IN PRAISE OF THE “DEEP STATE” JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

On Tuesday, President Trump started the new year off with a bang with a Twitter attack against the “Deep State” Justice Department. In attacking his own Justice Department, Trump was using code words (“deep state”) often used by right-wing conspiracy theorists to describe the permanent liberal cabal of government employees that is entrenched deep within the federal bureaucracy, which they believe are resisting Trump’s efforts to root them out and bend all of the federal agencies to his will.

Last week, Trump went so far as to assert during a New York Times interview that he had the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” Sorry, Mr. Trump, you do not. That is not how the federal system works – at least not for the past 135 years.

The vast majority of FBI and other Justice Department employees are career law enforcement agents and attorneys who have been selected for their posts based upon merit, not on their party affiliation, connections or political ideology. Indeed, the U.S. Civil Service System dates back to 1883 and is designed to eliminate the ability of elected officials and political party operatives to decide who works for the federal government.

To be sure, the upper echelons of both the Justice Department and the FBI are White House political appointees, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein. However, beneath this upper crust, all Justice Department employees are hired based solely on their abilities and their merit, working diligently at their jobs without political interference or fear of retribution.

However, this does not mean that Justice Department employees cannot hold political opinions, vote, or make contributions to political candidates. Indeed, as Deputy AG Rosenstein recently explained to a Congressional committee, the political opinions and party affiliation of candidates for Justice Department positions are not taken into account in the hiring process. To do so would be a violation of the law. Under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, the “selection and advancement” for federal positions is “determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills.” Nor, as Rosenstein has pointed out, can the Justice Department fire an employee for expressing personal political views, which is protected by the First Amendment, although the FBI did recently reassign FBI agent Peter Strzok from the Special Counsel’s Trump/Russia investigation to other duties when text messages by him that were disparaging of Trump were made public. Even though there is no evidence that such personal views by Agent Strzok influenced his professional work, his reassignment was entirely proper in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety or bias.

Trump appears to be persisting in his efforts to quash the Justice Department’s investigation of his team’s dealings with the Russians, even though those efforts have backfired to date. First, he tried to cajole then-FBI Director Comey into dropping the investigation of former NSA Michael Flynn’s Russia contacts during the campaign and the transition period. When Comey balked, Trump simply fired him. This strategy, however, had the unintended consequence of triggering the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel and an intensification of the investigation.

Trump has also bitterly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for having recused himself on the Russia investigation, but Sessions, to his credit, has more or less stuck by his guns and refused to be pressured into resigning.

Now Trump’s allies in the press and in Congress have intensified their efforts to discredit and undermine the FBI and the Special Counsel’s office in the eyes of the public.  One of Trump’s opening salvos attacked the FBI as supposedly being in “tatters” and therefore not worthy of public respect.  By vowing to restore the FBI to its former glory, or making it “greater than ever,” it seems likely that Trump is laying the groundwork for a possible firing of Mueller or, at the very least, indelibly tainting the Russia investigation as a partisan “witch hunt.” If he succeeds in this effort, then he will be inoculated, he hopes, from the fallout of any additional indictments or plea agreements with present and former members of the Trump team, which could then be dismissed as further evidence that the “deep state” is engaged in a slow-rolling “coup ” to oust Trump from the White House.

Trump’s campaign to undermine and dishearten the FBI appears to have been at least partially successful, since FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who has been one of the specific targets of the well-orchestrated assault on the FBI’s credibility, has announced that he will be retiring soon, even though he is only 49 years old. The FBI’s top lawyer, James Baker, was also abruptly reassigned last week.

If the Trump Administration and its allies continue on this course unopposed, they will have carried out their own “coup,” which will involve the politicization of the Justice Department for the first time in modern history, and the end of the Justice Department’s proud history of professionalism and political independence. The stakes could not be any higher.

TRUMP’S NOMINEE FOR FBI DIRECTOR WORKS FOR A LAW FIRM REPRESENTING ONE OF RUSSIA’S LARGEST NATIONAL OIL COMPANIES: CAN HE REALLY BE COUNTED ON TO OVERSEE A VIGOROUS INVESTIGATION OF POSSIBLE COLLUSION BETWEEN RUSSIA AND THE TRUMP TEAM?

On paper, Christopher A. Wray appears to be an excellent choice to serve as the next FBI Director. As a Yale Law School graduate and executive editor of the law review, as well as a law clerk to a federal judge, Wray seems to have the impeccable academic credentials to oversee the country’s chief law enforcement and investigative organization.

Wray also has had a long and distinguished career as a federal prosecutor and high-level official of the U.S. Department of Justice under President George W. Bush, where he led the successful federal investigation of Enron Corp. The FBI has referred to the work of the Enron Task Force as the “largest and most complex white-collar investigation” in the agency’s history.

After 9/11, while serving as Assistant Attorney General, the Department of Justice came under criticism for its attempts to legally justify the use of enhanced interrogation techniques such as “waterboarding,” which many experts viewed as the equivalent of torture. No doubt the Senate Committee reviewing Wray’s credentials will properly delve into Wray’s views on this subject and possible participation in the decision-making process at the Justice Department that led to the “sign off” on the use of such techniques.

As a litigation partner with the prestigious Atlanta and the Washington-based law firm of King & Spalding, Wray also caused more than a few eyebrows to be raised as a criminal defense lawyer for Governor Chris Christie during the “Bridgegate” investigation. When close associates of Christie were indicted for ordering the closing of some of the lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in retaliation for perceived “failure” of the Mayor of Ft. Lee, New Jersey to support Christie in his last run for New Jersey Governor, the defense lawyers persistently demanded to see Governor Christie’s cell phone and phone records. Christie apparently used this cell phone to text with others during a key state hearing into Bridgegate, and the phone was even studied during a probe that Christie commissioned into the affair. However, this key phone went “missing” thereafter for an extended time period, until it mysteriously turned up in the possession of Christie’s lawyer – Christopher Wray. This is another subject that is likely to come up during Wray’s Senate confirmation hearing.

Even more troubling is the fact that Wray’s law firm – King & Spaulding – boasts on its website that it represents Rosneft, one of Russia’s largest state-controlled oil companies. http://www.kslaw.com/imageserver/KS.

Rosneft was prominently mentioned in the now infamous 35-page Dossier prepared by former British MI-6 agent Christopher Steele. The Dossier claims that the CEO of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, offered candidate Donald Trump, through Trump’s campaign manager Carter Page, a 19% stake in the company in exchange for lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia. The dossier claims that the offer was made in July while Page was in Moscow. Ironically, the Dossier goes on to allege that, by mid-October 2016, when Sechin and Rosneft came to the conclusion that Trump was unlikely to win the Presidential election, Sechin “put feelers out to other business and political contacts” to purchase a stake in Rosneft.

By strange (or not-so-strange) coincidence, Rosneft ended up selling a 19.5% stake in the company on December 7, 2016 — worth approximately $11 billion — to Qatar’s state-owned wealth fund, commodity trader Glencore Plc and an unidentified Cayman Islands firm, which the owners of are also unnamed.

In 2012, Rosneft and Exxon had arranged for a $500 billion oil drilling joint-venture, which was nixed by President Barack Obama when he imposed the 2014 sanctions that crippled Russia’s ability to do business with U.S. companies. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the CEO of Exxon at the time. The lifting of sanctions by the Trump Administration would enable Exxon to renew its joint venture agreement with Rosneft, and presumably the law firm of King & Spalding would end up in the middle of the contract negotiations between those two companies, as well as Rosneft’s negotiations with other U.S. companies who would be joining the stampede to do business with the Kremlin and its many other state-owned enterprises.

If Wray was confirmed as the FBI Director, would he have to recuse himself with regard to the FBI’s critical role in the investigation currently being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller? The FBI is supplying most of the investigative resources that Mueller must rely upon to properly conduct his investigation. Without an FBI Director who is 100% behind Mueller’s investigation into meddling by Russia in the 2016 investigation and possible collusion with the Trump Team, as well as allegations that this collusion was covered up, the entire independent investigation could be placed in jeopardy. Similarly, if despite his law firm’s connections with a key Russian-owned company, Wray refused to recuse himself from the Russia-Trump investigation, a serious cloud could be cast over the FBI’s level of commitment to this critical matter.

One of several reasons why former Senator Joe Lieberman was generally considered to be unqualified for the FBI Director’s job was that his law firm – Kasowitz, Benson, Torres – has represented Trump for many years, including the handling of Trump’s lawsuit against journalist Tim O’Brian, author of “Trump Nation,” who had the audacity to write that Trump was only worth $250 million, not the billions he claimed. In other words, the nomination of Lieberman as FBI Director would have been perceived as the installation of a pro-Trump advocate in the middle of the Trump-Russia investigation, rather than the selection of a dispassionate objective leader to oversee the investigation.

Similarly, the nomination of Wray as FBI Director raises serious questions as to whether Wray – given his law firm’s affiliation with Rosneft – would be perceived as an attempt by Trump to install a “Russia-friendly” Director at the helm of the FBI.

THERE IS ALREADY A SOLID BASIS FOR CONGRESS TO INITIATE IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDINGS AGAINST TRUMP

After the sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey for what Trump as much as admitted to Lester Holt of NBC was an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump Team, and after telling the Russian Foreign Minister that he believed that Comey was a “nut job” and that his firing would make the Russian/Trump investigation go away, there is now a solid basis for the impeachment and removal of Trump from the Presidency.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)  announced in April 2017 that she will “fight every day until he is impeached.” A few weeks later, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that Trump’s actions “may well produce impeachment proceedings.” Other Democrats quickly followed, as well as some Republicans. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was asked by reporters on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, whether he believed that Trump’s actions if reports were true — that Trump asked Comey to drop his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn – whether such actions were grounds for impeachment. Rep. Amash responded, “yes.”

More recently, Congressman Lieu (D-Calif.), an attorney who practiced law while he was an Air Force JAG officer, announced that he is researching the issue of impeachment and is studying the Congressional Research Service’s excellent 2015 work entitled “Impeachment and Removal.”

The Trump White House is taking the possibility of impeachment proceedings seriously, and it has been reported that Trump’s private attorney and occasional spokesperson, Michael D. Cohen, has been at the White House assembling a team of lawyers to work on the impeachment issue.

If impeachment proceedings were commenced, they would first be considered in the House Judiciary Committee, of which Congressman Lieu is a member. In order for impeachment proceedings to be commenced against President Trump, a majority of the Judiciary Committee’s 4o members would have to vote in favor of impeachment before articles of impeachment were brought before the full House for a vote. Given the current make-up of the House Judiciary Committee (there are 23 Republican members and 17 Democrats), this would require only four Republicans to join the Democrats on the Committee in voting in favor of impeachment.

If a majority of the House favored impeachment of the President, the matter would then go to the Senate for a trial, which would be presided over by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote in favor of conviction for Trump to be removed from office.

There is already a substantial basis for impeachment proceedings of Trump to begin. His firing of Comey and other heavy-handed attempts to interfere with the Russia/Trump collusion investigation constitute an Obstruction of Justice that already far exceeds the obstructions engaged in by the Nixon White House in their failed efforts to quash the Watergate scandal and investigation. Keep in mind, the Watergate break-in was truly a “third-rate burglary,” and even though the ensuing cover-up was clearly an attempt to obstruct justice, the underlying crimes that led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and ignominious departure from the White House lawn aboard the Marine 1 helicopter were inconsequential when compared to the magnitude of the crimes that the FBI is investigating regarding Russia’s meddling with our 2016 Presidential election and apparent collusion with several high-level Trump operatives, including Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone and others. To the extent that Candidate or President-Elect Trump  knew and/or encouraged members of his team to facilitate or collude with Russia and its agents (including WikiLeaks) in its efforts to destabilize America’s democratic institutions and to tip the election scales in Trump’s favor, then Trump is guilty of “Treason” and “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” under the Constitution and should be removed from office.

In addition, to the extent that –since taking the oath of office on January 20, 2017 – President Trump has obstructed the FBI’s investigation into that Trump/Russian collusion, then that adds additional grounds for impeachment.

Only two Presidents have been impeached, but the charges against them were relatively minor as compared to the potential Treason charges to which Trump may be subjected. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached for attempting to replace his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, without congressional permission. After impeachment by the House, he escaped being removed from office by a one-vote margin in the Senate. President Bill Clinton was the second president to be impeached during the Monica Lewinsky scandal of 1998. As much as Clinton’s conduct tarnished the office of the Presidency, even if he had been convicted in the Senate on the perjury and obstruction of justice charges for which he was impeached by the House (he was not), no one but the most zealous of his political enemies could have thought that Clinton’s prevarications regarding Ms. Lewinsky and her infamous dress threatened the fundamental pillars of our democracy.

Trump and his motley crew are truly in a league by themselves. At no time in American history have we had a President and his senior staff so eager to make a deal with a hostile foreign power in return for the keys to the White House, and at no time since the War of 1812 has a foreign power so threatened our democracy by mounting a direct attack on the American Homeland. While the burning of the U.S. Capitol and the entire city of Washington, D.C. by British troops on August 24, 2014, was a dark day in American history, no one ever alleged that the President of the United States or any of his administration colluded with the British.

In contrast, Trump gleefully invited WikiLeaks (and by inference the Russians) to violate U.S. criminal laws by hacking into Hillary Clinton’s emails and otherwise wreaking havoc on the American body politic during the 2016 Presidential campaign. He also surrounded himself with senior advisors – including Flynn, Manafort, Page and Stone – who he knew or should have known either had close ties with Russian or pro-Russian operatives, or were so totally lacking in political or moral scruples that they would do absolutely anything to advance the Trump cause or to subvert the Clinton campaign, regardless of the collateral damage that would be done to American security or democracy.

The stench of Treason and Obstruction of Justice is already permeating the White House and spreading rapidly. As Special Counsel Mueller and the Congressional committees continue their investigations, there is already more than enough evidence for the House Judiciary Committee to open an impeachment investigation. Our country deserves no less.

COMEY, GIULIANI AND THE POLITICALIZATION OF THE FBI

No matter what the outcome of the Presidential election, the FBI is shaping up to be one of the biggest losers of this election season. Over one week’s time, the FBI’s well-deserved reputation for being a professional law enforcement agency operating above the political fray has been virtually flushed down the toilet into the murky cesspool of contemporary American politics.
On Friday, October 28, 2016, FBI Director James Comey gave us his “October Surprise”, darkly hinting through a thin veil of innuendo that Hillary Clinton might be due for another round of email investigations. Shortly after he sent this incendiary letter up to Capitol Hill, it was leaked that the possible renewed FBI interest in Secretary Clinton was a fallout from a probe of former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s laptop computer that he had shared with his estranged wife and top Clinton aide, Huma Abedin. As further details emerged, it was learned that the FBI had not actually seen the emails on Weiner’s computer because no court order had yet been issued or even sought permitting a search of his computer. Nor did the FBI know whether Weiner’s computer contained any emails that were sent to or from HRC, and if so, whether those emails were merely duplicates of emails already reviewed by the FBI.
In other words, Director Comey intentionally interjected the FBI into the Presidential Campaign, and since the clear (albeit erroneous) implication to the public was that the FBI Director would not send a letter to Congress on such an important topic eleven days before a national election if he had not already determined – at least preliminarily – that the new emails contained some “smoking gun” classified documents that would warrant a reopening of the FBI’s investigation of Ms. Clinton.
What we now know one week later is that Director Comey knew or should have known at the time he released the letter to Congress (knowing that it would be made public a few nanoseconds after it reached the Hill) was that an agent or agents in the FBI’s New York field office had already leaked the story about these “new emails” to the Trump Campaign. This is why Rudy Giuliani was already appearing on Fox News, smiling like the Cheshire cat and barely able to keep himself from spilling the news that he knew was about to be publicly released by the FBI. He cryptically announced that the Trump Campaign had “a couple of things up our sleeve” that would be “game changers.” And then, as if on cue, the FBI Director drops the letter bombshell two days later.
One week later, four days before the election, Giuliani confirmed that he knew that something big was happening at the FBI, thus confirming that FBI insiders had leaked information to the Trump Campaign in advance of Comey’s announcement. Giuliani insisted that he had learned about this information from former FBI agents, who had presumably received the information directly from active FBI agents, but whether the leak to Giuliani was a one step or a two-step process makes little difference. The important point is that the FBI has now joined the Russians and WikiLeaks as full-fledged members of the Stop Hillary campaign.
For the past 40 years of the post-Watergate era, the FBI and the Department of Justice have largely steered clear of partisan politics, re-building a generally well-deserved reputation as professional investigative (in the case of the FBI) and prosecutorial organizations. Public release of information regarding criminal investigations came only after indictments were handed down, and if a decision was made not to indict a high-profile subject or target of an investigation, any derogatory information obtained about that individual was not leaked to the press. Such information remained secure in the FBIs confidential files, no matter how frustrating it was to the FBI agents or AUSAs who had worked on the case, only to have it decided by higher-ups in Washington that the investigation would not proceed to an indictment and trial.
One notable exception to this general rule was Rudy Giuliani, who was as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and then U.S. Attorney in New York was so consumed by an overwhelming ambition for publicity and self-promotion, that he regularly leaked information about Grand Jury investigations and other confidential information to the press on “deep background.” He was often at the center of the “anonymous sources” within the Justice Department that reporters were so fond of citing. To be sure, Giuliani had many successful prosecutions of high-level political and organized crime figures during his tenure as a federal prosecutor, but his habit of leaking information to the press in advance of indictments or before a trial did some irreparable damage to the professional reputation of the federal prosecutors office in New York and the federal judicial system here.
The flip side is that Rudy Giuliani also took a “pass” on some cases involving high profile individuals, such as Donald Trump. During the time period that Trump Towers and Trump Plaza were being built in Manhattan, the mob-controlled Teamster Local 282 and its President, John Cody, had a virtual lock on every major construction site in the City. Every truck driver who drove a redi-mix cement truck onto a jobsite was a member of Local 282, and if the real estate developer did not make an illegal side deal with John Cody’s union, the flow of redi-mix cement would be cut off and the entire construction project would grind to a halt. Through the good offices of Roy Cohn, the mentor and godfather to Donald Trump, a deal was made with Local 282 whereby Trump agreed to hire no-show Teamster foremen, whose salaries were then funneled to the organized criminal organizations controlling the Teamster Local. Trump also agreed to modify the construction of Trump Tower to accommodate an apartment for one of Cody’s girlfriends and mob associate, Verona Hixon, who wanted a swimming pool included with her massive Trump Tower apartment, which was second in size only to Trump’s own apartment.
In order to close the deal with organized crime and guarantee that his Manhattan construction projects would not be interrupted by labor strife or work stoppages, Trump and Cohn also made a deal with “Fat” Tony Salerno, another notorious mob figure who owned C&A Concrete, the redi-mix cement company whose trucks delivered the cement to the Trump Towers and Trump Plaza job sites. Trump readily agreed to pay C&A an inflated contract amount, knowing that the excess profits would go into the coffers of organized crime.
During the Justice Department investigation of Teamster Local 282, the FBI and federal prosecutors working on the case were able to get the cooperation of at least one of the developers who made a corrupt deal with the union, but when Donald Trump was questioned about his dealings with the union, he refused to cooperate and adamantly denied that he had any illegal deal with either Local 282 or with C&A Concrete. With some difficulty, the Justice Department was still able to indict and convict John Cody on racketeering charges based upon the testimony of Sigmund Somers, one of the other major real estate developers in the New York area, but the investigation and prosecution would have gone much more swiftly if Trump had cooperated. Moreover, once Cody was indicted, he called a City-wide strike of truck drivers that closed down every major job site in the New York City area, with the notable exception of the Trump Towers and Trump Plaza job sites, which were specifically exempted by the union, based in large measure to the fact that Trump had proved himself to be a “stand up guy” who had refused to cooperate with federal law enforcement.
In fact, since lying to FBI agents and federal prosecutors is itself a federal crime, even if those false statements are not made under oath, there were those within the federal law enforcement community, myself included, who strongly felt that Donald Trump should have been indicted, but we were overruled by those further up the ladder in the Justice Department. At the time, in 1981 and 1982, Rudy Giuliani was the Associate Attorney General, the third highest official in the U. S. Department of Justice. As part of his supervisory responsibilities over all the U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country, Giuliani would have necessarily had a decisive policy-making role as to whether the major labor racketeering investigation underway at that time, including the investigations of Teamster Local 282 and C&A Concrete, would have focused exclusively on the prosecution of corrupt union leaders and organized crime controlled construction companies, or whether real estate developers like Donald Trump who had entered into unlawful racketeering agreements with organized crime controlled unions and construction companies but who refused to testify truthfully about it should also be prosecuted.
By actively participating in the transformation of the FBI from a professional non-partisan agency into a political arm of the Trump Campaign, Rudy Giuliani is helping cause irreparable damage to the FBI’s integrity and reputation. And if Giuliani were to be named as the next Attorney General of the United States, this country would have the most political and partisan Attorney General since John Mitchell was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury following the Watergate Scandal.