Judicial Watch

Holding Holder Accountable

IB Holder2

First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin.

The IRS scandal has accelerated with the agency’s declaration that it “lost” thousands of emails from Lois Lerner—the senior official at the center of the controversy—to the White House, Treasury, Justice Department, and other outposts of Democratic Party progress. How convenient. Republicans are outraged: the emails, they suspect, provide more evidence that the IRS had been targeting conservative groups in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Calls for a special prosecutor are mounting. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp sent a letter to President Obama demanding “an immediate investigation and forensic audit by an independent special investigator.” National Journal columnist Ron Fournier wants “a fiercely independent investigation.”

But as readers of the new book by John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky, “Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department,” will recognize, that ain’t gonna happen—there will be no independent special investigator. Why? Because the only man with the power to appoint a special prosecutor is Attorney General Eric Holder. Fund and von Spakovsky detail how Holder acts as a “heat shield” for the administration, protecting the president from a growing series of scandals, while transforming the Justice Department into a stronghold of left-wing activism.

The authors are no babes in the wood. They know the games people play in Washington. Fund is a longtime political reporter and a legendary figure in the conservative press. Von Spakovsky, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, served on the Federal Election Commission and in the Justice Department. Von Spakovsky told Judicial Watch that in the IRS scandal, the latest email revelations are “clear evidence that DoJ is not conducting a serious investigation. If it were, it would have seized these email records immediately, when it supposedly first opened its criminal investigation.”

In addition to providing a catalogue of the attorney general’s dicey moves, political partisanship and outright outrages during the Obama administration, “Obama’s Enforcer” reminds us the past is prologue, sketching Holder’s tenure as tenure as deputy attorney general in the Clinton Justice Department. Among his notable accomplishments there: shooting down requests by special prosecutors and greasing the skids for a pardon of fugitive money man Marc Rich.

If Congress wants an independent special prosecutor, it will have to renew the Ethics in Government Act, which it allowed to expire in a rare moment of bipartisan horror over the aggressive clean-ups of Iran-Contra and Whitewater. If Republicans maintain the House and win control of the Senate in November, they can bring back the independent counsel. Meanwhile, we’ll have to depend on the likes of Fund and von Spakovsky to hold Holder accountable.

Buy the book here.

Heeding Hanen

First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin.

Debate rages over the rise in children crossing the U.S. border from Mexico and Central America. The numbers are staggering. According to the latest reports, more than 48,000 children were caught in the last eight months alone.

At least one federal judge recognized the sinister nature of the enterprise early on. Last December, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued an unusually strong order in a single case of child smuggling. His words should be heeded.

An unnamed ten-year-old girl from El Salvador had been spirited across the border, caught along with the smuggler, and then united with her mother—an illegal alien living in Virginia. And there, apparently, mother and daughter remain. The Department of Homeland Security did not arrest the mother, who instigated the conspiracy by hiring the smuggler. It did not prosecute her or move to deport her. “The DHS, instead of enforcing our border security laws, actually assisted the criminal conspiracy in achieving its illegal goals,” Judge Hanen wrote.

In a remarkable ruling, Judge Hanen cut to the dark heart of this perilous enterprise. “First and most importantly,” he wrote, illegal border crossings are about dope, violence and money: “these illegal [human trafficking] activities help fund the illegal drug cartels which are a very real danger to both the citizens of this country and Mexico.” Drug cartels, he noted, control the entire human smuggling process. Smugglers regularly use violence, extortion and sexual assault against illegal aliens. “This Court has seen instances where aliens being smuggled were assaulted, raped, kidnapped and/or killed.”

At DHS, he noted, the “current policy undermines the deterrent effect the laws may have and inspires others to commit further violations. Those who hear that they should not fear prosecution or deportation will not hesitate, and obviously have not hesitated, to act likewise.” The policy also encourages individuals “to turn their children over to complete strangers—strangers about whom only one thing is truly known: they are criminals involved in a criminal conspiracy.”

The decision to smuggle a child across the border, “even if motivated by the best of motives, is not an excuse for the United States Government to further a criminal conspiracy, and by doing so, encourage others to break the law and endanger children.”

Read the full Hanen order here.

Who Is John Podesta?

John Podesta Gets a Hug from Hillary at a 2011 CAP forum in Washington, DC

John Podesta Gets a Hug from Hillary at a 2011 CAP forum in Washington, DC

First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin.

By Micah Morrison

“They [the White House] need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress.”

So spoke John Podesta in an interview last fall with Politico, shortly before being named White House counselor. Podesta quickly apologized for the Jonestown jibe and his return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where he previously served President Clinton, was greeted with deferential nods from the press. “Well respected in political circles both as a strategist and policy thinker,” noted the AP. “One of the Democratic Party’s most seasoned political and policy operatives,” declared the Washington Post.

In 2003, Podesta founded the Center for American Progress. By all accounts, it has been a roaring success, serving as a left-wing answer to the Heritage Foundation and a government-in-waiting during the Bush darkness. According to recent data, CAP’s assets top $44 million; its advocacy unit, the CAP Action Fund, holds about $6 million. Podesta also is a co-founder with his brother, Tony, of the lobbying firm now known as the Podesta Group; started in 1988, the Podesta Group in 20l3 reported over $27 million in lobbying fees.

In 2005, the New York Times noted that Podesta was one of a “tight-knit group of advisers” forming Hillary Clinton’s inner circle as she pondered a presidential run. He supported Mrs. Clinton in the 2008 primary season, but soon was on board with Barack Obama, directing his presidential transition team. In 2011, Podesta resigned as president of CAP and was replaced by Neera Tanden, a longtime Hillary Clinton aide. According to the Post, Podesta remains “an influential voice in the Clinton political orbit, informally advising Hillary Rodham Clinton in the year since she stepped down as secretary of state.” In his current White House position, Podesta is reported to be focusing on environmental issues, particularly climate change, and particularly policies that can be put in place by executive action, without Congressional approval.

The Podesta biography also includes a long history of scandal-management and cover-up for the Clintons. Podesta now says he will serve only a year as counselor to President Obama, but if the going gets tough, expect an extended tenure. Slamming House Republicans as “a cult worthy of Jonestown” is a signal that Podesta will not go quietly into the night.

Podesta played a role in managing many of the scandals that surrounded the Clintons, including Mrs. Clinton’s amazing profits trading cattle futures, Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky, impeachment, and perhaps most tellingly, the Travel Office affair. In May 1993, a senior administration official, David Watkins, fired all seven members of the White House Travel Office to make way for Arkansas cronies of the Clintons. A picaresque enterprise with lucrative connections to the airline charter business, the Travel Office handled travel arrangements for the White House press corps—it operated literally on the fly and ran its business in much the same way.

President Clinton simply could have asked for the resignations of the Travel Office employees. Instead, in actions directed in part by Mrs. Clinton, the employees were driven from office, cashiered as crooks and lowlifes. Travel Office Director Billy Dale’s experience was especially harrowing: indicted on embezzlement charges, he faced up to 20 years in prison. His career in ruins, he twisted in the wind for more than two years until a jury cleared him of all charges, returning a verdict after deliberating less than two hours.

White House officials had unleashed “the full powers of the federal government against the seven former workers,” the Republican-led House Government Reform and Oversight Committee concluded after a lengthy inquiry. “The extraordinary might of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice—not to mention the prestige of the White House itself—were brought to bear.” In a detailed final report, the committee rebuked the White House for conducting “an enormous and elaborate cover-up” of the Travel Office affair.

In 1993, Podesta served as Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary. As concerns over abuse of power in the Travel Office affair mounted and the White House fought a public-relations nightmare, Podesta was appointed to conduct an internal inquiry that became known as the White House Management Review. Podesta’s report would become the White House’s first line of defense in the Travel Office affair. It depicted Mrs. Clinton as little more than a bystander in the Travel Office events.

Others had a different view. “The much-heralded White House Management Review proved to be nothing more than a whitewash,” noted the Oversight Committee. It “minimized Mrs. Clinton’s role in the Travel Office firings and omitted testimony of witnesses indicating a larger role by Mrs. Clinton. It also failed to note that senior White House aides had initially withheld information about Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in the firings.”

The Oversight Committee reported that a “pattern developed throughout the course of the review: information unflattering to the Travel Office employees was included in the report, exculpatory information was not.

Podesta went digging for dirt in confidential personnel files. “In seeking derogatory information on the Travel Office employees, Podesta reviewed their personnel files,” the Oversight Committee reported. The files “circulated around the White House for several weeks” until a senior official in the personnel office “made an urgent call for them to be returned.”

Concerns over the Podesta-led inquiry protecting Mrs. Clinton were not entirely a partisan matter. Podesta’s own deputy, Todd Stern, wrote in notes later obtained by investigators, “if you give answers that aren’t fully honest (e.g., nothing re HRC) you risk hugely compounding the problem by getting caught in half-truths. You run risk of turning this into a ‘cover-up.’”

Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster, a close Clinton associate and former law firm partner of Mrs. Clinton, was deeply involved in the Travel Office affair. His goal: protect the First Lady. “Defend management decision, thereby defend HRC role whatever it is, was in fact or might have been misperceived to be,” Foster wrote in a note to himself shortly before he committed suicide, pitching the White House into another crisis.

Numerous reports have detailed Foster’s mounting concerns over Whitewater and the Travel Office. “At the time of his death,” noted the final report of the Senate Special Committee on Whitewater, “Vincent Foster was intimately involved in two brewing scandals—Travelgate and Whitewater—touching on President and Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Foster played a central role in both the firing of the Travel Office staff and subsequent attempts to conceal Mrs. Clinton’s true role in the firings.”

Mrs. Clinton denied playing a role in the Travel Office firings. In a sworn statement, she told the Government Accountability Office that she “did not know the origin of the decision to remove the White House Travel Office employees” and that she had “no role in the decision to terminate the employees.” She repeated the denials in testimony before Congress and an independent counsel inquiry.

In 1996, the case took a new twist when a self-described “soul cleansing” draft memo surfaced from Arkansas insider David Watkins, the White House official who had fired the Travel Office employees. The memo, not dated and marked “Confidential,” apparently was written for then-White House Chief of Staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty. It noted that Foster “regularly informed me that the First Lady was concerned and desired action—the action desired was the firing of the Travel Office staff.”

Watkins—who himself was dismissed from his White House post in 1994 for improper use of a government helicopter—wrote that he had directly spoken to Mrs. Clinton about the Travel Office. She expressed “her desire for swift and clear action to resolve the situation,” Watkins noted in the memo.

“We both knew that there would be hell to pay,” Watkins wrote, if “we failed to take swift and decisive action in conformity with the First Lady’s wishes.”

With the Watkins memo, the ante went up on the Travel Office affair. Had Mrs. Clinton lied under oath?

In 2000, a report by Independent Counsel Robert Ray concluded that Mrs. Clinton had given “factually false” testimony about the Travel Office firings. In other words, she had lied. Contrary to her statements, and contrary to the Podesta review, she had played a central role in the Travel Office firings. But Ray declined prosecution, saying that the evidence did not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Mrs. Clinton’s statements had been made with the requisite criminal intent.

Questioned by congressional investigators about the Clintons’ role in the Travel Office firings, Podesta suffered a severe bout of memory loss. The Oversight Committee report noted that “Mr. Podesta recalls nothing of the interview with the President, whether he discussed the President’s knowledge of the firings, or whether he asked about the President’s complicity.” The report cited 264 instances when Podesta “had difficulty recalling key events under oath.”

The cover-up had succeeded. For Podesta, it was a defining moment. Before, he was just another obscure White House aide. After, he was a made man in Clintonland: he had upheld the omerta surrounding the Clintons, protected the First Lady, fended off Congress and the press.

Soon he would be given an even more important task: Whitewater. Congress, the press and prosecutors were digging into the Clintons’ Arkansas land deals amid allegations of widespread fraud, corruption and cover-up. According to a December 1994 memo known as the White House “Task List,” Podesta would be assigned a key role in Whitewater. Under the heading “White House Whitewater response effort,” is the notation, “Podesta damage control effort.”

In 1997, Podesta was promoted to White House deputy chief of staff. In 1998, he was appointed chief of staff. He presided over the tumultuous final years of the Clinton presidency, a tenure marked by the Lewinsky debacle, impeachment, and a scandal over presidential pardons. Back in the White House now, Podesta is a bellwether for the final Obama years, a political street fighter steeped in scandal management and a loyalist serving two masters—the man who is president, and the woman who would succeed him.

Say You Want a Revolution: “Political Prisoner”–and Three-Time Cop Killer–Seeks Parole

First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin

By Micah Morrison

It was a savage crime in a savage time.

On May 21, 1971, two New York City police officers—one white, one black—were lured to a Harlem housing project by a fake 911 call. Waiting in ambush were three members of the Black Liberation Army, an ultra-violent offshoot of the Black Panther Party. The BLA was unleashing a wave of mayhem and murder across the country. It was not alone. The terrorist Weather Underground had issued a “Declaration of War” against the United States, protests against the Vietnam War were rocking the nation, and a tidal wave of drugs and crime was sweeping the inner cities.

As police officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones approached the housing project, the three BLA assassins came up behind them and started firing. Officer Jones died immediately with four shots to the head. Officer Piagentini took longer. According to court records, he lay on the sidewalk pleading for his life, saying he had a wife and two daughters at home. The killers put twenty-two bullets in him.

Three months later, BLA members walked into a San Francisco police station and shot dead the desk sergeant, John Victor Young. Three months after that, Officer James Greene was shot and killed in his patrol van at a gas station in Georgia. In June 1972, two more New York City police officers, Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie, were gunned down at an East Village street corner. More BLA murders, robberies and hijackings followed.

Eventually, the law caught up with the BLA. Three men were convicted in murders of Piagentini and Jones. One of them died in prison. Another, Anthony Bottom, will be up for parole in June. The third man, Herman Bell, has been in prison for the crime since 1973. He appears before a New York parole board next week.

Will New York free a cop killer? Bell has a good case for parole. He’s reported to have been a model prisoner during his long incarceration. His attorney commissioned a psychological evaluation that, though not released publicly, has been submitted in support of his release. He has plans for work and a place to live lined up. Friends and family members have submitted letters. One influential supporter is Officer Jones’ son, Waverly Jones Jr., who wrote to the parole board in support of freedom for Bell and Bottom. Mr. Jones noted that he has “forgiven these men” and considers them “victims…of a much larger scheme which got them incarcerated to this day.”

Websites such as FreeHermanBell.org and theJerichoMovement.com have mounted campaigns to free Bell, Bottom and other “political prisoners” in the U.S. The Jericho Movement grew out of 1998 rally in support of Bell’s co-conspirator, Anthony Bottom, and defines itself as a national movement with the goal of “gaining recognition of the fact that Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War exist inside of the United States” and “winning amnesty and freedom” for them. The prisoners supported by the Jericho Movement are drawn from a gallery of hard-Left organizations, including the Black Panther Party, La Raza, the FALN, Los Macheteros, the American Indian Movement, the May 19 Communist Organization, and the BLA.

The Jericho Movement calls Bell “part of the brilliant liberation movement of the 1960s and early 1970s” and a victim of the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO counter-intelligence program.

To Bell’s supporters on the hard Left, this is not ancient history. COINTELPRO, the Jericho Movement claims, “has morphed into Homeland Security’s Joint Terrorism Task Force,” an organization of “domestic witch-hunters.” Bell and other jailed members of radical political groups are “peace-loving activists.” Today, “the black liberation movement, the Puerto Rican independence movement, and environmentalists are all in the government’s sights.”

Leading the opposition to the killers of Piagentini and Jones is the powerful New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. At a January press conference, PBA President Pat Lynch declared “there is not now, nor will there ever be any justification for granting Bell and Bottom parole,” calling them “convicted cop killers who will say and do anything to get out of prison.”

Officer Joseph Piagentini’s widow, Diane, also appeared at the PBA press conference. Bell and Bottom “have denied our two daughters a loving father, our two grandchildren have been denied the love and warmth of their granddad, and I have been denied a husband,” she said. “There should be no parole for these cold-blooded murderers.”

In 2010, after denying his role in the New York murders for nearly forty years, Bell admitted he shot Officer Piagentini. In a separate legal move in California, Bell also pleaded guilty to playing a role in the murder of the San Francisco police sergeant, John Victor Young.

The PBA assailed the admission to the New York crimes as “a transparent bid to win parole.” According to a transcript of Bell’s March 2012 parole hearing obtained by Judicial Watch, the parole board was skeptical, too.

At the 2012 hearing, a parole commissioner noted that four years earlier, in 2006, Bell was still denying his participation in the shooting of Piagentini and Jones. In 2006, the commissioner notes, “you denied pulling the trigger, and you said you did not kill any of these men, meaning the two New York City police officers. You denied that you actually pulled the trigger at that point and killing the police officer at that time.”

The parole commissioner suggested that Bell’s admission only came after the legal appeals process was exhausted. “I see at your Parole Board hearing in 2010, you did at that time admit to pulling the trigger. You did not deny it at that time…. But up until 2010, were you in denial of the fact that you had actually pulled the trigger on one of the officers? Or, was there a reason you were not coming forward with that? And also, when did your actual appeal process end in terms of your appeals being exhausted?”

Bell’s reply is uncertain, evasive. “It’s such a long time ago,” he says.

The parole commissioner presses him: “Why did it take you to 2010 that you actually did this?”

“I began to see things in a way that I wanted to come clean,” Bell replied. “I wanted to accept the fact that I committed this offense, I wanted to show remorse, but I really didn’t know how to express that to the board.”

In fact, Bell has shown little remorse for his crimes. His few published remarks on the issue are largely exercises in equivocation. In a posting on the Jericho Movement site, for example, Bell notes that “during the 1960s and 1970s, people were killed on both sides. To the degree that my humanity compels me to value and feel remorse for the loss of all life, human and otherwise, I feel remorse that people were killed and families and lives were destroyed.”

In his 2012 interview with the parole board, Bell indicates that the murders of Piagentini, Jones and Young were nothing personal. Just politics. Revolutionary politics.

“It wasn’t the case of these three particular officers attacking the black community,” Bell explained. “It was the case of the institution that was part of the oppression of the black community and this was our response to that repression.” The purpose of the killings, Bell said, was “to start a revolution.”

“Sir,” a parole commissioner asked, “do you consider yourself to be a political prisoner, or a prisoner of war?”

“I consider myself to be a political prisoner,” Bell replied, “but not a prisoner of war.”

“So at the current time, you still consider yourself to be a political prisoner?”

“That’s a two-part question I would like to respond to,” Bell said. “One the one hand, my crime is a political act. On the other hand, as I am today, I don’t see myself as part of that process.”

In 2012, Bell’s arguments did not sway the parole commission. It denied him parole. It condemned “the extreme violence and brutality” of the murders. “Officer Jones was shot multiple times in the back of the head and Officer Piagentini was also shot multiple times,” the parole board noted. “This heinous crime was part of a criminal lifestyle that includes armed bank robbery and the voluntary manslaughter of another police officer in the state of California.” The actions demonstrated “a callous disregard for the life of the victims, who were doing nothing other than serving and protecting their community.”

Next week, at the new parole board interview, Bell gets to try again.

There are no do-overs for Joseph Piagentini, Waverly Jones, and John Victor Young.

Investigative Reporter, Clinton Expert, Joins Judicial Watch

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch is pleased to announce its newest team member, investigative journalist Micah Morrison. As a senior writer and, later, chief investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal editorial page from 1993 to 2002, Morrison led the investigations of the Clinton administration. He also reported on union corruption, Indian casino gaming, and the Bank of Credit & Commerce International (BCCI). He was co-editor, with Journal Editor Robert L. Bartley, of the six volume series, Whitewater: A Wall Street Journal Briefing. The newspaper nominated him four times for the Pulitzer Prize.

Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton issued the following statement on Morrison’s hiring:

“We are delighted to bring veteran journalist Micah Morrison onto the Judicial Watch team as we make a major push into investigative reporting. The media world we live in today presents many new opportunities for influential reporting to hold politicians and public officials accountable. Micah is well known for his integrity, fairness and enthusiasm for great stories. As Judicial Watch’s chief investigative reporter, he will work closely with our team of investigators and lawyers to get more of the truth of what our government is up to.”

Micah Morrison added:

“I’m thrilled to be joining the Judicial Watch team. For nearly two decades, Judicial Watch has been the leading Freedom of Information Act requestor and litigator, holding government accountable and making it more transparent. Judicial Watch’s team of FOIA-focused investigators and lawyers is unmatched by any newsroom in America. Our new world of digital journalism, the Internet and social media, in addition to the legacy media, presents many opportunities for our reporting. I look forward to working with Judicial Watch to make the most of these opportunities in pursuit of great journalism.”

Morrison’s work has appeared in many publications, including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, New York Post, Daily News, American Spectator and Parade Magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a consultant to Fox News for investigative projects, leading the reporting and writing for the Fox News special, “Iran’s Nuclear Secrets,” and contributing to FoxNews.com and the Fox Business Network. A graduate of Bennington College, he is the author of Fire in Paradise: The Yellowstone Fires and the Politics of Environmentalism (HarperCollins).

Founded in 1994, Judicial Watch Inc. is a constitutionally conservative, nonpartisan educational foundation that promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.