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Entries in Charles Grassley (3)

Thursday
Jul192012

FDA Insists It Only Spied on Five Scientists

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Food and Drug Administration denies that it targeted more than five of its scientists or any congressional staff, outside medical experts or journalists in a surveillance operation to identify who leaked confidential information to the media.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, called on the Justice Department this week to investigate what he deemed the FDA's "targeted spy ring" after thousands of documents collected by the agency's monitoring software was surreptitiously posted online last week, allegedly by accident.

The documents, which were first reported by The New York Times, had been collected from the government-issued computers of five FDA scientists who alleged that the oversight agency was approving medical devises that expose patients to dangerous levels of radiation.

That trove of information suggested that the spying operation extended not only to the five scientists, but included a list of 21 FDA employees, congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists that were thought to be putting out "defamatory" information about the FDA, the Times reported.

FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson said the agency is investigating the "data breach" and that the "enemies list" that the Times reported was "merely an internal summary of who the employees were corresponding with."

Grassley said the documents, which were hastily taken offline last Friday, made the FDA "sound more like the East German Stasi than a consumer protection agency in a free country."

In the documents, the agency referred to whistleblowers as "collaborators," called congressional staffers "ancillary actors," and dubbed journalists "media outlet actors," Grassley said Tuesday in a statement.

Because the scientists were using federally-issued computers, the FDA could legally track any emails sent on them.  The agency could not, however, specifically target emails between its staff and Congress, the Department of Justice and the staff members' attorneys.

"Secret monitoring programs, spying on Congress and retaliating against whistleblowers -- this is a sad commentary on the state of affairs at the FDA," Grassley said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

Jefferson denied that the agency targeted congressional communications.

"Neither members of Congress nor their staffs were the focus of monitoring," Jefferson said in the statement.  "At no point in time did FDA attempt to impede or delay any communication between these individuals and Congress."

Only one of the scientists targeted by the FDA's spy software still works for the agency.  The other four were either fired or their contracts were not renewed.

All five of the spied-on scientists are now suing the agency for violating their constitutional rights to privacy and for stealing their private information, such as passwords to online banking sites that could have been recorded by the monitoring software.

"There were no boundaries in FDA," said Stephen Kohn, the lawyer representing the FDA scientists.  "What started as a leak investigation metamorphosed within weeks to an explicit campaign to intercept communications to Congress."

The FDA denied that it recorded any such passwords.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jul082011

Sen. Grassley: Why No Charges for Prosecutor Who Viewed Porn at Work?

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Charles Grassley is questioning the Justice Department about why a federal prosecutor who spent hours viewing pornography, including allegedly at least one image of child pornography, was not charged with a crime.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Grassley, who is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, disclosed that a recent review by DOJ's Inspector General found that an assistant U.S. attorney admitted that he viewed pornography for hours each day during work hours.

A brief summary of the IG report noted, "The investigation determined that the AUSA [assistant US attorney] routinely viewed adult content during official duty hours, and that there was at least one image of child pornography recovered on the AUSA's government computer. The AUSA acknowledged that he had spent a significant amount of time each day viewing pornography. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined prosecution. Disciplinary action against the AUSA is pending."

In a letter to Holder, Grassley, R-Iowa, said he was concerned about why the federal prosecutor was not charged and why the department has not taken disciplinary action against the prosecutor.

"As the case for disciplinary action is 'pending' as of May 31, 2011, this means that, at the very least, the DOJ has allowed an admitted serial viewer of pornography -- possibly child pornography -- to serve as an AUSA for two months, if not longer, and has yet to take action," Grassley wrote to Holder.

A Justice Department spokeswoman acknowledged that the prosecutor left federal service in May. It is unknown which U.S. Attorney's office the prosecutors worked in, but DOJ asserts that prosecutors from a different U.S. Attorney's office looked at the case.

"As a general practice, when there are criminal allegations of misconduct involving an Assistant U.S. Attorney, those matters are sent to a different office to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. The Department took immediate and appropriate action in this case and the AUSA ceased working in the district in late April 2011 and left Federal Service in early May 2011," the spokeswoman said.

Grassley has asked Holder if the prosecutor is eligible to receive a government pension, how he evaded pornography filters on the DOJ computer system and if the Department's filters were being updated.

The Justice Department has declined to provide additional information to Grassley and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who had requested information from all U.S. agency inspector generals about closed cases that had not been made public. The Justice Department Office of the Inspector General declined to provide a full copy of the report, or the identity or the district where the assistant U.S. attorney was assigned.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul072011

ATF Chief Secretly Tells Congress about Controversial Gun Program

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) voluntarily appeared before two congressional oversight committees and revealed that senior Justice Department officials tried to limit his communications with Congress about an investigation into a controversial ATF program known as "Fast and Furious," according to a letter from the heads of two oversight committees.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have been investigating a program where ATF agents recorded and tracked straw purchases of weapons and allowed the guns to "walk" across the U.S. border into Mexico in an effort to locate major weapons traffickers.

Rather than appear with lawyers from the Justice Department and the ATF, Acting Director Ken Melson hired his own private attorney and secretly appeared before congressional investigators on July 4.  According to sources close to the investigation, Melson had previously wanted to testify before the oversight committees but Justice Department officials sought to delay his testimony.

Melson's testimony came weeks after three current ATF agents who were involved with the program testified before Congress about the botched operation and how the ATF failed to stop guns from going to Mexico.

The operation took a tragic turn in December 2010 when two weapons found at the scene where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered were linked to the ATF program.  According to reports by the ABC News affiliate in Phoenix, other guns from the program have now been linked to additional crimes.

ATF officials say they were trying to build cases that would allow them to target senior drug cartel leaders and key weapons traffickers, not low-level gun runners.

According to a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Grassley, Melson expressed dismay over how the operation was run and that "he was sick to his stomach" when he reviewed internal documents.  The letter also notes that Melson's testimony corroborated information that the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI may have had a role in the operation.

The letter sent to Attorney General Holder notes of Melson's testimony: "He was candid in admitting mistakes that his agency made and described various ways he says that he tried to remedy the problems.  According to Mr. Melson, it was not until after the public controversy that he personally reviewed hundreds of documents relating to the case, including wiretap applications and Reports of Investigation (ROIs).  By his account, he was sick to his stomach when he obtained those documents and learned the full story."

Melson testified that he and top management at ATF moved to reassign supervisors working on Fast and Furious and that officials at the DOJ allegedly tried to prevent ATF from notifying the oversight committees about the full nature of the management moves.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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