Posts Tagged ‘Dick Cheney’
Monday, March 8th, 2010

Seems Karl Griffin is not to be.

Tim Griffin and his daughter Mary Katherine (Tim Griffin for Congress)

While the two were in the White House when George W. Bush was president, Tim Griffin, then an aide to Bush adviser Karl Rove, jokingly wrote in an e-mail to his boss: “Btw my wife is pregnant. We are thinking about naming him Karl. Lol.”

But the baby turned out to be a girl. Griffin and his wife Elizabeth named her Mary Katherine. (Possible alternative namesakes? — Mary Cheney, the second daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney; Republican strategist Mary Matalin; or Bush administration Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.)

Cut to 2010 and now the couple is expecting again. This time they know for sure it’s a boy. But it looks like Rove’s name won’t live on in the Griffin family.

“Thank you to all who have been asking, but Baby John is not here yet! I will keep you updated! We appreciate your thoughts and prayers,” Griffin tweeted Friday evening.

So which “John” in Griffin’s life could be more important than Karl Rove?

We at Main Justice have a few guesses — John Ashcroft? John McCain? John Roberts?

Griffin played a central role in the 2006 U.S. Attorney firings scandal. Congressional investigators found the White House had ousted Little Rock-based prosecutor Bud Cummins to make way for Griffin to take the plum federal prosecuting post. He served six controversial months before stepping down.

Griffin is now seeking the Republican nomination for Arkansas’ 2nd congressional district House seat.  His campaign did not return a request for comment.

Friday, March 5th, 2010

In an Op-ed in Friday’s Washington Post, Former Acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger excoriated a video put out this week by Liz Cheney’s conservative non-profit Keep America Safe that questioned the loyalty of Justice Department lawyers who represented alleged terrorist detainees while working in private practice.

“That those in question would have their patriotism, loyalty and values attacked by reputable public figures such as Elizabeth Cheney and journalists such as [William] Kristol is as depressing a public episode as I have witnessed in many years,” Dellinger wrote. “What has become of our civic life in America? The only word that can do justice to the personal attacks on these fine lawyers — and on the integrity of our legal system — is shameful. Shameful.”

The group has been needling Holder on the issue for months after the DOJ disclosed that nine employees previously represented detainees or worked for organizations that advocate changes to terrorism policies. The names of two of the nine were already known and Fox News identified the remaining seven on Wednesday. The video referred to the seven lawyers as the “al Qaeda Seven.”

Dellinger, who also headed the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel and is now a partner at O’Melveny & Myers, defended the record of Karl Thompson, one of the nine lawyers who represented detainees. Thompson, now himself an OLC lawyer, aided Defense Department lawyer Rebecca Snyder and Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler in their defense of alleged terrorist Omar Kadhr.

Below is excerpt of Dellinger’s piece, click here to read the rest.

It never occurred to me on the day that Defense Department lawyer Rebecca Snyder and Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler of the Navy appeared in my law firm’s offices to ask for our assistance in carrying out their duties as military defense lawyers that the young lawyer who worked with me on that matter would be publicly attacked for having done so. And yet this week that lawyer and eight other Justice Department attorneys have been attacked in a video released by a group called Keep America Safe (whose board members include William Kristol and Elizabeth Cheney) for having provided legal assistance to detainees before joining the department. The video questions their loyalty to the United States, asking: “DOJ: Department of Jihad?” and “Who are these government officials? . . . Whose values do they share?”

Here, in brief, is the story of one of those lawyers.

In June 2007, I was at a federal judicial conference when I received an urgent message to call the Defense Department. The caller was Lt. Cmdr. Kuebler, a uniformed Navy officer who had been detailed to the Office of Military Commissions. As part of his military duties, Kuebler had been assigned to represent Omar Khadr, a Guantanamo detainee who was to be tried before a military commission. Kuebler told me that the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed that day to review the case of another detainee who had been a part of the same lower court proceeding as Khadr. Because Kuebler’s client had not sought review at the Supreme Court, this situation raised some complex questions of court practice with which Kuebler was unfamiliar. Kuebler’s military superior suggested he call me and ask whether I could assist him in analyzing the applicable Supreme Court rule.

It was a Friday night. I called Karl Thompson, a lawyer at my firm who had previously been a Supreme Court law clerk, and asked whether he could look into the question over the weekend. I told Thompson that the military lawyers assigned to these cases had a very burdensome workload and that it seemed that Kuebler could really use our help. Even though Thompson was extremely busy with other work at the firm, he said he would somehow find time for this as well.

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance at CPAC, where his daughter slammed DOJ's handling of terror trials (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said this afternoon that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder want to give terrorists rights they don’t deserve. She spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and then introduced her father, who made a surprise appearance.

The younger Cheney runs Keep America Safe, a political action group that supports the continuation of the anti-terrorism policies of the Bush administration. She slammed the Obama administration’s efforts to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, to try self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in civilian court and to read Miranda rights to the for alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber.

“If you’ll notice, the White House likes to make [Guantánamo] announcements late at night when there are other things going on,” Liz Cheney said.

Dick Cheney and Liz Cheney at CPAC (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

“That’s not change we can believe in, that’s not change the American people voted for, and it’s time for the American people to stand up and take this country back,” she said Cheney.

Liz Cheney

“This is not rocket science. My 9-year old daughter Grace asked me, ‘Is President Obama really trying to bring terrorists into the United States?’ I said ‘yes, unfortunately, he is’ and she said, ‘man, use your brain, dude, that’s totally stupid,’ ” Cheney told her conservative audience.

“President Obama and Attorney General Holder don’t get it, and it’s time for Congress to act,” she said. “A wise man wouldn’t fret over whether a terrorist was read his Miranda rights.”

In his remarks, Dick Cheney said he believed Obama would be a one-term president. He did not touch specifically on Justice Department-related issues.

Videos of the speech are available below.

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

In dueling interviews this morning with ABC’s This Week and NBC’s Meet the Press, Vice President Joe Biden and former Vice President Dick Cheney traded shots on the Obama administration’s decision to try self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York, and to treat the Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect rather than a military prisoner.

Biden defended the decision to turn over Abdulmutallab to the FBI, and drew parallels with the Bush Administration’s treatment of Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes.

Here’s Biden on NBC:

‘Let me choose my words carefully here. Dick Cheney’s a fine fellow. He’s entitled to his own opinion. He’s not entitled to rewrite history. He’s not entitled to his own facts. The Christmas Day Bomber was treated the exact way that he suggested that the Shoe Bomber was treated. Absolutely the same way. .

under the Bush administration there were three trials in military courts. Two of those people are now walking the streets. They are free. There were 300 trials of so-called terrorists and those who have engaged in terror against the United States of America who are in federal prison, and have not seen the light of day, prosecuted under the last administration.

.. Dick Cheney’s a fine fellow, but he is not entitled to rewrite history without it being challenged. I don’t know where he has been. Where was he the last four years of the last administration?’

Cheney has argued that Abdulmutallab’s actions should have treated as an act of war.

Cheney told ABC’s Jonathan Karl this morning: “I do see repeatedly examples that there are key members in the administration, like Eric Holder, for example, the attorney general, who still insists on thinking of terror attacks against the United States as criminal acts as opposed to acts of war, and that’s a — that’s a huge distinction.”

An interesting exchange came when Karl asked Cheney about the Reid parallels. Cheney first argued that the military commission infrastructure had not been ready at the time. Then he acknowledged disagreements within the Bush administration over which approach to take.

KARL: But you still had an option to put him into military custody.

CHENEY: Well, we could have put him into military custody. I don’t — I don’t question that. The point is, in this particular case, all of that was never worked out, primarily because he pled guilty.

KARL: Now, I’d like to read you something that the sentencing judge reading the — giving him his life sentence read to Richard Reid at the time of that sentencing. Here it is. He said to Reid, “You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. We do not negotiate with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.”

The judge in that case was a Reagan appointee. Doesn’t he make a good point?

CHENEY: Well, I don’t think so, in a sense that it — if it — if you interpret that as taking you to the point where all of these people are going to be treated as though they’re guilty of individual criminal acts.

KARL: Now, on that question of trying, you know, dealing as enemy combatants or through the criminal justice system, I came across this. This is a document that was put out by the Bush Justice Department under Attorney General Ashcroft…

CHENEY: Right.

KARL: … covering the years 2001 to 2005. And if you go right to page one, they actually tout the criminal prosecutions…

CHENEY: They did.

KARL: … of terror suspects, saying, “Altogether, the department has brought charges against 375 individuals in terrorism- related investigations and has convicted 195 to date.” That was 2005. Again, seems to make the administration’s point that they’re not doing it all that differently from how you were doing it.

CHENEY: Well, we didn’t all agree with that. We had — I can remember a meeting in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House where we had a major shootout over how this was going to be handled between the Justice Department, that advocated that approach, and many of the rest of us, who wanted to treat it as an intelligence matter, as an act of war with military commissions.

We never clearly or totally resolved those issues. These are tough questions, no doubt about it. You want my opinion, my view of what ought to happen, I think we have to treat it as a — as a war. This is a strategic threat to the United States. I think that’s why we were successful for seven-and-a-half years in avoiding a further major attack against the United States.

In his interview, Biden also responded to criticism from Cheney about Holder’s decision to try Mohammed in New York federal court. That decision has not only raised the ire of Republicans but also of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the state’s congressional delegation.

Biden reiterated the administration’s claim that Mohammed’s trial would result in a guilty verdict. ”That decision as to where and when…is being considered right now,” Biden said, adding: “he will not be acquited, he will be found guilty, he will be in jail, and he will stay there.”

Biden did not rule out moving Mohammed to a military commission.

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Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

NPR's Justice Department coorespondent, Ari Shapiro (right of Attorney General Eric Holder) will begin covering the White House in the coming weeks (DOJ photo).

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.

Ari Shapiro (NPR photo).

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.”

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Eric Holder (DOJ)

White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel opposed Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try the alleged 9/11 plotters in federal court, arguing that it would alienate Republicans who support closing Guantanamo Bay but favor military commissions,  according to this story by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.

Emmanuel was particularly concerned about losing the support of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a proponent of military commissions who had been key ally on closing the military-run prison and had lent a hand on other matters, including the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Mayer writes.

“There was a lot of drama,” an “informed source” told Mayer. “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people.”

The source went on, “Rahm had a good relationship with Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’

A bipartisan group of senators led by Graham unveiled legislation earlier this week that would prohibit the Justice Department from using funds to prosecute 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his alleged coconspirators in federal court.

The White House, however, continues to support civilian trials, and Holder said he will press forward with them, though his options are limited by a growing NIMBY mentality.

Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg withdrew his support for holding the trials in city, dealing the plan a fatal blow. Officials in Northern Virginia, where al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui was prosecuted, have been outspoken in their opposition to hosting another terrorism trial.

The New Yorker story also documents Holder’s reaction to surging criticism of his decision to leverage the criminal justice system against the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plane.

“What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case” since 9/11, he told Mayer. “There’s a desire to ignore the facts to try to score political points. It’s a little shocking.”

Earlier this week, Holder sent a pointed letter to Republican senators in which he accepted responsibility for the handling of the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Holder noted that alleged terrorists apprehended in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001, have been detained under federal criminal law. He emphasized that “no agency supported the use of law of war detention” in high-level meetings immediately after Abdulmutallab’s arrest.

The letter was the strongest push-back yet from the Justice Department. Holder’s role was already known, as were his arguments supporting his decisions, but the Attorney General suffered weeks of hammering by Republicans before speaking up. (Several of his supporters praised the move but told Main Justice they wish he would have acted sooner.)

The New Yorker story is full of other great details, a few of which we’ve highlighted below.

Holder on toughness:

Some of Holder’s friends, who call him Mr. Nice Guy, wonder if he is as tough as some of these predecessors. “Attorneys General should be feared,” one legal observer told me. “They have incredible power. Holder makes correct decisions on the law, but he’s not aggressive.” Holder bristles at such characterizations. His Secret Service code name is Fidelity, but he joked, “I’d like something like The Hammer.”


Late last month, at home, in Northwest Washington, Holder addressed those who have suggested that he and Obama are too weak to take on terrorism. “This macho bravado—that’s the kind of thing that leads you into wars that should not be fought, that history is not kind to,” he said. “The quest for justice, despite what your contemporaries might think, that’s toughness. The ability to subject yourself to the kind of criticism I’m getting now, for something I think is right? That’s tough.” He paused, and added, “This is something that can get a rise out of me, the notion that somehow Eric Holder and Barack Obama, this Administration, is not tough. We have the welfare of the American people in our minds all the time. We’ll fight our enemies, and we’ll do that which is necessary, and we won’t turn our backs on the values and traditions that have made this country great. That is what is tough.”

The Holder Effect:

As Eric Fehrnstrom, [Scott] Brown’s political consultant, put it to me recently, the “most potent political issue” in the [U.S. Senate] race was voter opposition to the Justice Department’s decision to extend customary legal protections to suspected terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspect who on Christmas Day attempted to detonate a bomb on a Northwest Airlines passenger plane bound for Detroit.


Holder’s unpopular positions on terrorism issues have frustrated Obama’s advisers. The lawyer close to the Administration said, “The White House doesn’t trust his judgment, and doesn’t think he’s mindful enough of all the things he should be,” such as protecting the President from political fallout. “They think he wants to protect his own image, and to make himself untouchable politically, the way [former Attorney General Janet] Reno did, by doing the righteous thing.”

Taking on the Cheney Clan:

Holder tried to address his critics with lawyerly detachment. Dick Cheney had equated Holder’s approach to handling terrorism with giving “aid and comfort to the enemy”—the legal definition of treason. Holder said of Cheney, “On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice.” He added that he had seen documents making clear that Cheney’s office was the driving force behind the Bush Administration’s most controversial counterterrorism policies, especially those sanctioning brutal interrogations. He said of Cheney, “I think he’s worried about what history’s judgment will be of the role that he played in making decisions about everything from black sites to enhanced interrogation techniques.” Holder said that he doesn’t know Elizabeth Cheney, but noted, with a laugh, “She’s clearly her father’s daughter.”

Taking on Rudy Giuliani:

Holder told me that he was “distressed” that people “who know better” were claiming that the courts were not up to the job of trying terrorists. He added that he found it “exceedingly strange” to hear this argument from Giuliani, who had been a zealous prosecutor. “If Giuliani was still the U.S. Attorney in New York, my guess is that, by now, I would already have gotten ten phone calls from him telling me why these cases needed to be tried not only in civilian court but at Foley Square,” Holder said.

Walk With Me:

On January 5th, Obama held a national-security meeting in the White House Situation Room to review how the Administration had failed to detect and prevent the Christmas Day plot. Afterward, Holder said, Obama asked him to walk back to the Oval Office with him. “We talk about these matters,” Holder said. “The decisions are, relatively, mine. I take responsibility for them. But these are things where he is kept in the loop, and the direction he gives obviously has to be factored into any decision I make.” Holder declined to reveal details of their recent discussion but said, “We are on the same page.” He added, “He recognizes that being Attorney General at this time is not the easiest job in the world.”

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

An upcoming report by the Office of Professional Responsibility clears the key authors of a legal memorandum justifying waterboarding of allegations that they violated professional standards, Newsweek reports.

An earlier draft of the report concluded that former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor, failed to meet their professional obligations when crafting a 2002 memo blessing the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, a career lawyer, “downgraded that assessment to say they showed ‘poor judgment,’” during a final review of the report, according to Newsweek. Under department rules, poor judgement does not rise to the level of professional misconduct — which means no referrals to state bar associations for potential disciplinary action.

It’s unclear why Margolis softened the initial findings. A Justice Department official told Newsweek he acted without input from Holder.

The report, which has been expected for months, is undergoing declassification. The final version will provide fresh details about how waterboarding was adopted and the role top White House officials played in the process, Newsweek reports. For instance:

Two of the most controversial sections of the 2002 memo—including one contending that the president, as commander in chief, can override a federal law banning torture—were not in the original draft of the memo, say the sources. But when Michael Chertoff, then-chief of Justice’s criminal division, refused the CIA’s request for a blanket pledge not to prosecute its officers for torture, Yoo met at the White House with David Addington, Dick Cheney’s chief counsel, and then–White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. After that, Yoo inserted a section about the commander in chief’s wartime powers and another saying that agency officers accused of torturing Qaeda suspects could claim they were acting in “self-defense” to prevent future terror attacks, the sources say. Both legal claims have long since been rejected by Justice officials as overly broad and unsupported by legal precedent.

We’ll have more throughout the day.

Friday, January 29th, 2010

The Obama administration will move the trial of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other terrorism suspects out of New York City, news outlets are reporting.

The decision to move the trial came two days New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) on Wednesday reversed his support for holding the trial in lower Manhattan, citing security costs and disruptions to businesses and residents.

The alleged 9/11 mastermind in photographs released by the FBI in 2001. (Getty Images)

But resistance to the trial location had begun “gathering steam” in December, The New York Times reported.

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, told President Obama’s political advisor David Axelrod after a dinner in New York on Dec. 14 that Manhattan was an inappropriate venue for the trial, the Times said.

In November, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced his decision to try Mohammed and other accused conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, 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 in November. “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.”

But Bloomberg’s remarks earlier this week, and pressure from New York City business leaders, unleashed a chorus of Democratic opposition, including from New York’s senior senator, Democrat Charles Schumer. On Friday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate intelligence committee, released a letter to President Barack Obama that was cc’d to Holder urging the administration to abandon the Manhattan trial, The Washington Independent reported.

Administration officials said they remain committed to pursuing Mohammed and the other four defendants in federal court.

The search is now on for alternative locations. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, New York City’s No. 2 elected official, suggested the U.S. Military Academy at West Point or Stewart Air National Guard Base in New Windsor, N.Y., the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Clearly we are the heart of the matter. This is where the most important crime occurred and this is the location the world associates with that day,”  de Blasio said, according to the Journal. “The mistake was to put it a little too literally at the immediate scene of the crime.”

The Democratic officials’ opposition turned the tide in a manner that conservatives led by former Vice President Dick Cheney — who objected to trying the accused terrorists in federal court rather than before military commissions —  could not.

Now, liberal advocacy groups that support civilian trials for terror suspects are bracing for a fight they thought they’d already won. Although the recent arguments for trying Mohammed and his alleged confederates elsewhere — security concerns, cost and inconvenience — are not the same objections originally registered by Republicans, they seem to play into the GOP’s hands.

The Constitution Project, a legal issues think tank, put out a news release on Friday that clearly anticipates a new round of attacks on civilian trials. Here’s an excerpt:

The Constitution Project applauds the Obama administration for standing firm in its commitment to conduct the previously-announced September 11th trials in federal court. In recent days, there has been extensive media buzz about the planned trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others in federal court in the Southern District of New York, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city and state officials stating their support for a shift in venue for the trials. In asking the Department of Justice to consider moving the trial out of New York City, the administration has correctly focused on where the trials should be held and has not retreated from its decision to rely on our traditional federal courts.

“What needs to remain clear with all the talk of moving the 9/11 trials out of New York City is that the Obama administration correctly remains committed to prosecuting these September 11th defendants in our traditional federal courts,” said Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project. “This is not a discussion of federal courts vs. military commissions. The administration has made its decision in favor of federal courts - a decision that has widespread bipartisan support. The public must know that the current debate is about whichfederal court is the most appropriate location for these trials.”

Joe Palazzolo and Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.

Friday, January 29th, 2010

On the heels of an ad critical of the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder put out by a group led by Liz Cheney, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, a human rights group is hitting back with a parody video that accuses Cheney’s group of using scare tactics.

Human Rights First goes after Keep America Safe, the group led by Cheney in a new video, “Keep America Afraid,” embedded below.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is using new media tools to argue in favor of using the criminal justice system to prosecute terrorists.

“As a counter-terrorism tool, the criminal justice system has proven incredibly effective in both incapacitating terrorists and gathering valuable intelligence from and about terrorists,” writes Tracy Russo on the DOJ blog. “In every instance, the administration will use the tool that is most effective for fighting terrorism, and will make those decisions based on pragmatism, not ideology.”

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Attorney General Eric Holder attended the State of the Union last night (White House photo).

Although the economy was the principal focus of Wednesday night’s State of the Union speech by President Obama, the president, with Attorney General Eric Holder looking on, did mention that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is “once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination.” And the president also noted that Congress last year enacted hate crime legislation.

Said Obama:

“We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.

“We must continually renew this promise. My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate. This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws — so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work. And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system — to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.”

Main Justice interviewed Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division, last week.

“Certainly from the division’s perspective we appreciated it,” Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli told Main Justice about the mention of the divison. “It spotlighted the important work that they’re doing. We have in the 2010 budget the opportunity to bring on new employees to increase the focus on civil rights.” (Updated 6:07 p.m.).

President Obama also spoke about combating terrorism:

Since the day I took office, we’ve renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We’ve made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security and swifter action on our intelligence. We’ve prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed — far more than in 2008.

But the president did not touch on the chief criticisms of the Justice Department from Republicans: the decision to hold a civilian trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and give Miranda rights to the attempted Christmas day bomber. In delivering the Republican response to the speech, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell hit on their main points:

Americans were shocked on Christmas Day to learn of the attempted bombing of a flight to Detroit. This foreign terror suspect was given the same legal rights as a U.S. citizen, and immediately stopped providing critical intelligence. As Senator-elect Scott Brown says, we should be spending taxpayer dollars to defeat terrorists, not to protect them.

Another Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama hit on the same theme: “One of the biggest headlines from last night’s speech is what the president did not say: a single word about the botched interrogation of the Christmas Bomber and his quest to provide foreign terrorists with the same legal rights as the Americans they target,” Sessions said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, Liz Cheney, released an advertisement through her organization, Keep America Safe, that criticizes the Justice Department and Holder.