Cuomo & Moreland

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First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin, September 10, 2014

Andrew Cuomo took a serious hit yesterday in the New York gubernatorial primary, when an unknown novice with the whimsical name Zephyr Teachout walked off with about 35% of Democratic primary voters. Cuomo prevailed, with 60% of the vote, but the damage was done and the reason is anything but whimsical: in a word, corruption.

In March, Cuomo abruptly disbanded his own Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, known in New York as a Moreland Commission. The commission was launched only eight months earlier to much fanfare from the governor about cleaning up Albany. Teachout, a left-wing activist and law professor with a shoe-string campaign, hit a nerve in July after a bombshell New York Times report detailed Cuomo’s interference with the commission.

Saying Cuomo should “immediately resign” if he knew of efforts to obstruct the commission’s work, Teachout began to climb in the polls. Despite a strong left-wing platform, Teachout won support from influential New York conservatives, including the state’s Conservative Party chairman, Mike Long. Long called on “conservative Democrats” to “send Albany a message” about corruption.

Writing from the Left in the Daily Kos, a former counsel to the Moreland Commission, Janos Marton, echoed Long. In Albany, Marton wrote, he found “hotbeds of scandal, apathy and mediocrity.” He added, “The opportunity that has been lost by the Commission’s neutering, then disbandment, is more significant than most people realize, and the level of the governor’s interference more pervasive than press accounts suggest.”

Among those apparently outraged by Cuomo’s naked power politics is the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, who seized the commission’s files and is investigating. The press senses blood (Cuomo’s) in the water. And New York liberals and conservatives have found something they can agree on. So Ms. Teachout, a spirited thorn in the governor’s side, may be gone for the moment, but more Moreland trouble lies ahead.

Russian Sanctions: Follow the Money

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First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin, September 9, 2014

President Obama is hoping sanctions will punish Russia for its abuse of Ukraine, but there’s already one group that sanctions are helping: lawyers and lobbyists. Late last month, former senators Trent Lott and John Breaux signed on as lobbyists for Gazprombank, a financial arm of the state-owned energy giant, Gazprom.

In July, the U.S. sanctioned Gazprombank, effectively banning U.S. financial institutions from doing business with it. By August, according to a Senate filing first reported by the Center for Responsive Politics, Lott and Breaux were in business: they’re listed as the main lobbyists on the Gazprombank account for DC powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs, focusing on “banking issues and regulations including applicable sanctions.”

Lott and Breaux are not alone. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that 417 former members of Congress are registered lobbyists. Many “receive handsome compensation from corporations and special interests as they attempt to influence the very federal government in which they used to serve.”

Politico reports that Chevron, Exxon Mobile, Caterpillar, MasterCard and Visa, Xerox and Coca-Cola all are lobbying lawmakers on sanctions. So is the Russian natural gas company OAO Novatek. But Gazprom is in a class by itself. It supplies vast amounts of natural gas to Ukraine and much of Europe, while functioning as economic weapon in Vladimir Putin’s arsenal. Putin has used Gazprom to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine and pressure weaker neighbors; he has jailed Gazprom competitors and seized their assets. The Court of Arbitration in the Hague recently ruled that Moscow owed $50 billion to a Gazprom—and Putin—rival. The court ruled that the Russian government, in “serious due process violations,” had seized the assets of the oil company Yukos. Russia said it would appeal the ruling.

And the head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a popular and powerful opponent of the Kremlin ruler? Putin jailed him for ten years.

It’s been a rough year for Gazprom, with profits slipping and sanctions ratcheting up. Revenues likely will be down significantly from $140 billion in 2013. But there’s still plenty of money to grease the wheels of influence in Washington. With Lott and Breaux, Putin and Gazprom are off to a good start.

State Dept. Approved 215 Bill Clinton Speeches Worth $48 Million

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First published at the Washington Examiner, July 30, 2014.

By Micah Morrison and Luke Rosiak

A joint investigation by the Washington Examiner and the nonprofit watchdog group Judicial Watch found that former President Clinton gave 215 speeches and earned $48 million while his wife presided over U.S. foreign policy, raising questions about whether the Clintons fulfilled ethics agreements related to the Clinton Foundation during Hillary Clinton‘s tenure as secretary of state.

According to documents obtained by Judicial Watch and released Wednesday in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act case, State Department officials charged with reviewing Bill Clinton’s proposed speeches did not object to a single one.

Some of the speeches were delivered in global hotspots and were paid for by entities with business or policy interests in the U.S.

The documents also show that in June 2011, the State Department approved a consulting agreement between Bill Clinton and a controversial Clinton Foundation adviser, Doug Band.

The consultancy with Band’s Teneo Strategy ended eight months later following an uproar over Teneo’s ties to the failed investment firm MF Global.

State Department legal advisers, serving as “designated agency ethics officials,” approved Bill Clinton’s speeches in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Panama,Turkey, Taiwan, India, the Cayman Islands and other countries.

The memos approving Mr. Clinton’s speeches were routinely copied to Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s senior counsel and chief of staff.

Mills is a longtime Clinton troubleshooter who defended the president during his impeachment. In the Benghazi affair, Mills reportedly berated a high-ranking official at the U.S. embassy in Libya for talking to a Republican congressman.

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Unraveling Benghazi: Is Mike Rogers Part of the Problem?

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First published at the Daily Caller, June 17, 2014.

By Micah Morrison

With the curtain soon to go up on select committee hearings on Benghazi, a key question remains unanswered: what on earth were we doing there? What policies were being pursued in that violent outpost of the Libyan revolution?

The White House would rather not say. In an email obtained by Judicial Watch and released in April, senior White House communications advisor Ben Rhodes instructed administration media spinners in the aftermath of the attack to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” For all the sound and fury over hearings, Congress also has not shown much interest in precisely what Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the State Department and the CIA were doing in Benghazi.

Last month, Daily Beast national security correspondent Eli Lake reported that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers had “warned his colleagues about the upcoming select committee to investigate Benghazi.” In interviews Rogers “downplayed” the testimony CIA contractors gave in closed session, Lake noted, and has said he did not believe the CIA had stonewalled his committee. Lake reported that “the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Armed Services, and Government Reform committees — Reps. Rogers, Buck McKeon, and Darrell Issa, respectively — all opposed the formation of a select committee on Benghazi.”

Sussing out the White House’s response to Benghazi is a critical step in clearing the shadows from the incident, but there are other players in the drama as well, including Rep. Rogers, and possibly also including a private military contracting firm that until recently was run by his wife, Kristi Rogers. Mike and Kristi Rogers are quintessential Washington insiders. A seven-term Republican from Michigan, Mike Rogers climbed the political ladder to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee in January 2011. Kristi Rogers, after years of government service in mid-level administrative positions, moved to the private sector, joining the British-based security contractor Aegis Defense Services to help open its U.S. subsidiary. The newsletter Intelligence Online noted that thanks to Ms. Rogers’ efforts, “Aegis won several major contracts with the U.S. administration.”

A spokesperson for the House Intelligence Committee noted that “strictly observed and enforced” policies required “that there should be no interaction with Mrs. Rogers on any matter relating to the official business of the House” and “no interaction between the Committee and any representative of Aegis.” There is no evidence of wrong-doing by Rep. Rogers or Aegis. Indeed, the outlines of the story are more suggestive of “right-doing,” Washington-style: an insider’s game of covert operations and corporate profits played out in the gray areas of law and policy.

No issue has dominated Rep. Roger’s time as committee chairman more than Libya. Protests against Muammar Gadhafi’s regime began in February 2011. In March, NATO air strikes commenced and the U.S. named Christopher Stevens as special envoy to the Benghazi-based Libyan opposition. By August, the end of the Gadhafi regime was in sight. The Associated Press reported that the CIA and State Department were “working closely” on tracking down the dictator’s vast arms stockpiles, including chemical weapons, yellowcake uranium, and some 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles known as MANPADS. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the AP that Mr. Stevens was working with officials in Benghazi on how to track down the weapons.

By early October 2011, concern over missing MANPADS was growing. Prized by insurgent forces and terrorists, MANPADS (the acronym stands for “Man-Portable Air Defense Systems”) are capable of shooting down attack aircraft — or a civilian plane. “We have reports that they may in fact have crossed borders,” Mr. Rogers told USA Today, criticizing the Obama administration for a lack of urgency. “I have some concerns we may be a little bit late.” By the end of the month, Gadhafi was dead. Less than a year later, Mr. Stevens — by then Ambassador Stevens — would be dead too, killed with three other Americans in an attack on the Benghazi stations of the State Department and CIA. Benghazi became a full-blown crisis. Chairman Rogers emerged as one of the Obama administration’s sharpest critics, hammering it for a lack of transparency.

Libya also was an area of activity for Aegis, Ms. Rogers’ company. As Rep. Rogers assumed control of the Intelligence Committee, an Aegis subsidiary, Aegis Advisory, began setting up shop in Libya. “Aegis has been operating in Libya since February 2011,” noted an Aegis Advisory intelligence report aimed at corporate clients. The report, marked “Confidential,” notes the company’s ability to provide “proprietary information [and] expert knowledge from our country team based in Tripoli.” Security was part of the Aegis package, too. “Aegis has extensive links in Libya which can be leveraged quickly to ensure safe passage,” the report noted. In 2012, Al Jazeera reported that Aegis was hunting bigger game in the country, “seeking a $5 billion contract to guard Libya’s vast and porous borders.” Aegis declined to respond to Judicial Watch’s questions about Libyan border security contracts.

Ms. Rogers’ rise at Aegis was swift. A former press aide to Ambassador Paul Bremer in Iraq and an assistant commissioner for public affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, she was named executive vice president when the U.S. branch opened in 2006. She was promoted to president in 2008 and added the position of CEO in 2009. In 2011, Ms. Rogers was named vice chairman of the company’s board of directors. In December 2012, she left Aegis and joined the law firm Manatt as a managing director for federal government affairs.

Aegis took a particular interest in events in Benghazi. One recipient of Aegis Advisory’s Libya briefings was Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, the global intelligence and consulting firm. According to Stratfor documents obtained by Wikileaks, Aegis’s Libya briefings were circulated to Stratfor’s confidential “alpha list.” The alpha list “is a repository for most of the intelligence that comes in,” a Stratfor analyst wrote in an email released by Wikileaks. “The first rule of the alpha list is that you don’t talk about the alpha list.”

In July 2011, in a report circulated to the alpha list, a senior Aegis official reported on a trip to Benghazi. “Despite reports of pockets of jihadist elements the presence of Islamic extremism has so far been low-key,” the official noted. But plenty of other forces were at work. “Qatar and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] have established a strong presence on the ground, providing tactical assistance at all levels, weapons, and recognition,” the official said, adding that one possible “motivation” for the Qatari presence was “U.S. support to act as its proxy.”
Ms. Rogers was a strong advocate for Aegis. In 2010 testimony before the congressionally chartered Commission on Wartime Contracting, she noted that “contractors are a necessary reality of the United States’ missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps similar, future missions.” Aegis, she said, was a “threat driven and intelligence led” company with “seasoned professionals” and “exceptional performance.” She added that the firm “regularly meets with Members of Congress, their staff and other key decision makers.”

In 2007, Aegis won Pentagon renewal of a contract to run security services for reconstruction projects in Iraq, a deal “worth up to $475 million over two years,” the Washington Post reported. In 2011, it was awarded a $497 million State Department contract for embassy security in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to the Project on Government Oversight. Theories linking Aegis to the failed Blue Mountain Group guarding the State Department’s Benghazi mission have circulated on the Internet. Aegis issued a statement denying it. No “member of the Aegis Group has ever entered into a contract with any department of the U.S. government to perform work in Libya,” the company noted.

A definitive statement about Aegis in Libya, apparently, but not without wiggle room. The activities of the U.S. government, its allies, and private contractors in Libya remain cloaked in secrecy. Methods to sidestep Congressional oversight include handing off sensitive missions to friendly foreign governments or operating through shell companies. There’s no evidence that Aegis was involved in such misconduct, but Ms. Rogers did seem to have been focused on boosting Aegis’s capability for confidential operations. According to a biographical profile posted on the Manatt website and since removed, Ms. Rogers “obtained top-secret facility security clearance for Aegis, created the company’s board of directors and positioned it for future growth and expansion.” Among the new Aegis board members were two former senior CIA officials: Robert Reynolds, a leader in contracts and procurement for the CIA; and John Sano, a former deputy director of the CIA’s clandestine services.

On March 28, Mr. Rogers announced he was stepping down from his safe Congressional seat and committee chairmanship to become a talk radio host. Two weeks earlier, on March 14, Ms. Rogers quietly left Manatt, after a tenure of only thirteen months. Her departure was not announced and her association with the firm has been scrubbed from its website.

Ms. Rogers and Manatt did not respond to emailed questions and interview requests. Messrs. Reynolds and Sano, the Aegis board members, did not respond to interview requests. The State Department and CIA did not respond to questions about Aegis. A lawyer for Aegis declined to address questions about the company’s relations with the U.S. intelligence community and its work in Benghazi.

The select committee should take a close look at the CIA’s activities in Benghazi and the Aegis connection. Both Rep. Rogers’ committee and Ms. Rogers’ company were focused on the Libyan security and intelligence environment in the months surrounding the Benghazi attack. Both Rep. Rogers and Aegis pursued Libyan border security issues. And both Rep. Rogers and Ambassador Stevens were linked to efforts to secure Gadhafi’s arsenals, including MANPADS, a high-stakes venture that involved both the State Department and the CIA.

Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter at Judicial Watch.

Holding Holder Accountable

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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.

What’s Past is Prologue: Hassan Rohani’s Nuclear Legacy

In June, Iran passed an important nuclear milestone. Exactly ten years earlier, Iranian scientists inserted a gas known as “hex”—uranium hexafluoride, or UF6—into a lone centrifuge at the Natanz enrichment facility. It marked the beginning of a decade of uranium enrichment that has brought Iran to the threshold of nuclear weapons. No single act has had more consequence in Iran’s brazen and often brilliant campaign for the bomb. One of the leaders of that campaign is Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani.

Mr. Rohani is the ultimate insider, with long experience in Iran’s national security establishment. He led Iran’s Supreme National Security Council from 1989 to 2005. From 2003 to 2005, he also served as the country’s top nuclear negotiator in talks with the European Union and International Atomic Energy Agency, until outmaneuvered by then-incoming president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And he’s sticking with his story. In an interview with the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat the week before the Iranian presidential election, Mr. Rohani insisted that “Iran has an exclusively peaceful nuclear program.” Such a bald-faced lie would be laughable, except that Iran keeps getting away with it.

The dimensions of the illicit Iranian effort are staggering. Consider that single centrifuge at Natanz in June 2003, when Mr. Rohani was about to take over Iran’s international nuclear negotiations. It was based on designs and components provided by Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan, the nuclear arms merchant who earlier had stolen centrifuge plans from his employer, the European enrichment consortium URENCO. Iranian agents had scoured the global black market for nuclear technology and uranium. China was approached for assistance, then Russia. A clandestine facility in Tehran, operating under the name Kalaye Electric Company, began enriching small amounts of uranium, and testing and developing centrifuges. Uranium ore mining and refinement operations began. The vast Natanz complex was built in complete secrecy. A second possible path to bomb fuel, using plutonium, was opened with construction beginning on the Arak nuclear reactor. All this occurred on Mr. Rohani’s national security watch.

By August 2003, Iran had begun testing at Natanz a “cascade” of ten-interlinked centrifuges. The goal? Enrich uranium hexafluoride to the point it contained 5% of the isotope U-235. In sufficient quantities, hex enriched to 5% U-235 will fuel nuclear power reactors. In sufficient quantities, hex enriched to 20% U-235 is one fast enrichment step up to 90% U-235—bomb fuel.

Mr. Rohani was a key player in this. In a remarkable 2004 speech to Iran’s top leaders, first reported by nuclear researcher Chen Kane, Mr. Rohani championed the enrichment effort. It was not just about nuclear power, he suggested, it was about the bomb. “A country that can enrich uranium to about 3.5% will also have the ability to enrich it to about 90%,” he said.

20% U-235 is the key to the Iranian bomb. While the technical challenges in building the actual explosive device and delivery system are formidable—and the evidence is considerable that Iran is pursuing both—nothing is more difficult than creating the fuel for the bomb.

In 2003, Iran still faced enormous challenges getting to sufficient quantities of 20% U-235. The cascades would have to be bigger and more efficient. Large quantities of low-enriched hex, containing about 5% U-235, would have to be created and further enriched to 20%. The world powers were beginning to take note, calling on Tehran to suspend enrichment activities and moving to cut off international supply routes. Perhaps most consequential, Iran found the United States on its doorstep, toppling regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Saddam Hussein was on the run. Would the mullahs be next?

Mr. Rohani took control of the negotiating process, looking to buy time for Tehran. In November 2003, Iran informed the IAEA that it would suspend all enrichment activities and sign the agency’s “Additional Protocol” allowing for enhanced inspections. Over the next two years, Iran adhered to its no-enrichment pledge.

But Tehran kept busy on other fronts, including sorting out technical problems at a key uranium conversion facility in Isfahan. “While we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran,” Mr. Rohani noted in his 2004 speech, “we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan.”
In February 2006, with the threat of U.S. military action receding, Iran announced that it would not, in fact, abide by the Additional Protocol. The centrifuges quickly started up at Natanz. By June, Iran was running hex into its first 164-centrifuge cascade, reporting to the IAEA an enrichment rate of 5% U-235.

By August 2007, 1,968 centrifuges were operating at Natanz. By August 2008, 3,820 centrifuges were at work. 480 kilos of low-enriched uranium had been produced.

By February 2009, with 3,936 centrifuges at work and another 1,400 installed but not yet operational, Iran had produced over 1,000 kilos of low-enriched uranium. U.S. officials concluded that Iran now had enough low-enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear weapon, should it decide to enrich further.

Which is precisely what it did. In February 2010, Iran began feeding low-enriched uranium into a single 164-centrifuge cascade in Natanz for the purpose of developing 20% U-235. Iran informed the IAEA it wanted the highly enriched uranium for a research reactor in Tehran.

By then, news had emerged of another enrichment site: Fordow. Buried under a mountain on a military base near the holy city of Qum, the heavily fortified Fordow plant is thought to be impervious to air strikes. Like Natanz, Fordow had been built in complete secrecy. Like Natanz, when Fordow was exposed, Tehran simply shrugged and moved on.

By February 2012, two cascades at Fordow, containing a total of 696 centrifuges, had produced thirteen kilos of 20% U-235. At Natanz, production of the highly enriched uranium reached 73 kilos. The production of highly enriched uranium at both facilities continues to this day, with Tehran careful not to produce amounts that would cross U.S. or Israeli red lines.

Mr. Rohani’s nuclear vision had been achieved: the fuel cycle has been mastered. “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice—that we do possess the technology—then the situation will be different,” he said in 2004. “The world did not want Pakistan to have an atomic bomb or Brazil to have the fuel cycle, but Pakistan built its bomb and Brazil has its fuel cycle, and the world started to work with them.”

Iran now has its fuel cycle. The situation is indeed different.