Justice Department

This Is What Eric Holder’s Legacy Will Be

The Huffington Post

Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold the top law enforcement position in the United States, announced on Thursday that he plans to step down from his position as soon as a successor can be confirmed. If he remains in office until December, Holder will become the third longest-serving Attorney General in the history of the United States. Here are some key components of his legacy.

He decided not to defend DOMA

The Obama administration initially defended the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages. At first, Holder maintained that while the administration disagreed with the law, it was the Justice Department’sresponsibility to defend the laws that Congress had passed. (Some of the briefs written by Justice Department lawyers arguing that DOMA was constitutional were considered offensive by gay rights organizations.)

But Holder’s analysis changed. He announced in February 2011 that the Justice Department would no longer defend components of the statute because DOMA “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 (Constitution’s) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed, ruling in June 2013 that key portions of DOMA were unconstitutional.

He lost the fight to bring the Sept. 11 trial out of Guantanamo Bay and into New York City

In one of the biggest disappointments of his tenure, Holder ultimately lost the fight to try the key perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks in federal court in New York City. The plan, first announced by Holder in Nov. 2009, faced stiff resistance from many politicians in New York who feared the impact a high-profile trial would have on the city. Others objected because they believed that a military commission was a more appropriate venue for the terrorism trial. Holder ultimately announced he was reversing his decision to try the cases in New York and moved them back to the military commission in Guantanamo.

While the process in Guantanamo has hit numerous roadblocks, Holder’s Justice Department has gathered a string of wins against other terror suspects in federal court. Holder has remarked that the Sept. 11 defendants “would be on death row as we speak” if the case had been allowed to proceed in federal court.

He helped turn around the Civil Rights Division and fought for voting rights

The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department was heavily politicized during the Bush administration. A 2008 inspector general report found the conservative leadership had hired lawyers with little to no civil rights experience into positions due to their ideological beliefs. The environment caused a massive exodus in the Civil Rights Division: more than 70 percent of its attorneys left between 2003 and 2007. Holder, who has long made civil rights a top priority, was widely credited with overseeing the turnaround of the division.

“I think Eric Holder put the ‘J’ back in DOJ, and in particular he restored the luster of the crown jewel which is the Civil Rights Division, and I had the privilege of having a front-row seat for that,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who headed the Civil Rights Division from 2009 to 2013, told The Huffington Post after Holder’s announcement on Thursday.

Holder oversaw several of the Justice Department’s successful voting rights lawsuits during President Barack Obama’s first term, as well as the agency’s continued efforts after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. DOJ is currently involved in several voting rights cases, including high-profile suits against voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas.

He addressed racism head on.

Shortly after his confirmation in 2009, Holder delivered a speech to Justice Department employees at an event commemorating Black History Month. In his remarks, he called out the U.S. as a “nation of cowards” when it comes to addressing race. He said Americans believe that “certain subjects are off-limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

Those words echoed throughout Holder’s tenure at the DOJ as he fought back against laws that suppressed voting and defended the Voting Rights Act. He stepped in to request federal oversight of the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-friskpolicy, a program that has overwhelmingly targeted black and Latino individuals. More recently, he ordered a civil rights investigation into the largely white police force in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson.

“Will we yet again turn a blind eye to the hard truths that Ferguson exposed?” Holder asked during a speech this week, echoing his 2009 remarks. “Or will we finally accept this mandate for open and honest dialogue?”

He oversaw a crackdown on leaks and disappointed civil liberties advocates

Under Holder, the Justice Department has aggressively — some would say obsessively — pursued government leakers. Eight have been charged with violating the draconian Espionage Act of 1917, more than under all previous administrations combined. Journalists have also come under the gun: Holder’s DOJ subpoenaed AP reporters’ phone logs in a leak investigation, named a Fox News reporter as an “un-indicted co-conspirator” in another case, and is still trying to force Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen to testify about his sources under threat of jail time.

All of that led Risen to call Holder’s boss, Obama, “the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”

One of the leakers charged, Edward Snowden, revealed another disappointment for civil liberties advocates: the DOJ’s intimate role in coming up with the legal rationale that underlies the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

The FBI’s frayed relationship with Muslim communities, meanwhile, has seen little improvement under Holder. The bureau has continued to use sting operations, which critics say are tantamount to entrapment, to arrest Muslims involved in bogus terror “plots.” And NPR reported on Wednesday that the racial profiling guidelines set to be released soon will still allow the FBI to “map” the demographics of Muslim communities.

Perhaps most worrying for many across the spectrum, it was Holder’s DOJ that came up with the “drone memos” — the legal justification that the Obama administration leaned on to kill al Qaeda propagandist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen without a trial.

He released the so-called “torture memos,” but didn’t go after their authors — Shadee

Two months after assuming office in 2009, Holder moved to publicly release a series of previously classified “torture memos” from the Bush administration that sanctioned specific acts of torture, including waterboarding, for CIA use against al Qaeda suspects.

“There is no reason we cannot wage an effective fight against those who have sworn to harm us while we respect our most honored constitutional traditions,” Holder said in March 2009 after releasing nine previously classified Justice Department memos.

Despite the release, which faced significant pushback from senior intelligence officials, the attorney general’s office never brought criminal charges against any government officials investigated for their involvements in over 100 cases of severe prisoner abuse.

While crediting Holder in other areas, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero issued a statement on Thursday noting “profound disagreements with the Attorney General on national security issues.”

“During his tenure, DOJ approved the drone killing of an American far away from any battlefield, approved the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, failed to prosecute any of the Bush administration torturers, and presided over more leak prosecutions than all previous Justice Departments combined,” Romero said.

He became the first-ever cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress

In 2012, Holder became the only sitting cabinet member in history to be held in contempt of Congress after the White House claimed executive privilege over documents subpoenaed in relation to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched federal investigation intended to combat gun smuggling. The documents that the Justice Department refused to turn over related not to the actual operation, but rather to how DOJ responded once Congress began investigating the matter.

Holder later dismissed the vote — led by the Republican-controlled House — as political theater, calling it “a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people.”

The White House also indicated in 2012 that Holder would not face any criminal charges in the matter since the documents being sought were protected by executive privilege.

He took on “draconian” drug sentences and slowly but surely scaled back the war on drugs.

In what Obama described as a “gutsy speech” in front of the American Bar Association in 2013, Holder outlined his plan for “sweeping, systemic changes” to how the Justice Department prosecutes drug-related offenses. While Holder initially faced a lot of internal resistance from career federal prosecutors as he attempted to rein in the so-called war on drugs, he pressed ahead, pushing for changes like allowing low-level and nonviolent drug offenders to avoid “draconian” mandatory minimum sentences and permitting the early release of some elderly defendants.

He continued to push for sentencing reform in March, lending his support to aproposal that would reduce penalties for some drug offenders and help cut prison costs.

“This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable, it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate,” he said.

Holder has also urged first responders to carry the heroin overdose antidote naloxone.

He oversaw a crackdown on marijuana shops, but allowed state legalization to move forward

During the first term of the Obama administration, Holder oversaw an expansive federal crackdown on hundreds of state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries in states like Colorado and California, which was spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Agency and several U.S. attorneys.

But in a historic step, Holder announced in 2013 that DOJ would allow for Colorado and Washington to implement their groundbreaking new laws legalizing and regulating the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana.

While Holder never explicitly came out in favor of legalization or decriminalization, he has been more open to rescheduling marijuana, which is still classified by the federal government as a Schedule I substance like heroin. Holder said the Obama administration would be “more than glad” to work with Congress to re-examine how cannabis is scheduled federally. He even said in April that he’s “cautiously optimistic”about how the historic changes in marijuana law were working out in Washington and Colorado.

And now, as he plans to step down from his post, he appears to be more open than ever to the possibility of classifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug. He said in an interview just this week that “we need to ask ourselves, whether or not marijuana is as serious of a drug as heroin” adding that science should be used to make that determination.

He reached big settlements on pollution cases

The DOJ reached a record $4 billion settlement with BP in November 2012 over criminal charges stemming from the 2010 oil spill, which dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That included charges related to the deaths of 11 workers on the rig and the “misconduct or neglect of ships’ officers.” The DOJ is still pursuing civil charges related to the spill, but the agency recently scored a big win when a federal judge ruled that BP was grossly negligent in allowing the spill to occur — a ruling that opens the door to up to $18 billion in civil penalties that could be levied against the company.

The DOJ topped its own record fine this year, however, with a $5.15 billion settlementin April 2014 with Anadarko Petroleum over a decades-long legacy of pollution left by one of its subsidiaries.

He failed to hold Wall Street accountable for the financial crisis

Holder’s legacy is likely to be marred by what critics view as DOJ’s lax approach to investigating and prosecuting the alleged crimes that sparked, or exacerbated, the 2007-09 financial crisis.

Few Wall Street firms, and even fewer senior financial executives, were officially charged with breaking the law for conduct related to the crisis, despite what experts contend is a wealth of evidence — thanks to civil lawsuits brought by aggrieved investors, prior investigations by state authorities, and probes by Congress and the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission — that at the very least should have prompted the Justice Department to investigate further.

Holder’s approach to crisis-era wrongdoing stands in stark contrast to the playbook followed by federal prosecutors contending with the fallout of the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s and early 90s.

“In striking contrast with these past prosecutions, not a single high-level executive has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears likely that none will be,” Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan wrote earlier this year in the New York Review of Books.

The lack of public evidence that Holder’s Justice Department thoroughly investigated crisis-era wrongdoing has contributed to the perception — one eagerly promoted by the defense bar — that perhaps few crimes were even committed in the runup to the financial crisis.

“But if, by contrast, the Great Recession was in material part the product of intentional fraud,” Rakoff wrote, “the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years.”

10 things you need to know today: September 26, 2014

Eric Holder tears up as he steps down.

Eric Holder tears up as he steps down. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Week

Eric Holder resigns, Iraq warns of a possible terrorist plot to attack U.S. subways, and more

1. Eric Holder is resigning as head of the Justice Department
Attorney General Eric Holder, a leading liberal voice in the Obama administration and the first African-American in the powerful post, is resigning, the Justice Department announced Thursday. Holder has been a driving force behind the administration’s support for same-sex marriage and protecting voting rights. That record, along with controversies such as the so-called Fast and Furious gun trafficking scandal, have made him a focus of conservative ire. He will stay on the job until his replacement — whom President Obama has not picked yet — is confirmed. [The New York Times]

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2. Iraqi prime minister warns of alleged plot to attack U.S. subways
Authorities in New York City increased police patrols on Thursday after Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said his country’s intelligence network had uncovered a terrorist plot to attack subways in the U.S. and Paris. U.S. security officials said, however, that they were not aware of any credible evidence of a scheme to carry out such an attack. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio boarded city subways to show the added police presence would ensure riders’ safety. [The Associated Press]

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3. Ferguson police chief apologizes to Michael Brown’s parents
Ferguson, Missouri, Police Chief Tom Jackson tried late Thursday to join a march of people protesting the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by one of his police officers in August, but his presence set off scuffles and several arrests. Hours earlier, Jackson had released avideo apology to the Brown family, saying he was “truly sorry” for their child’s death. The killing touched off weeks of unrest, after witnesses said Brown had his hands up when he was shot. [NBC News, The Christian Science Monitor]

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4. Investigators reportedly have identified ISIS killer in beheading videos
FBI Director James Comey said Thursday that intelligence officials had identified the masked, knife-wielding ISIS militant who has been seen in videos of the beheadings of three hostages — including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff — kidnapped in Syria. Comey declined to reveal the man’s identity. A European government source said the man, who spoke English with a British accent, appeared to be from a community of Asian immigrants in London. [Reuters]

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5. Three NYC firefighters who breathed WTC dust die of cancer hours apart
Three retired New York City firefighters died within hours of each other this week from illnesses believed linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Daniel Heglund, 58, Robert Leaver, 56, and Howard Bischoff, 58, suffered from cancer, and died on Monday. Ninety-two emergency workers involved in the rescue and then recovery efforts have died in the years since. Hundreds more continue to suffer from respiratory problems after inhaling dust and smoke at the scene. [CNN]

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6. Detroit elected officials regain control over their broke city’s daily operations
Detroit’s City Council unanimously voted Thursday to return oversight of the financially strapped city’s daily operations to elected officials. Under the plan, a state-appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, would retain control over issues connected to Detroit’s bankruptcy case, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Orr already has been gradually returning financial authority to Detroit’s elected leaders. His 18-month contract ends this weekend. [Detroit Free Press]

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7. British lawmakers expected to approve airstrikes against ISIS
British Parliament is expected to approve Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to join the U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes against ISIS militants in Iraq. Lawmakers are meeting in a specially convened session to consider the matter on Friday. Cameron moved carefully after lawmakers rejected airstrikes against Syrian government forces last year, a humiliating political defeat, but leaders across the political spectrum say Cameron has broad support to bomb the Islamist militant group. [NBC News]

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8. Obama approving huge expansion of Pacific marine reserve
President Obama plans to create the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve, Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Thursday. The reserve, which Obama would establish using his executive authority, would protect some of the central Pacific Ocean’s coral reefs and other marine ecosystems that are among the “most vulnerable” to climate change, Kerry said during a meeting on preserving the world’s oceans. Obama’s move will expand the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument from 87,000 square miles to more than 490,000. [The Washington Post]

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9. Thirty states could soon have gas prices below $3 a gallon
The price of gasoline could fall below $3 per gallon in 30 states by the end of the year, according to a forecast from GasBuddy.com. Prices typically dip in autumn, and this year the trend is being magnified by falling fuel prices worldwide. The national average has already dropped to $3.35 per gallon, which is almost its lowest point this year and a dime below the same time last year. [The Associated Press]

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10. Jeter bats in the winning run in his last game at Yankee Stadium
New York Yankees star Derek Jeter smacked the game-winning hit in the final inning of the final home game of his 20-year career on Thursday night. The 6-5 victory against the Baltimore Orioles was Jeter’s 1,627th regular-season win in a Yankee uniform. Jeter called his final hit — his 3,463rd — “an out-of-body experience.” Next, Jeter will join the team for a season-ending series in Boston, but only as a designated hitter. “I’ve played shortstop my entire career,” he said, “and the last time I wanted to play was tonight.” [The New York Times]

Attorney General Eric Holder to step down

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a Sept. 4 news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

This is sad news for many people who thought AG Holder was a fine Attorney General…

The Washington Post

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., an original member of President Obama’s Cabinet, plans to leave the post as soon as a successor is confirmed.

President Obama will make an announcement about Holder later Thursday, according to White House officials.

“After serving for nearly six years as the head of the Justice Department, Holder is the first African American to be Attorney General of the United States and will be the fourth longest person to hold the position,” said a White House official, who asked not to be identified because the announcement had not been made yet.

“Holder’s accomplishments have established a historic legacy of civil rights enforcement and restoring fairness to the criminal justice system. Holder revitalized the Department’s praised Civil Rights Division, protected the rights of the LGBT community, successfully prosecuted terrorists, and fought tirelessly for voting rights, to name a few. He will remain at the Department of Justice until his post is filled.”

When Holder would leave office has been one of Washington’s great guessing games. He has had a combative relationship with congressional Republicans.

NPR first reported the news of Holder’s departure late Thursday morning.

Here Are the Police Practices the Justice Department Wants to Investigate in Ferguson

Attorney General Eric Holder is launching an investigation into the conduct and practices of the Ferguson, Mo., police department. | EPA

National Journal

The probe will examine the local police department’s use of deadly force and protocols for stops, searches, and arrests.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the Justice Department will open a civil-rights investigation of the Ferguson Police Department following weeks of protest in response to the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old.

The Justice Department will probe documented allegations of police misconduct, as well as an alleged history of racial discrimination, to determine whether Ferguson officers have violated federal civil-rights laws.

Holder met with officials and members of the community in Ferguson last month, when the St. Louis suburb was in the midst of protests for the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown.

“People consistently expressed concerns stemming from specific alleged incidents from general policing practices and from the lack of diversity on the Ferguson police force,” Holder said Thursday. “These anecdotal accounts underscore the history of mistrust of law enforcement in Ferguson that has received a good deal of attention.”

Holder said Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, and other city officials have pledged their cooperation in the investigation. The probe, he said, will “assess the police department’s use of force, deadly force. It will analyze stops, searches, and arrests. And it will examine the treatment of individuals detained at Ferguson’s city jail, in addition to other potentially discriminatory policing techniques and tactics that have been brought to light.”

Other police departments that were involved in handling the protests last month may not be immune from the Justice Department’s scrutiny, Holder said. “If at any point we find reason to expand our inquiry to include additional police forces in neighboring jurisdictions, we will not hesitate to do so.”

Holder also announced Thursday that the Justice Department will work with the St. Louis County Police Department in a “collaborative reform effort,” a comprehensive review of policies and training practices. The department was pulled off the scene in Ferguson just days after protests began, due to heavy-handed crowd-control tactics that included the use of tear gas and military-style equipment.

A separate Justice Department probe is looking into the events of Aug. 9 to determine whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown, violated Brown’s civil rights.

The Justice Department investigations will unfold parallel to an FBI civil-rights probe launched just days after Brown’s death. At the same time, a grand jury in St. Louis County is hearing the details of the case, but the jury will likely not decide whether to bring charges against Wilson until mid-October.

10 things you need to know today: September 4, 2014

President Obama chats with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the NATO summit. 

President Obama chats with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the NATO summit. (AP Images/Charles Dharapak)

The Week

The Justice Department investigates Ferguson police practices, NATO leaders meet with Ukraine’s president, and more

1. Justice Department inquiry will focus on Ferguson police practices
The Justice Department is expected to announce as early as Thursday that it is launching a civil rights investigation into the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, last month. Some witnesses said Brown had his hands up, but the officer said Brown rushed him. The killing set off weeks of unrest in Ferguson, a predominantly African-American suburb of St. Louis. The investigation will cover training, the use of force, and other practices. [Los Angeles Times]

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2. NATO opens a summit focusing on the Ukraine crisis
NATO leaders are starting a two-day summit in Wales on Thursday where they will mull bolstering their support for Ukraine in its battle against Russian-backed separatists. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was expected to meet with President Obama and several European leaders before the summit begins to repeat his call for arms and other support, and possibly rekindle his controversial bid to join NATO. Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a peace plan Wednesday that essentially entrenches rebel gains. [Reuters, The Washington Post]

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3. Judge upholds Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage ban
A federal judge upheld Louisiana’s gay marriage ban on Wednesday, interrupting a courtroom winning streak for advocates of same-sex marriage. State officials named in the lawsuit said they were pleased with the ruling, but lawyers representing the seven same-sex couples who challenged the ban said they would appeal. Before Wednesday’s ruling, courts had ruled in favor of gay marriage more than 20 times since the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act last year. [New Orleans Times-Picayune]

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4. Democratic candidate quits Kansas Senate race
Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out of the election for U.S. Senate in Kansas on Wednesday, leaving his party with no candidate in the race. The unexpected move could improve Democrats’ goal of ousting incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, however, because it will let independent candidate Greg Orman to challenge Roberts head-on in November. Orman, whom Roberts’ campaign manager calls a “closet Democrat,” led Roberts 43 percent to 33 percent in a head-to-head race in an August poll by Public Policy Polling. [The Wichita Eagle]

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5. Al Qaeda launches a jihadi offshoot in India
Al Qaeda has launched a new branch in India, the terror group’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, said in a video posted online Wednesday. He said the new offshoot, Qaedat al Jihad, would fight to return Islam “to the Indian subcontinent, which was part of the Muslim world before it was invaded.” India put four heavily Muslim states mentioned in the 55-minute video on alert. The push comes as al Qaeda faces increasing competition for recruits and funding with the rise of the rival extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. [The Associated Press]

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6. Tesla reportedly has chosen Nevada for its battery “Gigafactory”
Electric-carmaker Tesla Motors is expected to announce Thursday that it has chosen to build a massive new battery in Nevada following a five-state competition. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said in the past that the winning state would have to provide $400 million in tax incentives. The so-called Gigafactory will make batteries for the next generation of Tesla vehicles, but it will be big enough to supply other companies, too. Tesla and partner Panasonic plan to spend up to $5 billion on the facility. [USA Today]

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7. Bloomberg returns to his old job at the company
Michael Bloomberg is returning to run the company he founded, Bloomberg LP, eight months after stepping down as New York City’s mayor. The financial data and media firm announced that Bloomberg, who is still the majority shareholder, would replace CEO Dan Doctoroff at the end of the year. Doctoroff, one of Bloomberg’s former deputy mayors, became CEO in July 2011. The move was unexpected because the 72-year-old billionaire had said he would concentrate on philanthropy after leaving politics. [New York Daily News]

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8. Sotloff’s family breaks its silence on his murder
The family of slain journalist Steven Sotloff said through a spokesman Wednesday that he was no “war junkie,” just a man who “wanted to give voice to those who had none.” The spokesman, Barak Barfi, said at the Florida news conference that Sotloff’s killers could not “hold us hostage with the one weapon they possess: fear.” Then, speaking in Arabic, he challenged the leader of the group that beheaded Sotloff — the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — to debate the tenets of Islam. [ABC News]

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9. Andrew Madoff, son of convicted swindler, dies
Andrew Madoff, who was the last surviving son of imprisoned swindler Bernard Madoff, died Wednesday at a New York City hospital where he was being treated for cancer. He was 48. Andrew and his older brother Mark — who hung himself two years after his father’s arrest — were the ones who alerted federal agents that their father had confessed to them that his investment business was actually a gigantic Ponzi scheme. Andrew, who worked for his father, called the swindle a “father-son betrayal of biblical proportions.” [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

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10. Perez and Wallace join The View
The View has picked actress and activist Rosie Perez and political commentator Nicole Wallace as the final two hosts for the coming season, which debuts Sept. 15. The pair will join Rosie O’Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg, the only host returning after a house-cleaning at the ABC talk show. Perez said she was “beyond thrilled, honored, and completely surprised.” Wallace, who served as communications chief during George W. Bush’s presidency, called the news “both humbling and incredibly exciting.” [USA Today]

These 7 GOP Governors Are Refusing to Crack Down on Prison Rape. Now the Obama Administration Is Calling Them Out

Андрей Бортников/Shutterstock

 

Mother Jones

Seven states, all led by Republican governors, are defying a federal law aimed at cracking down on the nationwide epidemic of prison rape—and on Wednesday, the Obama administration started calling them out.

The law in question, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President George W. Bush in 2003. In 2012, after years of study by a bipartisan federal commission, President Barack Obama’s Justice Department finalized the law’s requirements, and gave states about two years to start trying to comply. Forty-three states did. But today, nearly two weeks after the May 15 deadline, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, and Florida are still not complying with the law—and several GOP governors say they’re ignoring the law on purpose.

So far, at least five Republican governors have notified the Justice Department that they aren’t going to try to meet the new prison-rape reduction rules. The mandatory standards, “work only to bind the states, and hinder the evolution of even better and safer practices,” Indiana Governor Mike Pence wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder on May 15. Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter​ missed the deadline, then wrote a letter to the administration complaining the law had “too much red tape.” And in a letter dated March 28, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, called the law “counterproductive” and “unnecessarily cumbersome.” The prison rape rules “appear to have been created in a vacuum with little regard for input from those who daily operate state prisons and local jails,​” Perry wrote.

Otter, Pence, Perry, and the other GOP governors opposing the prison-rape reduction are a minority in their own party: More than 20 other Republican governors have embraced the new rules. And Perry is wrong: The rules, which have been under development for years, weren’t created without input from prison operators. The commission that studied the prison rape issue included Gus Puryear​ , who, at the time, was executive vice president for the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest owner and operator of private detention facilities; James Aiken, who had more than 33 years in managing and assessing correctional facilities; and a federal judge first appointed by George W. Bush.

Under the law, prisons are required to maintain a “zero-tolerance policy” regarding sexual abuse, perform background checks on prospective staff, prevent juveniles from being housed with adult inmates, provide external and anonymous channels for prisoners to report sexual abuse, and provide physical and mental health care to victims. Facilities must be audited every three years, and states that don’t comply are subject to a 5 percent reduction in federal funds.

An estimated 4 percent of state and federal prison inmates and over 3 percent of jail inmates reported experiencing at least one sexual assault in the previous year, according to the Justice Department. “No one should be subjected to sexual abuse while in the custody of our justice system,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole ​said at a press conference on Wednesday. “It serves as a violation of fundamental rights, an attack on human dignity and runs contrary to everything we stand for as a nation…. Jurisdictions that do not comply with the standards… will be held accountable.”

10 things you need to know today: May 20, 2014

Wanted.

Wanted. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The Week

The U.S. accuses Chinese officials of hacking, a judge throws out Oregon’s gay marriage ban, and more

1. Justice Department files hacking charges against five Chinese military officials
Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday announced that the Justice Department was charging five members of the Chinese military with cyberespionage for allegedly hacking American corporate computer systems to steal secrets and pass them on to Chinese competitors. Holder said the case represented “the first ever charges against a state actor for this type of hacking.” China said the accusations were “purely ungrounded and absurd.” [U.S. News & World Report]

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2. Judge throws out Oregon’s gay marriage ban
A federal judge ruled Monday that Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said the policy, defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, violated the Constitution’s guarantee that all Americans will be treated equally under the law. Within an hour of McShane’s ruling, 23 same-sex couples waiting inside the building hadobtained marriage licenses. [The Christian Science Monitor]

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3. U.S. considers evacuating embassy in Libya
The Pentagon is preparing to evacuate the U.S. embassy in Libya, as fierce fighting rages between forces loyal to renegade general Khalifa Haftar and Islamist militiamen. Washington is monitoring the situation in the capital city of Tripoli “minute by minute, hour by hour,” a defense official told CNN on Monday. The commander of the Libyan army’s special forces said Monday that he joined Haftar’s supporters, hampering government efforts to regain control. [CNNReuters]

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4. Abu Hamza convicted on terrorism charges
Radical Islamic cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, also known as Abu Hamza, was convicted Monday on 11 terrorism charges. Mustafa, who preached incendiary sermons in the U.K., including one praising the Sept. 11 hijackers, was charged with helping set up the violent 1998 kidnappings of 16 American, British, and Australian tourists in Yemen, and trying to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon, among other charges. He could face life in prison. [BBC NewsThe New York Times]

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5. Credit Suisse pleads guilty to helping clients avoid taxes
Swiss bank Credit Suisse pleaded guilty on Monday to criminal conspiracy for helping wealthy American clients evade income taxes for decades. The financial giant — the largest to plead guilty in such a case in 20 years — agreed to pay $2.6 billion in penalties. A dozen other Swiss banks are also under investigation. [USA Today]

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6. Thai military declares martial law
The Thai army imposed martial law on Tuesday to restore order after six months of anti-government protests and a court ruling removing embattled prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and several cabinet ministers. Army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha called on rival political factions to resolve the political crisis. He said the move was not a coup, but that martial law would remain in effect until “peace and order” were restored. [BBC News]

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7. New Hampshire town official quits after calling Obama the “N” word
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, police commissioner Robert Copeland, who provoked an outcry by publicly using a racial epithet to refer to President Obama, has resigned, Police Commission Chairman Joe Balboni said Monday. Copeland resigned in a curt email to Balboni. He has refused to apologize, saying he was “not phobic.” A hundred people attended a commission meeting last week, many demanding Copeland’s resignation. [New Hampshire Union Leader]

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8. Moscow orders Russian soldiers away from Ukraine border, again
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday ordered soldiers back to their bases after exercises near the Ukraine border. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the same order Monday. World leaders were not impressed, saying Putin had promised to pull back before but had not done it. NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said removing Russian troops would be the first step toward deescalating Ukraine’s political crisis. [Reuters]

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9. The CIA promises not to disguise spy work as health programs
The Central Intelligence Agency has vowed never again to use an immunization project as cover for its operations, as it did three years ago in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, a White House spokesperson said Monday. The deans of 12 public health schools wrote to President Obama last year to protest the CIA’s bin Laden investigation in Pakistan, masked as a hepatitis vaccination campaign, saying it had a chilling effect on health programs. [The Washington Post]

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10. NBA formally charges Sterling with harming the league
The National Basketball Association on Monday formally charged longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling with damaging the basketball league with racist remarks. NBA officials gave Sterling, 80, until May 27 to respond to the charge and set a June 3 hearing for the NBA Board of Governors, where the other 29 team owners could vote to remove him. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has already banned Sterling for life. [Reuters]

Fed’s Halt Return of Zimmerman’s Gun

ABC News

George Zimmerman can’t get back the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin, but nothing is keeping him from purchasing another gun if he wants, Florida police said today.

Federal and local authorities said plans to return Zimmerman’s Kel Tec 9 pistol were put on hold after the Department of Justice announced a new investigation to determine whether Zimmerman violated 17-year-old Martin’s civil rights.

“The Department of Justice put a hold on all of the evidence in the case. The evidence will not be returned until such time as they release the hold,” said Sanford Police spokesman James McAuliffe.

McAuliffe, however, told ABC News that there is nothing legally preventing Zimmerman, who was acquitted in Martin’s murder on Saturday, from purchasing a new firearm.

“I do not believe that there is” any legal reason Zimmerman would not be able to purchase another gun, McAuliffe said.

Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury of six women who found he acted in self-defense when he shot the unarmed teenager in February 2012.

The verdict produced an outcry ranging from Martin’s parents to protests in cities across the country. Zimmerman, 29, immediately went into hiding following the verdict.

On Sunday, Zimmerman’s lawyer Mark O’Mara said Zimmerman was entitled to get the gun back and needed it “even more” than before his acquittal, given the controversy surrounding the case and frequent threats to his life.

“I think that he feels truly in his heart that if he did not have that weapon that night he might not be here…. [He] would have continued to get beat even though he was screaming for help,” O’Mara told ABC News in an exclusive interview last week.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder called Martin’s death “unnecessary” and vowed to proceed with a federal case.

Zimmerman’s attorney was travelling and not available for comment on the decision to retain all evidence pending DOJ orders. Zimmerman’s brother, Robert, also declined to talk about the gun.

GOP Rep To Zimmerman Demonstrators: ‘Get Over It’

I’m certain this politician believes what he’s saying.  However, in my opinion he hasn’t a clue what tens of thousands of people across the nation are feeling.

Then again as a Tea Party member or sympathizer (see photo) he probably just doesn’t give a damn…

The Huffington Post.

Shortly following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who fatally shot unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in 2012, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) offered his advice for listeners displeased with the jury’s verdict.

“Get over it,” the congressman said during a Tuesday appearance on WMAL’s “Mornings on the Mall” radio show.

Harris had joined the program to discuss the Affordable Care Act and impending votes in Congress, but the conversation shifted to Zimmerman, who was found not guilty in the 2012 shooting on Saturday.

When asked if he’d been following the heavily publicized courtroom drama, Harris denounced the media frenzy surrounding the case, expressing frustration that “with all the huge issues going on in the world, with unrest in the Middle East, [the public eye is] hung up on this one case where this one fellow was in fact found not guilty by a jury. That’s the way the American law system works,” he said. “Get over it.”

As the high profile case dominated the airwaves, many caught in its emotionally charged aftermath argued that merely “getting over it” is not an option.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, has urged citizens “on the side of truth and progress” to take part in nationwide demonstrations on Saturday in an effort to spur a federal investigation of Zimmerman.

“Trayvon had undeniable civil rights that are to be protected under the laws of this nation,” Sharpton said. “We must fight for those rights because he no longer can.”

During his WMAL appearance, however, Harris argued that intervention by the Department of Justice would be “purely political,” and would require lawmakers to “look at ways to rein in the Justice Department.”

“To consider going after a person who, under our system, has been found not guilty, is incredulous,” he said.

Why Are Homeowners Being Jailed for Demanding Wall Street Prosecutions?

That’s an excellent question…

Rolling Stone Magazine

Bankers go free while cops tase peaceful protesters and the Department of Justice targets journalists

A two-day long housing protest outside the Department of Justice this week has resulted in nearly 30 arrests and several instances of law enforcement unnecessarily using tasers on activists, according to eye-witnesses. The action – which was organized by a coalition of housing advocacy groups, including the Home Defenders League and Occupy Our Homes – called for Attorney General Eric Holder to begin prosecutions against the bankers who created the foreclosure crisis.

“Everyone here is fed up with Holder acknowledging big banks did really bad stuff but [saying] they’re too big to jail,” says Greg Basta, deputy director of New York Communities for Change, who helped organize the event. Holder has previously suggested that prosecuting large banks would be difficult because it could destabilize the economy. The attorney general recently tried to walk those comments back – but the conspicuous lack of criminal prosecutions of bankers tells another story, one thatRolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi has written about extensively.

Gangster Bankers: Too Big To Jail

Alexis Goldstein, a former Wall Street employee and current Occupy Wall Street activist who was also at the event on Monday, agrees. “I want Eric Holder to uphold the rule of law, regardless of how much power the criminal has,” says Goldstein. She says the lack of criminal prosecutions has created a “culture of immunity” that only gets further entrenched by the small settlements that banks now consider a cost of doing business. “There’s no risk,” she says, adding that the DOJ is effectively “incentivizing breaking the law.”

Around 400 homeowners and 100 supporters took part in Monday’s actions outside the DOJ, according to Basta. One of them was Vera Johnson, of Seattle. “I’ve been dealing with foreclosure issues for three years,” says Johnson, just minutes after being released from the jail where she was held for over 24 hours for participating in this peaceful protest. Bank of America recently granted Johnson a loan modification after the media picked up on a Change.org petition that she started to save her home; this reprieve turned out to be a time bomb, as her rates were set to return to their original levels after four years. It’s an all too common story, and Johnson went to Washington, D.C. to “join in solidarity” with others in similar situations.

Many of this week’s protesters have been black and Latino homeowners, who were hit particularly hard by the foreclosure crisis. Mildred Garrison-Obi – a black woman from Stone Mountain, Georgia – was evicted from her home in 2012, though with the help of Occupy Our Homes she was able to return to it after four months of facing homelessness. “It was devastating,” says Garrison-Obi, who was arrested today in a related action held outside of a law firm where Holder was once a partner. “But I’m not alone.”

Activists note with dismay that the government has been significantly harder on people who stage nonviolent demonstrations against Wall Street than it has on the crooked bankers responsible for the housing crisis. Goldstein and Basta both say they witnessed law enforcement using tasers on multiple protesters this week. Johnson says that several hours before her arrest, as she and others sat on planter boxes outside the DOJ, a Department of Homeland Security officer asked, “Do you want to get arrested?” and then, “Do you want to get tased?” Later, when she refused to unlock her arms with another protester after three warnings – hardly a violent act or a threat to public safety – she says she was tased from behind on her left arm. She turned around to see the same officer, who she recalls telling her, “That’s what you get.”

Carmen Pittman, an activist with Occupy Our Homes in Atlanta, suffered similar treatment at this week’s protests. In video footage of her arrest, Pittman appears to have her arms interlocked with another protester.

Continue reading here…