Two House Democrats urged the Justice Department’s independent inspector general on Wednesday to open an investigation into the special counsel review of the Russia inquiry, citing “alarming” disclosures in a recent New York Times article.
The article, which showed how the special counsel’s review became roiled by disputes over prosecutorial ethics, “reveals possible prosecutorial misconduct, abuse of power, ethical transgressions and a potential cover-up of an allegation of a financial crime committed by the former president,” the lawmakers wrote. In a four-page letter to the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, they asked that he scrutinize whether the special counsel, John H. Durham, or the attorney general who appointed him, William P. Barr, “violated any laws, D.O.J. rules or practices, or canons of legal ethics.”
A spokesman for Mr. Durham declined to comment.
Because Democrats are in the minority in the House, the two lawmakers — Representatives Ted Lieu of California and Dan Goldman of New York — lack the power to convene their own oversight hearings into the matter. But on Monday, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, suggested that he would hold oversight hearings into Mr. Durham’s inquiry along with other aspects of how the Trump administration handled the Justice Department….
And the article detailed how Mr. Barr had Mr. Durham hunted for evidence that intelligence abuses lurked in the origins of the Russia inquiry. After that turned into a dead end, they kept the investigation going by shifting to searching for a basis to accuse Hillary Clinton’s campaign of framing Mr. Trump for colluding with Russia.
Mr. Durham never charged such a conspiracy, but he used court filings to insinuate that there had been one, which Mr. Barr — no longer in office — publicly cheered. Mr. Lieu and Mr. Goldman wrote that “charging individuals with crimes in order to pursue separate political narratives undermines our rule of law and represents a gross abuse of power.”
Special counsel Jack Smith has subpoenaed local officials in Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin — three states that were central to former president Donald Trump’s failed plan to stay in power following the 2020 election — for any and all communications with Trump, his campaign and a long list of aides and allies.
The requests for records arrived in Dane County, Wis.; Maricopa County, Ariz.; and Wayne County, Mich., late last week, and in Milwaukee on Monday, officials said. They are among the first known subpoenas issued by Smith, who was named last month by Attorney General Merrick Garland to oversee the Jan. 6 Capitol attack case as well as the criminal probe of Trump’s possible mishandling of classified documents at his Florida home.
The subpoenas, at least three of which are dated Nov. 22, show that Smith is extending the Justice Department’s examination of the circumstances leading up to the Capitol attack to include local election officials and their potential interactions with the former president and his representatives. The virtually identical requests to Arizona and Wisconsin name Trump individually, in addition to employees, agents and attorneys for his campaign. Details of the Michigan subpoena, confirmed by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, were not immediately available.
The DeSantis administration is attempting to block Department of Justice election monitors from gaining access to polling places in South Florida, saying in a letter that the federal government’s involvement would be “counterproductive” and in violation of state law.
On Monday, the Justice Department announced that it would send federal monitors to 64 jurisdictions nationwide to monitor how elections are being conducted. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties were all slated to receive federal monitors from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
But Brad McVay, the chief counsel for the Florida Department of State, said in a letter issued late Monday that those monitors would not be allowed inside polling places under Florida law.
McVay said the Florida Secretary of State’s office — which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis oversees — would instead send its own monitors to those three counties, which are among the most Democratic-leaning counties in Florida….
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the Justice Department said in a news release announcing the monitoring locations that it has observed local election procedures nationwide since 1965.
Earlier here at ELB, Rick H. linked to a federal district court’s ruling refusing to issue an injunction against groups for patrolling ballot drop box locations, balancing the risks of voter intimidation with First Amendment interests. That case then saw an emergency appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
That case, with lead plaintiff Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and brought by lead attorneys from the Elias Law Group, sought the fairly broad remedy as follows, from the TRO: “The Court should therefore enter a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction prohibiting Defendants from gathering within sight of drop boxes; from following, taking photos of, or otherwise recording voters or prospective voters, those assisting voters or prospective voters, or their vehicles at or around a drop box; and from training, organizing, or directing others to do those activities.” That broad relief is what the district court rejected and is now on appeal.
But that’s not the only voter intimidation case pending in Arizona, and there’s another that (in my judgment) is on a more sustainable foundation for success. That case, with lead plaintiff League of Women Voters of Arizona and attorneys at Protect Democracy, pointed out that the League was not seeking “a blanket injunction to halt anything that might loosely be labeled poll monitoring,” as the other case did, but “specific components of Defendants’ operation, which include time-tested and highly effective methods of voter intimidation,” including “spreading specific false information about voting and voters,” “threatening and harassing ‘monitoring’ of voter behavior,” and “false public accusations of voter fraud and disclosure of personal information (‘doxing’).” Specific instances are listed in supplemental brief in support of the TRO.
Relatedly, the United States Department of Justice has weighed in on the League of Women Voters case with a statement of interest brief (with Civil Rights Division AAG Kristen Clarke on the brief, among others).
There are challenging questions, to be sure, about how to even identify the parties responsible here (some loose organizations and individuals to appear to be leading the efforts), and the fine line between “free speech” and activities that rise to voter intimidation under federal law. (The United States brief helpfully explains what conduct, especially in prior precedent, falls on the intimidation side of the line.)
But the League of Women Voters case has already seen early promise of success, as the district court had a hearing today and has scheduled an evidentiary hearing for tomorrow (November 1) on these specific issues. While one case with an overbroad request for relief languishes in an emergency appeal, the other is fast tracked for an evidentiary hearing. We’ll see what happens as the case proceeds, but it’s worth emphasizing that the details of litigation matter, as is playing out in these two cases.
The Justice Department’s voting section faces significant hurdles in challenging new state election laws and redrawn maps that Democrats say will suppress or dilute minority votes.
The newly staffed-up section of the Civil Rights Division that’s already sued Georgia and Texas confronts long odds in court nearly a decade after the Supreme Court dramatically curtailed its ability to police state and local election administration.
On Monday, the justices ruled 5-4 to reinstate an Alabama congressional map that creates only one district expected to elect a Black representative. A lower court had ruled federal law requires a second one.
What’s more, the division’s longstanding risk-averse culture designed to avoid litigation losses and perception of partisanship is being tested as progressives demand bold action in the absence of new voting rights legislation. Time is running out as the section’s enforcers must sift through thousands of new state and local redistricting plans and decide which, if any, to challenge before the midterm elections.
“All of these things work together to put probably the highest level of burdens we’ve ever seen on the voting section in history,” said David Becker, who heads the Center for Election Innovation and is a former DOJ voting section attorney.
Pressure for the Justice Department to act forcefully is only likely to grow now that Democratic legislation revamping election law has stalled in the Senate.
“I do expect them to be bold,” said Gerry Hebert, a longtime former voting section attorney who consults for the Campaign Legal Center. “This is a time to put all hands on deck for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act because frankly I think our democracy hangs in the balance if we don’t.”
Accurately describing itself as a “reader service,” this new Fact Checker analysis carefully details the arguments on both sides and the relevant provisions of the new laws in key states (like Georgia and Texas), including the DOJ and other lawsuits filed against these new laws. I noted one small error in the piece, where it describes Georgia’s response to the DOJ lawsuit as the “complaint” (a description all the more confusing since it correctly used the same term “complaint” to refer to DOJ’s filing a few paragraphs earlier). Apart from that minor glitch, however, the piece struck me as exemplary of the independent and impartial journalism that the public needs on this kind of issue.
Under pressure from Democrats and a few Republicans to hold former President Donald J. Trump accountable for his role in inspiring the attack on the Capitol, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland vowed on Wednesday that the Justice Department would pursue its inquiry into the riot “at any level,” saying he would defend democratic institutions from attack and threats of violence.
“The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy,” Mr. Garland said. “We will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
The remarks came a day before the anniversary of the Jan. 6 assault, when Mr. Trump’s supporters ransacked the Capitol in a bid to stop the certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election victory. They also came as Mr. Garland faces pressure from Democrats to more aggressively investigate any role that Mr. Trump and his allies may have played in encouraging the violence.
Several of the attorney general’s remarks appeared to respond to critics who have urged him to say more about the department’s investigation into what he called “an unprecedented attack on the seat of our democracy,” and to address whether investigators were scrutinizing Mr. Trump.
Mr. Garland reiterated that the department would not share details about its investigation. “I understand that this may not be the answer some are looking for,” he said. “But we will and we must speak through our work. Anything else jeopardizes the viability of our investigations and the civil liberties of our citizens.”
The complaint targets both congressional districts and the Texas House.
More coverage later from Nick Stephanopoulos, who is primary ELB blogger this week.
A top careerofficial in President Joe Biden’s Justice Department blocked efforts by Senate investigators to probe the handling of voter fraud complaints in the aftermath of the 2020 election, according to transcripts released Thursday.
As Senate Judiciary Committee aides investigating Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election questioned top Trump-era Justice Department officials, a DOJ attorney present for the interviews intervened repeatedly to say such questions were outside the scope of the panel’s inquiry.
The official, DOJ attorney Bradley Weinsheimer — a career official who has worked under attorneys general of both parties — cited guidance he issued in July that paved the way for congressional testimony but limited the topics former DOJ officials were permitted to discuss. But his assertions drew repeated, and sometimes pointed, challenges from Judiciary Committee aides in both parties, the transcripts show.
The special counsel appointed by the Trump administration to scrutinize the Russia investigation obtained a grand jury indictment on Thursday of a prominent cybersecurity lawyer, accusing him of lying to the F.B.I. five years ago during a meeting about Donald J. Trump and Russia.
The indictment secured by the special counsel, John H. Durham, also made public his findings about an episode in which cybersecurity researchers identified unusual internet data in 2016 that they said suggested the possibility of a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked financial institution.
He concluded that the Clinton campaign covertly helped push those suspicions to the F.B.I. and reporters, the indictment shows. The F.B.I. looked into the questions about Alfa Bank but dismissed them as unfounded, and the special counsel who later took over the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, ignored the matter in his final report.
The charging of the lawyer, Michael A. Sussmann, had been expected. He is accused of falsely telling a top F.B.I. lawyer that he was not representing any client at the meeting about those suspicions. Prosecutors contend that he was instead representing both a technology executive and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
“Sussmann’s false statement misled the F.B.I. general counsel and other F.B.I. personnel concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the F.B.I. of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of Sussmann’s clients,” the indictment said.
Mr. Sussmann’s defense lawyers, Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth, have denied the accusation, insisting that he did not say he had no client and maintaining that the evidence against him is weak. They also denied that the question of who Mr. Sussmann was working for was material, saying the FB.I. would have investigated the matter regardless.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is trying to use open records laws to find political motivations behind the DOJ’s lawsuit over Georgia’s voting law.l
Raffensperger filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Justice Tuesday seeking any communications, if they exist, between the Department and dozens of his legal and political opponents, the AJC’s Mark Niesse tells us. The request names Stacey Abrams, Fair Fight Action, Black Voters Matter Trust Fund, the 6th District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a variety of attorneys and organizations.
Also on the list: the League of Women Voters of Georgia, Latino Community Fund Georgia, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the politically active Black sorority. Many of the groups named in Raffensperger’s request spoke out against Senate Bill 202 when it passed earlier this year.
Even if there were no communications between the Department and the groups, Raffensperger said that would mean the Department of Justice is biased against Georgia. Some Democrat-controlled states have similar voter ID requirements, and they provide fewer early voting opportunities, but they aren’t being sued, he said.
“Either way it’s troublesome because if they came up with this on their own, it means the DOJ has become politicized,” Raffensperger said in an interview. “We want to know who’s pulling their strings, and if they are.”
Kate Benner at the New York Times:
Byung J. Pak, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, told congressional investigators on Wednesday that his abrupt resignation in January had been prompted by Justice Department officials’ warning that President Donald J. Trump intended to fire him for refusing to say that widespread voter fraud had been found in Georgia, according to a person familiar with his testimony.
Mr. Pak, who provided more than three hours of closed-door testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, stepped down with no notice on Jan. 4, saying that he had done his best “to be thoughtful and consistent, and to provide justice for my fellow citizens in a fair, effective and efficient manner.”
While he did not discuss Mr. Trump’s role in his decision to resign at the time, he told the Senate panel that the president had been dismayed that Mr. Pak had investigated allegations of voter fraud in Fulton County, Ga., and not found evidence to support them, according to the person familiar with the statements.
Donald Trump asked the country’s top legal official in late December about a conspiratorial draft complaint aimed at overturning the 2020 election results, according to a previously unreported account of Trump’s phone call with former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.
Rosen persuaded Trump the lawsuit wasn’t a good idea, he told Senate investigators last weekend, two sources familiar with his testimony said. The previously unreported details underscore how hard DOJ lawyers worked to shoot down the increasingly harebrained legal strategies that reached the president’s desk.
Politico’s details of Rosen’s testimony are consistent with the Wall Street Journal reporting in January, along with the details of Texas-style litigation detailed by the New York Times in June. But a couple of additional details stand out, including this, from the Office of Legal Counsel:
So when Trump brought up the complaint on their call, the acting attorney general was ready. The complaint had circulated widely enough at the senior levels of government that the department’s Office of Legal Counsel had reviewed it and laid out legal reasons why it was a non-starter. Rosen presented some of these arguments to the president, including arguments related to standing and original jurisdiction, and he told congressional investigators that he persuaded the outgoing president to side with him.
Jeffrey A. Rosen, who was acting attorney general during the Trump administration, has told the Justice Department watchdog and Congressional investigators that one of his deputies tried to help former President Donald J. Trump subvert the results of the 2020 election, according to a person familiar with the interviews.
Mr. Rosen had a two-hour meeting on Friday with the Justice Department’s office of the inspector general and provided closed-door testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Saturday.