and nod that he’d hire Moore, his old mentor, as his deputy — and thus allow Sessions to wield influence indirectly over his old turf.
But this just didn’t check out.
First, Sessions told Main Justice’s Andrew Ramonas in June that while he knows Brown, he didn’t recommend him for the job. Then, a Democratic official with knowledge of the selection process said Brown emerged as a consensus candidate because Rep. Artur Davis’s first choice for the job, Southern District of Alabama Assistant U.S. Attorney Vicki Davis (no relation), didn’t fare well in her Washington interview. For a description of some of the hurdles Vicki Davis appeared to face, click here for our previous report and scroll down.
It turns out that Rep. Davis met Brown last year, after he saw Brown’s name in the congressional newspaper Roll Call’s annual feature on the 50 most powerful staffers in Congress. Reading that Brown was from Alabama, the congressman asked to meet Brown — as any good politician would do.
Later, Vicki Davis ran into trouble. But Rep. Davis’s announced second choice for the Mobile job, former U.S. magistrate judge Patrick Sims, was never seriously considered, because White House wanted at least one African-American heading up one of the three prosecuting districts in a Deep South state with a history of racial conflict. Vicki Davis is African-American. Sims is white.
The nominee for Alabama’s Northern District, Joyce Vance, is also white. And so is the intended nominee for Alabama’s Middle District, Joe Van Heest, who’s been held up because of objections from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). Read our previous report about Van Heest’s delay here.
Davis then recommended the White House consider Brown. And the rest is, as they say, history.