Before Trump Inauguration, Hackers Seized DC Police Cams

A week before Trump was sworn in, Romanian ransomware hackers took over 123 of the Washington police department’s outdoor surveillance cameras. Two men are charged in the case. Federal prosecutors said there was no threat to public safety.

Romanian ransomware hackers took over most of Washington, D.C.’s outdoor surveillance cameras just before President Trump’s inauguration, reports the Washington Post. A federal criminal complaint unsealed Thursday said the January attack affected 123 of the D.C. police department’s 187 outdoor surveillance cameras, leaving them unable to record for several days. Two Romanians, whom law enforcement officials describe as part of a larger extortionist hacking group, are being charged in D.C. federal court with fraud and ­computer crimes. Mihai Alexandru Isvanca, 25, and Eveline Cismaru, 28, were arrested in Romania earlier this month, along with three other Romanian hackers who will face prosecution in Europe.

Prosecutors plan to seek extradition. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. On Jan. 12, D.C. police noticed several surveillance cameras were not functioning properly. Secret Service Agent Brian Kaiser investigated and found that they had been taken over by ­non-police users. Those people were sending spam messages infected with ransomware to a long list of email addresses. The city resolved the problem by taking the devices offline, removing all software and restarting the system at each site, a process that took about two days, according to police. From Jan. 12 to Jan. 15, none of the cameras were able to record video. No ransom was paid. There is no evidence the disruption threatened or harmed anyone’s safety, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.


Do FBI Texts Create ‘Star Witnesses’ in Russia Probe?

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s wide-ranging review of the FBI and Justice Department’s work in the politically charged Hillary Clinton email case looms as a potential landmine for Russia special counsel Robert Mueller.

In early January, news that the Justice Department’s inspector general launched an investigation into the government’s disputed handling of the Hillary Clinton email inquiry was quickly overtaken by the chaotic run-up to President Trump’s inauguration, says USA Today. Nearly a year later, Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s wide-ranging review of the FBI and Justice’s work in the politically charged Clinton case now looms as a potential landmine for Russia special counsel Robert Mueller. For months, Horowitz’s investigation — which has amassed interviews with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former FBI Director James Comey and other key officials — had been grinding on in near anonymity. That is, until earlier this month when the inspector general acknowledged that Mueller was alerted to a cache of text messages exchanged between two FBI officials on his staff that disparaged Trump.

The texts, involving senior counter-intelligence agent Peter Strzok and bureau lawyer Lisa Page, were gathered in the course of Horowitz’s internal review of the Clinton case, which Strzok also helped oversee. Chris Swecker, a former FBI assistant director, said the texts have handed leverage to attorneys representing current and possible future defendants in the Mueller investigation, either in possible plea negotiations or at trial. “Two star witnesses have been created for the defense,” Swecker said, referring to Strzok and Page. Horowitz’s investigation is not examining Mueller’s operation. But the disclosures already have provided a hammer to Trump loyalists who are escalating their criticisms of the legitimacy of the special counsel’s inquiry. Justice officials have indicated that a report is likely in the next few months.


New York AG Battles a Native Son Enemy: Donald Trump

Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, has undertaken 100 legal or administrative challenges against the Trump administration and congressional Republicans. “We try and protect New Yorkers from those who would do them harm,” he said. “The biggest threat to New Yorkers right now is the federal government.”

Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, has emerged as a national leader in challenging the initiatives of President Trump, reports the New York Times. By moving to sue the FCC over net neutrality this month, Schneiderman’s office took its 100th legal or administrative action against the Trump administration and congressional Republicans. His lawyers have challenged Trump’s first, second and third travel bans and sued over such diverse matters as a rollback in birth control coverage and a weakening of pollution standards. They have also unleashed a flurry of amicus briefs and formal letters, often with other Democratic attorneys general, assailing legislation they see as gutting consumer finance protections or civil rights.

“We try and protect New Yorkers from those who would do them harm,” Schneiderman said. “The biggest threat to New Yorkers right now is the federal government, so we’re responding to it.” In Schneiderman’s seventh year as attorney general, the office has been transformed into a bulwark of resistance amid an unusually expansive level of confrontation with the federal government. Other Democratic state attorneys general are undertaking similar efforts, often in concert, like Xavier Becerra in California, where extra money was set aside in the budget for the attorney general to battle the Trump administration. How far Schneiderman is willing to go in taking on Trump could define his political career, particularly in a blue state where disapproval of the president is high. Republican attorneys general targeted President Obama’s policies while he was in office. Scott Pruitt, the head of Trump’s EPA, sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma attorney general.


Border Agent’s Death Made Headlines, But What Killed Him?

President Trump and other politicians used the Nov. 18 death of border patrol agent Rogelio Martinez as political fodder. But six weeks later, there are more questions than answers about how Martinez died.

President Trump called it proof of the need to build a wall; Senator Ted Cruz said it was a “stark reminder” of insecurity along the border. To everyone, it seemed like a horrendous example of the dangers that border patrol officers face as they cover vast, remote and unforgiving territories. But a month after a middle-of-the-night incident in which one border patrol agent was killed and another, who is said to have no memory of what happened, was severely injured, no one seems to know how the men came into harm’s way off an interstate in West Texas, says the New York Times.

The Nov. 18 incident was initially thought to be an attack, perhaps by migrants or drug smugglers. But the FBI says it also was possible the men were hurt accidentally. Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carrillo, who is helping with the investigation, seemed to favor that theory when he told the Dallas Morning News that the men could have been hit by a truck driving along the interstate next to where they were found. That hypothesis has angered the border agents’ union, whose leadership insists the men were attacked. A union spokesman called Carrillo a “dingbat” on his weekly podcast. The immediate, politicized reactions from President Trump, Senator Cruz and other elected officials have died down, as weeks have passed without any more clarity as to what happened.


Trump Names Ex-Hudson Institute’s Anderson to Head BJS

Jeffrey H. Anderson, a conservative scholar chosen by President Trump to head the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, has no apparent experience in the field.

President Trump has announced his intention to appoint a director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) who has no apparent experience in the field.

He’s Jeffrey H. Anderson, a former senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute who is described by the White House as a “constitutional scholar” and a “leader in formulating domestic policy proposals.”

Jeffrey Anderson

Jeffrey H. Anderson. Photo courtesy Hudson Institute

Anderson is a former political science professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Later he directed the 2017 Project with conservative writer William Kristol, where the White House says he “advanced creative proposals, including Main Street-oriented health-care, tax, and immigration reform.”

This year, the Trump administration named him to direct the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where the White House said he led efforts “to reduce insurance premiums, regulatory burdens, and opioid abuse.”

The only statistical experience cited by the White House in Anderson’s background was co-creating the Anderson and Hester Computer Rankings, which boast of computing college football’s “most accurate strength of schedule ratings,” taking into account the quality of teams’ opponents.

The BJS directorship once required Senate confirmation, but Congress changed the law in 2012 and made the job a presidential appointment.

BJS, established in 1979, says its mission is “to collect, analyze, publish, and disseminate information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice systems at all levels of government.”

It is perhaps most well known for the annual publication of the National Crime Victimization Survey, which measures crime through interviews with Americans on whether they were victims of crime in the previous year.

The report is considered more complete than the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report because it includes the many offenses not reported to law enforcement agencies.

BJS directors under President Obama, James Lynch of the University of Maryland and William Sabol, now of Georgia State University, both were long-time criminologists and recognized experts in crime and justice statistics.

In May, under the auspices of the American Statistical Association, four former BJS directors wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging that “serious consideration” to head BJS, which operates in Sessions’ Department of Justice, “to individuals who have strong leadership, management, and scientific skills; experience with federal statistical agencies; familiarity with BJS and its products; visibility in the nation’s statistical community; ability to interact productively with Congress and senior DOJ staff; and acceptance of the National Academies’ Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency.”

The letter was signed by Lynch, Sabol, Jeffrey Sedgwick, who served as BJS director in the last three years of the George W. Bush administration and now directs the Justice Research and Statistics Association, and Lawrence Greenfeld, who headed BJS in the first five years of the Bush administration.

Anderson does not appear to have any of those qualifications.

The same four recent BJS directors wrote in May to leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees arguing that the requirement for Senate confirmation for the BJS director should “be restored and that the director’s status be changed from serving at the will of the president to serving a fixed term of at least four years, staggered from the presidential election.”

The ex-directors said in their letter: “It is imperative that policy discussions about the often-contentious issues regarding crime and justice be informed by statistical data trusted by the public to be objective, valid, and reliable…”

“To ensure BJS data are viewed as objective and of highest quality, BJS must be seen as an independent statistical agency wherein data collection, analysis, and dissemination are under the sole control of the BJS.”

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.


Round 2: Were Trump’s Prints on Skinnier FBI Report?

FiveThirtyEight noticed that the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report, the first released under the Trump administration, was missing 70 percent of the data tables that were included in past editions. The feds fired back, alleging a “false narrative” and claiming that plans to “streamline” the report date to 2010. FiveThirtyEight’s data sleuths are not convinced.

The FBI pushed back when FiveThirtyEight published an article last month revealing that the bureau’s accounting of 2016 national crime data–the first under the Trump administration–was missing almost 70 percent of the data tables that had been included in past. The FBI said removal of the tables was not out of the ordinary. But FiveThirtyEight says the bureau’s claim doesn’t add up. The yearly report is considered the gold standard of crime-trend tracking and is used by law enforcement, researchers, journalists and the general public. Changes to the structure of the report typically go through the Advisory Policy Board (APB), which manages and reviews operational issues for a number of FBI programs. But this change was not reviewed by the APB. One former FBI employee said the decision not to consult with the APB was “shocking.”

The FBI took issue with FiveThirtyEight’s reporting, which Department of Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle called “a false narrative.” A month after the data was released, the agency posted a statement on the data tables noting that a plan to “streamline” the annual Uniform Crime Report had been in the works since 2010. But state-level UCR managers were not informed of it until late 2016. And the FBI had not publicly included the removal of data tables as part of those improvements until the statement it released following the FiveThirtyEight story. Instead, the FBI’s past statements said the agency aimed only to make data available more quickly and to improve digital features to allow users to access more data more easily.


‘Grotesque’: DOJ Vets React to Prospect of Clinton Probe

Current and former Justice Department officials are alarmed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s public suggestion that he may appoint a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton. “To have the winning side exploring the possibility of prosecuting the losing side in an election — it’s un-American, and it’s grotesque,” said John Danforth, a former DOJ special counsel.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s public suggestion that he may appoint a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton has alarmed current and former Justice Department officials who fear he will further politicize the embattled agency, says the Washington Post. Sessions said at a congressional hearing Tuesday that he will weigh recommendations from senior prosecutors on whether to appoint a special counsel over a 2010 uranium company deal and other issues, including donations to the Clinton Foundation. Such an appointment could give President Trump and Republicans a political counterweight to the ongoing work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is probing whether any Trump associates coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in last year’s presidential election.

For that reason, Sessions’s suggestion has raised fresh questions about the independence of the Justice Department in the Trump administration. “To have the winning side exploring the possibility of prosecuting the losing side in an election — it’s un-American, and it’s grotesque,” said John Danforth, a former special counsel who investigated the FBI’s role in a violent standoff with a cult in Waco, Tex. “The proliferation of special counsels in a political setting is very, very bad.”  Peter R. Zeidenberg, who once served as deputy special counsel in the probe of former White House aide Lewis “Scooter’’ Libby, said “the best-case scenario” is that the attorney general is trying simply to mollify an angry president and doesn’t really plan to name a special counsel. If one is appointed to probe Clinton matters, “I think the vast majority of people at DOJ would be completely disgusted and demoralized by it,’’ said Zeidenberg. “They don’t like feeling that they are political tools to be used by the president.’’


FBI: Hate Crime Reports Surged After Trump’s Election

The federal agency’s tally of reported hate crimes reached a five-year high in 2016, with a significant bump in the last quarter of the year as Trump was unexpectedly swept into the White House.

The number of hate crimes reported in the United States reached a five-year high in 2016, taking a noticeable uptick toward the end of the year around the time of Donald Trump’s unexpected electoral college victory, reports the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FBI said Monday that law enforcement agencies nationally tallied 6,121 reports of hate crimes last year, up about 5 percent from the 5,818 reported in 2015. However, 88 percent of participating law enforcement agencies reported no hate crimes in their jurisdictions, an ongoing challenge for data collection efforts. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates an annual average of 250,000 incidents of hate crime victimizations in the U.S., about 40 times the number reported by the FBI.

The FBI figures show that 1,747 hate crimes were reported in the last quarter of 2016, a 25.9 percent increase over October through December in 2015. That figure supports a sharp increase in bias incidents reported by journalists and civil rights organizations in the wake of the election. The FBI said about 59 percent of victims were targeted because of their ethnicity, race or ancestry. Another 21 percent were picked out because of their religious affiliation and 16.7 percent based on sexual orientation. The FBI reported 381 anti-Muslim crimes, up more than 20 percent from the 301 reported in 2015. Anti-Jewish crimes increased to 834 reported incidents in 2016, up 16 percent from the previous year.


With Trump as Wingman, Sheriffs Get Their Swagger On

Some sheriffs are mimicking the president’s antagonistic political style, alarming progressives and legal observers who fear an increasingly undisciplined justice system.

A wave of county sheriffs across America who feel emboldened by President Trump and his agenda are becoming vocal foot soldiers in the nation’s testy political and culture wars, says the Washington Post. From deep-blue states such as Massachusetts and New York to traditionally conservative strongholds in the South and the Midwest, locally elected sheriffs have emerged as some of the president’s biggest defenders. They echo Trump’s narrative on everything from serious policy debates such as immigration to fleeting political dust-ups with NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.

Sheriffs are mimicking Trump’s antagonistic political style, alarming progressives and some legal observers who fear an increasingly undisciplined justice system. Some have gone to battle with Democratic officials, bucking their “politically correct” policies and using rhetoric that puts some residents on edge. Over the past nine months, various elected sheriffs have been filmed saying that they would call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on undocumented residents, have threatened to bar sex offenders from hurricane shelters, and have proposed sending inmates to help build Trump’s planned Mexican border wall. Last month, a sheriff in Louisiana suggested “good” inmates need to be kept in jail so they can cook, clean and wash vehicles. In Titusville, Fla., Sheriff Wayne Ivey is calling on constituents to arm themselves as a countywide militia. He and many other sheriffs are producing controversial, at times jarring, videos designed to show toughness, including images of deputies beating in doors.