Eric Holder up to his eye balls on Fast & Furious Scandal

Attorney General Eric Holder was briefed in July 2010 about gun-running operation headed by ATF.

CBS.com
September 5, 2011

New documents obtained by CBS News show Attorney General Eric Holder was sent briefings on the controversial Fast and Furious operation as far back as July 2010. That directly contradicts his statement to Congress.

On May 3, 2011, Holder told a Judiciary Committee hearing, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

Yet internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.

Read the new documents

Read the July 5, 2010 memo Read the “It’s a tricky case” email Read the memo to AG Holder from Asst. AG Lanny A. Breuer

The documents came from the head of the National Drug Intelligence Center and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

In Fast and Furious, ATF agents allegedly allowed thousands of weapons to cross the border and fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Gunwalking scandal uncovered at ATF

It’s called letting guns “walk,” and it remained secret to the public until Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered last December. Two guns from Fast and Furious were found at the scene, and ATF agent John Dodson blew the whistle on the operation.

Agent: I was ordered to let guns “walk” into Mexico

Ever since, the Justice Department has publicly tried to distance itself. But the new documents leave no doubt that high level Justice officials knew guns were being “walked.”

Two Justice Department officials mulled it over in an email exchange Oct. 18, 2010. “It’s a tricky case given the number of guns that have walked but is a significant set of prosecutions,” says Jason Weinstein, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division. Deputy Chief of the National Gang Unit James Trusty replies “I’m not sure how much grief we get for ‘guns walking.’ It may be more like, “Finally they’re going after people who sent guns down there.”

The Justice Department told CBS News that the officials in those emails were talking about a different case started before Eric Holder became Attorney General. And tonight they tell CBS News, Holder misunderstood that question from the committee – he did know about Fast and Furious – just not the details.

Obama Officially Owns Libyan War

As reported by the NYTimes below, Obama will be the only one to take the fall for the current illegal war in Libya and the proxy wars the U.S. wages against Syria and Yemen.

By
New York Times
June 18, 2011

President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization, according to officials familiar with internal administration deliberations.

Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.

But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh — who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Mr. Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.

Presidents have the legal authority to override the legal conclusions of the Office of Legal Counsel and to act in a manner that is contrary to its advice, but it is extraordinarily rare for that to happen. Under normal circumstances, the office’s interpretation of the law is legally binding on the executive branch.

A White House spokesman, Eric Schultz, said there had been “a full airing of views within the administration and a robust process” that led Mr. Obama to his view that the Libya campaign was not covered by a provision of the War Powers Resolution that requires presidents to halt unauthorized hostilities after 60 days.

“It should come as no surprise that there would be some disagreements, even within an administration, regarding the application of a statute that is nearly 40 years old to a unique and evolving conflict,” Mr. Schultz said. “Those disagreements are ordinary and healthy.”

Still, the disclosure that key figures on the administration’s legal team disagreed with Mr. Obama’s legal view could fuel restiveness in Congress, where lawmakers from both parties this week strongly criticized the White House’s contention that the president could continue the Libya campaign without their authorization because the campaign was not “hostilities.”

The White House unveiled its interpretation of the War Powers Resolution in a package about Libya it sent to Congress late Wednesday. On Thursday, the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, demanded to know whether the Office of Legal Counsel had agreed.

“The administration gave its opinion on the War Powers Resolution, but it didn’t answer the questions in my letter as to whether the Office of Legal Counsel agrees with them,” he said. “The White House says there are no hostilities taking place. Yet we’ve got drone attacks under way. We’re spending $10 million a day. We’re part of an effort to drop bombs on Qaddafi’s compounds. It just doesn’t pass the straight-face test, in my view, that we’re not in the midst of hostilities.”

A sticking point for some skeptics was whether any mission that included firing missiles from drone aircraft could be portrayed as not amounting to hostilities.

As the May 20 deadline approached, Mr. Johnson advocated stopping the drone strikes as a way to bolster the view that the remaining activities in support of NATO allies were not subject to the deadline, officials said. But Mr. Obama ultimately decided that there was no legal requirement to change anything about the military mission.

The administration followed an unusual process in developing its position. Traditionally, the Office of Legal Counsel solicits views from different agencies and then decides what the best interpretation of the law is. The attorney general or the president can overrule its views, but rarely do.

In this case, however, Ms. Krass was asked to submit the Office of Legal Counsel’s thoughts in a less formal way to the White House, along with the views of lawyers at other agencies. After several meetings and phone calls, the rival legal analyses were submitted to Mr. Obama, who is a constitutional lawyer, and he made the decision.

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about the internal deliberations, said the process was “legitimate” because “everyone knew at the end of the day this was a decision the president had to make” and the competing views were given a full airing before Mr. Obama.

The theory Mr. Obama embraced holds that American forces have not been in “hostilities” as envisioned by the War Powers Resolution at least since early April, when NATO took over the responsibility for the no-fly zone and the United States shifted to a supporting role providing refueling assistance and surveillance — although remotely piloted American drones are still periodically firing missiles.

The administration has also emphasized that there are no troops on the ground, that Libyan forces are unable to fire at them meaningfully and that the military mission is constrained from escalating by a United Nations Security Council resolution.

That position has attracted criticism. Jack L. Goldsmith, who led the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration, has written that the administration’s interpretation is “aggressive” and unpersuasive, although he also acknowledged that there was no clear answer and little chance of a definitive court ruling, so the reaction of Congress would resolve it.

Walter Dellinger, who led the Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration, said that while “this is not an easy question,” Mr. Obama’s position was “both defensible and consistent with the position of previous administrations.” Still, he criticized the administration’s decision-making process.

“Decisions about the lawfulness of major presidential actions should be made by the Department of Justice, and within the department by the Office of Legal Counsel, after consultation with affected agencies,” he said. “The president always has the power of final decision.”

Other high-level Justice lawyers were also involved in the deliberations, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. supported Ms. Krass’s view, officials said.

Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said, “Our views were heard, as were other views, and the president then made the decision as was appropriate for him to do.”

Net Neutrality: Last Step Towards Complete Tyranny

World Wide Web lock down begins in the USA

By Robert McDowell

Tomorrow morning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will mark the winter solstice by taking an unprecedented step to expand government’s reach into the Internet by attempting to regulate its inner workings. In doing so, the agency will circumvent Congress and disregard a recent court ruling.

How did the FCC get here?

For years, proponents of so-called “net neutrality” have been calling for strong regulation of broadband “on-ramps” to the Internet, like those provided by your local cable or phone companies. Rules are needed, the argument goes, to ensure that the Internet remains open and free, and to discourage broadband providers from thwarting consumer demand. That sounds good if you say it fast.

Nothing is broken that needs fixing, however. The Internet has been open and freedom-enhancing since it was spun off from a government research project in the early 1990s. Its nature as a diffuse and dynamic global network of networks defies top-down authority. Ample laws to protect consumers already exist. Furthermore, the Obama Justice Department and the European Commission both decided this year that net-neutrality regulation was unnecessary and might deter investment in next-generation Internet technology and infrastructure.

Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer prices. Others maintain that the new rules will kill jobs. By moving forward with Internet rules anyway, the FCC is not living up to its promise of being “data driven” in its pursuit of mandates—i.e., listening to the needs of the market.

It wasn’t long ago that bipartisan and international consensus centered on insulating the Internet from regulation. This policy was a bright hallmark of the Clinton administration, which oversaw the Internet’s privatization. Over time, however, the call for more Internet regulation became imbedded into a 2008 presidential campaign promise by then-Sen. Barack Obama. So here we are.

Last year, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski started to fulfill this promise by proposing rules using a legal theory from an earlier commission decision (from which I had dissented in 2008) that was under court review. So confident were they in their case, FCC lawyers told the federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C., that their theory gave the agency the authority to regulate broadband rates, even though Congress has never given the FCC the power to regulate the Internet. FCC leaders seemed caught off guard by the extent of the court’s April 6 rebuke of the commission’s regulatory overreach.

In May, the FCC leadership floated the idea of deeming complex and dynamic Internet services equivalent to old-fashioned monopoly phone services, thereby triggering price-and-terms regulations that originated in the 1880s. The announcement produced what has become a rare event in Washington: A large, bipartisan majority of Congress agreeing on something. More than 300 members of Congress, including 86 Democrats, contacted the FCC to implore it to stop pursuing Internet regulation and to defer to Capitol Hill.

Facing a powerful congressional backlash, the FCC temporarily changed tack and convened negotiations over the summer with a select group of industry representatives and proponents of Internet regulation. Curiously, the commission abruptly dissolved the talks after Google and Verizon, former Internet-policy rivals, announced their own side agreement for a legislative blueprint. Yes, the effort to reach consensus was derailed by . . . consensus.

After a long August silence, it appeared that the FCC would defer to Congress after all. Agency officials began working with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman on a draft bill codifying network management rules. No Republican members endorsed the measure. Later, proponents abandoned the congressional effort to regulate the Net.

Still feeling quixotic pressure to fight an imaginary problem, the FCC leadership this fall pushed a small group of hand-picked industry players toward a “choice” between a bad option (broad regulation already struck down in April by the D.C. federal appeals court) or a worse option (phone monopoly-style regulation). Experiencing more coercion than consensus or compromise, a smaller industry group on Dec. 1 gave qualified support for the bad option. The FCC’s action will spark a billable-hours bonanza as lawyers litigate the meaning of “reasonable” network management for years to come. How’s that for regulatory certainty?

To date, the FCC hasn’t ruled out increasing its power further by using the phone monopoly laws, directly or indirectly regulating rates someday, or expanding its reach deeper into mobile broadband services. The most expansive regulatory regimes frequently started out modest and innocuous before incrementally growing into heavy-handed behemoths.

On this winter solstice, we will witness jaw-dropping interventionist chutzpah as the FCC bypasses branches of our government in the dogged pursuit of needless and harmful regulation. The darkest day of the year may end up marking the beginning of a long winter’s night for Internet freedom.

Mr. McDowell is a Republican commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

U.S. FEDS Threaten Sheriff Arpaio for Enforcing Immigration Laws

By Jerry Markon and Stephanie McCrummen

A federal investigation of a controversial Arizona sheriff known for tough immigration enforcement has intensified in recent days, escalating the conflict between the Obama administration and officials in the border state.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County

Justice Department officials in Washington have issued a rare threat to sue Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio if he does not cooperate with their investigation of whether he discriminates against Hispanics. The civil rights inquiry is one of two that target the man who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff.” A federal grand jury in Phoenix is examining whether Arpaio has used his power to investigate and intimidate political opponents and whether his office misappropriated government money, sources said.

The standoff comes just weeks after the Justice Department sued Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer (R) because of the state’s new immigration law, heightening tensions over the issue ahead of November’s midterm elections. The renewed debate has focused attention on Arpaio, a former D.C. police officer who runs a 3,800-employee department, and a state at the epicenter of the controversy over the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

(Photos: How the immigration law is being enforced in Benson, Arizona)

Once seen as a quirky figure who has inmates dress in pink underwear and forces them to work on chain gangs, Arpaio has in recent years become a kind of folk hero to those who favor his heavily publicized “crime sweeps,” conducted mostly in Hispanic neighborhoods. But civil rights groups accuse the 78-year-old lawman of racial profiling. And some Maricopa County officials say Arpaio has begun meritless corruption investigations of officials who have criticized his policies or opposed his requests.

Those allegations are at the core of the Justice Department investigations, according to documents, lawyers familiar with the inquiries, and people who have been questioned by FBI agents and the grand jury.

(Arizona: We’re not changing immigration law)

The investigations reflect the tangled politics surrounding the immigration debate. The criminal probe is led by Dennis K. Burke, the U.S. attorney in Phoenix who was a top aide to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Two of Arpaio’s attorneys, Robert N. Driscoll and Asheesh Agarwal, were officials in the Justice Department’s civil rights division in the George W. Bush administration. They denied that the sheriff, a Republican who has been reelected four times since 1992, has been uncooperative or has engaged in racial profiling, misusing money or targeting political enemies.

“The sheriff’s office is cooperating fully with the grand jury investigation and has complete confidence that the inquiry will clear it of any wrongdoing,” Agarwal said. “The office has always fulfilled its responsibilities truthfully, honorably, and in full compliance with state and federal law.”

Arpaio’s attorneys contend that the investigations are politically motivated, citing a news conference in March at which Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was quoted as saying he expects the inquiries to “produce results.”

“While we have no quarrel with the assistant U.S. attorneys handling the investigation, the attorney general’s comments appear to violate federal regulations, departmental policy and state ethical rules designed to ensure the fairness of criminal investigations,” Agarwal said.

(More: Chat with Sheriff Joe Arpaio)

Brewer and her supporters have also asserted that the Justice Department was politically motivated in its lawsuit over the state law, which authorizes, among other things, police officers to ask about the status of people suspected of being in the country illegally. A federal judge last month stopped the most controversial sections of the legislation from taking effect.

Justice Department officials denied any political considerations, saying the investigations and the lawsuit are based on the facts and the law. They declined to comment on details of the Arpaio inquiries.

The civil rights division’s investigation began in March 2009 and focuses on whether Arpaio’s department engaged in “discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures,” along with allegations that his jail discriminated against Hispanic inmates, according to letters the division sent to Arpaio. A complaint to the Justice Department said that even bilingual jail guards are required to speak to inmates only in English and that the rule could endanger prisoners’ medical care. The jail was also accused of forcing Hispanic visitors to fill out a “citizenship check” form, the letters said.

Lawyers in the division have repeatedly interviewed Phoenix area human rights leaders about Arpaio’s immigration sweeps, and local “cop watch” groups have turned over hours of video footage of the sweeps to investigators.

“Their questions are in regards to racial profiling, questions about what are the practices when people get stopped,” said Salvador Reza, an organizer with the Puente human rights movement who has met with Justice Department lawyers. He said the lawyers have asked about the treatment of inmates in Arpaio’s jail.

In an Aug. 3 letter to Arpaio’s attorneys, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said the sheriff’s office had declined repeated requests to turn over documents and meet with investigators. Without cooperation by Tuesday, the letter said, the government would file suit “to compel access to the requested documents, facilities and personnel.”

In his Aug. 5 reply, Driscoll accused the Justice Department of “a desperate attempt” to compel cooperation and of “a public relations campaign against Sheriff Arpaio.” He added: “DOJ cannot require the reproduction of millions of pages of documents so DOJ can ‘see what it can find.’ ”

Arpaio’s resistance is highly unusual: Justice Department officials said the threat of such a lawsuit is rare. They added that they plan to meet with the sheriff’s attorneys next week in a last-ditch effort to forestall litigation. If the department files a broader civil lawsuit, it could result in the department terminating the several million dollars in grants to Arpaio’s office each year or in a judge’s order forcing him to change his policies.

On a separate track, the grand jury investigation has been underway since at least January. Lawyers familiar with the inquiry and witnesses said it is focused on allegations that as Arpaio has fought with the county board over his budget and other issues, he and his deputies have retaliated by carrying out at least seven criminal investigations of county officials alleging corruption, fraud and other crimes.

Some legal experts say it could be difficult for such allegations to result in criminal charges. “I don’t know what a charge would be,” said Peter Zeidenberg, a former Justice Department public corruption prosecutor. “We all would agree that being abusive is wrong, but I’m not aware of any federal statute that would fit.”

In one case, Arpaio leveled 40 corruption-related charges against a county supervisor who had spoken out against his policies, all of which a judge dismissed. In another, the sheriff’s allies in the county attorney’s office filed more than 100 criminal counts against another supervisor for improperly filling out required financial disclosure forms. Several days after a judge dismissed most of those, Arpaio’s deputies arrested the supervisor in a parking garage and walked him before TV cameras to jail, announcing more than 100 new charges, which a judge dismissed. (Some of the original charges remain on appeal.)

“They’ll never stop,” said Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson, who was named in one of Arpaio’s investigations. Wilson testified before the grand jury and has spoken to FBI investigators more than a dozen times, as recently as last week. “They don’t care who tells them to stop.”

County Manager David Smith said grand jurors also questioned him about deputies’ trips to conferences and training missions in Las Vegas, Honduras and other destinations, where he said they often stayed at “boutique” hotels. He said prosecutors were focusing on “issues that might involve the crime of extortion over the county budget, misappropriation of funds and abuse of police power.”

U.S. Feds: Airport Scanners DO Store Naked Body Images

TSA requires all airport body scanners it purchases to be able to store and transmit images for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.”

CNET

For the last few years, federal agencies have defended body scanning by insisting that all images will be discarded as soon as they’re viewed. The Transportation Security Administration claimed last summer, for instance, that “scanned images cannot be stored or recorded.”

Now it turns out that some police agencies are storing the controversial images after all. The U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of images recorded with a millimeter wave system at the security checkpoint of a single Florida courthouse.

This follows an earlier disclosure (PDF) by the TSA that it requires all airport body scanners it purchases to be able to store and transmit images for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.” The agency says, however, that those capabilities are not normally activated when the devices are installed at airports.

Body scanners penetrate clothing to provide a highly detailed image so accurate that critics have likened it to a virtual strip search. Technologies vary, with millimeter wave systems capturing fuzzier images, and backscatter X-ray machines able to show precise anatomical detail. The U.S. government likes the idea because body scanners can detect concealed weapons better than traditional magnetometers.

This privacy debate, which has been simmering since the days of the Bush administration, came to a boil two weeks ago when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that scanners would soon appear at virtually every major airport. The updated list includes airports in New York City, Dallas, Washington, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, and Philadelphia.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to grant an immediate injunction pulling the plug on TSA’s body scanning program. In a separate lawsuit, EPIC obtained a letter (PDF) from the Marshals Service, part of the Justice Department, and released it on Tuesday afternoon.

These “devices are designed and deployed in a way that allows the images to be routinely stored and recorded, which is exactly what the Marshals Service is doing,” EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg told CNET. “We think it’s significant.”

William Bordley, an associate general counsel with the Marshals Service, acknowledged in the letter that “approximately 35,314 images…have been stored on the Brijot Gen2 machine” used in the Orlando, Fla. federal courthouse. In addition, Bordley wrote, a Millivision machine was tested in the Washington, D.C. federal courthouse but it was sent back to the manufacturer, which now apparently possesses the image database.

The Gen 2 machine, manufactured by Brijot of Lake Mary, Fla., uses a millimeter wave radiometer and accompanying video camera to store up to 40,000 images and records. Brijot boasts that it can even be operated remotely: “The Gen 2 detection engine capability eliminates the need for constant user observation and local operation for effective monitoring. Using our APIs, instantly connect to your units from a remote location via the Brijot Client interface.”

This trickle of disclosures about the true capabilities of body scanners–and how they’re being used in practice–is probably what alarms privacy advocates more than anything else.

A 70-page document (PDF) showing the TSA’s procurement specifications, classified as “sensitive security information,” says that in some modes the scanner must “allow exporting of image data in real time” and provide a mechanism for “high-speed transfer of image data” over the network. (It also says that image filters will “protect the identity, modesty, and privacy of the passenger.”)

“TSA is not being straightforward with the public about the capabilities of these devices,” Rotenberg said. “This is the Department of Homeland Security subjecting every U.S. traveler to an intrusive search that can be recorded without any suspicion–I think it’s outrageous.” EPIC’s lawsuit says that the TSA should have announced formal regulations, and argues that the body scanners violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable” searches.

TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz told CNET on Wednesday that the agency’s scanners are delivered to airports with the image recording functions turned off. “We’re not recording them,” she said. “I’m reiterating that to the public. We are not ever activating those capabilities at the airport.”

The TSA maintains that body scanning is perfectly constitutional: “The program is designed to respect individual sensibilities regarding privacy, modesty and personal autonomy to the maximum extent possible, while still performing its crucial function of protecting all members of the public from potentially catastrophic events.”