DOJ Admits Errors in Linking Immigration and Terrorism

The Justice Department has acknowledged errors in a controversial report issued last year that implied a link between terrorism in the U.S. and immigration, but officials have declined to retract or correct the document.

The Justice Department has acknowledged errors in a controversial report issued last year that implied a link between terrorism in the U.S. and immigration, but officials have declined to retract or correct the document, the Washington Post reports. Released by the Justice and Homeland Security departments, the report said that 402 of 549 individuals — nearly 3 in 4 — convicted of international terrorism charges since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were foreign-born. It was written in compliance with President Trump’s March 2017 executive order halting immigration from six majority-Muslim countries.

Critics expressed alarm at what they considered misleading data presented without context. They called it an attempt to misuse law enforcement agencies to advance a political agenda in opposition to immigration. Several government watchdog and civil liberties groups sued the two agencies, seeking a retraction or correction under the Information Quality Act. The agencies refused. Now, the Justice Department has told the groups it will not retract or correct the document. Rather, “in future reports, the department can strive to minimize the potential for misinterpretation,” said DOJ official Michael Allen. It was a rare DOJ admission that its reporting may have misled the public. One flaw the Justice Department acknowledged was the report’s assertion that between 2003 and 2009, immigrants were convicted of 69,929 sex offenses, which “in most instances constitutes gender-based violence against women.” Actually, the nearly 70,000 offenses spanned a period from 1955 to 2010 — 55 years, not six; the data covered arrests, not convictions; and one arrest could be for multiple offenses. Critics decried the report’s inclusion of eight “illustrative examples” of foreign-born individuals out of a pool of 402 convicted of international terrorism. Allen wrote that, “On reconsideration, the department acknowledges that a focus on eight seemingly similar ‘illustrative examples’ from a list of more than 400 convictions could cause some readers of the report to question its objectivity.”


Barr DOJ Nomination Hearing to Start Jan. 15

Former Attorney General William Barr will face senators’ questions on his nomination for another stint heading the Justice Department. His views on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, which he would oversee, may take center stage.

William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing Jan. 15. Departing Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and successor Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) noted that confirmation hearings for the past five attorneys general have last two days each, the National Law Journal reports. “Mr. Barr will receive the same fair and thorough vetting process as the last five nominees to be attorney general,” the senators said. Barr would replace acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, whose appointment to head the Justice Department in the interim has generated controversy and litigation challenges.

Barr will face questions about his June memo to Justice Department officials criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr addressed the letter as a “former official” to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Steven Engel, who heads DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, top Democrat on the committee, described the memo as “very troubling.” Barr told the committee that he plans to follow Justice Department protocol when addressing potential conflicts of interest. “In the event of a potential conflict of interest, l will consult with the appropriate Department of Justice ethics officials and act consistent with governing regulations,” Barr said.


Whitaker Wrongly Says He Was ‘Academic All-American’

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker relied on an incorrect University of Iowa media guide to claim that he achieved the status of an Academic All-American as a college football player.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker incorrectly claimed on his résumé and in government documents to have been named an Academic All-American while playing football at the University of Iowa, the Wall Street Journal reports. Whitaker, who was an Iowa tight end from 1990 to 1992, claimed to have been an Academic All-American in his biography on his former law firm’s website and on a résumé sent to the chief executive of a now-closed patent-marketing firm, for which he sat on the advisory board. The résumé was included in documents released by the Federal Trade Commission. Whitaker made the same claim in a 2010 application for an Iowa judgeship. A Justice Department press release in 2009 when Whitaker left his post as U.S. Attorney in Iowa said he had been “an academic All-American football player.”

To be considered for Academic All-American status, a student-athlete must have at least a 3.3 cumulative grade point average and be a starter or important reserve on his or her team. Whitaker’s name doesn’t appear in the list of Academic All-Americans on the website of the organization that bestows the annual honor, the College Sports Information Directors of America. Barb Kowal, a spokeswoman for the organization, said the group has no record that Whitaker was ever an Academic All-American. Whitaker was given a lower-level honor, selected to an All-District honor in one of eight regions around the U.S. A Justice Department spokeswoman, said Whitaker relied on a 1993 University of Iowa football media guide, which listed him as a “GTE District VII academic All-American.” A university official said that, “if there is confusion at all, part of it could be how we listed it in our media guide.”


Whitaker Authority May Be Challenged in Bump Stock Suit

Some Justice Department lawyers advised Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker not to sign an order banning gun stocks, arguing that the legality of his appointment could be at risk.

Senior Justice Department lawyers advised acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker not to sign a gun regulation change, warning him that doing so could lead to a successful legal challenge to his appointment, the Washington Post reports. Whitaker heard from other DOJ officials who believed he should sign a change in gun regulations that bans the use of bump stocks, devices that attach to semiautomatic rifles and allow them to fire more like automatic weapons. He signed the document on Tuesday. The internal debate over Whitaker’s signature shows how concerned top Justice Department executives are that his appointment is vulnerable to a legal challenge, when lawyers suing the department over various policy issues need to find only one federal judge who agrees with that position.

Whitaker is overseeing the Justice Department while William Barr awaits Senate confirmation hearings to become the next attorney general. Those hearings have yet to be scheduled, and Whitaker could stay in the job for another month or more. The litigation concerns surrounding Whitaker are partly fueled by the “national injunction” problem — that when lawyers challenge a particular government policy in court, a single federal judge has the authority to issue a court order blocking that policy across the nation. Ultimately, Whitaker sided with the lawyers who said he could sign the regulation. Even if a judge ruled against him, another Justice Department official could immediately re-sign it and avoid a significant delay in the ban on bump stocks. The day the ban was announced, some gun-rights groups said they would challenge it in court, and attack Whitaker’s authority to implement such a change.


House Probe of DOJ Over Russia, Clinton Nears End

Republicans on two House committees grill former Attorney General Loretta Lynch behind closed doors. A Democrat criticizes “a wild goose chase by the Republicans.”

A House investigation of how the Justice Department probed of the Trump campaign’s alleged Russia ties and Hillary Clinton’s emails is fizzling to a close after lawmakers interviewed their last scheduled witness and have no apparent plans to release a comprehensive report of their findings, the Washington Post reports. Former attorney general Loretta Lynch met behind closed doors with members of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees for nearly seven hours in what Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) called “the swan song for a wild-goose chase by the Republicans.” Republicans insisted the proceedings were necessary to investigate allegations of bias in federal law enforcement agencies; Democrats accused them of trying to discredit the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The feuding is expected to continue, even as the probe ends and Democrats prepare to take charge of the House committees. The House Intelligence Committee voted in October to release transcripts of 53 interviews its members conducted, but none has materialized. Thus far, the Judiciary and Oversight panels have released only a few transcripts, the most recent from two closed-door interviews with former FBI director James Comey. Comey spent those sessions defending the FBI’s scrutiny of Trump, his campaign and transition, and the administration officials suspected of having ties to foreign governments. On Wednesday, Republicans asked Lynch to respond to arguments Comey made suggesting that Lynch’s June 2016 meeting in Phoenix with former president Bill Clinton and references to her in documents connecting her to the Clintons made it seem like she could not be an objective leader of the Justice Department. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said Lynch’s meeting with Clinton was suspect because Clinton was “a very powerful and wealthy man,” and Lynch might need his help finding a job.


How DOJ Has Pulled Back from Local Police Reform

In the Trump administration, the Justice Department has halted or overhauled several Obama-era programs to monitor or help police departments. Some are continuing under the Collaborative Reform Initiative.

In his final hours as U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions limited the Justice Department’s power to pursue and enforce federal consent decrees with local police departments. The Obama administration launched “pattern or practice” investigations into 25 police departments and entered into 14 consent decrees. By comparison, the Trump administration has initiated zero, Governing reports. Current policy “will allow the political leadership of DOJ to let abusive departments off the hook even when they haven’t instituted the reforms necessary to turn themselves around,” says Chiraag Bains of Demos and a former federal prosecutor with the DOJ Civil Rights Division.

Sessions also overhauled a Collaborative Reform Initiative (CRI) started by Obama in 2011. Police departments could request a DOJ review of their practices and receive a public assessment with recommended changes. Departments could also get federal funding and training to help implement changes. The shift left a dozen police departments that requested assistance under Obama waiting for completed reports. The Trump administration discontinued the Obama-era National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. Launched in 2014, it sought to address racial tensions, implicit bias and other issues influencing relationships between communities and police. The administration has not abandoned all efforts to address use of force. Under the restructured Collaborative Reform Initiative, 65 police departments across nine states have received technical assistance since March. Fifty-five departments have received de-escalation training. “If a police department is providing unconstitutional policing, then only the Department of Justice — which enforces the United States Constitution — can fix that. I don’t think they can ever walk away from that,” says Ronal Serpas, a criminology professor at Loyola University New Orleans and former Nashville police chief. He adds, “Change is going to come from different parts of the country — maybe at different times — through local government. It’s the way we’re set up.”


Barr Was Reluctant to Take Attorney General Job

Former Attorney General William Barr was backed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to resume a job he held in the early 1990s. Senators will press Barr not to hinder the Russia probe headed by Robert Mueller, who once reported to Barr.

As President Trump considered candidates for attorney general, advisers including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein urged him to choose William Barr, a conservative with a broad view of presidential power and deep experience in the legal and corporate worlds, the Wall Street Journal reports. Barr was hesitant to take the job, steering the White House to other candidates, including former Judge J. Michael Luttig, and telling friends he would do it only if he could pick his own deputy. He agreed after lawyers in Trump’s orbit played to his sense of duty. Barr’s selection surprised many at the Justice Department, given the president’s regular attacks on the department, where Barr built a reputation for effective management.

In his 1991-1993 stint as attorney general, Barr took a hard-line approach to immigration, pushed tough-on-crime policies and supported a sweeping view of executive power, positions that align with Trump’s. As attorney general, Barr supervised Robert Mueller, then head of the department’s criminal division. Now Mueller is the special counsel leading an inquiry into Russian electoral interference  and would once again be overseen by Barr. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) says she wants to ensure that Barr won’t hinder Mueller’s probe and would keep the Justice Department independent. “If you are a career prosecutor doing your job, you have everything to be elated about,” said Ira Raphaelson, who was counsel to Barr while he was attorney general. “If you are a political prosecutor wearing the mantle of career prosecutor, you should be worried. This is an attorney general who can see through that.”


Trump, DOJ Reinvent ‘Project Safe Neighborhoods’

The president and top federal officials gathered 700 law enforcers in Kansas City to make a higher priority out of DOJ’s Project Safe Neighborhoods.

President Trump and top Justice Department officials, including acting attorney General Matt Whitaker and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, spoke in Kansas City on Friday, but the political drama over who will succeed Whitaker overshadowed the purpose of the conference: rebranding a $50 million federal program called Project Safe Neighborhoods. It’s intended to narrowly focus on the most violent criminals. It’s a concept of policing that’s long been embraced in Kansas City with mixed results, reports the local digital magazine Flatland. Kansas City ranks among the nation’s most violent metro areas. More than 700 law enforcement officers attended the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) conference.

PSN was launched nearly two decades ago, but it wasn’t a priority under the Obama administration and its status slipped. For the Kansas City region, Project Safe Neighborhoods 2.0 could help fund a new strike force in 2019 of combined local law enforcement and federal agents. At the conference, police and prosecutors talked about how guns and the drug trade are linked. The newly created Midwest Crime Gun Intelligence Center, which feeds into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, could be a game-changer for detectives. The Kansas City No Violence Alliance, a local crime prevention program, will shift its focus to sharpen its ability to drive down street violence. “End of the day, we are judged on the numbers,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said of the area’s high violent crime rate. “We own it.” Law enforcement is proficient at tracking murders, arrests, prosecutions and shootings, said criminologist Ken Novak of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. What’s difficult is making meaningful assessments of whether community anticrime work is actually improving safety. Speakers at the conference stressed that growing the prison population is not the goal. Police cannot arrest their way to lower crime rates, they said.


William Barr May Return to DOJ as Trump’s AG

William Barr, 68, who served as President George H. W. Bush’s attorney general, is President Trump’s leading candidate to replace Jeff Sessions. Any nominee will face tough questions from Senate Democrats.

Former Attorney General William Barr is President Trump’s leading candidate to be nominated to lead the Justice Department, the Washington Post reports. Barr, 68, a well-respected Republican lawyer who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush, has emerged as a favorite among a number of Trump administration officials, including senior lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office. Administration officials are preparing for the likelihood that Barr’s nomination will be announced in the coming days. Given the political fights enveloping the Justice Department, any attorney general nominee is likely to face tough questions at a Senate confirmation hearing.

The president has repeatedly accused the department of launching a biased investigation into his campaign and claimed that special counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a “witch hunt” targeting him and his aides. Democrats want assurances the department’s next leader will resist political pressure from the White House; Republicans want assurances the department will operate investigations in an evenhanded fashion toward members of both parties. Barr’s past statements about the Russia probe, in which he has questioned the political tilt of Mueller’s team, could give some Democrats fodder to attack Barr’s nomination. Republican operatives who support Barr noted he once worked alongside Mueller in the Justice Department and said his track record should ease any Democratic concerns that the department would see its independence eroded. One source said Barr has a bluntness that is likely to resonate with the president. “The president is very, very focused on [a candidate] looking the part and having credentials consistent with the part,” the person said. Barr’s daughter, Mary Daly, is a senior Justice Department official overseeing the agency’s efforts against opioid abuse and addiction. During Barr’s earlier stint as AG, DOJ issued a “Case for More Incarceration.”


400 Ex-DOJ Employees Oppose Whitaker Appointment

More than 400 former Justice Department staff members have called for the removal of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, arguing that his appointment violated the Constitution because he lacked Senate confirmation required of other Cabinet officials. “This guy is not qualified – period,” says a former DOJ prosecutor.

More than 400 former Justice Department staff members have called for the removal of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, arguing that his appointment violated the Constitution because he lacked Senate confirmation required of other Cabinet officials, reports USA Today. A statement organized by the watchdog group Protect Democracy was signed by alums, many of whom served both Democratic and Republican administrations. “We are disturbed by the president’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker to serve as Acting Attorney General,” the statement said. “Because of the profound responsibilities the position entails and the independence it requires, it can only be filled by someone who has been subjected to the strictest scrutiny under the process required by the Constitution.”

Whitaker’s appointment also has drawn fire because of his past public statements, which criticized the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Whitaker now oversees that investigation. The Justice Department defends Whitaker’s appointment, asserting that his senior executive status as ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ former chief of staff “unquestionably” authorized him to serve despite his lack of Senate confirmation. Mark Zanides, a former anti-terrorism chief in the San Francisco U.S. Attorney’s Office that Mueller once led, opposes Whitaker, saying he lacked both Senate approval and “the adequate experience necessary to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.” “This guy is not qualified – period,” said Zanides, who served in the San Francisco office from 1979 to 2006.