From the Washington Times
House committee suspects ‘Fast and Furious' cover-up
Answers may be in 1,300 pages it wants
by Jerry Seper
The House committee investigating Fast and Furious has received more than 7,600 documents from the Justice Department, but Republican lawmakers say none addresses who approved the gunrunning probe, who failed to stop it before a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed and why department officials initially lied to Congress about it.
Now the panel has its sights set on an additional 1,300 pages of documents it believes will answer those questions and also expose a political cover-up at Justice.
Nevertheless, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's quest for records got more complicated this week when President Obama asserted executive privilege and refused to turn them over — and the committee in turn voted to recommend holding Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress .
Together, they are the crux of what has become the biggest separation-of-powers battle of the Obama administration .
House Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday that the president's play proves the White House was involved in the cover-up.
“The decision to invoke executive privilege is an admission that White House officials were involved in decisions that misled the Congress and have covered up the truth,” the Ohio Republican told reporters. “So what is the Obama administration hiding in Fast and Furious?”
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the House committee 's investigation and its party-line vote on Wednesday for a contempt of Congress citation a “fishing expedition,” adding that it was “unnecessary and unworthy of Congress .”
Mr. Carney said Justice has “provided Congress every document” that pertains to the Fast and Furious operation itself.
“Hogwash,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee who first began the Fast and Furious probe. “Through my investigation, I know there are reams of documents related to the ‘operation itself' that the Justice Department has refused to turn over to Congress.”
According to the committee, it has “not only a right, but an obligation” to do all it can to examine the department's suspected mismanagement in its response to the unusual program that put thousands of guns in the hands of Mexico 's violent drug cartels.
The committee said it is concerned about and wants to see documents outlining continued complaints by whistleblowers that they faced retaliation after testifying about the program; allegations by the former acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ( ATF ) that Justice Department officials sought to protect political appointees; and the nine-month delay before the department formally withdrew its false denial to Congress about allowing guns to flow over the border to Mexico .
In a Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Mr. Grassley , Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said the department did not allow guns to be “walked” to drug smugglers in Mexico during Fast and Furious.
Mr. Weich , who resigned last week, said whistleblower accusations that ATF allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them to Mexico were “false,” adding that the agency “makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation into Mexico .”
The Justice Department retracted that letter in December, with Mr. Holder saying Mr. Weich did not know the information he had provided was inaccurate. In a Dec. 2 letter, the department formally withdrew the Weich denial and acknowledged that Fast and Furious was “fundamentally flawed.”
Refused a subpoena
The Justice Department has taken the position that it will not share internal deliberations related to Fast and Furious that occurred after the Weich letter. In March, Mr. Weich refused a congressional subpoena for Fast and Furious documents, saying the department was concerned that information in them had been and would be released to the media. He said news stories at the time “impeded the department's efforts to hold individuals accountable for their illegal acts.”
The department also maintains that the program was created by an ATF regional office to see whether it could track weapons illegally sold in the U.S. to drug smugglers in Mexico . Eighteen months ago — well into the operation — weapons purchased by straw buyers in Fast and Furious were found at the site of the shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry.
But the committee, according to a May 3 memo, does not believe Fast and Furious was “a local effort,” describing it as the Justice Department 's “flagship arms trafficking investigation for a year and a half.” The memo said the department's Washington headquarters approved it as part of its Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program that put it under the control of the Arizona U.S. attorney's office.
The memo said the OCDETF designation meant Fast and Furious was able to use advanced investigative techniques, such as wiretaps, which by law required senior department officials in Washington to review operational details.
The committee also has said that some senior Justice Department officials helped write the Feb. 4, 2011, Weich letter but later had to acknowledge that they did know about gunwalking — although not the critical details about the gunwalking that took place in Fast and Furious.
“These denials are peculiar because top officials across the Justice Department received briefings on Operation Fast and Furious that included both information on surveillance techniques and the fact that hundreds of weapons were turning up at crime scenes in Mexico,” the memo said.
Tom Fitton, president of Washington-based Judicial Watch, a watchdog group that has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against ATF for Fast and Furious documents, said the committee 's contempt citation “clearly lays out that Congress wants to know what the Obama administration knew and when it knew it about Fast and Furious.
“There is no evidence that [Rep. Darrell E.] Issa wants to mess up any criminal investigation,” Mr. Fitton said. “The only criminal investigation the Obama gang is worried about is the potential one over Mr. Holder 's contempt.”
‘In my wildest dreams'
With regard to Fast and Furious, a veteran ATF agent may have put it best when he was asked about the operation during a House hearing in October: “Never in my wildest dreams ever,” he said, would he have thought that law enforcement authorities would allow guns to be provided to Mexican criminals.
“It infuriates me that people, including my law enforcement, diplomatic and military colleagues, may be killed or injured with these weapons,” ATF Agent Carlos Canino angrily told the committee . “Walking guns,” he said, was not a recognized investigative technique, adding that hundreds of weapons ultimately went to ruthless criminals in Mexico .
Mr. Canino was among several ATF agents in Mexico who were never told about Fast and Furious and learned about it when hundreds of weapons began to flood into that country from gun shops in Phoenix. Because they were “increasingly concerned and alarmed,” Agent Olindo James Casa told the committee , they took the matter to their bosses, but to no avail.
Instead, they received an email they regarded as a “direct threat to the agents who were not in agreement” on how the operation should be run.
“It may sound cheesy, but we are ‘The tip of the ATF spear' when it comes to Southwest border firearms trafficking. I will be damned if this case is going to suffer due to petty arguing, rumors or other adolescent behavior,” wrote ATF Group VII Strike Force Supervisor David J. Voth , who oversaw the Fast and Furious operation. “If you don't think this is fun, you're in the wrong line of work — period!”
“This is the pinnacle of domestic U.S. law enforcement techniques. After this, the toolbox is empty,” he wrote on March 12, 2010. “Maybe the Maricopa County Jail is hiring detention officers, and you get paid $30,000 (instead of $100,000) to serve lunch to inmates all day. We need to get over this bump in the road once and for all and get on with the mission at hand. This can be the most fun you have with ATF, the only one limiting the amount of fun we have is you!”
In his email, Mr. Voth told the agents that “close attention” was being paid to Fast and Furious by “people of rank and authority” at ATF headquarters in Washington.
Central America next drug hot spot
Efforts in Mexico, Colombia said to be working for U.S.
by Guy Taylor
A State Department official this week compared the war on drugs in Latin America to baseball games, in which the United States is winning in Colombia, leading in Mexico and just coming to bat in Central America, where there are too many umpires.
“In Colombia , we are in the ninth inning,” said William R. Brownfield , head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs . “The score is 10-to-1, the Colombian government is winning. The game isn't over yet, but they're already starting to celebrate in the stands.”
“In Mexico, we're in the sixth inning. The Mexican government has taken the lead,” he said. “It's still a very tight game.”
He said the Mexican government , with strong U.S. aid, has “steady pitching” and a “deep and powerful bullpen.”
However, the drug war is just beginning in Central America, and the United States is facing new challenges dealing with seven different governments in that region, he said.
Mr. Brownfield's analogy reflects what some believe to be a tough game in which U.S. authorities shift funding and resources to new areas of an elusive and evolving drug war in Latin America.
Funding for programs in Colombia and Mexico is on the decline.
In Central America, the State Department, Pentagon and Justice Department are ramping up spending for everything from base construction and police and prosecutor training programs to direct drug-trafficking interdiction efforts.
The State Department's annual budget for a program known as the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) has more than doubled during the past five years.
Roberta A. Jacobson , assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, who appeared with Mr. Brownfield at a special briefing on the initiative, said CARSI funding likely will reach $135 million in 2012.
That is still less than a third of the $1.6 billion spent on programs in Mexico during the same period. But Mrs. Jacobson said lessons learned in Mexico and Colombia are making the implementation of the initiative in Central America more effective and cost-efficient.
“We ensure that the U.S. taxpayers in some respects get even more support for their buck having invested so much in Colombia and now in Mexico,” she said.
“Seeing those lessons and experience transfer to the rest of the hemisphere is [a] huge benefit of our investment in those countries.”
Analysts, meanwhile, are not convinced that success has been achieved in Colombia or Mexico.
U.S.-backed crackdowns on drug smugglers appear to have helped stem the flow of U.S.-bound cocaine. Total seizures in the U.S. fell from 221.5 tons in 2005 to 120 tons in 2009 , suggesting “the availability of cocaine in the United States has stabilized at a reduced level,” according to the U.N.'s 2011 World Drug Report.
But the same period saw violence and murder rates soar in Mexico, turning entire regions of the nation into havens of unchecked criminal activity.
Drug production appears to be on the rise.
Marijuana and opium cultivation in rural Mexico has expanded “significantly,” according to an August 2011 report by the Congressional Research Service.
“In 2009, estimated marijuana production in Mexico rose to [43,000 acres], a 45 percent increase over 2008 and the highest level recorded since 1992,” the report said.
Similar statistics hang over Colombia, where the United States spent about $7 billion supporting a drug war during the early 2000s that included widespread aerial crop-eradication campaigns.
In Latin America, Colombia remains the No. 1 cultivator of coca, the essential ingredient in cocaine, according to a 2011 report by the International Narcotics Control Board, an independent monitoring organization tied the United Nations.
Coca production also has increased in neighboring Peru.
“If you're defining your game as reducing cocaine in Colombia, you're probably still in the sixth inning, and you may be playing the wrong game,” said Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at the Washington Office on Latin America.
Mr. Brownfield's optimism toward Mexico may also be premature, said Michael Shifter , who heads the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.
“Hopefully we are in the sixth inning and one could point to signs that lead to an optimistic view,” Mr. Shifter said. “But it's by no means certain or assured.
“The successes we've seen haven't lead to a real overall improvement that's sustainable,” he said.
Taunted N.Y. bus monitor doesn't want bullies charged
Hopes parents see video
by Associated Press
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A New York school bus monitor who was verbally assaulted by four middle schoolers, an attack that generated international outrage and an outpouring of support for the woman when a video of the taunts went viral, has told police she does not want the boys to face criminal charges.
The monitor, 68-year-old Karen Klein , told police she is happy with the swift and strong community response against the verbal attack aboard a Greece Central School District bus, which was captured in a 10-minute video, authorities said Thursday.
Criminally charging the boys, all seventh-graders, would require their conduct to rise to the level of a crime, Greece Police Capt. Steve Chatterton said. So far, it has not been found to reach that level.
The YouTube video was viewed more than 1.5 million times by Thursday morning. An online crowd-funding site raised more than $225,000 by midday to help send Klein on vacation.
Klein said she hoped the boys' parents would view the video of the attack and talk to their children about being “a little more respectful.” Parents of all four boys are cooperating fully and say their children will be punished, Chatterton said.
A student recorded the video. In it, Klein is seen trying her best to ignore a stream of profanity, insults and outright threats directed at her. At one point, she breaks down in tears.
Klein told NBC 's “Today” show Thursday that it took “a lot of willpower” not to respond to Monday's jeers from the boys riding the bus.
“I'm not usually that calm. Just ask my kids,” Klein, a grandmother of eight, said during the interview. “I'm sure they don't act that way at home, but you never know what they're going to do when they're out of the house.”
Klein said she was “amazed” at the support she received.
“I've got these nice letters, emails, Facebook messages,” she said. “It's like, wow, there's a whole world out there that I didn't know. It's really awesome.”
The publicity over Klein 's case — an adult apparently being bullied by youths — adds a twist to a recent surge in awareness that has brought the problem of bullying from the classroom to the stage and screen to the White House.
In September, after 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, not far from Rochester, killed himself after complaining about being bullied about his sexuality, pop singer Lady Gaga decried the loss of another life to bullying. She tweeted to millions of followers that she would take her concerns to President Barack Obama .
This year, the White House held a conference on bullying prevention, estimating that it affects 13 million students, or about a third of those attending school. Obama said he hoped to “dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It's not.”
In April, the documentary film “Bully” examined the problem by following five kids over the course of a school year.
In Klein's case, she didn't report the bullying, but school officials notified police when they learned of it. The school may take disciplinary action. A school district bullying-and-violence-prevention response team is investigating.
The district in suburban Rochester is the ninth largest in the state. Other videos of the verbal assault have also been posted.
From Google News
Community, Seattle and DOJ
Community groups want say, more transparency in police reform talks between Seattle and DOJ
SEATTLE — Community groups on Thursday demanded a greater say and more transparency in negotiations between the city and the Justice Department over police department reforms, saying they're concerned the talks were taking too long and that any agreement might not reflect their wishes.
The DOJ issued a report last winter saying that Seattle police had a pattern or practice of using excessive force, often in response to minor offenses. The federal agency has threatened to sue unless the city agrees to make changes, including requiring officers to report all uses of force, no matter how minor, and hiring more sergeants to be front-line supervisors.
Discussions aimed at reaching a consent decree that would avert a lawsuit have proceeded in fits and starts, behind closed doors. That has some community groups worried.
According to Mayor Mike McGinn, the talks were being held with a mediator, The Seattle Times reported. Spokesman Aaron Pickus declined to confirm that Thursday.
The community groups were concerned about public indications that the talks might not be going well — such as the city's decision to defend in court an officer's use of a racial epithet just before stomping on a prone robbery suspect of Mexican descent, Martin Monetti Jr.
In that lawsuit, the city's lawyers referred to the DOJ's findings as "inadmissible hearsay opinion" and added: "There are many negative factors that weigh against the reliability and trustworthiness of the DOJ report."
The groups said that position contradicts statements by McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz that such bias has no place in police work.
Although the DOJ did not find evidence that police engaged in a pattern of biased policing, it found what it described as "troubling practices" that could have a disproportionate effect on minority communities. The groups said they want the consent decree to address those.
The groups said they've made their views clear to the DOJ and the city, but have heard little back.
"We're concerned that if we're not part of the discussion, we don't know what we'll get," Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said at a news conference. "There's a saying: If you're not at the table, you're on the menu.
"We as a community are going to live with this consent decree for years. We should have a say."
The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment. Pickus said that the groups' suggestions are reflected in the city's own plan to complete 20 police reform initiatives in 20 months, but that the city and DOJ have agreed to keep the talks between themselves.
The news conference was called by the police accountability task force, which includes community groups such as the Minority Executive Directors Coalition. That collection includes Estella Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza; Chris Stearns, chairman of the city's Human Rights Commission; and Harriett Walden, president of Mothers for Police Accountability, among others.
The groups were among nearly three dozen organizations that in 2010 called for the DOJ to review the police department following a number of incidents in which officers used force against civilians. Most notable was the fatal, unjustified shooting of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams after he crossed the street in front of a police cruiser.
The groups said Thursday that while they had previously supported the city's "20/20" plan, they don't consider it adequate, and a court-enforced consent decree is needed to ensure reforms take hold.
It "has no enforcement piece, and as long as it has no enforcement piece, it doesn't have any teeth," Walden said. "We need a firm and written commitment from the city to make the plan enforceable."
The DOJ and the city have exchanged proposed consent decrees. Although they remain confidential, The Associated Press has reviewed a copy of the DOJ's proposal, which included a number of the measures being called for by the community groups.
California's Trust Act
A bill moving through the California Legislature, aptly named the Trust Act, seeks to counter the damage done to community policing and public safety by the Obama administration's Secure Communities program. The program conducts mandatory immigration checks of everyone booked into local jails and has led to the deportations of many thousands of people with no criminal records, while impeding law enforcement.
Once the program identifies immigration violators, federal officials can issue “detainers,” or requests that people be held so they can be picked up for deportation. Local departments usually comply, even though police officials complain that doing so clogs their cells with traffic violators and other very minor offenders, including — because of database foul-ups — wrongfully detained citizens and legal residents.
When every arrest is a potential immigration arrest, people in immigrant communities are afraid to report crimes or cooperate with investigations.
Hence the Trust Act. Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, the bill would require local police departments to release people who have been arrested once their bond is posted or their sentence is up as long as they have no serious convictions and even if federal officials have issued a detainer.
California is hardly going rogue as states like Arizona and Alabama have. Unlike them, it has not drafted laws starkly opposed to federal immigration priorities, to harass the innocent and encourage racial profiling.
On the contrary, the bill has been endorsed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, the police chiefs of Oakland and Palo Alto, California's Catholic bishops and a wide cross-section of other city governments, police officials and immigrant-rights organizations.
The bill would enhance the ability of local departments to fight crime by restoring community trust and saving jail space for serious offenders. It deserves to become law.