ABCs of IRS mess: Justice Department is tainted, too


First published in the New York Post, January 29, 2015

At her confirmation hearings Wednesday, Loretta Lynch said she’s only “generally aware” of the Justice Department’s investigation of IRS targeting of conservative groups.

As a service for our likely new attorney general, here’s a primer on why so many in Congress want a special counsel in the IRS case.

Under federal rules, the attorney general appoints a special counsel “when he or she determines that criminal investigation of a person or matter . . . would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances.”

In this case, there’s both.

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Benghazi: Absolutely, Positively No Gambling Going On At Rick’s Cafe


“From the Annex in Benghazi, the CIA was collecting intelligence about foreign entities that were themselves collecting weapons in Libya and facilitating their passage to Syria. The Benghazi Annex was not itself collecting weapons.”

–Final House Intelligence Report on Benghazi, P. 16

The final House Intelligence Committee Report on Benghazi received its Last Rites on Friday in a classic Washington media play–dump the body right before a holiday weekend, when everyone is too busy to actually take a close look at the corpse. The press reacted predictably, scanning the report for the headlines: no “stand down,” no denial of air support, no bad intel in days and weeks leading up to the attack, no U.S. shipments of arms to Syria, no gambling at Rick’s Café. Conservatives demolished. MSNBC rejoices.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers is now free to take up his duties January 5 as a host of the syndicated radio show, “Something to Talk About,” which the Associated Press tells us will include “humorous, compelling and moving stories about issues including national security.” His wife, Kristi Rogers, has already decamped as CEO of the controversial private security contractor with Libyan interests, Aegis Defense Services.

But Benghazi may prove hard to run away from. We learn from the report that the attackers were “a mixed group” unrelated to a protest over an incendiary video. Oh, okay. We learn that the notorious talking points were “flawed,” but never mind. There is more to be mined on both these points.

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Benghazi: What The Government Wants Us To Think

First published at the Daily Caller, October 30, 2014

We now have two serious investigative tracks into the Benghazi killings — Rep. Trey Gowdy’s Special Select Committee, which I examined here, and the Justice Department’s Ahmed Abu Khatallah prosecution. On October 14, the government filed a superseding indictment in the case.

The Benghazi militia figure was snatched by Delta Force in June and brought to Washington to face charges in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Patrick Smith, Tyrone Snowden Woods and Glen Anthony Doherty. The indictment charges  Khatallah with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, providing material support to terrorists and related crimes. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Gowdy is a former prosecutor, and so far he is running his committee like a grand jury, gathering evidence mostly in secret. The Khatallah indictment — put together by a real grand jury — signals where the Justice Department is going with the case. It will be revealing to see how closely Gowdy’s facts track the government’s, and if, and where, they diverge.

So what does the Khatallah indictment teach us?

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Alabama Indicts: Corruption or Business as Usual?

Hand shake with money

First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin, October 27, 2014

In Alabama last week—two weeks before Election Day—a special state grand jury issued a 23-count indictment against Mike Hubbard, the powerful Republican speaker of the state’s House of Representatives. Hubbard immediately proclaimed his innocence, denouncing the long-expected charges as part of “a political witch hunt.” His lawyer condemned “rogue prosecutors.” A political legend in Alabama, in 2010 Hubbard engineered the Republican takeover of all state-wide offices and put an end to generations of Democratic control of both house of the Legislature.

The timing of the indictment is curious. Federal authorities frown on issuing politically sensitive indictments in election seasons, but Alabama state politics ain’t beanbag. The indictment charges Hubbard with numerous offences against “the peace and dignity” of the state, including soliciting more than $600,000 for his printing business, Craftmaster; improperly using his position as chairman of the Alabama Republican Party to solicit business for Craftmaster and another business, Auburn Network; improperly using his position as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives to obtain cash and other goodies from the Southeast Alabama Gas District, a public utility; and strong-arming prominent political players to obtain business for his companies.

Hubbard says the indictment is all about putting a stop to “the positive progress” his party has made in Alabama. “There’s a bigger agenda out there,” he told supporters at a campaign rally a day after the indictment was made public, “and over the next few weeks, we will be finding out and exposing all of this.”

Signaling a likely defense, Hubbard asked, “why is it that the attorney general’s office thinks that it’s a crime to have a business? And thinks that you cannot do business with anyone that you didn’t know before you were elected office? It could be any one of us up here.”

First comes the election. Then an Alabama jury will get to decide whether this is corruption or just business as usual. For Hubbard, some recent Alabama history is not promising: the former governor of the state and the former mayor of Birmingham, both Democrats, are serving time on corruption charges.

Czar Klain: No Way to Run a Republic

First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin, October 21, 2014

On Friday, addressing mounting concerns about a medical crisis in the U.S., President Obama named the noted epidemiologist Dr. Ronald Klain as the country’s “Ebola czar.” Dr. Klain….

Oh, sorry, that didn’t happen.

The new Ebola czar is not an expert in infectious diseases, or in public health, or even a doctor. To Washington insiders, Ron Klain, a high-stakes Democratic Party operative, is most famous for his role in Florida legal challenges surrounding the 2000 presidential election. Those with longer memories remember Klain’s work as the Al Gore aide who labored to raise more than $100 million for the Democratic Party in the scandal-plagued 1996 presidential campaign. Klain served as chief of staff for two vice presidents, Gore and Joe Biden. In the latter role, he was instrumental in greasing the wheels for the troubled Solyndra Corp., which later collapsed at a cost to taxpayers of more than $500 million.

Dr. Klain has not exactly rushed to the medical front in the battle against Ebola. Appointed Friday, he’ll start today, or maybe tomorrow, and will skip Friday’s Ebola hearing at the House Oversight Committee. Already news is leaking in the Beltway that the Klain appointment is merely to set the stage for bigger things at the White House—senior counselor to the president, perhaps, or maybe a turn as chief of staff to the big man himself.

So it’s clear that the White House views the Ebola situation as a potential political crisis, not a public health one. Okay, fine, that’s the president’s prerogative. But what’s troubling is Czar Klain’s end run around the Constitution.

The Washington Post reports that Klain is “tasked with coordinating domestic preparedness efforts and the U.S. military operation to help control the virus’s spread in West Africa.” He’ll report to homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco and national security advisor Susan Rice, the Post says. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency is also a player. And the Defense Department has a major role. And because it is Africa, so does the State Department. And so does the Department of Homeland Security. Power in Washington is in direct relation to proximity to the president. So a “czar” operating from the White House exercises powerful influence over these departments, which have a measure of transparency and accountability under the law.

Not the czars. As Judicial Watch has reported, the Obama Administration has named dozens of them across the Executive Branch. Many, like Czar Klain, are unconfirmed by the Senate, largely unaccountable to Congress, and often outside the reach of the Freedom of Information Act. That’s a troubling consolidation of power, and no way to run a Republic.

Ebola Watch: Judicial Watch Seeks Answers

First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin, October 17, 2014

As an Ebola-driven health-care crisis appears to mount across America, Judicial Watch is moving fast to get answers from Washington. We have filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Defense Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to uncover medical and safety threats to our frontline health-care workers—and through them, to the public at large.

“This is no time for the administration to be playing its usual ‘hide the ball’ games with FOIA requests,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said today. “Administration foot-dragging on FOIA is well-documented. Given the threat to public health, we expect timely replies. If we don’t get them, we’re prepared to go to court to force release of critical information.”

Specifically, Judicial Watch is seeking immediate clarification of Defense Department plans for evacuation of U.S. personnel from Africa in the event of Ebola infection; OSHA plans for response to the current Ebola outbreak, and any expressions of concern by OSHA personnel concerning the virus.

We’re also seeking more information about the cryptic carrier, Phoenix Air, which has been responsible in some cases for transportation of Ebola victims. How safe is Phoenix Air? What, precisely, is its role with the U.S. government? Unsubstantiated online chatter puts Phoenix Air at the center of the U.S. intelligence community’s black ops. What seems undisputed is that Phoenix Air, in addition to its medical transport unit, has significant Defense Department contracts.

Connecticut Corruption: It’s the Transparency, Stupid


First published at Judicial Watch’s Investigative Bulletin, October 1, 2014

On Sept. 19, John G. Rowland, the former governor of Connecticut, was convicted in federal court in New Haven on seven counts related to political corruption. The jury found that Mr. Rowland had created false records and obstructed justice in a conspiracy to hide his role as a political adviser to a 2012 Republican candidate for the state’s Fifth Congressional District, Lisa Wilson-Foley.

Rowland certainly knows politics. Elected three times as governor, three times to the U.S. House of Representatives, and once to the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, Rowland was a rising Republican star with a national future—possibly even in the White House, pundits said. Then came a 2004 corruption scandal. Facing impeachment, Governor Rowland stepped down as governor and pleaded guilty to accepting lavish gifts—a hot tub, a heating system for a lakeside cottage, cigars, Champagne, a Ford Mustang—from friends and associates with business before the state. He served 10 months in prison.

A decade later, Rowland apparently learned nothing from the experience. In the current case, Ms. Wilson-Foley’s husband, Brian Foley, gave Mr. Rowland a sham job at his nursing home company, Apple Rehab, to conceal a $35,000 payment for political advice. The Foleys, caught, cooperated with prosecutors and await sentencing. Mr. Foley was a key witness at the trial.

Rowland’s attorney was Washington super-lawyer Reid Weingarten. He told all who would listen that this was just politics as usual—sausage-making in the state sausage factory—and that no crimes had been committed.

And indeed, as a legal matter, as the New York Times noted, Rowland “could have worked for a candidate’s campaign and received payment, had it been properly reported.” The problem: “candidates valued his experience but his criminal history made the association too risky.”

So a fake job had to be created, false documents had to be filed with regulators, and lies had to be told. The crime was the cover-up.

Speaking on the courthouse steps after the verdict, a senior federal prosecutor, Michael J. Gustafson, got to the heart of the matter: transparency.

“I heard it suggested, cynically, during the course of the trial, both in the courtroom and outside the courtroom, that this case was simply politics as usual,” Gustafson said in widely reported remarks. “It was far from that. It ought to be—no, it has to be—that voters know that what they see is what they get. In this case, the defendant and others didn’t want that to happen.”

Gowdy’s Game Plan

First published at the Daily Caller, September 22, 2014

Four months after a White House email uncovered by Judicial Watch forced the appointment of a special House committee on Benghazi, the curtain has gone up on the next stage of the investigation. Committee chairman Trey Gowdy led hearings into the State Department’s implementation of recommendations to prevent future attacks on U.S. facilities abroad. The witnesses were members of an Independent Panel on Best Practices convened after the Benghazi attacks—three middle-aged white guys from the State Department. Could anything be more boring?

Across the land—or at least across Washington—the disappointment among star-spangled partisans on both sides of the aisle was palpable. No Crazytown thunderbolts from wild-eyed conservatives? No discussion of Hillary Clinton, stand down, or arms supplies to Syria? Privately, the Right grumbled that Gowdy was in over his head. The Left snickered at the committee’s partisanship. “All that was missing” from the hearings, snarked Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, “was a group hug.”

It could be true. It could be true that the South Carolina Republican for reasons unknown is planning one giant kumbaya with the Democrats. It could be true that Trey Gowdy is a sheep among wolves, a country cousin, a bumpkin, a backbencher with a drawl and a bad haircut suddenly thrust into the limelight by a conniving House leadership that in fact wants him to fail, thus ending once and for all a full investigation of a spectacular CIA debacle—oh, sorry, are we still calling this a State Department operation?—and re-affirming the wisdom of the congressional committee overlords who have already declared, case closed.

True? Maybe. But not a smart bet. Consider the evidence. For months, the spin machine from the Democratic side—led, incredibly, by some of the sleaziest operators from Clintonland—David Brock, Lanny Davis and James Carville—has declared that there is “nothing new” to be learned about Benghazi, that earlier inquiries were exhaustive, that it’s a witch hunt. “Case closed,” declared the Brock-led “rapid response” Benghazi Research Center in June.

And yet, at Tuesday’s hearing, during questioning by Rep. Jim Jordan, we were reminded that the co-chair of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) that investigated the State Dept. and issued recommendations—Admiral Michael Mullen—had been reporting back to senior staff at the department; in other words, Admiral Mullen was discussing the investigation with the very people he was supposed to be investigating.

And yet, days before the committee hearings opened, former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson issued a detailed story in the Daily Signal, an on-the-record interview with a former high-ranking State Dept. official, Raymond Maxwell, who claimed that top Clinton aides had culled damaging documents from department files before turning them over to the ARB.

And yet, weeks before the committee hearings opened, four CIA contractors who were at the U.S. compounds in Benghazi went on the record in a new book stating that in fact there was a “stand down” order given in the chaotic hours of the firefight.

Now, it may turn out that Mr. Maxwell has problems—many witnesses do. And it may turn out that there are many different ways to “stand down” an operation. But that is not the point.

The point is, yes, there is new information out there on Benghazi—and much more is likely much more to emerge. (Not least from Judicial Watch, which last week announced it launched three new lawsuits to gain Benghazi information from the State Department and Defense Department.)

And, of course, that’s what has the Clinton team worried and elevates Benghazi into a potential Death Star battle heading into the 2016 presidential election season. The Clintons, long experienced at this sort of thing, have lined up a Murderers’ Row of political operatives to “respond” to the committee. Inside the committee, the leading Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, will come under intense pressure from party loyalists to protect Mrs. Clinton. And this being the Clintons, expect dirty tricks if Gowdy gets too close to doing real damage to Mrs. Clinton.

What’s a country cousin to do? The signals from the Gowdy camp suggest that his game plan is not to act like a congressman at all. Instead, he’ll run the inquiry like the prosecutor he was for 16 years in South Carolina—a job by all accounts he loved.

“For 16 years, I had to stand in front of 12 people that I did not know,” he told the American Spectator. “How do you persuade? Do you have the facts on your side? If you have the facts on your side, how do present them in a way that makes people want to believe?”

And so there was Trey Gowdy on Tuesday in effect making his opening statement to the jury. It is the biggest trial of his life. He is lining up his facts. He is presenting them in a way that makes people want to believe. He is building his case and laying a few traps. Maybe Mike Mullen discussing the investigation with people he was supposed to be investigating will turn out not to be incidental at all.

According to press accounts, Gowdy never lost a case. That’s quite a record and suggests that the “country lawyer” demeanor is something of a shtick. But not an unfamiliar shtick in Washington. Sam Ervin, who led the Senate Select Committee investigation in Watergate, perfected the routine and emerged from that ordeal victorious.

Kenneth Starr—no “country lawyer” but a dignified Washington jurist who believed courtly manners would carry the day in the Whitewater investigation—had a different experience. He was mugged repeatedly by the same gang now lining up against Trey Gowdy.

Cuomo & Moreland


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






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.