Entries in Justice Department (12)


White House Brief Foreshadows Supreme Court Arguments on Gay Marriage

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House has asked the Supreme Court to strike down a main provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, but in the legal paper filed with the judiciary it may have signaled a wider push for same-sex marriage as a constitutional right on the horizon.

The Justice Department issued an amicus brief Friday urging the court to repeal Section 3 of DOMA when it hears a challenge to the act late next month. The portion bars the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages for health benefits, income tax purposes, and other issues.`

In 2011, President Obama announced the executive branch would cease upholding the 1996 law, although it remained on the books. Given that the Obama administration has been named a party to the case, the filing with the court does not come as a surprise, yet the equal protection issues covered in United States v. Windsor are relatively narrow in scope.

Instead, court watchers have been waiting to see whether the president would weigh in on a separate case involving gay marriage: California’s Proposition 8. The administration has until next week to decide whether to join other parties in challenging the ballot-approved state law, later overturned, that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Friday’s brief could serve as hat-tip that the Justice Department is preparing for such a move.

Any ruling regarding Prop 8 would have sweeping ramifications over a much broader issue than DOMA: Whether the U.S. Constitution guarantees a fundamental right to gay marriage.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. is not required to file a so-called “friend of the court” brief in that, but sources say the administration is considering the possibility at the highest levels.

In an interview Wednesday with San Francisco’s ABC station, KGO-TV, Obama said his administration had yet to reach a decision.

“I have to make sure I’m not interjecting myself too much into this process, particularly when we’re not party to the case,” he told KGO-TV. “I can tell you, though, that obviously my personal view is that I think that same-sex couples should have the same rights and be treated like everybody else.”

Historically his administration has left such decisions to the states; the administration has not previously offered an official statement on Prop 8 because the federal government was not directly affected by it.

Although the California case and DOMA do not directly intertwine Friday’s brief does offer a window into the language likely to be employed by the Justice Department in Prop 8, should it become involved. The brief can be found at the well-established

“Gay and lesbian people are a minority group with limited political power,” reads the administration statement. “Although some of the harshest and most overt forms of discrimination against gay and lesbian people have receded, that progress has hardly been uniform (either temporally or geographically), and has in significant respects been the result of judicial enforcement of the Constitution, not political action.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has also filed a brief urging that the law be upheld, arguing gay-rights issues would be better left to the democratic process.

“Gays and lesbians are one of the most influential, best-connected, best-funded, and best-organized interest groups in modern politics, and have attained more legislative victories, political power, and popular favor in less time than virtually any other group in American history,” it says.

The House named itself a party to the case after the executive branch announced its decision to abandon the legislation.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Justice Department Won’t Prosecute Holder for Contempt

Chris Graythen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After Congress found the nation’s top law enforcement officer in contempt Thursday, the Department of Justice quickly wrote a letter to House Speaker John Boehner informing him that it will not prosecute U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for withholding documents in a congressional investigation of the Fast and Furious gun walking operation.

“The longstanding position of the Department of Justice has been and remains that we will not prosecute an Executive Branch official under the contempt of Congress statute for withholding subpoenaed documents pursuant to a presidential assertion of executive privilege,” James M. Cole, the deputy attorney general, wrote in a letter dated June 28 and addressed to the Speaker.

The House voted Thursday to pass a resolution which, for the first time in U.S. history, found a sitting U.S. attorney general in criminal contempt of Congress.

DOJ’s response does not come as a complete surprise. Historically when Congress votes to hold someone in contempt, the report is referred to the U.S. attorney of the District of Columbia for prosecution. But Holder’s case is unprecedented, going after the same official tasked with overseeing the department that’s charged with enforcing contempt.

The letter, which was also sent to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Reps. Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings, goes on to cite legal precedent of executive privilege claims during Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush’s administrations as justification for its refusal to prosecute Holder.

“Consistent with this uniform position and practice, the Department has determined that the Attorney General’s response to the subpoena issued by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform does not constitute a crime, and therefore the Department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General,” the letter concludes.

Congressional GOP sources expect the Oversight and Government Reform committee to work with the House general counsel to pursue the case in federal court with the hope that a court will ultimately compel Holder to hand over the outstanding documents.

Republicans also passed a second resolution Thursday that found Holder in civil contempt of Congress. That resolution authorizes the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform “to initiate or intervene in judicial proceedings to enforce certain subpoenas.”

Still, that process could take months or even years.

“It is regrettable that the political leadership of the Justice Department is trying to intervene in an effort to prevent the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia from making an independent decision about whether to prosecute this case,” Frederick Hill, director of communications at the Oversight committee, said, reacting to the letter.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rep. Darrell Issa Threatens AG Eric Holder with Contempt of Congress

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The undercover, gun-walking operation was called “Fast and Furious.”

Now, some furious congressional investigators want to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly blocking their efforts to get the facts about the controversial operation -- a charge the Justice Department “strongly disputes.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government reform, Thursday circulated the draft contempt order to his colleagues.  It asks them to hold Holder in contempt for his alleged “failure to comply with a Congressional subpoena” in the “Fast and Furious” investigation.

“Fast and Furious” was a botched, undercover-operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) that resulted in assault weapons being ‘walked’ from American gun stores across the border into Mexico, and into the hands of alleged drug cartel members.  ATF’s plan was to use undercover “straw purchasers” to buy the guns, track their illegal movement into Mexico, then arrest the drug cartel members receiving and using the guns in criminal acts.  But the agency lost track of many of the weapons and few arrests were made.

Issa’s draft contempt citation against the attorney general charges that around 2,000 firearms fell into the hands of drug cartels and may have lead to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent as a result of Operation Fast and Furious. And he alleges that the Justice Department failed to provide many of the documents about the operation that the committee requested during its investigation.

“The [Justice] Department’s refusal to work with compel the production of these documents and information related to this controversy is inexcusable and cannot stand,” Issa wrote. “Those responsible for allowing Fast and Furious to proceed and those who are preventing the truth about the operation from coming out must be held accountable for their actions.”

But a Department of Justice official strongly disputed the charge that the department has not complied with the committee’s requests for documents and information, citing the turning over of more than 7,600 pages as part of 46 separate productions of documents.  The official also pointed out that Attorney General Holder has testified to Congress on “Fast and Furious” seven times in the last year and a half, and the Justice Department has provided many other officials to congressional investigators.

On Thursday evening the Justice Department formally responded to Issa’s claims and threat to move forward with the contempt resolution.

“The department strongly disputes the contention that we have failed to cooperate with the committee’s review of Operation Fast and Furious as asserted in the staff briefing paper and draft contempt of Congress resolution that the Committee released today,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote in a letter Thursday.

“Some have questioned why the department’s inspector general has received a greater number of documents than have been provided to the committee,” Cole added. “The answer lies in the fact that the Office of Inspector General, as a component of the department, is entitled in these circumstances to review material that is not appropriate for disclosure outside the department.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who is conducting the “Fast and Furious” investigation in the Senate, has offered support for Issa’s call for the attorney general to be cited for contempt of Congress.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Justice Department Dismisses O’Keefe Voting Video as a Stunt

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department has brushed aside a video by conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe in which a polling station volunteer is tricked into giving the attorney general’s primary ballot to the wrong person.

In the video, a man is seen giving the attorney general’s name, Eric Holder, to a poll volunteer in Washington, D.C., along with Holder’s address. The volunteer finds Holder’s ballot and offers it to the man, who says he’d feel more comfortable if he provided his identification, which he says he left in his car.

The point of the video is to show that without voter ID laws, anyone can vote under anyone else’s name when in reality, huge numbers of people who wanted to game the voting system would have to take part in a coordinated scheme to make even a small impact.

While some have praised O’Keefe, even calling him “brilliant,” the Justice Department was less enthusiastic.

“It’s no coincidence that these so-called examples of rampant voter fraud consistently turn out to be manufactured ones,” said a department official, who asked not to be identified.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Audit Finds $16 Muffins at Justice Department Conferences

Jupiterimages/George Doyle/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In these tough economic times when austerity and budget cuts are daily discussions in Washington, D.C., and on Main Street, the Justice Department didn’t seem to get the memo on spending  for agency-sponsored conferences, including buying $16 muffins and $10 cookies, according to a new Justice Department Inspector General audit released Tuesday.

The cost may be tough to swallow considering an Inspector General audit from 2007 found that a DOJ-sponsored conference spent almost $5 per Swedish meatball.

The review found that DOJ employees attended or participated in 1,832 conferences with a total cost of $121 million in fiscal years 2008 and 2009. The Inspector General analyzed 10 specific conferences, which cost $4.4 million.

The report revealed, “One conference served $16 muffins while another served Beef Wellington hors d’oeuvres that cost $7.32 per serving. Coffee and tea at the events cost between $0.62 and $1.03 an ounce. At the $1.03 per-ounce price, an 8-ounce cup of coffee would have cost $8.24.

“For event planning services, DOJ spent $600,000 (14 percent of costs) to hire training and technical assistance providers as external event planners for 5 of the 10 conferences reviewed.  This was done without demonstrating that these firms offered the most cost effective logistical event planning services. Further, these event planners did not accurately track and report conference expenditures,” the audit noted.

The report highlights two examples where the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) spent over $32,000 in planning meetings in Palm Springs, Calif., for two conferences.

In another instance at an Office of Violence Against Women conference, “OVW conference attendees received Cracker Jacks, popcorn, and candy bars at a single break that cost $32 per person.”

The $16 muffins were served at a conference hosted by the Executive Office for Immigration and Review (EOIR). “The EOIR spent $4,200 on 250 muffins and $2,880 on 300 cookies and brownies. By itemizing these costs, we determined that, with service and gratuity, muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each,” the audit noted.

Although the nearly $5 meatball was revealed in the 2007 audit, and new guidelines were implemented in 2008, the Inspector General concluded, “DOJ components hosting conferences in FY 2008 and FY 2009 did not adequately attempt to minimize conference costs as required by federal and DOJ guidelines.”

The Inspector General’s report made 10 recommendations to cut conference expenditures. These include reviewing hotel service charges, logistical and salaries for conference workers, and conducting cost comparisons.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Child Pornography Found on Assistant US Attorney’s Computer

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, questioned the Justice Department Thursday on why it declined to prosecute an unnamed Assistant U.S. Attorney after the department’s Inspector General (IG) found child pornography on the Attorney’s work computer.

According to the IG’s report, the Assistant U.S. Attorney acknowledged he spent a significant amount of time each day viewing pornography during work hours. The report also cited that at least one image depicting child pornography was recovered on the attorney’s government computer.

The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to prosecute the case. As of May 31, 2011, disciplinary action against the attorney was still pending, according to the report.

“As the case for disciplinary action is ‘pending’ as of May 31, 2011, this means that, at the very least, the Department of Justice has allowed an admitted serial viewer of pornography – possibly child pornography – to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney for two months, if not longer, and has yet to take action,” Grassley said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on July 7.

In 2010, Grassley learned that 33 employees at the Securities and Exchange Commission who were found to have viewed pornography during work hours were not terminated and were given uneven and light disciplinary action.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Senate Republicans Block Key Obama Nominee at Justice Department

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Republicans Monday night blocked the Obama administration’s pick to be deputy attorney general, James Cole.

Cole’s nomination to become the second-in-command to Eric Holder at the Justice Department failed to overcome the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, going down to defeat 50-40.  The only Republican to support Cole was Indiana’s Dick Lugar.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed his vote to no to allow him to bring up the nomination again at a later date.

Frustrated Democrats quickly noted that the current terrorism threat in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death demands a complete national security team.  The timing, Democrats said, makes the GOP’s historic filibuster the “wrong filibuster at the wrong time.”

“Experts and the American people believe that we are now facing a heightened terrorism threat in the wake of the raid upon Osama bin Laden’s compound," said Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy.  "Our success in protecting our nation depends on the ability of the president to rely on his national security team.  Jim Cole is a key member of that team, with a well-deserved reputation for toughness, fairness, and integrity.  He has demonstrated the leadership skills and clear-eyed focus on the mission that we need against al Qaeda,”

“This is the wrong filibuster at the wrong time, against a nominee endorsed by former Republican Sen. Jack Danforth and other Republican officials,” Leahy added.  “For the first time in history, a nominee to serve as the deputy attorney general -- a key national security position -- is facing a partisan filibuster.”

Reid said, “Republicans are blocking us from confirming the man who signs the warrants they need to hunt down terrorists.  This is not the time to play partisan games with our nation’s safety.”

Still, the GOP opposition to Cole was steadfast.  The top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, raised concerns about Cole’s time as an independent consultant to insurance giant AIG, as well as Cole’s views on combating terrorism.

Grassley added that Cole was a recess appointment by President Obama, another issue that fueled Republican opposition.

The Obama administration responded to Monday night’s Senate vote by saying it is “confident” Cole will be confirmed, but “disappointed” in Monday night’s vote.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Boehner's Marriage Act Defense: $520/Hour

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The Harvard-educated private attorney tapped by House Republicans to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court will cost taxpayers $520 per hour, according to a copy of the legal services contract reviewed by ABC News.

House Speaker John Boehner appointed Paul D. Clement, former Solicitor General for George W. Bush, to the job Monday, nearly two months after the Justice Department said its lawyers would no longer defend DOMA in court.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department concluded that laws treating gays and lesbians differently deserve a heightened form of legal scrutiny, which, in turn, would result in finding the law unconstitutional.

Under the arrangement with the U.S. House of Representatives, Clement will now be "principally responsible" for arguing on behalf of the 1996 law in at least 12 pending cases challenging its constitutionality. But a "substantial portion" of the legal work will be done by two of Clement's associates from the law firm King & Spalding, Daryl Joseffer and Jeffrey Bucholtz.

The contract says the government will not spend more than $500,000 total for all legal services performed in defense of the law. But it does not rule out a new contract if the ceiling is reached.

The cost of defending DOMA, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman for federal purposes, has drawn fire from Democrats who say Republicans are spending taxpayer dollars unnecessarily.

But Republicans insist that the Obama administration has created the predicament by not following precedent in defending an established law, whether they support it or not.

Boehner indicated in a letter Monday to Pelosi that he intends to offset the cost of a private counsel with reductions from the Justice Department's budget.

The House and Senate would have to approve any shift in appropriations. In the interim, funding will come from the House Administration Committee, Boehner said in his letter. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama Instructs Justice Department to Stop Defending DOMA

Photo Courtesy - Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which has since 1996 allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex partnerships legally recognized in other states.

The announcement was made in a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to congressional leaders in relation to two lawsuits, Pedersen v. OPM and Windsor v. United States, which challenge a section of DOMA that defines marriage for federal purposes as only between one man and one woman.

President Obama believes that section -- Section 3 -- “is unconstitutional” given the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, including its equal protection component, Holder wrote, and the president has instructed the Department of Justice to no longer defend the law in those two lawsuits.

President Obama “has made the determination,” Holder wrote, that Section 3 “as applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law, violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.”

DOMA was passed by a Republican House and Senate and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996. In application the law means same-sex couples are not afforded the same rights as straight couples when it comes to Social Security benefits, hospital visitation and other rights.

Following presidential precedent, the Obama administration has been defending the law even though President Obama has long opposed it.

But now, “under heightened scrutiny,” Holder wrote, the government’s ability to defend the law can no longer be made by “advancing hypothetical rationales, independent of the legislative record, as it has done in circuits where precedent mandates application of rational basis review.  Instead, the United States can defend Section 3 only by invoking Congress’ actual justifications for the law.”

That legislative record, Holder wrote, “contains discussion and debate that undermines any defense under heightened scrutiny.  The record contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships – precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.”

Last month, then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that “we can’t declare the law unconstitutional…The president believes, as you said, that this is a law that should not exist and should be repealed.  But we, at the same time, have to represent the viewpoint of the defendant.” Gibbs said that “given the current makeup of the Congress,” having DOMA repealed would be :inordinately challenging,”

President Obama told Holder that the executive branch of the government will continue to enforce Section 3 “consistent with the executive’s obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, unless and until Congress repeals Section 3 or the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality.  This course of action respects the actions of the prior Congress that enacted DOMA, and it recognizes the judiciary as the final arbiter of the constitutional claims raised.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. Nominated as Next Solicitor General of US Justice Dept

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The White House has nominated Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. as the next Solicitor General of the Department of Justice.  Verrilli, who currently serves as Deputy Counsel to the President, was a top contender for the job after Elena Kagan was nominated for the Supreme Court. The decision will surprise some court-watchers, however, as Neal Katyal, who has been serving as the Acting Solicitor General since Kagan’s nomination, was also a top contender for the job.

Verrilli’s nomination will require Senate confirmation.

Verrilli worked briefly for the Justice Department, and he spent 20 years as a litigator for the law firm of Jenner & Block. He has argued 12 cases in front of the Supreme Court. His most famous victory came when he represented media companies claiming that a music file-sharing service called Grokster could be sued for copyright infringement.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio