Entries in Department of Justice (8)


Dept. of Justice Files Formal Action Against Florida Over Voter Purge -- The Department of Justice filed a formal lawsuit against the state of Florida to head off the state’s plan to purge ineligible voters from its rolls.

It’s the latest salvo in an ongoing legal battle, as the DOJ claims that Florida’s attempts to remove ineligible voters violates a federal law that’s meant to prohibit such purges within the 90-day period before an election for federal office.

“The Department of Justice has an overriding interest in protecting the rights of eligible citizens to register and vote free from unlawful burdens, while at the same time ensuring that ineligible persons do not register and vote in federal elections in violation of the law,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “The department is committed to enforcing the National Voter Registration Act so that these objectives are met.”

The DOJ’s lawsuit seeks a court order declaring that Florida has violated the law and calls on the courts to keep the state from continuing with the voter purge program.

Florida filed its own lawsuit on Tuesday against the Department of Homeland Security, claiming the federal agency illegally restricted access to information on people who might not be eligible to vote.

Both lawsuits, along with one filed by the Florida American Civil Liberties Union against the state, ensure that the voter registration and removal issue will remain a contentious one up to the November elections.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


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


John Edwards to Be Indicted Over Use of Campaign Funds

Chris Hondros/Getty Images(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- John Edwards will be indicted on serious criminal charges Friday for allegedly violating campaign laws while he tried to cover up an extramarital affair, ABC News has learned.

Last month, the United States Department of Justice green-lighted the prosecution of the former presidential candidate. The federal government had been investigating for two years the circumstances of how hundreds of thousands of dollars from heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and lawyer Frederick Baron went to third parties to allegedly cover up the affair between Edwards and his mistress, Rielle Hunter.

Government lawyers are likely to focus their prosecution on a couple of key legal definitions: whether the money was an expenditure meant to influence a federal election and whether Edwards or his campaign coordinated it.

Edwards' lawyers will most likely argue that the government is taking too broad a definition of political expenditures.  They could argue that the money was personal, meant not to influence a campaign but to hide an affair from his wife.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Feds Green-Light Prosecution of John Edwards

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The United States Department of Justice has green-lighted the prosecution of former presidential candidate John Edwards for alleged violations of campaign laws while he tried to cover up an extra-marital affair, ABC News has learned.

A source close to the case said Edwards is aware that the government intends to seek an indictment and that the former senator from North Carolina is now considering his limited options. He could accept a plea bargain with prosecutors or face a potentially costly trial.

Edwards has been the focus of a lengthy federal investigation focusing on hundreds of thousands of dollars allegedly provided by two wealthy supporters. The government will contend those were illegal donations that ultimately went to support and seclude his mistress, Rielle Hunter.

Hunter was a campaign videographer with whom Edwards had a lengthy affair that resulted in a daughter, Frances Quinn Hunter, now three years old.

If the case were to proceed to trial, legal experts said, the government would have to prove that the intent of the donations was to cover-up the affair so that Edwards could continue his pursuit of the 2008 Democratic nomination for president.

The government's case against Edwards is expected to rely heavily on Andrew Young, a former close aide to Edwards who falsely claimed paternity of Hunter's child three weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

Young testified before a grand jury for nine hours in 2009, and also wrote a tell-all book that alleged Edwards was the mastermind of a well-funded, well-orchestrated plan to keep the affair from becoming public.

Edwards acknowledged paternity of the child last year, but has steadfastly maintained that he has broken no laws.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


DOJ Budget: Boosts for FBI, Prisons; Cuts for Grants, Drug Intel Programs

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As part of President Obama's budget proposal, the U.S. Department of Justice is requesting $28.2 billion for 2012. The DOJ has also identified $2 billion in savings and efficiencies with cuts to the Drug Intelligence Center, the elimination of a DEA Task Force and cuts to some grant programs. Law enforcement work done by the FBI, U.S. Marshals, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are receiving overall increases.
One area that is receiving a boost in funding is the issue of prison and detentions, which is getting a 10-percent increase to deal with the increasing prison population and increased detention of immigration violators. According to DOJ officials, there will be approximately 11,000 new federal prisoners incarcerated in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities over the next two years. The department is looking at revising how “Good Time” is calculated in prisons to reduce some prison terms. The DOJ estimates this could provide savings of $41 million.
The DOJ is also increasing their funding to their national security mission by increasing spending on security programs by $128 million. This includes boosting funding to FBI’s computer intrusion programs to investigate cybersecurity crimes by expanding the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force. The FBI is also receiving an increase to their electronic surveillance programs to monitor new and emerging technology with court-authorized intercepts. Such an increase would establish a Domestic Communications Assistance Center and a new Data Intercept Technology Unit.

Several significant cuts are also due for DOJ programs, including the elimination of the DEA's Mobile Enforcements Teams ($39.1 million savings), the National Drug Intelligence Center ($19 million savings) as well as a 16-percent cut for administrative and technological upgrades.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Justice Department to Monitor Polls on Election Day

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) – The U.S. Department of Justice will monitor polls in 18 states on Election Day, according to a department news release.

The department’s Civil Rights Division plans to send more than 400 federal observers and personnel to 30 jurisdictions in order to ensure all citizens are able to access the ballot Tuesday.

Personnel will be on hand to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group. The act requires that certain jurisdictions provide language assistance during the election process.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


'Don't Ask, Don't Tell': Pentagon Halts Enforcement as Justice Department Seeks Stay of Injunction

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon Thursday instructed military lawyers to halt all open investigations and pending discharges of gay and lesbian service members under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which has prohibited them from openly serving.

The notice from the Defense Department's general counsel to service judge advocates around the world comes in response to a judgment by Federal Judge Virginia Phillips Tuesday ordering an immediate, worldwide end to the policy's enforcement.

Phillips first ruled Sept. 10 that the policy is unconstitutional.

"The [Defense] Department will abide by the terms in the court's ruling, effective as of the time and date of the ruling," said Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan.

Without a stay, "don't ask, don't tell" will no longer remain the law.

The Justice Department, which has defended the policy in court, filed an emergency request with Phillips, asking her to stay the worldwide injunction against the policy pending an appeal.

"The precipitous changes to military policy required by the court's injunction would result in a host of significant and immediate harms to the recognized public interest in ensuring that the nation has strong and effective military operations," government lawyers wrote.

Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, said he was not surprised by the administration's request, but was still disappointed. "If this stay is granted, justice will be delayed, but it will not be denied," he said.

Dan Woods, the plaintiffs' attorney, vowed to fight any appeal.  "We will fight vigorously to defend Judge Phillips' lengthy, well-reasoned decision," he said.  Gay rights advocates had anticipated that the administration might appeal the ruling and have advised caution to gay and lesbian service members currently serving.

"We're basically recommending that service members not change anything and operate as if DADT were still in effect," said John Alexander Nicholson, who is a plaintiff in the case and runs Service Members United, one of the largest advocacy groups in the country for gay and lesbian troops.

If the policy is reinstated, some pending investigations could also be allowed to continue.

"Right now, there's still a lot that could happen," said Drew Woodmansee, an attorney representing one of the highest-ranking military officers facing discharge under "don't ask, don't tell," Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach.  "My hope is that the government will see the writing on the wall and do the right thing and decide to let Col. Fehrenbach stay in, but until they do that I feel we can't let down our guard."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has reiterated President Obama's belief that the policy is "unjust" and "detrimental to our national security," as well as his promise that it will end.  He declined to say whether the president found it unconstitutional.

The best way to end the policy is for the "Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives," Gibbs said Wednesday.  "This is a policy that is going to end.  It's not whether it will end.  But the process by which it will."

The House approved a repeal as part of the annual defense budget earlier this year, but the Senate failed to approve the measure in a vote last month.

"I feel strongly this is an action that needs to be taken by the Congress and that it is an action that requires careful preparation, and a lot of training and a lot of revision of regulation," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters on a flight to Brussels, Belgium on Wednesday.

The administration's position has not been well received by many advocates for gay and lesbian rights, who insist a repeal should not be put on hold.

"We had hoped that if President Obama truly believed that 'don't ask, don't tell' is wrong, particularly because it violates the First and Fifth Amendments, that he would use Judge Phillips' ruling as a means to end the policy," said Christian Berle with the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative gay rights group.

"It is really confusing and also heartbreaking for these service members who continue to put themselves in harm's way in service to their country," said Michael Cole, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.  "Instead of the policy being repealed we've gone through seemingly endless legal wrangling and legislative posturing that has not served our national security interests."

The administration has said it is obliged to defend the policy in court, and Obama has said he would prefer it to be repealed legislatively.

"The Justice Department is defending the statute, as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged," said Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler in a statement.

The case was brought in 2004 by the Log Cabin Republicans, which argued that the military's 17-year-old policy violates gay service members' rights to free speech, open association and due process.  Judge Phillips agreed.

The Log Cabin Republicans estimate that 13,500 gay military service members have been ousted under the rules since 1994.

Phillips' decision marked the first time a federal judge had found the law unconstitutional on the grounds of due process and First Amendment violations.

Seventy-five percent of Americans say gays who disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, up from 44 percent 17 years ago.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Court Orders Immediate "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Injunction

Photo Courtesy - ABC News Radio(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips on Tuesday ordered a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, effective immediately. 

The court order, which would affect all service members abroad and in the United States, also requires the government to suspend and discontinue all pending discharge proceedings and investigation under "don't ask, don't tell."

"We have just learned of this ruling.  We are now studying it and will be in consultation with the Department of Justice," said Department of Defense spokesperson, Cynthia Smith.

The government will have 60 days to file an appeal.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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