Posts Tagged ‘Louie Gohmert’
Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine told members of Congress Wednesday that the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were not coordinating efforts with the agencies’ explosives investigators racing to the scene of an incident in the hopes of calling dibs on a case. As some agents acknowledged to Fine, they believed “possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

Inspector General Glenn Fine, Margaret Gulotta of the FBI and Jennifer Shasky Calvery of the DAG's Office at a hearing on Wednesday (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

The Inspector General audit report issued in October found that the FBI and the ATF management of their coordinated efforts was ineffective.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, Fine reported that conflicts over which agency should lead investigations continue to occur even though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was transferred from the Treasury Department in 2003.

According to the report, 33 percent of ATF specialists and 40 percent of FBI bomb technicians who responded to the Inspector General’s survey reported having disputes with their counterparts at explosives incidents in fiscal years 2007 and 2008.

Jennifer Shasky Calvery, senior counsel to the Deputy Attorney General, told the committee that the Justice Department had already implemented several of Fine’s recommendations and had formed working groups to resolve the issues raised in the report.

Fine and other DOJ officials also testified on a separate Inspector General report, also issued in October, on the FBI’s foreign language translation program.

Jennifer Shasky Calvery, senior counsel to the Deputy Attorney General, testifies before the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on Wednesday (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

That report found that the FBI lacks a consolidated, accurate collection and statistical reporting evaluation system for the foreign language material it collects. It also found that the FBI continues to have significant amounts of unreviewed audio and electronic files it collected for its counterterrorism, counterintelligence and criminal investigations between fiscal year 2006 and 2008.

Margaret Gulotta , section chief of the Language Services Section of the FBI, said that the FBI continues to struggle to find qualified staff for the section.

The audit found that the number of linguists performing translations for the FBI has decreased from 1,388 in March 2005 to 1,298 in Sept. 2008, and that the FBI had not reached its hiring goals.

The audit found that it took the FBI approximately 19 months to hire a contract linguist, an increase from the 16 month period it took in 2005. Fine said that one of the reasons that it was so difficult for the FBI to add staff was because it is currently taking 14 months to complete a background investigation.

“You don’t think terrorists would be willing to wait fourteen months if they know we’ve got this problem?” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), ranking member of the subcommittee. “They don’t wait fourteen months, they take advantage of our weaknesses.”

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.)  said the panel would discuss the Inspector General report regarding the FBI’s use of informal requests for phone records at an upcoming hearing.

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

The top ranking Republican of the House Judiciary Committee introduced legislation today that would compel the Justice Department to confer with the Director of National Intelligence and the secretary of Defense before deciding if a suspected terrorist should be tried treated as a civilian.

Lamar Smith (gov)

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) criticized the Obama administration’s decision to allow FBI agents to interrogate Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and read the Nigerian his Miranda rights when he was captured after he allegedly tried to ignite explosives in his underpants on a Dec. 25 Detroit-bound airplane flight.

“Giving terrorists constitutional rights ignores the seriousness of the threat from al-Qaeda — these are acts of war, not isolated incidents of crime,” Smith said in a statement. “All terrorists should be interrogated by intelligence experts to obtain crucial information about future attacks. Anything less risks the safety and security of the American people.”

DOJ spokesman Matthew Miller defended the decisions, saying in a statement last week that the DOJ consulted national security officials before Abdulmutallab was charged in federal court. But it is still unclear exactly when in the decision-making process the DOJ consulted the nationaly security officials on Abdulmutallab.

Yesterday, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and the panel’s ranking Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, asked Attorney General Eric Holder to remove Abdulmutallab from federal custody to military detention.

Smith’s bill is co-sponsored by 17 Republicans: John Boehner, Ohio; John Carter, Texas; Buck McKeon, California; Peter King, New York; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida; Jim Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin; Howard Coble, North Carolina; Elton Gallegly, California; Daniel Lungren, California; Trent Franks, Arizona; Louie Gohmert, Texas; Jim Jordan, Ohio; Jason Chaffetz, Utah; Tom Rooney, Florida; Roy Blunt ,Missouri; Hal Rogers, Kentucky; and Don Manzullo, Illinois.

Monday, December 7th, 2009
Rep. Steve King (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Rep. Steve King (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

In its lead editorial on Sunday, The Washington Times asked if “President Obama’s legal team is imploding due to a voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party.”

The editorial from the conservative-leaning newspaper comes as House Republicans are working to keep alive  a controversy regarding the Justice Department’s handling of the case against members of the New Black Panther Party.

Members of the black separatist group stood outside a Philadelphia polling place last November in military-style fatigues. The government filed a civil lawsuit against several members of the organization in the waning days of the Bush administration.

During the early months of the new administration, career attorneys temporarily appointed by President Obama to leadership roles determined that just one case, against a defendant holding a nightstick, was sustainable and obtained an injunction against him. The other charges were dropped, and conservatives argued that those appointees were driven by political motivations.

“Holder and them have done a terrible job on this,” Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) told The Washington Times. “This has just been handled so poorly. … You can’t hide these things. There is something wrong here. There is something very wrong. When it all comes out, I think it will be very bad.”

The Washington Times editorial page thinks the congressman is probably right.

A Justice Department spokesperson Monday declined to comment to Main Justice on the Washington Times editorial. On Friday, the chairman of the New Black Panther Party told The Associated Press that the now-dismissed civil lawsuit filed by the Justice Department against his organization had no merit because the party does not condone voter intimidation.

On Thursday, Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee pressed Civil Rights Division chief Tom Perez on the Justice Department’s handling of the case against the New Black Panther Party during his testimony before the panel’s Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee on a wide range of civil rights matters.

Perez was well prepared for the line of questioning, telling the subcommittee that the decision to drop the case was made by two career attorneys with more than 60 years of combined experience who concluded that the charges against two out of three defendants named in the original court filing charged were unsustainable. DOJ obtained an injunction against against the member of the New Black Panther Party who was holding a nightstick, which Perez said was the maximum penalty allowed under Section 11(b) the Voting Rights Act.

After being asked several times, Perez said he was amongst the millions who have seen the video either online or on television. He reminded the lawmakers that the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is reviewing the matter and said he was looking forward to the report.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), meanwhile, claimed that Perez had lied to the subcommittee during a heated exchange with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) over the handling of the case. Perez said the injunction was the maximum penalty possible under Section 11(b). That is true,  agreed former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Grace Chung Becker, but King and other subcommittee Republicans  argued that the injunction could have been broader and not just limited to Philadelphia, for four years, as the current injunction entails.

“I’m going to make this position, Mr. Chairman, I do not believe Mr. Perez was truthful with this panel, and I believe the question comes up as to whether we need to look into the penalty for being dishonest with this committee,” said King.

At that point, subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) gaveled King to order, saying that King was approaching or may have exceeded the rules of the House. After the hearing had adjourned, King told a staff member to get a clip of the exchange between Perez and Gohmert along with the written record of his testimony and make it “his Achilles heel.”

“I sat down and have been briefed on this case, and I can tell you that this case is the clear cut open and shut case of voter intimidation in the history of the United States of America,” King told Main Justice last Tuesday, a point he reiterated during the hearing. “That is no stretch, there’s nothing that even comes close, and the investigators will tell you that if they have a candid moment.”

Speaking further about the unnamed attorneys he’s spoken with, King told Main Justice that he’s “had very informed conversations with people that are very close to the case, and I’ve got to be cautious about the people I name.”

Video of a heated exchange is embedded below.

This article has been updated to note that the federal government filed a civil suit, not federal charges, against members of the New Black Panther Party.

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Members of Congress introduced legislation in the House and Senate Tuesday to improve retirement benefits for rank-and-file federal prosecutors.

The approximately 5,500 Assistant U.S. Attorneys around the country receive fewer retirement benefits than corrections and probation officers — a fact that has long rankled the prosecutors.

The bipartisan Enhanced Restitution Enforcement And Equitable Treatment Act of 2009 would bring AUSA retirement assistance in line with benefits for other law enforcement officials. The bill would also improve Justice Department efforts to collect fines and other money owed to the federal government in order to help fund the retirement benefits.

“Having served as a prosecutor for many years in Vermont, I know well the integral role prosecutors play in the administration of justice and keeping our communities safe,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who introduced the bill in the Senate, said in a statement. “By enhancing the retirement benefits for these prosecutors, we make service as an Assistant U.S Attorney a more attractive path for talented young lawyers who are considering public service.”

Congress has mulled legislation on AUSA retirement benefits for the past decade. In the last Congress, retirement assistance bills in the Senate and House did not move out of committee.

More recently, “fallout” from the botched corruption case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), in which prosecutors from the Public Integrity Section at Main Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alaska are under investigation for errors that led to withholding of exculpatory evidence from the defense, may have contributed to delays in introducing the legislation, according to an account on the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Web site.

Steven Cook, president of NAASUA, said an improved retirement benefit package is the “single most important issue” for AUSAs. His organization, which serves as a voice for AUSAs in the 94 U.S. Attorney offices, met earlier this year with members of Congress and Attorney General Eric Holder about AUSA retirement assistanc

“It being introduced, in the House and Senate, is especially important to our members,” Cook, an AUSA in the Eastern District of Tennessee, told Main Justice.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a former chairman of the Judiciary panel, in addition to Leahy. The House legislation is sponsored by Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who are both members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Under the current system, Assistant U.S. Attorneys receive fewer retirement benefits than probation officers, corrections officers, and some corrections employees not serving in a law enforcement position.  The legislation will also help off-set the retirement benefits by bolstering the Department of Justice’s ability to recover money owed to the Federal Government as a result of fines or other judgments.
Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh urged members of the House Judiciary crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee this afternoon to revamp federal laws that over-criminalize conduct.

Richard Thornburgh (K&L Gates)

Richard Thornburgh (K&L Gates)

The ex-federal prosecutor said at a hearing today that many statutes in the Federal Criminal Code unfairly punish individuals who do not have a “evil-meaning mind [and] evil-doing hand.” The panel hearing included testimony from Kathy Norris, whose husband was imprisoned for importing orchid bulbs without the proper paperwork.

“True crimes should be met with true punishment. While we must be ‘tough on crime,’ we must also be intellectually honest,” said Thornburgh, who served as Attorney General under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and is of counsel at K&L Gates LLP. “Those acts that are not criminal should be countered with civil or administrative penalties to ensure that true criminality retain its importance and value in the legal system.”

Thornburgh said problems with over-criminalization could be fixed by streamlining the federal criminal code, establishing standards that protect companies from “rogue” employees and curbing the increase in criminal offenses that are imposed by regulatory agencies and not enacted by Congress.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said the Federal Criminal Code hasn’t been updated for 50 years and includes a number of overlapping statutes. Panel Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Gohmert agreed that the patchwork of federal criminal laws must be revised. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) introduced legislation this year to “modernize, shorten and simplify” the code.

“Such a rewrite would be a tremendous undertaking, but would be valuable to both practitioners and members of Congress,” Gohmert said.

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Former Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan urged members of the House Judiciary crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee this morning to retain mandatory minimum sentences for serious crimes.

Michael J. Sullivan (Ashcroft Sullivan)

Michael J. Sullivan (Ashcroft Sullivan)

The panel is considering four bills that seek to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes including crack cocaine offenses and law enforcement officials who use their guns in a crime while on duty.

The bills under consideration are:

-H.R. 834: Ramos and Compean Justice Act of 2009

-H.R. 2934: Common Sense in Sentencing Act of 2009

-H.R. 1466: Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act of 2009

-H.R. 1459: Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009

Sullivan said that the risk of a long mandatory sentence entices drug offenders to cooperate during investigations.

“Without the mandatory minimum, a lot of the regional and national drug investigations would be stalled,” said Sullivan, a partner at Boston law firm Ashcroft Sullivan, which was founded by former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said at the hearing today that prosecutors in white collar cases and other complex cases are still able to get cooperation without imposing mandatory minimum sentences.

“There are ways to bring conviction without mandatory minimum sentences,” said Stewart, the wife of Office of Legislative Affairs head Ron Weich. The Assistant Attorney General has said he will recuse himself from all matters involving mandatory sentencing policies because of his wife’s advocacy work.

Subcommittee Democrats said mandatory sentencing laws unfairly target blacks and do not fit the crime.

The panel held a hearing in May about the legislation that will revise the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine penalties put in place by Congress in the 1980s. The decades old law gives the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the sale of five grams of crack cocaine as it does for the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer has stood in support  of Congress’s efforts to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.

“We know the mandatory minimum sentences do not work,” said subcommittee Chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.)

Panel Republicans said some of the laws could be tweaked, but mandatory minimum sentences should not be eliminated completely.

“When the thermostat is swung from one extreme temperature to another, people get sick,” said subcommittee Ranking Member Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).

Sullivan agreed with the Republicans. He said there are very few examples of mandatory minimum sentences that were unwarranted.

“The vast majority received sentences that are appropriate under the current sentencing scheme,” Sullivan said.

The panelists at the hearing also discussed the Ramos and Compean Justice Act, which would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for law enforcement officials who use their guns in a crime while on duty.

The bill is named for former Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who shot a fleeing Mexican drug smuggler in the buttocks and tried to cover the incident up. Former Bush aide Johnny Sutton, the former U.S. Attorney in San Antonio, led the 2005 prosecution that outraged conservative commentators and even many Democrats, most prominently Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Ramos was sentenced to 11 years. Compean received a 12 year sentence. They received the sentences because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), sponsor of the Ramos and Compean Justice Act, successfully lobbied President Bush to commute their sentences in January, which set them free.

National Border Patrol Council President T. J. Bonner, whose organization represents border law enforcement officials, said at the hearing that mandatory minimum sentencing laws affect the morale of agents trying to do their job.

“This is a problem that needs to be addressed,” Bonner said.

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and other House Republicans urged the Justice Department Inspector General today to investigate whether politics improperly played a role in the dismissal of voter-intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.

The New Black Panthers evolved from the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the 1960s-era black-power group founded in Oakland, Calif., by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Its communist-influenced vision of civil rights as a military-style separatist movement hasn’t really been in vogue since the 1970s. It’s kind of laughable the GOP can’t find some better theme to ride.

The Black Panthers began as a militant black power group in the 1960s.

The militant black power group dates to the 1960s.

We previously reported that the Justice Department disputed the accuracy of a Washington Times article that said Obama administration political appointees overruled career Civil Rights Division attorneys in dismissing the case. The DOJ said a career attorney had the final say in the lawsuit dismissal.

The Republicans wrote in a letter to Inspector General Glenn Fine that the DOJ has not not responded to previous letters from Smith and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) questioning the dismissal. The Republicans wrote in the letter today that probing the dismissal should be a priority.

“As Inspector General of Justice Department, you spent more than a year investigating allegations of wrong political influence in the removal of several U.S. Attorneys,” they wrote. “Allegations of wrongful political influence by Obama administration officials in the dismissal of a voting rights case are equally important and should be subject to an equally thorough investigation.”

Those signing onto the letter include:

-Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas)
-Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.)
-Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.)
-Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
-Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.)
-Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
-Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
-Rep.  John Culberson (R-Texas)
-Rep.  Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.)
-Rep.  Jo Bonner (R-Ala.)

The original DOJ complaint for the case said Malik Zulu Shabazz, Minister King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson brandished weapons and used “coercion, threats and intimidation” to harass voters, both black and white, at a Philadelphia polling place last Nov. 4.  The defendants wore “military-style uniforms” including black berets and combat boots, the complaint said.

The Justice Department effectively won the case when the defendants failed to contest it, but opted to dismiss the case instead of getting a default judgment.