Attorney General Eric Holder turned over to the Senate half a dozen Supreme Court briefs he failed to disclose during his confirmation process more than a year ago.
“We regret the omission,” Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said in a letter accompanying the list of amicus briefs not included in Holder’s Senate questionnaire, as required. Also included on the list, sent on Friday to Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), was a brief Holder submitted as counsel. (Click here for the list.)
A story on The National Review’s Web site this week criticized Holder for not disclosing a brief he signed with other former Clinton administration officials in the high-profile terrorism case of Jose Padilla. The Blog of Legal Times reported the omission of two additional briefs on Friday morning.
The department said Holder’s confirmation team mistakenly left out the briefs while preparing reams of documents for transmission to the Senate.
Senate Republicans pounced on Holder after the NRO report and continued their attack on Friday. Stephen Boyd, communications director for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the committee’s ranking member, called the situation “unacceptable.”
“Now that the Attorney General has finally provided the Committee with these important documents some 14 months after they should have been turned over, we can begin the discussion of the critical and substantive questions raised by these briefs,” he said.
Holder is scheduled to appear before the committee for a March 23 oversight hearing.
Earlier Wednesday, Justice Department officials confirmed to FoxNews the list of DOJ attorneys dubbed the “al-Qaeda Seven” — a group of lawyers lambasted in a Keep America Safe advertisement who represented Guantanamo detainees prior to their government service.
Surprisingly, that list includes Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Tony West, despite the fact that his representation of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh has long been public knowledge.
In 2002, West joined a team of lawyers that represented Lindh. He discussed the case on a chat with The Washington Post back in 2002 and has appeared in numerous news articles as one of Lindh’s lawyers.
“West’s representation of Lindh is probably his best-known work, and was prominently mentioned in the ledes of several articles reporting on his nomination,” writes Media Matters.
West’s representation of Lindh was brought up during his confirmation hearing in March 2009, but few voiced any opposition to his nomination at that time. Ultimately only four Republican senators voted against West’s nomination. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who has pressed for information on the detainee lawyer issue, voted in favor of West’s confirmation.
Although West was not identified by name, on Feb. 18 Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich publicly acknowledged West’s role in the Lindh case. In a letter to Grassley, Weich wrote that “the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division previously represented one Afghanistan detainee, and his former employer represents other detainees.”
A spokesman for Keep America Safe said that disclosing solely the position of someone who represented terrorism suspects - even if there is only one person who fit such a description - is not good enough.
“If you only give the position and not the name, it’s another barrier to disclosing information that should be readily available,” Aaron Harison of Keep America Safe told Main Justice.
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In a letter Friday, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee accused Attorney General Eric Holder of being “non-responsive and intentionally evasive” about questions they had raised concerning current Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees.
The letter, first reported by ABC News, was signed by all seven Republican members of the committee. In it, they again asked Holder to provide a list of all political appointees within the DOJ who represented detainees before joining the department or those who worked for organizations that advocate changes to terrorism policies. The senators also asked whether any of the lawyers who had previously represented or advocated for detainees had been asked or voluntarily agreed to recuse themselves from working on detainee issues for the DOJ.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, first questioned Holder about potential conflicts of interest for lawyers who previously worked with detainees during a November oversight hearing. In response to Grassley’s questioning, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich replied in a Feb. 18 letter that 10 politically-appointed DOJ lawyers fit his description. Six had represented detainees and four previously advocated on detainee issues, although none as registered lobbyists, he said. Weich noted in particular that Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal previously represented a Guantanamo Bay detainee and that Jennifer Daskal, an attorney in the National Security Division, previously worked for Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization that advocates against torture.
In the letter Friday, the senators chastised the department for not providing a full list of names.
“The February 18 response does not provide complete answers and raises a host of new questions,” the letter reads. “Simply put, this letter is at best nonresponsive and at worst, intentionally evasive.
The letter added that the lack of a complete response leaves them with “serious concerns about who is providing advice on detainee matters.”
The senators requested that Holder reply to the questions before March 12.
UPDATED 3/9/10: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Holder is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 12. The Republican senators asked Holder reply to their questions by March 12. The committee plans to hold an oversight hearing with Holder sometime in March, but a date has not yet been set.
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House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) cannot vote on presidential nominations. But Smith is trying to hold up Justice Department Civil Rights Division nominee Thomas Perez until DOJ gives the House member more information about the dismissal of voter-intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.
Smith urged the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today to put a hold on Perez. The House Judiciary ranking member said the Justice Department responses to letters he sent on May 28, July 9 and July 17 about the dismissal have been “overly vague, raising concerns about possible political interference in this case.” Read all of the letters from Smith and DOJ here.
Smith and other House Republicans have alleged for months that politics played a role in the case dismissal. The Washington Times reported last month that Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, a political appointee, approved a recommendation by Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King to drop voter intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.
But King, who’s been acting head of the division since January, told Perrelli she had “concerns” about the case during a regular review meeting, The Times reported. King recommended some of the charges be dismissed, and Perrelli agreed. Read our previous report about The Times article here.
The Justice Department has denied the accusations made by Smith. DOJ spokesperson Tracy Schmaler told Main Justice today “top career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division” made the decision that some of the charges be dismissed.
In a four-page letter sent July 13, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said DOJ officials will meet with Smith to further discuss the matter and he explained how DOJ handled each of the New Black Panthers members listed in the initial DOJ complaint.
The complaint 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 essentially won the case when the defendants failed to contest it. But DOJ decided to file for dismissal of the case instead of getting a default judgment. The dismissal did not extend to one defendant, King Samir Shabazz. Read the DOJ’s filing here. Read our original report on the “controversy” here.
“We assure you that the Department is committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of federal law that prohibit voter intimidation,” Weich said in the letter. “We continue to work with voters, communities, and local law enforcement to ensure that every American can vote free from intimidation, coercion or threats.”
Smith also requested in the July 9 letter that the DOJ Office of Inspector General investigate the matter. Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote in a July 21 letter that he forwarded Smith’s request to the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility. Fine said OPR — not OIG — was the appropriate office to handle Smith’s request.
Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have not jumped on the dismissal like Smith has, but they have not been too keen on Perez.
Perez was reported out of committee June 4 by a 17-2 vote. Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) were the only senators to oppose the Civil Rights Division nominee in committee.
Sessions, the ranking member of the committee, called into question last month Perez’s prior work on the board of CASA de Maryland, an influential immigrant advocacy group that has come under fire by anti-immigration groups.
Coburn said last month that Perez, former director of the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has supported providing translators to illegal immigrants who are receiving medical care. The Oklahoma senator, a medical doctor who operated on people without U.S. citizenship, said providing illegal immigrants with interpreters would “wreck health care.”
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Coburn and Sessions got a “much clearer view” of the Civil Rights Division nominee from a meeting they had with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Perez. Sessions said it was “a good meeting.”
A Republican spokesperson for the Senate Judiciary Committee did not respond to a request for comment.
Joe Palazzolo contributed to this report.
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The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to move Ronald Weich, nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs, to the Senate for confirmation.
Weich is a long-time Senate staffer who most recently worked for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
The nominee received few questions when he went before the committee earlier this month for a hearing on his nomination.
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Not many questions for Ronald Weich at his Senate nomination hearing Wednesday as Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs.
A long-time Senate staffer who most recently worked for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Weich received mostly praise from the four Democrats who showed up for the hearing.
The only Republican present was the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). In what’s becoming a pattern for the abortion-rights supporter, Specter used the nomination hearing to twirl to the right on abortion. The 79-year-old Senate veteran faces an increasingly conservative pool of GOP Pennsylvania primary voters in a tough re-election race next year.
Specter inveighed against the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which gave fetuses protected status as legal victims for certain federal crimes, but didn’t have any actual questions for Weich. Weich had testified against the legislation, originally introduced in 1999, as a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP.
Abortion rights supporters had opposed the bill, seeing it as an incremental move toward bestowing rights on fetuses with the aim of eventually criminalizing abortion.
The hearing was moved at the last minute to a cramped room in the Capitol from the Dirksen building to accommodate senators’ voting schedule.
Weich was really just a sideshow. The main act was David Hamilton, a liberal judge nominated to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Republicans boycotted the meeting, according to the Associated Press, saying they hadn’t had enough time to prepare for the hearing.
Specter said that during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, senators were generally given more than 100 days to get ready for nomination hearings. “There has been grossly insufficient time to prepare,” he said.
Most of the four Democrats present lamented that the seven other Republican committee members were not present. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in his opening statement that the Republicans have delayed several judicial nominations since President Obama took office including those appointments for attorney general, solicitor general and most recently, the nominee for Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen.
“It’s just regrettable,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said adding, “I think they are off to a bad start.”
CQ reported that the nomination of Weich might be part of an ongoing effort by the White House to appoint as many Capitol Hill staffers as it can to “make if awfully hard for Democratic leaders to challenge his politics on a range of issue, from economics to anti-terrorism.”
Weich, who if confirmed would be the point person for pushing the DOJ’s legislative agenda on Capitol Hill, said he would work to bridge the gap between the Justice Department and the branches of government.
“I think those leaders of the three branches need to speak to each other constructively… and I think I could facilitate that,” Weich said.
His nomination is expected to go before the Judiciary Committee for a vote after the two-week Easter break.