Posts Tagged ‘George W. Bush’
Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Ondray T. Harris (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

The mandate of the agency known as the Justice Department’s “peacemakers” has expanded beyond its original goal of soothing racial tensions to extend to conflicts involving discrimination on the basis of sex, religion and disability, according to Community Relations Service Director Ondray T. Harris.

Harris said the Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed last year broadened the jurisdiction of the agency exponentially, adding five additional protected categories that can trigger the division’s involvement in an incident: gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability.

“Our role historically has been someone reactionary in dealing with race, color, national origin matters,” Harris said in an interview last month. “Now we have more of a preventative role.”

The agency, which celebrated its 45th anniversary last August, was created under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is the only federal agency that exists to assist state and local governments, organizations and community groups in preventing and resolving racial and ethnic tensions.

“The underlying assumption of what CRS does is that when we get into a room and get single or multilateral talks with parties who have opposition to one another, that they will develop some understanding. At the core of all this is the faith in the American people,” Harris said.

Mediators come from a variety of backgrounds, said Harris, including lawyers, police chiefs, people with military backgrounds and those who have worked for civil rights organizations. Mediators do not force an outcome in reconciliations or negotiations. Instead they act as a third party, providing a process to allow communities to come together and reach an outcome that works for all parties, Harris said.

“It can be difficult in our culture, as we’ve gotten there through television and a lot of other media, that people think shouting at each other is always the answer,” Harris said. “That’s not what we need in a conciliator. We need someone who can show empathy but still be objective.”

Recently, U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke asked the Community Relations Service to help with the civil rights forums. The agency also has been on hand at meetings with Somalian refugees in Colorado to help them integrate into the community. The agency was present when Justice Department officials informed the parents of a 14-year-old boy who died at a Florida boot camp that DOJ would not pursue civil rights charges in the case.

Map of CRS office locations (DOJ).

While its mission has expanded, over the past few decades the number of agency employees has shrunk. At one point, more than 350 employees worked for the agency. That number stood at around 100 in the early 1990s, but a budget cut in 1997 slashed the agency to just 41 employees. For the past several years, the agency has had about 59 employees. Today, a staff of 34 full-time employees man four field offices and 10 regional offices.

“They make a Herculean effort to get it done. My hats off to them, they do a great job, they make me proud,” Harris said. “Is it a challenge? Yes.”

Harris was nominated as Director of Community Relations Service by President George W. Bush in May 2007 and confirmed by the Senate in March 2008. The position is a four-year term. Before becoming director, Harris served as Deputy Chief of the DOJ’s Employment Litigation Section in the Civil Rights Division.

Secrecy, Impartiality Key to Success of CRS

The congressional mandate of the Community Relations Service includes a confidentiality agreement that bars officials from revealing the identity of parties taking part in negotiations without their permission, Harris said.

“Part of that is the reason that is some of those groups wouldn’t even come to the table if they feel that what they say to us or even that we’re talking to them will go public or will be shared with other federal agencies. Some of these groups aren’t very trusting of federal agencies,” Harris said.

That secrecy, Harris said, allows for frank and open discussion and participation. It also can ease the concerns of local elected officials who may worry how their work with the agency would be viewed by the public.

“They want to be seen as strong and not caving in to another side or a party, but they’re willing to talk behind closed doors to solve the issue,” he said. “They don’t want to read about it in the paper tomorrow that the mayor and the police chief met with civil rights activist X at the table with some federal agency.”

Not taking sides on an issue is also important to the work of the agency’s mediators. Harris said that lesson hit home when he traveled to Jena, La., in the summer of 2007 after a series of racial incident, including one where nooses were hung from a tree at a local high school. Six black teens were charged with attempted murder for beating a white teen, and they became known as the Jena Six.

“I didn’t go to Jena as a black man,” Harris said. “I went as the director or an agency working on an issue. I can’t afford to have a dog in that fight. It’s not about me, it’s not about the conciliators.”

Harris said some of the parties the agency works with would not agree to meet if they did not feel that the conciliators are objective.

“When you’re helping a community with a dispute, that’s not your fight,” Harris said. “So you cannot take into consideration your race, gender, national origin and side with one choice or another because as soon as you do that your impartiality is shot, your credibility is shot.”

Agency Adapting to New Issues, Expects Rise in Immigration Related Incidents

As the issue of immigration takes the national stage, the agency expects to see a rise in incidents tied to the debate, Harris said. The agency’s fiscal 2011 budget request states that if immigration reform moves forward, “experience suggests that we will see an increase in discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin” against either immigrants or those perceived to be immigrants.

CRS Director Ondray Harris with Rep. John Lewis at an event celebrating the 45th anniversary of CRS (Lonnie Tague/DOJ).

Immigration often masks other issues concerning race and national origin, according to Harris.

“We’re not really looking at the immigration question. We’re looking at the allegations of discrimination,” Harris said. “We’re comfortable with that because we have traditionally done race, color, national origin. So while we’re seeing an increase, the work itself isn’t new to us.”

As the agency reaches out to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, there are lessons to be learned from how it handled outreach to Muslim and Arab-Americans communities in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Harris said.

“Some of those communities, with reason, weren’t necessarily very trusting of state, local, federal government,” Harris said. “We don’t expect for it to happen overnight. But I think we’ve turned a corner in building rapport in those communities, and part of making it work with those communities is allowing them to have access to us and other federal agencies.”

Muslim and Arab-American communities in recent years have worked with the government to address their concerns instead of feeling ostracized, Harris said.

“Are there criticisms? Sure,” said Harris. “I’m not going to paint a picture that everything is perfect in those communities, but I think that most of those communities, if you talk to them, think that they can talk to the government, that the government is appreciative of them. The process that CRS provides allows them to come to the table.”

A Shift to Proactive Prevention

With the passage of the hate crimes law last year, the agency is reaching out to new communities.

“Disabilities are something we’ve haven’t done historically, because that overlaps with housing issues. Different communities see disabilities differently. Even the language, you have to be careful in how you address those communities because you don’t want to offend people in those communities,” Harris said.

The agency hopes to prevent hate crimes by facilitating educational meetings in response to conflicts or incidents. But predicting where hate crimes may occur “is not like reading the entrails of an owl” Harris said.

“There’s no barometer for measuring the tension. Generally we rely on the public,” Harris said. “It’s a little difficult in some of the rural communities in measuring the tension. It’s different if you’re talking about a city like New York City, for example, where there’s a civil rights or activist infrastructure in that community. You get into some of the rural areas, those communities don’t have the infrastructure.”

In the area of LGBT-related hate crimes, the agency has gotten high marks thus far. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said last month that DOJ has been conducting “spectacular” community education around the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that 32 politically appointed Justice Department employees had transitioned to career DOJ positions during the last years of the Bush administration, a process known as “burrowing in.” In two instances involving DOJ appointees, proper protocol was not followed in the transition process, the GAO found.

The GAO report, released Tuesday, looked at cases across the federal government from May 1, 2022 through May 30, 2009. The report found that 139 political appointees transitioned to career jobs during that time period, with the largest number of cases occurring at the DOJ.


Burrowing in, sometimes also called “digging in,” is not unique to the George W. Bush administration. The practice has gone on for years and is tolerated by both political parties. It can represent an effort by political appointees to move to a safer career track in order to keep a government job leading up to or after a new president is elected.

In a 2000 report on the same topic, the GAO found that 57 political appointees in the Clinton administration converted to career positions from October 1998 to June 2000, with 13 — the most of any agency — transitioning at the Justice Department.

Tuesday’s report did not condemn the practice, noting that political appointees “can bring valuable skills and experience to the federal workforce, and the merit-based conversion of political appointees to career positions can be a useful means to achieving a highly qualified workforce.”

Most of the DOJ cases examined in the report occurred while Bush was in office, including some just a few days before President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Some of the employees may have switched at the beginning of Obama’s term and may have been approved by Obama’s Justice Department appointees.

According to the report, in January 2007 an unnamed special assistant to the Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division was allegedly improperly converted into an Assistant U.S. Attorney position in the Southern District of Florida.

The GAO report said that most of the officials conducting interviews for the position recommended against the hire, and one official noted that they had interviewed at least two superior candidates. The officials “noted the eventual selectee’s lack of experience, that he did not appear to stay in any job for an extended period of time, and observed that his writing sample did not contain much original writing, but was boilerplate,” according to the report.

Even though the former special assistant was viewed as a weak candidate, he was hired as a career Assistant U.S. Attorney position after serving on a six-month detail. “This action appears to violate the prohibition against granting unauthorized advantages to individuals in the hiring process,” the report concluded.

In another instance, the U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Georgia authorized a vacancy announcement for a career position for which she later applied and was selected to fill. “Although there is no evidence to suggest that the eventual selectee was involved in the actual selection process, this appearance of a violation of ethical standards calls this conversion action into question,” the report said, adding that it was a potential violation of ethical standards.

The Justice Department told the GAO that the agency’s ethics officer “is gathering information on this conversion and, based on the information she receives, her office will take the appropriate next steps.”

While the individual is not named in the report, the GAO noted that the individual was appointed U.S. Marshal in August 2002 — a description that fits Theresa Rodgers who was appointed U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Georgia at that time.

U.S. Marshals spokesman Jeff Carter confirmed that Rodgers is still with the U.S. Marshals service but declined to comment on the report.

“It would be inappropriate for the U.S. Marshals Service to comment on the GAO report since, as is indicated in the report, the agency is conducting an ethical standards inquiry for potential departmental review,” Carter said in a statement.

In the majority of cases examined, DOJ used proper protocol, according to the report. Some of those cases include:

  • The Director of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service became the Director of the Office of Self-Governance in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in January 2007.
  • In another instance, the Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics became the Deputy Director for Planning in the Planning Office of the Director’s office of the Bureau of Justice Assistance in 2006 and received a $10,000 boost in salary.
  • A Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Assistant Attorney General became the Deputy Associate Solicitor for Mineral Resources in the Office of the Solicitor in July 2007 and received a $9,000 salary boost.
  • The U.S. Marshall for the District of Nebraska took the position of Criminal Investigator in the Judicial Security Division of the Office of Protective Operations of the United States Marshals Service, along with a $10,000 cut in salary in July 2008.
  • The Supervisory Criminal Investigator in Superior Court for the United States Marshals Service became a Criminal Investigator in the Human Resources Division of the Training Academy of the United States Marshals Service in 2008.
  • The U.S. Attorney at Charlotte Headquarters of the Department of Justice became an Attorney Adviser in Western Charlotte Headquarters in March 2009, keeping the same salary.
  • The Chief Of Staff in the Office of the General Counsel, became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne, Wyo., just before the end of the Bush administration.
  • A Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Chief of Staff in the Office of Legal Policy became an Attorney Adviser in the Office of Legal Policy in December 2007.
  • A Deputy Administrator in the Office of Justice Programs became an Assistant U.S. Attorney for The District of Columbia in the Executive Office for United States Attorneys in November 2006.
  • An Attorney Adviser in the Drug Enforcement Task Force became an Attorney-Adviser in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys General Counsel Office in March 2009, keeping the same salary.

Additional reporting by David Johnston.

The full report is embedded below.

GAO Report on Political to Career Conversions

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Republicans returning from their week-long recess are trying to turn up the heat on the Obama administration over efforts by White House operatives to discuss the possibility of  jobs with two Democratic primary candidates if they dropped out of their races.

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement on Friday that he wanted hearings to investigate the issue.

“I am concerned that the Obama administration has engaged in a habit of attempting to manipulate the democratic election process to benefit the Democratic Party. Such actions are certainly unethical and may very well be criminal,” Smith said.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has previously said the Justice Department should appoint a special prosecutor to look into the allegations.

The swirl of accusations involving the White House, including back-room deal-making and promises of  jobs in exchange for political favors, has led some Republicans to suspect a juicy potential scandal. But as the facts are known, so far anyway, not many lawyers, not even Republican stalwarts, think anybody broke the law.

Steven G. Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush, told Politico that the president can fill advisory positions in whatever method he wishes, including to “reward political loyalty.” His remarks followed those of former Attorney General Michael Mukasey who has said that finding criminality was “really a stretch.”

Bradbury offered a fuller legal analysis. ”Under the Constitution,” he said, “ it’s the president’s prerogative to fill advisory positions in the White House and to decide who will occupy senior policy offices across the administration,” said Bradbury, who suggested that Congress should not attempt to criminalize the appointment process.

“The president may make those appointment decisions for any reason he deems appropriate,” Bradbury said, “ including to reward political loyalty, and it would raise serious constitutional issues if Congress tried to prohibit the president, or anyone acting on his behalf, from offering appointments in particular circumstances.”

“For that reason,” Bradbury continued, “any statute that purports to criminalize an offer of appointment must be construed, if at all possible, not to interfere with the president’s constitutional authority, and if the statute cannot be read to avoid that result, there’s a strong argument it would be unconstitutional as so applied.”

Justice Department officials have expressed no interest in opening an inquiry. The White House has defended its actions. In one case, according to a report issued last week by White House counsel Robert Bauer, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel asked former President Bill Clinton to raise the possibility of an unpaid presidential appointment to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), who was challenging and defeated Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary.

This week another episode emerged. Colorado senatorial candidate Andrew Romanoff said that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina brought up three positions that he might be interested in as an alternative to running against the administration’s preferred candidate, incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet.

Peter Zeidenberg, a former Justice Department prosecutor who worked in the Public Integrity Section and now works at DLA Piper, had earlier said that the Sestak offer wasn’t a crime.

“It sounds like political horsetrading and I don’t think a prosecutor would have any interest in prosecuting such a case. It doesn’t sound to me anything like a bribe,” Zeidenberg said. “You’d be laughed out of the courtroom.”

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, fresh off his first academic year as a visiting professor and administrator at Texas Tech University, told Main Justice Thursday that he is glad to be back in “Bush country,” and said he has enjoyed the teaching experience.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (Agência Brasil, Creative Commons license).

Gonzales also said he has made a lot of progress on a book about his experiences in the White House and the Justice Department, but has not yet found a publisher.

“It’s good to be back in Texas. This part of the state is very much Bush country. They are very pro-military, and very appreciative of what the Bush administration did in securing our safety, so you know it’s been a very good experience,” said Gonzales.

Gonzales said his family is leasing a home in Lubbock, Texas, because they were unable to sell their McLean, Va., home, which they are now renting out. He indicated he hopes to return to Texas Tech next semester and is in talks with the university about coming back for a second year. He has been teaching a course called “Contemporary Issues in the Executive Branch.”

“We’re in discussions right now about doing it again for another year,” Gonzales said. “I really have enjoyed my experience here, and I think I’ve contributed to the Tech mission. I think the students have enjoyed my presence here, and you know it’s been a good experience. So yeah, it’s something that I’m looking very seriously at, and we’ll see what happens.”

Gonzales, 54, was serving as White House counsel when President George W. Bush nominated him to be the 80th Attorney General of the United States. Gonzales was sworn in on Feb. 14, 2005, and announced his resignation on Aug. 27, 2007.

Gonzales’ tenure as Attorney General was one of the most tumultuous in recent memory. Democrats and some Republicans in Congress rebuked him for inept and disengaged management of the Justice Department and his harshest critics said Gonzales had allowed the agency to become little more than a political arm of the White House under his stewardship.

The criticism ignited into a furor of complaint after the December 2006 dismissal of seven U.S. Attorneys came to light. Nine prosecutors were eventually fired, leading to congressional hearings exploring the rationale for their removal, which in some cases seemed to have been carried out primarily to make room for political favorites.

Gonzales’s testimony left lawmakers expressing doubts about his ability to manage the Justice Department, and led to his resignation. A Justice Department Inspector General report found that the dismissal process had been “fundamentally flawed.”

After reportedly having trouble finding a job at a law firm, Gonzales was hired by Texas Tech last summer at a reported salary of $100,000 a year. Gonzales said he also continues to give paid speeches and take consulting jobs.

He is also working on a memoir. So far, Gonzales has written about 12 chapters of what he expects will be a 20-chapter book. While Gonzales said he thinks there will be interest in his biography, he hasn’t yet found a publisher.

“Given all the decisions that I was a part of, the decisions I witnessed, and the decisions I made, I think it will be something that will be of interest and I hope it will be a useful contribution to the historic record of the Bush legacy,” Gonzales said.

In compiling his book, which will also cover his work on the state level with then-Gov. Bush in Texas, Gonzales said he looked back at “a few, but not many” notes he kept during his time in the Justice Department and at the White House.

“A lot of the things that I worked on were classified and of that nature, so I’ve had to be careful about that. But I’ve been looking at articles, trying to reconstruct my schedule, things of that nature,” Gonzales said.

“And of course there were many things, significant events, that I remember, that I just know about, that I can just write about,” added Gonzales, who played a role in many of the administration’s most controversial policy and law enforcement decisions including warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens, waterboarding of terrorism suspects, and the invasion of Iraq.

“Writing is a difficult thing …  and sometimes I get tired of it,” he continued. “But I enjoy it because it reminds me again of the challenges we had to face, and it just reconfirms in my mind all the good things we did for our country.”

Gonzales also said he needs to raise additional funds to cover his extensive legal bills. Then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed then-acting U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy of Connecticut in September 2008 as a special prosecutor to look into the U.S. Attorney firings. That investigation remains ongoing.

The official portrait of Alberto Gonzales on the fifth floor of the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department building (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

“We need to do a better effort raising additional money, and so we’re going to try to do that as soon as the last investigation [ends],” said Gonzales. “That investigation has been out there going on forever. I’m not sure what’s going on there, but we’re waiting for that to be completed. And once that’s completed — I have confidence that again [there was] no wrong-doing by me — that will again raise some interest in raising additional money.”

He wouldn’t say if he thought the investigation had gone on for too long. “All I will say is that I wish it would get wrapped up,” said Gonzales.

Gonzales said his students are very interested about his time in Washington.

“We talk about Guantanamo, we talk about surveillance, we talk about choosing Supreme Court Justices, we talk about how the White House deals with scandal or crisis,” he said.

Gonzales didn’t give the 15 students in his “Contemporary Issues in the Executive Branch”class an exam. Instead, he had each student make a presentation and write a paper about issues discussed in the class. “I try to encourage very candid discussions, and personal interaction with students is very important for me, so it’s been a good experience.”

Gonzales also said he’s proud of his work to increase diversity at Texas Tech.

“The administration here is very focused on increasing the diversity of the student body, which is one of the reasons I came here. It’s something that I have always viewed as important,” Gonzales said. “They began an initiative to try to attract more first generation students, whatever your skin color. If you’re the first person to go to college in your family, we want to have you.”

While Bush called him when he started his job at Texas Tech, Gonzales said he hasn’t spoken with the former president in several months.

“The last time I spoke with him, he said he’s doing fine,” Gonzales said. “There’s a period of decompression, I’m sure even more so for someone like him. You look back and you take pride in your service, knowing that you did the very best you could under extraordinary circumstances, and I’m sure that’s the way he feels.”

“I’m very confident that with the passage of time, views about his administration are going to look quite different, I’m sure there going to look a lot more positive,” Gonzales added. (On Thursday Bush gave a speech in Michigan defending his decision to authorize waterboarding, which critics have called torture, against self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.)

Gonzales said he was not surprised that Attorney General Eric Holder was having trouble closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

“This is a very difficult issue, and we tried for years to find a solution,” he said. “President Bush wasn’t interested in being a world jailer, or keeping open Guantanamo except for the fact that it was necessary. We knew that there was a public image problem, but it was a necessity, and it’s a necessity that continues, and that’s why Guantanamo is still open today.”

Gonzales declined to comment on the attacks on Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees.

While he is enjoying his time in Texas, there are things he misses about D.C., Gonzales said.

“Obviously I miss working day in and day out with the career people at the department. I miss that very much, and I know how dedicated they are to serving the American people,” said Gonzales. “I’m always going to treasure my experience as the Attorney General and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be invited by President Bush to serve in that capacity.”

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

John Clark, director of the U.S. Marshals Service, at his office in Northern Virginia (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

United States Marshals Service Director John Clark has spent more than 20 years in the service. He previously served as the Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal and United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia. A George W. Bush appointee, Clark was the first career Deputy U.S. Marshal appointed as director and was sworn in on March 17, 2006. When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, Clark stayed on as director, where he’ll remain unless the Obama decides to nominate someone to fill the position.

Last month, Clark was joined by Attorney General Eric Holder at the U.S. Marshals Service Director’s Awards Ceremony, where they gave out awards to U.S. Marshals employees recognizing them for their work on issues like the Mexican border, upgrading the technology used to track fugitives, and preparing mobile command centers.

Main Justice sat down with Clark to discuss the U.S. Marshals Service’s plans for dealing with the transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners, drafting logistics for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City and dealt with an influx of activity on the Southwest border. An edited version of the interview appears below.

Main Justice: What type of challenges is the U.S. Marshals Service facing?

John Clark: There are lots of things that stretch and strain us these days, of course, you can just think about everything from Guantanamo Bay to the recent few days with the Times Square bomber. Folks like that end up in our care and custody. There’s the Southwest Border, the prison population. In fact, nationally we’ve had about a 4 percent increase, about 58,000 plus federal detainees in our care and custody. Enforcing the Adam Walsh Act, protecting the federal judiciary, witness security. You put it all in the basket and it’s a tremendous amount of work to handle.

John Clark during his interview with Main Justice last week (photo by Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals).

So this year, thanks to a really decent president’s budget for this fiscal year, we have been able to overcome some of the challenges - at least on our funding and human resources base - or as they might be called boots on the ground. We’ll have more deputy marshals, we’re finishing up here our largest recruitment effort ever. This year we’ll have about 14 new basic deputy marshal classes passing through our academy [there are typically 45 or 46 deputy marshals in each graduating class].

The Marshals Service, because of our unique role in the judicial system, really has a touch on so many different things that go on. I like to describe it as we’re the neck of the federal judicial funnel. Everything that comes though in terms of prisoners, fugitive warrants, asset forfeiture, witness protection, protecting judges, all that kind of stuff some through that funnel, and the Marshals Service has some role to play with that.

Putting the deputy marshals in the field where the work is, and using our federal funding base to meet and help us offset a lot of these challenges - things that are going on around the world that impact us. We are overcoming some of those challenges this year thanks to great support from the Department of Justice and the president on the budget, so this year and through next year will be better for us.

MJ: On the issue of Guantanamo, I guess you’re sort of in a holding pattern right now until they decide what’s next. How detailed are the plans for transferring prisoners to the United States from Guantanamo?

Clark: I will say the plans are very detailed. We try to think of everything. I wouldn’t discuss those plans obviously openly, but we are organizationally ready and able to meet the wishes or the direction of the president and the Attorney General to provide for safe and secure location wherever the trials might be decided to be held.

You’re correct that right now the Attorney General and the president have decided to explore other locations and actions they might want to take about where they might want to try them eventually. But our role is to provide for the very best security possible wherever those trials may be held.

MJ: So there are a number of different options you’ve explored for where the trials would be held?

Clark: Sure. At the request of the Attorney General. If he directs certain places where he feels the trials might be held as a venue, we would go out and do a security survey, look at the venue itself and try to make preliminary assessments on what vulnerabilities might exist at that particular location, as well as describing what strengths their might be or what might lend itself to being a better venue for the trials.

That’s all done on what I would call our professional opinion. It’s not an exact science when you’re trying to figure out security circumstances. But you can rely on a lot of past experience and things that you can do nowadays to make a very good assessment of a particular location to see if if would be good for a trial.

U.S. Marshals Service Deputy Director Chris Dudley (left), Attorney General Eric Holder (second from left) members of the USMS Terrorist Detainee Task Force - Assistant Director for Judicial Security Mike Prout, Chief Michael Rose, Assistant Chief Heather Lowry, Chief Tricia Ashford, and Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Timothy Hogan and U.S. Marshals Services Director John Clark (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

MJ: How quickly could you set up a location if a certain spot was designated?

Clark: We could respond very quickly. In terms of assessing a spot that had not yet been looked at, that would probably take some time. But that would only take about 72 hour or a week to get the basic survey done. Obviously, the more time we have, the better it is.

It would be doubtful that the Attorney General or the president would ask us to do something like that on a moments notice - although in the Marshals Service we are known for being able to do something overnight and get it done. We have plenty of history and a track-record of being asked to do something on very short notice and getting it done. So that does happen.

We have the mechanism in place to very quickly take care of assessments and do those kind of things. But if it’s a decision, for example, of where to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees, the more time we have to assess the place the better.

MJ: With the KSM trial, what are the additional challenges that the U.S. Marshals see that make it different from a normal trial?

Clark: As individuals are watched on the world stage, everybody has an interest on how that plays out. But when you think about the individuals themselves and their connection to terrorism, their open statements that they’ve already made in terms of their hatred for Americans, the security apparatus has the be the very best it can be, as visible as it can be, as robust as it can be.

The challenge for us comes when you’re having a public trial in a building that is open to the public, that is often in places where there’s all the other considerations you need to make, in terms of the community, in terms of the building itself and the structure itself. There’s lots of factors that go into trying to assess all that. It’s just safe to say when you have high-visibility-type detainees such as those held at Guantanamo Bay that we need to really be on top of our game when handling security not only surrounding those individuals but all the individuals that they might come in contact with - from judges, the public, U.S. attorneys and others who are there.

MJ: I noticed recently in Philadelphia you assigned new deputy U.S. Marshals to that area. How do you decide which areas need additional Marshals?

Clark: We have a resource allocation model. One of the things we’ve really focused on in the past few years is a methods and means to be able to place deputy marshals and resources where they’re most needed. Of course there was congressional intent over the past few years to place some of our new positions on the Southwest border because of the increased workload down there. But offices like Philadelphia and a number of other places. In fact now a new graduating class will see recruits going to all points across the country. This last graduating class, I remember talking to deputy marshals going to small places like Vermont to large district offices like Houston, so we’re filling the gaps.

MJ: You’ve been heading the U.S. Marshals for awhile now, what trends have you noticed over that course of time?

Clark: Well I’m approaching my fifth year as director, and I’ve noticed in that time what I call an increased tempo - a pace - of national security issues, violent crime issues, on the Southwest border, of course taking primary responsibility for the Guantanamo detainee issues. When you think about that as a bunch of moving parts, there’s a lot of things that are going on there. One thing that’s really been noticeable to me is the pace is always on the increase. Just comparing where things are now to certainly five years ago. When you think to a pre-9/11 scenario, there was not so much of the process going on that we have today. It’s a very fast paced sort of process.

Clark and Attorney General Eric Holder (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

MJ: What are the accomplishments you’re most proud of?

Clark: We’ve been able to increase our efforts on violent crime. We’ve been able to increase the size and scope of our regional fugitive task force and our district fugitive task forces. I’ve also been here to sort of shepherd in the Adam Walsh Act law. When I first came in as director that was not yet signed into law, and there was a lot of debate about who would be responsible and if we were the right agency to tackle that.

I’m also pleased with the overall accomplishment of being able to get a more robust budget and resources for our agency which was desperately needed to see increases in staffing and financial ability to be able to handle the tasks that we’ve been given.

I guess the final thing, just in terms of things that have happened in recent years, is the increase in the judicial protection. Being able to get the home intrusion alarms in judges’ homes [and] opening up a threat management center here at our headquarters in order to be able to handle judicial threats. So those things have been able to make us a stronger, better agency.

MJ: To what do you attribute that rise in threats against judges and federal law enforcement officials?

Clark: There’s a few things I think that are going on there. For one there’s increased awareness with all the judges and the U.S. Attorneys and all those we’re responsible for protecting. And when you increase the awareness, that is to make people aware of the threat environment and their responsibility to report it, there’s usually, and in this case there was, an uptick in the number of incidents reported to us.

Every time there’s a conference with groups of attorneys meeting, we have someone from the Marshals going to those conferences to speak to them about their security and the importance of it. We’ve also strengthened our relationship with the judiciary. Whenever I travel, I meet with chief judges and district judges and U.S. attorneys to make sure that they have my number, they know how to get a hold of me, and that we are available to them on short notice. We’ve done a lot of education and awareness, so they see the need to report.

The cause of it, I might say though, in today’s world there are more individuals who are more prone to threatening judges. I think a lot of it has to do with the availability of information with the use of technology and the Internet. Individuals can find out more about particular cases and judges decisions. They can use Internet sources to find out more about the judge. So if someone is prone to want to threaten someone, there are a number of ways they can find material about a judge. We have to think about that as well. The number of individuals who are just prone to violence against judges or U.S. Attorneys has also increased.

MJ: But technology has also been a help to the Marshals as well. You have the mobile command units, increased ability to track fugitives. Could you talk a little bit about how things have changed in that respect, how technology has helped you track prisoners and fugitives?

Clark: Things like the mobile command units were all purchased with the purpose of helping us increase our response time, help us be fast on our feet. If there’s an incident anywhere in America, be it a natural disaster, like a Hurricane Katrina, or some type of a significant event - a major case that’s going on or a judicial protection detail, or a number of things where we might want to have a good mobile base of operations, command and control of communications - those vehicles help us do that. It’s designed to help us increase our response and be fluid and fast in getting there.

Director Clark's office in the Crystal City section of Arlington, Va. overlooks Reagan National Airport (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

MJ: On the Southwest border, what are some particular challenges that the Marshals are facing?

Clark: We have a very high volume of detainees around there, may of whom are apprehended along the border for either immigration violations or some other type of crime connected to the Southwest border. In Houston, Texas, alone, there’s about 6,500 detainees just in our South Texas district. So prisoner population generated from that is a great challenge. Cross border issues, violence, as you probably know from the news on a regular basis, there’s always something it seems like back and forth across the border.

The Marshals Service through our fugitive task forces are very involved in the various police and sheriff’s departments along the border and our federal partners in trying to apprehend fugitives or wanted people who are going back and forth from the U.S. to Mexico. We have an office in Mexico City and we have a number of what we call Mexican Investigative Liaisons - MIL positions - the deputy marshals who spend most of their day working with their counterparts in Mexico to help accomplish everything from international extraditions to finding people, wanted subjects.

So it’s a combination of just the huge Department of Homeland Security effort down there - the violence, the cartels, the drug trafficking - that drives a lot of the prisoner population and makes for a very busy area.

MJ: Internationally, how do you maintain relationships with other countries in terms of extraditing prisoners to and from the U.S.?

Clark: The Marshals Service is responsible for finding international and foreign fugitives, fugitives who have fled from another country to the United States and those who have fled from the United States to another country, so we have very good relationships with our foreign counterparts. In fact in a couple weeks, we’re co-hosting with the Toronto Police Service an international fugitive conference in Toronto which will have about 22 countries attending. We work very regularly with INTERPOL, of course the State Department, the Department of Justice of course with their international affairs.

Annually, now we conduct, it’s approaching a 1,000 now, international extraditions a year from points all over the world. In addition to that with the fugitive apprehension program, we assist foreign governments with finding individuals who are wanted here. If it has a terrorism nexis or national security nexis, the FBI will handle it. But the vast majority of those international cases for individuals, the U.S. Marshals Service will handle it. So we work very closely with the embassies here in Washington.

MJ: What are some of the countries you see the most interaction with?

Clark: Well on the Northern border with Canada, we have a lot of activity in that part of the country, and actually we have a very similar process there with our district offices along the northern border who interact very closely with our Canadian counterparts. In the European corridor, a lot of the countries which produce the most activity are Great Britain, Germany. We do have some activity in the Far East as well. A lot of the sex offender cases seem to migrate to or have some connectivity to the Far East.

Attorney General Eric Holder and USMS Director John Clark (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

MJ: In working with local and state law enforcement, have you noticed any recent needs because of budget constraints in different states?

Clark: We pride ourselves in working very closely with our state and local counterparts, and they too are struggling with budget restrictions or cutbacks in personnel. Many of the state and local departments that we’ve dealt with have actually had to reduce the number of police officers on the street.

We are able to help in locating wanted people that a lot of the departments are looking for, but also through our task forces we’re able to help supplement their police operations with some of our funding and personnel. So we’re able to help them with things like getting radios, or vehicles, or maybe paying out some overtime, so it helps them continue their basic crime fighting strategy. So it has been a noticeable thing.

MJ: Any particular areas where there has been a lot of help from the Marshals?

Clark: The most recent example is in Florida, where we had a number of locations were departments were asking for some federal help. We were ale to work with some of the congressional leaders, the Department of Justice and others to get funding to establish a task force there. Over the last year and a half or so we’ve been building up task force operations there in Florida. A number of places that wouldn’t have been able to do much at all on the fugitive apprehension side now have a very good, robust fugitive squad that’s part of the larger state of Florida.

MJ: The Marshals recently sent out a unit to protect the trial of the man convicted of killing abortion doctor George Tiller. How many of those type of special protection cases do the Marshals handle?

Clark: There are occasionally situations like that where we’ll have to provide extra protection for individuals who are part of a case. In some ways, that was an unusual circumstance because of the nature of what happened there with that particular situation. But from time to time we do have to go out and provide protection for individuals. In this case - the abortion provider Dr. Tiller’s extended family - you don’t know if there’s a larger plot of intent by others to want to kill others who are part of that group, so you just don’t know.

We have quite regularly had protection details on judges, and it usually requires a lot of investigative work and effort to determine the nature of the threat and we have to put in place protective measures to provide security for that individual and his or her family.

MJ: One of the things that is currently being considered is having cameras in the courtroom. Do you think that could pose new challenges for the Marshals Service?

Clark: It could. We organizationally, because of security issues, would want to make sure that the cameras don’t show the faces of witnesses or judges or people that might otherwise be harmed in a case. In other words, there are some legal issues that are certainly beyond any involvement that we have. We essentially follow the law whatever that is. But we have some concerns from a security standpoint.

MJ: The public serves a large role in your effort to capture fugitives by bringing them to your attention, how are you getting your message out there?

Clark: One of the things that I’m pleased to say is that we have a close relationship with America’s Most Wanted. They’ve done about 1,000 shows now, and the Marshals Service has been instrumental in 60 percent of the individuals captured on that show - either directly arresting them or helping another agency arrest them. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, we have a great connectivity to with the enforcement of the Adam Walsh Act. Basically any organization that has anything to do with our law enforcement functions, we have a strong partnership, a strong connectivity to them.

Clark during his interview with Main Justice (photo by Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals).

MJ: The Adam Walsh Act was mentioned on the 1,000th episode of America’s Most Wanted, I guess the president mentioned it as a priority for the next fiscal year?

Clark: John Walsh was interviewing the president, and the president had good research and he knew about the Marshals’ enforcement of the law and knew that we were not yet fully funded to do that, so he did pledge on national TV his support. We’re hoping as that unfolds down the line in that new fiscal year, we’ll see an appropriate number of resources being dedicated to fix that.

That’s another sort of huge undertaking for us, because there are by very conservative estimates 150,000 unregistered, or we call them non-compliant sex offenders out there, meaning there are individuals who their whereabouts are unknown in the local where they should be registered, so the local authorities don’t know where they are. If you turn on the TV or open the newspaper any given day, you’ll see evidence oftentimes of non-compliant sex offenders picking up young children or other teenagers and the results are often tragic, so we of course take that very seriously.

MJ: Could you talk a little about your work providing witness security and how that plays into successful prosecutions?

Clark: That’s an often hidden part of our work, but we are providing witness protection, and that’s been ongoing for a couple dozen years now. We have about 8,000 individuals for which we provide protective measures for, and with family members, the total is about 18,000.

So it’s a large protective operation that provides a great deal of support for the Department of Justice and others because it provides support for and helps to solidify the prosecutions. When you have witnesses who feel capable of testifying without any fear of retaliation or threats or any death threats they’re more willing to testify and more willing to participate in the case.

No one has ever been killed who have followed the rules. We have people who have left the program voluntarily on their own or haven’t been able to follow our instructions, but nobody under our direct responsibility has been killed so we’re very pleased with that record and we hope it stands.

Friday, March 26th, 2010

In a commentary for Foreign Policy published Thursday, David Kaye, executive director of the UCLA School of Law International Human Rights Program and an attorney-advisor in the State Department from 1995 to 2005, argued that the United States needs a torture commission to look at the policy during the George W. Bush administration.

John Yoo (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

“The story of that period is a cautionary one for any administration: Presidents and their most senior officials get advice from a system prone to politicized and occasionally ideologically-driven legal advice,” Kaye wrote. “Lawyers, for their part, must constantly guard against politicization and improper influence from the “client” — the administration.”

Noting that the Office of Professional Responsibility report about former Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee was “softened” to “poor judgment” by a senior Justice Department official, Kaye argued that the focus shouldn’t be on individuals.

“But even if Justice had come down hard on Yoo and Bybee, the focus on them, while appropriate for ethics purposes, encourages the public to see the torture scandal as a failure of particular lawyers,” Kaye wrote. “It was that, but it was also much more. It was the failure of an entire structure of government decision-making. There was a deliberate attempt to thwart the normal process of government legal advice. Quite apart from the substance of the advice, the process itself suggests that government officials conspired to commit torture.”

Read his full piece here.

Friday, March 12th, 2010

A controversial former official of the George W. Bush administration has been appointed by judges in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County to a three-member electoral board, a move that immediately drew criticism from local Democrats, according to The Washington Post.

Hans A. von Spakovsky at a Republican forum on ACORN (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Hans A. von Spakovsky, former counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for civil rights and member of the Federal Election Commission under President George W. Bush, was appointed on March 1 to a three-year term on the Fairfax County Electoral Board. The appointment complies with state law that calls for the majority of such boards to be filled by the party of the sitting governor.

According to The Post, the appointment “has set the stage for political acrimony with Democrats, who say his controversial background will only create more tension in already tight local races.”

The Post said that von Spakovsky’s tenures at both the Justice Department and the FEC were marked by sharp criticism from Democrats who asserted that he tried to exert undue political influence on the government’s handling of voter fraud and identification matters.

In an interview with The Post, von Spakovsky said he was asked by Republican Party officials to submit his name after being told they wanted “someone who wouldn’t have a big learning curve.”

“I know how the system works, and I have experience at every level of the election process,” he said.

Most recently, von Spakovsky, now a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, targeted the leadership in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department in a piece for The National Review.

“Obama’s Civil Rights Division will prosecute cases only depending on ‘what you look like.’ If you are white and you are discriminated against in your job, at the polls, or in seeking equal access to federally funded institutions, the division won’t lift a finger to make sure you’re ‘protected’,” wrote von Spakovsky.

“The overwhelming majority of the individuals who populate the Civil Rights Division have always felt that because they are pursuing a virtuous mission, they are infallible and somehow have license to contravene the law, skirt ethical lines, and participate in acts of deception,” he wrote.

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Kenneth Wainstein

The first-ever Assistant Attorney General for National Security urged the Obama administration to keep the door open on using both civilian and military courts in the prosecution of alleged terrorists, according to a New York Times article published Monday.

Former Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein joined with other national security officials who served under President George W. Bush in recommending that President Obama resist Republican lawmakers’ exhortations to move all terrorism cases to a military tribunal system.

“Denying yourself access to one system in favor of the other could be counterproductive,” Wainstein told The Times. “I see the benefit of having both systems available. That’s why I applauded the Obama administration when, despite expectations to the contrary, they decided to retain military commissions. It’s good to have flexibility.”

The debate over the forum for terrorism trials intensified after several news reports Friday that aides to President Obama are close to recommending that self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four of his alleged co-conspirators be tried in before a military commission instead of a civilian court.

John B. Bellinger III, a top legal adviser to the National Security Council and the State Department under President Bush, and Juan C. Zarate, a former Bush administration deputy national security adviser, also urged the Obama administration not to “handcuff” itself by eliminating the option of civilian trials.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that United Nations human rights investigators called on the administration to prosecute the accused Sept. 11 masterminds in civilian courts, arguing that U.S. military tribunals would not be fair.

Ryan J. Reilly contributed to this report.

Friday, March 5th, 2010

The new head of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division pledged that the nation’s top polluters will pay for the damage they caused to the environment and said she would work with other countries to protect air and water quality.

Ignacia Moreno and Eric Holder (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

Ignacia S. Moreno, who has been on the job since November, was formally installed during a ceremony in the Great Hall of the Justice Department’s Robert F. Kennedy building on Friday afternoon.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli were on hand for the ceremony.

Perrelli praised Moreno’s work thus far and said she had a deep commitment to environmental law and a broad understanding of the entirety of the division’s work.

Holder, who was given a standing ovation when introduced by Perrelli, thanked the audience, joking that he should “perhaps should stop here” and that the support was “especially nice today” - an allusion to news reports earlier Friday that the White House might overrule the Justice Department’s decision to try alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian courts.

Moreno, said Holder, “has a deep understanding of regional concerns, she also brings a global perspective to addressing environmental challenges.”

Moreno's 9-year-old son, Nicholas Begotka, sings the national anthem with ENRD employees Johnnie R. Cusack and Will Taylor (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

“Under her leadership, I know our Environment and Natural Resources Division will redouble its efforts to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are not disproportionately burdened by environmental and health hazards, and that these communities will be encouraged to participate in making local environmental decisions,” he said.

U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina was on hand to administer Moreno’s oath of office and praised Moreno’s past work, calling the swearing in a proud day for the Hispanic community.

In her speech, Moreno recalled coming to the U.S. from Colombia, where she was born and lived until age six, and landing at JFK airport in New York in the middle of a major snowstorm. “I remember, vividly, the excitement that I felt when I saw snow for the first time. I can’t say I’ve felt the same way recently,” she joked of D.C.’s recent blizzard.

Moreno said she saw her parents work their way towards the American dream.

“We came to America with great hope, and our experience has greatly exceeded out expectations,” Moreno said. “For this reason I have always asked, ‘What can I give back for all that I have received?’ For me, the answer has always been public service, whether through my work at the Department of Justice or through my pro-bono activities. And friends, let me tell you there is no better place to give back than at the United States Department of Justice and in the Environment and Natural Resources Division.”

Moreno, who during the confirmation process had been criticized by some Environmental Protection Agency attorneys because of her work at General Electric, reaffirmed her commitment to environmental justice.

“In appropriate cases, we will work with companies who step up to the plate. But let me be clear [...] polluters will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Moreno said.

Taking a swipe at the George W. Bush administration’s enforcement of environmental laws, Moreno noted that when she recently met with key leaders of the environmental justice community, “they told me that they had not been in this building in nine years. That was our first meeting, and it will not be our last.”

The ceremony ended with a rendition of “This Land Is Your Land” as sung by The Nine Inch Margins, a group made up of lawyers in the appellate section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Video embedded below.

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

The Justice Department’s Information Service Center is experiencing a higher than normal influx of calls from people who want to complain about the government lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees.

A screen shot from the advertisement put out by Keep America Safe attacking Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department.

When a Main Justice reporter called the number Tuesday, a DOJ operator who answered said it was one of the busier days in recent memory and that many callers referenced an advertisement put out by Keep America Safe, an organization founded by Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the center’s call volume.

Keep America Safe employs several conservative supporters who support the anti-terrorism policies of former President George W. Bush. The organization receives financial backing from Melvin Sembler, a conservative fundraiser. Michael Goldfarb, a spokesman for Republican John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, also serves as a political strategist.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Liz Cheney slammed President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for their handling of terrorism related issues. Their latest attack revolves around DOJ’s refusal to disclose the names of seven lawyers at the Justice Department who previously represented terrorism suspects.

Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told Main Justice that the letter that DOJ sent to Congress regarding the employees who previously represented Guantanamo detainees answered most of the questions.

Some liberal critics struck back at the ad, even calling the tactics “McCarthyism.”

“It’s not kind of like McCarthyism, it is exactly what Joe McCarthy did with his Communist witch hunts,” Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress told TPMmuckraker. “Cheney accuses the Attorney General of the United States of being a supporter of al Qaeda and running the ‘Department of Jihad,’” a reference to the Investor’s Business Daily editorial that is featured in the Cheney ad.

Miller declined to join such criticism, but said it is helpful to remind the public that terrorism suspects had been prosecuted in criminal court during previous administrations.

As Josh Gerstein wrote in Politico, the Bush administration did not tolerate a similar line of attack made by Defense Department detainee affairs chief Charles Stimson in 2007. He called for a boycott of law firms doing pro bono work for Guantanamo detainees. The Pentagon  distanced itself from Stimson’s comments, writes Gerstein, “which were condemned by a broad array of voices in the legal community. Stimson eventually apologized and resigned a short time later.”

Chris Matthews contributed to this report.