Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Grassley’
Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice)

Ahead of an FBI oversight hearing next week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is asking FBI Director Robert Mueller for more information on the bureau’s latest attempt to modernize its computer system.

In a letter to Mueller dated Wednesday, Grassley wrote that the Sentinel project, which he called “little more than a fancy personnel management system,” appeared to be on the brink of failure.

The program would move the FBI’s criminal investigative records from paper to a computerized process. A stop-work order had been placed on both phases 3 and 4 of the Sentinel contract with Lockheed Martin.

“The FBI has been trying to get its computer system up to speed for a decade. It appears that the third iteration of a modern FBI computer system is about to fail,” Grassley wrote. “Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on a system that is little more than a fancy personnel management system. Taxpayers deserve an answer about the continued failure of the FBI and where the hundreds of millions of dollars went.”

FBI Director Robert Mueller (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

FBI spokesman Christopher Allen said the partial stop-work order, issued on March 3, is not a complete shutdown of the Sentinel program. The order had been expanded to include the remainder of Phase 3, which would allow the contractor to focus on deploying Phase 2 by the fall of 2010, he said.

“Based on the delays associated with the completion of Phase 2, the FBI is assessing the current state of Sentinel and will engage industry subject matter experts in the evaluation of its strategy going forward,” Allen said in a statement. “This action is consistent with the phased contract approach that the FBI has used to develop its case management system. By design, the multi-phase contract allows the suspension of activities when the government believes it is in its best interest to do so.”

Allen said that the completion of phase 2 of the project would “provide new or enhanced capabilities including the creation of case documents online; the efficient flow of those documents electronically through submission, collaboration, vetting, and approval; the capability to search across all case-related information; and an easy-to-use interface.”

A March report (PDF) from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that the cost of the Sentinel program was rising, the completion had been delayed several times and that the FBI did not have a schedule or cost estimate for the completion of the project.

Mueller said in April that delays in a massive overhaul of the bureau’s case management system were routine and he assured senators that the $305 million project would not become a boondoggle.

The full text of Grassley’s letter is reprinted below.

July 21, 2022

Via Electronic Communication

The Honorable Robert S. Mueller, III
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Director Mueller:

On March 17, 2010, I wrote to you regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) new investigative case management system known as Sentinel.  That letter discussed the progress of Sentinel and the fact that the FBI had issued a stop-work order to the project’s primary contractor, Lockheed Martin Services, Inc. (“Lockheed”) to cease work on Phases 3 and 4 of Sentinel.  This stop-work order was verified at a March 25, 2010, staff briefing held by the FBI and Lockheed and was further detailed in a reply dated March 31, 2010.  In that letter, the FBI confirmed that it had issued a partial stop-work order and that, “Negotiations with [the] prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, are underway to adjust the project’s cost and schedule to reflect these actions.”

Recently, it was reported that the FBI has issued another stop-work order to Lockheed halting work on Phases 3 and 4 of Sentinel.  This stop-work order raises serious questions about the future role Lockheed will play as the primary contractor for Sentinel and may indicate that the negotiations on cost and schedule detailed in March were not successful.  I write today regarding this development and request information about the status of negotiations with Lockheed and any changes to the schedule and cost for Sentinel.

On March 25, 2010, my staff met with representatives of the FBI to discuss my serious concerns with the potential delays in completing Sentinel.  Specifically, I asked my staff to inquire about the timing for the completion of Sentinel and whether the FBI and Lockheed would be able to complete the project within the budget Congress authorized. Despite these serious questions, the briefing provided few concrete answers as to when Sentinel would be completed and how much the FBI anticipated the final project to cost.  These same concerns were raised by the Inspector General for the Department of Justice (DOJ/OIG) in an interim report on the status of the FBI’s implementation of Sentinel issued on March 31, 2010.

The DOJ/OIG’s report stated that he had, “serious concerns about the progress of the FBI’s Sentinel project.”  The DOJ/OIG further found that, “the FBI has had difficulty establishing and maintaining a strict cost and schedule for the Sentinel project.”  The DOJ/OIG added, “As of March 2010, the FBI does not have official cost or schedule estimates for completing Sentinel.”  Most notable, the DOJ/OIG stated, “While the FBI does not yet have official estimates, FBI officials have acknowledge that the project will cost more than its revised estimate of $451 million and will likely not be completed until 2011.”  I share these same concerns and question whether this latest development in extending the stop-work order is an indication that Sentinel is on track to join Virtual Case File in the list of failed IT procurements at the FBI.

Accordingly, I ask that you provide responses to the following requests for information and questions in advance of the Senate Judiciary Committee FBI Oversight hearing scheduled for July 28, 2010.

(1) Provide a copy of the latest contract modification that includes the stop-work order for Phase 3 and Phase 4.

(2) Provide a copy of all updated cost estimates and projections provided by Lockheed to the FBI as part of the negotiations to continue work on Phase 3 and Phase 4 of Sentinel following the March 2010 stop-work order.

(3) Provide a copy of all updated timelines related to the completion of Sentinel following the issuance of the stop-work order from March 2010.

(4) Provide a copy of any counter-offer from the FBI to Lockheed related the cost estimate for completing Sentinel.

(5) Provide a list of all performance bonuses paid to Lockheed over the course of the Sentinel program.  This list should include the date of the bonus, the amount of the bonus, and the reason the bonus was paid.

(6) Does Lockheed have a financial interest or relationship with any COTS vendors utilized on the Sentinel project?

(7) Provide a complete list of all instances where the FBI issued a modification to the contract, changes the requirements of the contract, or issued a change order.

(8) Provide a copy of the original contract consisting of NIH’s CIO-SP2i contract, the FBI Sentinel TORP C-2428 which includes all attachments (e.g., Statement of Work, Lockheed version 3.0, EVMS requirements, DD-254, etc), all three attachments, and the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that was executed on March 9, 2022 between the FBI and Lockheed.

(9) Provide a copy of all contract modifications issued from inception of the contract through the most recent stop-work order.

(10) Provide copies of all documentation that identifies written notifications of non-conforming products or services rejected, and other unsatisfactory contract performance from inception through the most recent contract stop work order.

(11) Provide copies of all Monthly Program Status Reports.

(12) Provide copies of documentation regarding any and all Contracting Officers Conferences from contract inception through the most recent stop work order.

(13)  Provide copies of all SF 1034s (Public Voucher for Purchases and Services Other Than Personal) prepared and submitted from contract inception through the most recent stop work order.

Given the current fiscal constraints on the federal budget, it is imperative that every taxpayer dollar is spent as effectively and efficiently as possible.  The FBI has spent nearly a decade trying to develop this computer system and the net cost of the current and failed projects is well over half a billion dollars.  Congress and the American people deserve a complete accounting of what is happening with Sentinel before any future taxpayer dollars should even be considered for this project.  I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter and look forward to your complete and full response in advance of the July 28, 2010, hearing so that we can discuss this in an informed manner during the public setting.


Charles E. Grassley
United States Senator

Tags: , , , ,
Posted in News | Comments Off
Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Four Republican Senators urged the Justice Department to turn over non-public reports prepared by Deputy Attorney General nominee James Cole during his time as an independent monitor to American International Group (AIG).

Cole, a former public corruption prosecutor and longtime friend of Attorney General Eric Holder, worked as an independent consultant for AIG from January 2005 until earlier this year as part of a deferred prosecution agreement between Justice Department and the insurance giant.

Deputy Attorney General nominee James Cole (photo by Channing Turner / Main Justice).

In a letter to Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama along with GOP Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma requested copies of all reports submitted by Cole to DOJ while he worked for AIG.

“We understand the confidential treatment of Mr. Cole’s reports… and his recommendations to AIG stem from the deferred prosecution agreements between the Department and AIG,” the senators wrote. “The Judiciary Committee cannot, however, fully and properly evaluate Mr. Cole’s nomination without this documentation.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman defended Cole’s role at AIG and said he made “significant progress in implementing critically-needed reforms” in the areas he was charged with overseeing.

“Critics who suggest that Mr. Cole was somehow too close to AIG misunderstand his relationship with the company,” said spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler. “His presence was imposed on the company by a federal court. In fact, as the [Congressional Research Service] report notes, AIG executives tried to have him removed.”

“[Cole] was never a general overseer or monitor of AIG’s entire operation nor was he assigned to examine many of the issues involving AIG’s near collapse, such as credit-default swaps or retention bonuses,” Schmaler added.

Sessions only briefly brought up Cole’s work for AIG at a confirmation hearing last Tuesday and focused his questions mainly on a 2002 opinion piece written by Cole about the use of civilian trials for terrorism suspects. Grassley and Coburn did not attend the hearing.

In his opening statement at the hearing last week, Cole defended his work on AIG. “The company resisted some of my efforts, but I insisted on tough measures,” Cole said.

Cole’s reports on AIG were confidential, but the Justice Department sent the reports to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last year. The panel asked the Congressional Research Service to issue a report on Cole’s oversight of the company.

President Barack Obama nominated Cole to be Deputy Attorney General last month. He would replace acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, who has held the post since David Ogden stepped down in February.

The letter and the full statement from the DOJ is reprinted below.

June 23, 2022

Ronald Weich
Assistant Attorney General
Office of Legislative Affairs
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Mr. Weich:

We write regarding the nomination of James Cole to be Deputy Attorney General. Mr. Cole served as independent consultant to American International Group (AIG) for a number of years prior to that company’s near collapse and government-sponsored bailout in 2008. Numerous questions persist regarding Mr. Cole’s role in monitoring AIG in view of the company’s recent history. Such questions could not adequately be addressed at Mr. Cole’s June 15 hearing, however, because Mr. Cole appears to be prohibited from disclosing the nature of his work as an independent consultant and because the underlying documents apparently remain confidential. These documents include the deferred prosecution agreements, his recommendations to AIG, and his reports to the Department of Justice (Department), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the New York Attorney General’s Office (NYAG).

As a result of these claims of confidentiality, we have been unable to verify a number of reports that have questioned Mr. Cole’s activities as the independent consultant to AIG. For example, it has been reported that Mr. Cole “allowed AIG management to revise his quarterly reports to the SEC.” According to these same reports, Mr. Cole also made recommendations that there be independent review of all derivative transactions, but he expressly exempted derivative transactions made by the AIG-Financial Products group (AIG-FP). AIG-FP is the subsidiary of AIG that was responsible for the derivative transactions that ultimately led to a $182 billion taxpayer bailout. We understand Mr. Cole’s recommendation for derivative products by AIG-FP went even farther to state that “the appropriate independent review of the proposed derivative transactions or programs should be conducted by AIG-FP.” This recommendation raises serious questions about the thoroughness and independence of Mr. Cole’s review of these transactions. It was the devaluation of those high-risk transactions that led to AIG’s demise, and ultimately, the economic collapse.

If true, these reports about Mr. Cole’s deference to AIG and its subsidiaries would raise serious concerns regarding his performance as independent consultant. Due to the unknown nature of Mr. Cole’s work and the secrecy surrounding his recommendations and reports to the Department and the SEC, the Committee remains unable to verify or dismiss these reports.

We understand the confidential treatment of Mr. Cole’s reports to the Department, the SEC and the NYAG, and his recommendations to AIG stem from the deferred prosecution agreements between the Department and AIG. The Judiciary Committee cannot, however, fully and properly evaluate Mr. Cole’s nomination without this documentation. Accordingly, we request copies of all reports submitted by Mr. Cole in his role as independent consultant to the Department. To the extent the Department received such materials, we further request copies of Mr. Cole’s reports to the SEC and NYAG, as well as copies of all recommendations made to AIG by Mr. Cole. Finally, we request all responses submitted by AIG to the Department related to, or responding to, any report or recommendation issued by Mr. Cole as the independent consultant to AIG.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, which will help us to discharge our constitutional obligation to consider this nomination. To avoid any unnecessary delay, we respectfully ask you to provide this information as soon as possible so the Committee can consider Mr. Cole’s nomination.

Very truly yours,

Jeff Sessions
Chuck Grassley
John Cornyn
Tom Coburn

Statement from Tracy Schmaler, Justice Department spokeswoman:

“James Cole was assigned by a federal court order to serve as an outside independent consultant to AIG as the result of two specific lawsuits the company settled charging it with engaging in bid rigging, helping its clients to falsify their financial condition, and violating accounting rules. Mr. Cole was never a general overseer or monitor of AIG’s entire operation nor was he assigned to examine many of the issues involving AIG’s near collapse, such as credit-default swaps or retention bonuses.

“For those areas of the company that the court did give Mr. Cole authority to address - fraudulent transactions and the company’s compliance with applicable laws and regulations - Mr. Cole made significant progress in implementing critically-needed reforms by making sure the company improved its reporting lines and the independence of compliance staff so that they could not be pressured by the company’s business managers.

“Critics who suggest that Mr. Cole was somehow too close to AIG misunderstand his relationship with the company. His presence was imposed on the company by a federal court. In fact, as the CRS report notes, AIG executives tried to have him removed.”

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D‐Mont.) and the panel’s ranking member Chuck Grassley (R‐Iowa) have agreed on language to temporarily extend three Patriot Act provisions that would expire at the end of this month.

A draft of a Senate job creation bill includes provisions that would keep in place the Patriot Act’s “lone wolf,” business records and “roving wiretap” powers until Feb. 28, 2011.

The jobs bill is regarded as a top priority, and floor action is expected this month. A stand-alone Patriot Act renewal may be more difficult to achieve this month. The House and Senate have yet to iron out their differences on whether Congress should reauthorize all or some of the authorities.

The Senate Patriot Act bill would renew all of the powers. The House version would  reauthorize the records and “roving wiretap” provisions but not the “lone wolf” authority, which the government has never used.

The Senate bill was approved by the Judiciary Committee last October and is awaiting floor action. The House bill, which won Judiciary Committee approval last November, is also awaiting floor action.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said he backs the Senate bill, but he hasn’t publicly commented on the House legislation.

Here is a summary of the provisions that are due to expire:

  • Lone wolf: Allows government to track a target without any discernible affiliation to a foreign power, such as an international terrorist group. The provision applies only to non-U.S. persons. The government has never used it.
  • Business records: Allows investigators to compel third parties, including financial services and travel and telephone companies, to provide them access to a suspect’s records without the suspect’s knowledge.
  • Roving wiretaps: Allows the government to monitor phone lines or Internet accounts that a terrorism suspect may be using, regardless of whether others who are not suspects also regularly use them. The government must provide the FISA court with specific information showing the suspect is purposely switching means of communication to evade detection.
Thursday, February 4th, 2010

The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed today two top Justice Department nominees whose nominations had languished on the Senate Executive Calendar for much of last year.

However, the panel lost its quorum — and its ability to conduct business — before it could consider the most high-profile nomination, that of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

At the end of 2009, the Senate returned all three nominations to the White House. President Obama promptly renominated them in January.

Mary L. Smith (Schoeman, Updike & Kaufman)

The panel today voted to report out of committee Tax Division nominee Mary L. Smith by a 12-7 vote. The committee endorsed Office of Legal Policy nominee Christopher Schroeder by a 16-3 vote.

As they did in her first committee vote last June, Republicans unanimously voted against sending Smith’s nomination to be Assistant Attorney General to the Senate floor. Republican senators have complained that Smith has virtually no tax law experience. The committee initially approved her last June 11 on a party line vote of 12-7.

“The Assistant Attorney General is not the kind of position that you probably would want someone learning on the job,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said at the committee meeting today.

Democrats defended Smith, noting her past work as an in-house counsel at Tyco International and as a DOJ trial attorney.

“She has more litigation, management and Justice Department experience than previous Tax Division nominees,” said Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin. He added that litigation is the “bread and butter” of the Tax Division.

Christopher Schroeder (Duke University)

On Schroeder’s nomination to be Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Policy, the Republican vote was split, with only Jon Kyl (Ariz.), John Cornyn (Texas), and Tom Coburn (Okla.) voting against Schroeder, who would be vetting judicial nominations if he is confirmed.

Schroeder, a Duke University law professor, has been a critic of President George W. Bush’s national security policies, which is a source of concern for some Republicans. The panel first reported him out of committee by voice vote on July 28, 2009.

“I find it very troubling that someone with those views would be vetting the judges nominated by the president,” Kyl said.

Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the panel’s ranking Republican, said Schroeder, a former chief counsel on the committee to then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), said the professor is a “strong partisan.” But the Republican senator said Schroeder’s views shouldn’t disqualify him from leading the Office of Legal Policy, because the office “has some political component to it.”

“The nominee is smart and capable,” Sessions said.

The panel also held over several judicial nominations and DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics nominee James P. Lynch. The committee will consider Lynch and Johnsen at its meeting next Thursday.

“I must admit I am troubled by the number of nominations that get held,” panel Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) complained. “Vote them up, or vote them down.”

This report was updated at 2:02 p.m.

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Roxanne Conlin (Roxanne Conlin & Associates)

Former federal prosecutor Roxanne Conlin (D) is seriously behind in her fundraising as she campaigns to unseat Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa): Grassley has at least eight times as much money to wage a campaign as Conlin does.

Conlin, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa from 1977 to 1981, reported having about $500,000 cash on hand in her 2009 year-end campaign finance report. Grassley, who is seeking a sixth term in the Senate, had more than $4.4 million cash on hand at the end of the third quarter last year. He has not yet filed a year-end report.

The good news for Conlin, who is now a lawyer in private practice, is that she has raised more money than any of the other three declared Democratic candidates.

At the end of the fourth quarter, ex-state Sen. Tom Fiegen had $418.22 cash on hand. Meanwhile, ex-state Rep. Bob Krause, who has yet to file a year end report, had $3,492.51 cash on hand at the end of the third quarter. Engineer Sal Mohamed has yet to file any financial reports.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) (gov)

Grassley, who is running unopposed in the primary, has a number of advantages in addition to fundraising. He has wide name recognition and is well-liked in Iowa. Even outside of the state, Grassley, who sits on a number of powerful committees, including Finance, Judiciary and Agriculture, is one of the most visible senators.

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, told his colleagues today that he will formally ask the Justice Department to identify who decided that the alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber should be treated as a civilian and not as an enemy combatant.

Jeff Sessions (Getty Images

The FBI — not the military — took Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab into custody on Dec. 25 on U.S. soil after he allegedly attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair testified yesterday on Capitol Hill that his office was not consulted about the use of FBI agents and that special terrorism investigators should have handled Abdulmutallab, according to The Washington Post.

It is unclear who made the decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a civilian. FBI Director Robert Mueller testified yesterday before the committee that the events were “fast-moving” and authorities had “no time” to get other investigators in place. But Mueller said decisions were made “appropriately,” including the decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights.

Sessions said yesterday that it seemed the decision was made “on the fly.” He added that the FBI’s handling of Abdulmutallab could have precluded the U.S. government from obtaining valuable intelligence.

“I think this is a matter of serious import,” Sessions said yesterday. “I don’t think we have clarity of rules. We need to get it straight.”

Democrats voiced support for the decisions made in the aftermath of the alleged attempted bombing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday that the FBI’s actions were “totally appropriate.” Senators were unable to point to an example of authorities putting an alleged terrorist apprehended on American soil immediately into military custody.

Here’s the letter Sessions and Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) sent today to Attorney General Eric Holder about the matter:

We are writing to ask who within the Department of Justice made the decision on Christmas day to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect, entitled to Miranda warnings and the right to counsel, rather than as a unprivileged enemy belligerent subject to military detention and a full opportunity to gain intelligence. We would also like to know the basis for this decision, including whether the administration has a protocol or policy in place for handling al Qaeda terrorists captured in the United States.

At yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller described how Joint Terrorism Task Force agents initially interrogated Mr. Abdulmutallab without Miranda warnings for the purpose of obtaining intelligence information.  He stated that this short initial interrogation occurred before the terror suspect was taken into surgery and that the decision to provide Miranda warnings and pursue criminal charges was made shortly thereafter “in consultation with the Department of Justice and others in the administration prior to the agents going back in later that evening to interview him.” Director Mueller declined to name the person within the Department who made the decision, stating that he would first have to get approval from the Department. Nonetheless, he made clear the decision was not made “at the local level.”

The Department of Justice’s decision to afford this terrorist Miranda warnings and a civilian prosecution appears to have been made without soliciting input from the Department’s administration partners in the war on terrorism. According to testimony before both the Judiciary Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Department officials who made this decision failed to consult key officials who also have a major role in counterterrorism and intelligence gathering. Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, testified that he was not consulted.  Similar testimony was provided by Director Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter. Furthermore, Director Mueller testified he did not know whether Defense Secretary Robert Gates was consulted on this decision, which is remarkable given that Mr. Abdulmutallab appears to fit cleanly within the Military Commissions Act definition of an “unprivileged enemy belligerent.”

We believe the Department’s hasty decision to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Abdulmutallab deprived our intelligence agencies of a critical opportunity to interrogate an al Qaeda-trained terrorist who was fresh from training in Yemen. Had Mr. Abdulmutallab been transferred to military custody as an unlawful enemy belligerent, our government would have had more time to gain an understanding of the terrorist training and recruiting network on the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the activities of al Qaeda in Nigeria. More importantly, a thorough and unrushed interrogation might have revealed information to detect and disrupt the next terrorist attack. However, because Mr. Abdulmutallab was given Miranda rights and ceased cooperating, that information is now lost.

It is important that Congress fully understand the basis for the decision in this case and the process by which it was reached so that we can be assured that an appropriate process is in place to address the next terrorist who is captured and detained. To that end, please let us know who within the Department made the decision on Christmas day, as well as the basis and rationale behind the decision. Additionally, please let us know whether a protocol or policy is in place to guide the administration’s action in the next terrorism case.

This post has been updated from an earlier version.

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel hit implacable Republican opposition. (Image via CAP Action Fund)

The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold new hearings on Dawn Johnsen to become the new assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

The GOP senators argue that the failed Christmas Day bombing as well as other events require the panel to hold fresh hearings on her nomination, which the Senate returned to the White House without action on Dec. 24, Roll Call first reported yesterday. President Barack Obama intends to re-nominate her, despite Republican concerns about her criticism of the George W. Bush administration’s national security policies.

The letter obtained by Main Justice and signed by Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) says:

In recent weeks, there have been several incident threatening our national security and underscoring the need for more aggressive counterterrorism efforts, information sharing, and military and intelligence initiatives to uproot and eliminate al Qaeda and its affiliates from footholds around the globe.  At a time like this, it is essential that the Department of Justice provide sound legal guidance to the various intelligence and counterterrorism agencies within our government.

We believe many unanswered questions remain about Dawn Johnsen’s suitability to guide our Nation’s legal response to the war on terror through the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Mrs. Johnsen’s record calls into question her dedication to aggressive Executive action in national security matters. She has supported backward-looking investigations and written that the last administration’s detainee policies “failed miserably.” She has consistently advocated placing unnecessary constraints on the President and our intelligence professionals, constraints not required by our laws or Constitution.  Based on her statements, it is unclear whether Ms. Johnsen would be able to set aside her personal biases and provide the type of objective, yet aggressive, constitutional legal advice the President will need to effectively combat the continued terror threat. Accordingly, we ask that you hold a new hearing on her nomination before scheduling her nomination for a Committee vote.

We do not make this request lightly, but feel compelled to do so based on the nominee’s record and the position to which she has been nominated. In recent years, the OLC has been critical in authorizing appropriate government action to combat al Qaeda. For example, the Clinton administration OLC reportedly determined as a matter of law that the Executive Order banning assassinations did not apply to the targeting of top al Qaeda leadership, a ruling that appears to have been vital to CIA efforts in the 1990s and even America’s aerial drone program today. It is critical that OLC be led by a lawyer who is willing to support and authorize all necessary and appropriate action in our Nation’s continued war against al Qaeda.

For the Committee to properly discharge its advice and content duty, we believe a second hearing is necessary to evaluate Ms. Johnsen’s nomination and approach to the serious national security questions currently facing the administration.

A spokesperson for Leahy was unable to comment immediately. A spokesperson for Sessions, the ranking Republican, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter and whether Republicans would call for hearings for former DOJ Tax Division nominee Mary L. Smith and ex-Office of Legal Policy nominee Christopher Schroeder. Obama intends to re-nominate the two former nominees, who were returned to the White House with Johnsen on Dec. 24.

Marge Baker, executive vice president of the liberal advocacy group, People For the American Way, released this statement:

“This latest maneuver by Senate Republicans is anything but a good faith effort to protect national security. We absolutely face serious threats, and the Obama administration needs all hands on deck. Yet Senate Republicans are holding up crucial nominees like Johnsen and Erroll Southers, the president’s nominee to head TSA.

“Dawn Johnsen was nominated over 11 months ago, and Senators have had months following her hearing to seek additional information and to consult with her. That never happened. But now that the media is reporting that Johnsen has 60 votes for confirmation, Senate Republicans are suddenly interested in engaging her.

“The request for a second hearing is a transparent and brazen effort at obstruction, and too much is at stake to waste time on it. The seven Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have had their say - they voted in lockstep against Johnsen. But 60 Senators - including senior Senate Republican Richard Lugar - support her.

“Dawn Johnsen is widely considered to have the integrity, experience, and acumen to lead the Office of Legal Counsel. She also has an abiding commitment to our national security and rule of law. We strongly urge the Judiciary Committee to quickly move the resubmitted nomination to the floor for an up-down vote.”

Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report.

This post has been updated from an earlier version.

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed legislation today that would reauthorize certain juvenile delinquency program funds.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009 would renew the program funding provisions in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 until fiscal year 2014. The 1974 legislation was due for reauthorization three years ago. The program authorizes funding to states with special practices for handling youth in their justice systems.

The panel voted 12-7 on the 2009 bill this morning at its markup. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, agreeing with Republican concerns over the projected $4 billion price tag for the legislation.

Feinstein, who also sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the bill calls for a “huge authorization” that would be hard to justify with the $1.7 trillion federal deficit.

“I would be very hard pressed to appropriate these sums of money for this purpose at this particular point in time,” Feinstein said at the panel markup.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is a sponsor of the bill, cited a New York Times editorial from yesterday that called on the Senate to move on the bill. He first introduced the reauthorization legislation in 2008.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee reported this important bipartisan legislation last year,” Leahy said in a statement. “We should ensure that it passes into law in this Congress.”

Several new provisions were added.

The committee voted 10-9 to adopt an amendment offered by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would require the U.S. Comptroller General to audit the performance of the Justice Department Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention, which handles the juvenile justice grants. He said the language was necessary because there were concerns about the effectiveness of some of the programs funded by the office.

Leahy, who voted against the amendment, said the comptroller provision was unnecessary since the bill already called for the  Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Office administrator to submit a report to Congress on its activities.

“I think you’re crazy for not taking this amendment,” Grassley told Leahy during debate on the amendment.

The other amendments approved by unanimous consent added provisions that would allow youth and family serving organizations to apply for juvenile justice grants, help state and local law enforcement agencies implement new strategies to combat crime and would clarify some of the language in the original version of the 2009 bill.

The panel rejected an amendment by its ranking member, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), by a 6-13 vote. The amendment would have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults if accused of murder, rape or other serious offenses.

The House does not have a companion bill.

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to disclose information about Justice Department political appointees who are working on terrorism and detainee issues.

Chuck Grassley (Getty Images)

Chuck Grassley (Getty Images)

The letter comes a week after Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Holder at a Senate oversight hearing to clarify the work histories and potential conflicts of DOJ officials working on detainee issues.

The committee Republicans also have asked Holder to say whether Justice Department officials who in the past represented detainees or lobbied on detainee rights have requested or received ethics waivers to continue to work on those issues.

At last week’s hearing Holder said he would consider the Republicans’ request, but didn’t promise to provide the information, frustrating Grassley. Holder later said he wasn’t trying to be unresponsive. The Attorney General said he needed to speak with DOJ officials first to ensure he wasn’t disclosing privileged information by responding to Grassley’s inquiries.

The Iowa senator, who is up for reelection next year, cited news reports at the hearing that said Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal and National Security Division prosecutor Jennifer Daskal are working on terrorism issues at DOJ, despite possible conflicts of interest.

Katyal represented Osama bin Laden’s driver before he became Principal Deputy Solicitor General in January. Daskal was a senior counsel for Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit human rights organization, which supports legal rights for detainees.

“… I want to make sure that you understand that the people in the department understand their ethical obligations,” Holder told Grassley at the hearing. “And to the extent that recusals are appropriate on the basis of prior representations or prior connections, people in the department have recused themselves from specific cases.”

The request is one skirmish in the larger political battle Republicans are waging against Holder’s decision to have alleged 9/11 plotter  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspected terrorists tried at a New York City federal court.

Panel Republicans blasted Holder’s judgment at the hearing last week and have spoken out against the decision in the media.

Read our latest report of Republican opposition to the decision here.

Friday, November 13th, 2009
Roxanne Conlin (Roxanne Conlin for Senate)

Roxanne Conlin (Roxanne Conlin for Senate)

In a profile today of former federal prosecutor Roxanne Conlin, who is running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Des Moines Register says she will likely deflect expected attacks about her later career as a plaintiff’s lawyer by saying she has worked to “champion the powerless.”

Conlin’s “biggest payday” was an antitrust case on behalf of Iowa consumers against Microsoft Corp. that settled in 2007, The Register said. Conlin’s law firm split $75 million in fees with a Minnesota law firm, out of $180 million set aside by the software maker to pay Iowa consumers.

Conlin, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa from 1977 to 1981, is one of four people seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Grassley.

Said The Register:

In a two-minute Internet video she used to help launch her campaign, Conlin doesn’t use the word lawyer or attorney. She uses the term “prosecutor” to refer to her career before 1982, and then later describes herself as the head of a “small law firm to give a voice to everyday people who had none.”

Conlin’s background as a trial lawyer could hurt her with a segment of voters, The Register reports. However, if she is able to portray herself as an advocate for the people, it could work to her benefit, according campaign experts who spoke to The Register.

Conlin said she has used her private practice to advance the same causes she would work to further if elected, including gender discrimination, sexual harassment and government transparency.

“I have spent my life standing up to the powerful,” Conlin told The Register, adding, “It’s what I do. I don’t have any fear.” The Register reports that Conlin ” has built a reputation as a single-minded litigator with a gambler’s streak, betting on her own skill and her tolerance for long hours of preparation.”

In a video she posted on her campaign Web site, Conlin said, “Taking on the special interests has been the cause of my life,” adding,  “I’m running for U.S. Senate to take this fight to Washington.”