Length of Whitaker Tenure as Acting AG Could Be Short

President Trump denies that he knows DOJ’s Matt Whitaker, after he called Whitaker “a great guy.” Critics worry that he could curtail or fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

Matthew Whitaker’s future at the helm of the Justice Department appears uncertain as President Trump denies even knowing the man he named acting attorney general, the Associated Press reports. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says a permanent replacement could be named soon for Whitaker, who’s now overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. “I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Trump said before leaving on a trip to France. That contradicted his remarks last month on Fox News, when he called Whitaker “a great guy” and said, “I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”

McConnell, separately, said, “I think this will be a very interim AG.” Sen. Susan Collins, (R-ME) said she was concerned by some of Whitaker’s past comments and called for legislation that would place limits on his ability to fire Mueller. That would include specifying that only a Senate-confirmed Justice Department official, which Whitaker is not, could dismiss the special counsel. Since he was named Wednesday, Whitaker has faced pressure from Democrats to step aside from overseeing Mueller, based on critical comments Whitaker made about the investigation before joining the Justice Department last year. There have been reports about Whitaker’s past comments questioning the power and reach of the federal judiciary, and about his ties to an invention-promotion company that was accused of misleading consumers. The Wall Street Journal published an email revealing an FBI investigation into the company, World Patent Marketing Inc. The July 10, 2017, email was from an FBI victims’ specialist to someone who, the newspaper said, was an alleged victim of the company. A Justice Department spokeswoman said Whitaker was “not aware of any fraudulent activity.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Christie Emerges as Attorney General Contender

President Trump believes that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has patiently waited his turn after being passed over for Attorney General in 2016.

The shadow of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation is complicating President Trump’s search for a new attorney general. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is unlikely to accept the job if it is offered before Mueller issues his report, Politico reports. Two other candidates approached by the White House about the position signaled they were not interested. As a result, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie has emerged as a strong contender. Trump has said he believes Christie, the first prominent Republican to back his presidential bid, has patiently waited his turn after being passed over for the job during the post-2016 election transition.

That said, candidates for top administration jobs have learned that Trump’s whims are subject to sudden changes, thanks to anything from a bad-chemistry meeting to a snippet of critical cable TV commentary the president happens to catch. Other candidates are in the mix, including Solicitor General Noel Francisco and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. A cabinet post for Christie would be a dramatic plot twist in his complicated, years-long relationship with the Trump family. Christie ran against Trump in the 2016 Republican primaries before advising and representing his campaign. As a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Christie led a 2004 criminal prosecution that landed Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, behind bars for tax evasion and illegal campaign contributions — and earned him the enmity of Trump’s son-in-law. Christie was at the White House on Thursday for a long-scheduled meeting on criminal justice reform, an issue both he and Kushner support.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Whitaker Already Under ‘Extreme Pressure’ as Acting AG

The White House expected opposition from Democrats to the naming of Matt Whitaker as acting Attorney General, but the blowback is widening and now includes a growing body of conservative legal opinion.

Matt Whitaker has been acting attorney general for just one full day but he’s already under extreme pressure, ;” href=”https://www.axios.com/trump-blowback-acting-attorney-general-matt-whitaker-0545fd26-1029-4879-aab9-e89a64c9b079.html”>Axios reports President Trump, who shocked even some of his senior staff with the hasty timing of his firing of Jeff Sessions, threw Whitaker into an immediate political and legal storm. The White House expected opposition from Democrats but the blowback is widening and now includes a growing body of conservative legal opinion. Congressional Democrats have called on Whitaker, a Trump loyalist, to recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel’s Russia probe because of his critical comments about it. 

Prominent attorneys Neal Katyal and George Conway wrote a New York Times op-ed in which they argue Trump’s appointment of Whitaker is illegal because the Constitution dictates that anyone serving in a “principal role” must be confirmed by the Senate. In addition to politicizing the Justice Department, Trump runs a serious risk that any formal actions taken by Whitaker could be declared invalid, Katyal and Conway say. Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores says the appointment is valid under the federal Vacancies Reform Act.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Consent Decrees for Police Reform Limited by Sessions

Before leaving office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions drastically limited the ability of federal law enforcement officials to use court-enforced agreements to overhaul local police departments accused of abuses and civil rights violations.

Before leaving office on Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions drastically limited the ability of federal law enforcement officials to use court-enforced consent decrees to overhaul local police departments accused of abuses and civil rights violations, the New York Times reports. The move means that the decrees, used aggressively by Obama-era Justice Department officials to fight police abuses, will be more difficult to enact. After he took office, Sessions ordered a review of existing agreements, including with police departments in Baltimore, Chicago and Ferguson, Mo., enacted amid an outcry over the deaths of black men at the hands of officers.

Sessions imposed three stringent requirements for the agreements. Top political appointees must sign off on the deals, rather than career lawyers; DOJ must lay out evidence of additional violations beyond unconstitutional behavior; and the deals must have a sunset date, rather than being in place until police or other law enforcement agencies have shown improvement. The document reflected Sessions’s staunch support for law enforcement and his belief that overzealous civil rights lawyers under the Obama administration vilified local police. The federal government has long conducted oversight of local law enforcement agencies, and consent decrees have fallen in and out of favor since the first one was adopted in Pittsburgh more than two decades ago. The new guidelines push more of that responsibility onto state attorneys general and other local agencies. By setting a higher bar for the deals, Sessions limited a tool that the Justice Department has used to help change policing practices nationwide.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Will Whitaker Curb Special Counsel Mueller?

New Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has been critical of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, as has President Trump. Whitaker could cut Mueller’s budget or take other moves to restrict or end the investigation.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker could make life difficult for Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. The biggest question in Washington is: Will he? Whitaker took over on Wednesday from Jeff Sessions, who was forced out after months of verbal abuse by President Trump. Whitaker was Sessions’ chief of staff, so he’ll step into the job with a nearly complete working knowledge of the department — except for Mueller’s investigation, NPR reports. That’s because Sessions had recused himself, calling it inappropriate that he lead an inquiry into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign of which he was a part.

With Sessions gone, that means Whitaker’s purview includes the special counsel’s investigation. Whitaker has not been a fan. “Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing,” Whitaker wrote in an op-ed last year before he came to work for the government. He called for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and who has been supervising his work, to curb the investigation. Trump suggested Wednesday that the only reason he hasn’t already ousted Mueller is because it might make him look bad. Whitaker could stop paying the investigators or attorneys working for the special counsel or could re-assign them to their previous jobs in the FBI and the Justice Department or the intelligence community.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Sessions to ‘Step Down’ Soon at DOJ, Sen. Graham Says

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation is imminent and the Justice Department will have a new leader by early next year, says the potential new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham will be happy to work with Democrats on immigration and prison reform.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation is imminent and a new attorney general would be leading the Justice Department by early next year, says the potential new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), reports Politico. “Jeff probably will step down,” Graham told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. Sessions has been excoriated by President Trump since he recused himself from a federal probe into allegations of collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. Trump has laid into his top law enforcement official despite Sessions’ methodical implementation of policies that Trump campaigned on, prominently a crackdown on illegal immigration.

Graham, a onetime critic of Trump who has grown close to him, could play a key role in replacing Sessions. The South Carolina lawmaker is poised to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee if Republicans maintain their majority and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) takes over chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee. Graham, whose fiery, nationally televised defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh amid accusations of sexual misconduct drew widespread attention, said that Democrats’ “complete destruction” of Kavanaugh during his confirmation process would begin a new chapter for the Judiciary Committee. “There was a confirmation process before Kavanaugh, and there’s the confirmation process after Kavanaugh” Graham said, arguing that “Supreme Court nominees need to be tested, but they don’t need to be destroyed. So I’m going to remember this.” Graham said he would be happy to reach across the aisle to Democrats to reach a compromise on issues like immigration or prison reform, “but when it comes to judges, enough is enough.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

White House Waiver Allows DOJ Official to Supervise Mueller

Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the Justice Department official in line to become special counsel Robert Mueller’s new supervisor if there’s a DOJ shakeup, obtained White House approval this year on what critics say is a potential ethics hurdle that could have kept him from assuming the high-profile role. A watchdog group calls the waiver “troubling.”

Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the Justice Department official in line to become special counsel Robert Mueller’s new supervisor if there’s a DOJ shakeup, obtained White House approval this year on what critics say is a potential ethics hurdle that could have kept him from assuming the high-profile role, Politico reports. Francisco is  considered a likely candidate to oversee Mueller’s Russia probe if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is fired or quits. The conservative lawyer has been dogged by conflict of interest concerns because he previously worked as a partner at Jones Day, the same law firm that represents the Trump’s presidential campaign in the Russia probe.

Officials at the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have been arguing for months that to oversee the Mueller probe, Francisco would require a White House waiver to circumvent a Trump executive order that decreed employees must recuse themselves from work on any matters involving previous employers going back two years. It turns out that Francisco got a White House waiver of that type in April. A CREW official said the group learned about the waiver on Friday after the Justice Department responded to its request for the document. CREW called the waiver “troubling” because it isn’t posted on an Office of Government Ethics website that lists 28 other Trump administration officials who have so far received waivers to work on matters related to their previous employers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Will Sessions Be Allowed a Graceful Exit?

Some of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ supporters believe he should not be fired immediately after the Nov. 6 elections. “He deserves a graceful exit,” says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

If Jeff Sessions’ days at the Justice Department are numbered, some of his supporters want the White House to permit a graceful exit for an attorney general they believe has dutifully carried out the administration’s agenda even while enduring the president’s fury, the Associated Press reports. It seems unlikely that efforts to soften a dismissal after the election would find sympathy in the White House, where President Trump’s rage remains unabated over Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation. A hand-picked successor could oversee the rest of the probe in place of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Former Cincinnati Mayor Ken Blackwell, a Sessions ally, believes he should be allowed to remain on the job until January rather than be fired immediately after the midterms. Blackwell said allies have made their case to officials that Sessions has pushed the president’s core priorities, including on illegal immigration, and deserves  recognition from the White House that “he has more than a passing grade.”

Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker who is close to the White House and calls himself a longtime “admirer” of Sessions, said he would be open to serving as an intermediary between the White House and Sessions supporters. “He deserves a graceful exit. His career deserves a strong conclusion,” said Gingrich, who called Sessions “a strong conservative who has done strong work at the Department of Justice.” The president, though mindful that Sessions remains popular among much of his base, would seem unlikely to extend Sessions’ time in office, say people familiar with Trump’s thinking. If Trump waits, it would not be out of deference to Sessions, but rather because the White House would be managing the fallout from the midterms and preparing for two presidential overseas trips. Sessions’ decision to recuse remains his original sin in Trump’s eyes.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Civil Rights Probes of Police Take Three Years

“The bottom line is there’s no pressure” for quicker action said Roy Austin, an attorney for the family of a man shot by U.S. Park Police officers and formerly a top official in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

It was July 2014 when Eric Garner died after a struggle with New York City police, an encounter captured on video and replayed worldwide. When a local grand jury declined to indict any officers, federal authorities launched their own civil rights investigation. in December 2014. Nearly four years later, no decision has been made on whether to file charges, the Washington Post reports. “It’s a horror show,” said Jonathan Moore, the Garner family’s lawyer. “The family’s very frustrated.” In November 2017, Bijan Ghaisar died after being shot by two U.S. Park Police officers in Fairfax County, Va., an episode also captured on video. The FBI and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department took over the case within three days. As the first anniversary of that killing approaches, the names of the officers and an explanation of their actions have been withheld by federal authorities.

The anguish of the Garner and Ghaisar families over what they see as needlessly drawn-out investigations is common for those who think they or their families have been the victim of police brutality or other misconduct. Justice Department investigations into sworn law enforcement officers often take years. An examination by the Post of more than 50 recent civil rights cases filed by federal prosecutors against officers found an average of more than three years elapsed from the  event to the filing of charges. A  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review study of more than 13,000 misconduct cases submitted to the Justice Department over 20 years found that no charges were filed in 96 percent of them. No one is demanding the Justice Department move more quickly in civil rights cases. “The bottom line is there’s no pressure,” said Roy Austin, an attorney for the Ghaisar family and formerly a top official in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

from https://thecrimereport.org

U.S. Doubles Crime Data Access Program to 72 Tribes

U.S. Justice and Interior Departments are giving many more tribes direct access to national crime databases. “Information is really the coin of the realm these days,” said Trent Shores, a U.S. Attorney in Oklahoma and Choctaw Nation citizen.

Last year, Suquamish, Wa., police detective Mark Williams learned the nickname of a suspect in a kidnapping of a man in his 90s and needed to find the suspect’s real name and address. With the help of a Justice Department program that connects Native American tribes to national crime databases, Williams linked the nickname with a full name, an address, and a vehicle registration, reports NPR. That led to an hours-long standoff at a residence, but eventually the elderly man walked out of the home and into the arms of a trusted friend; his kidnapper faced prosecution in the tribal justice system and served jail time. This week, the U.S. Justice and Interior Departments are expanding the program that helped Williams, doubling the access to cover 72 tribes, with more on the way.

“Information is really the coin of the realm these days,” said Trent Shores, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, and a citizen of the Choctaw Nation. “Information access is key for tribal law enforcement so that when they engage with subjects, so that when they arrest individuals and book them, they can be aware of who these people are, what their criminal histories are. It’s going to promote tribal safety.” The program covers several real-world situations: assisting with registration of sex offenders; identifying human remains; locating endangered and missing people; arming tribal law enforcement with information about people they encounter in traffic stops; and conducting background checks to vet foster parents. Without the Tribal Access Program, tribal law enforcement can be forced to rely on state officials to gain access to crime information databases.

from https://thecrimereport.org