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Context of 'September 2002: FBI Agent Sees ‘Grave Violations’ in FBI Handling of Terrorism Case in Florida'

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Thomas Wales.Thomas Wales. [Source: FBI]Newly appointed US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) begins investigating the murder of Thomas C. Wales, an Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) in the office. Wales, a popular AUSA and a strong advocate of gun control, was murdered three weeks before McKay took office, when someone shot and killed him through his basement window. Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis had recused the office from investigating the crime, because, McKay will later state, the Justice Department (DOJ) had no confidence in the prosecutor initially assigned to the case. Moreover, as the case was a likely candidate for a death penalty prosecution, he will tell a reporter that the office is recused because “[y]ou couldn’t have Tom’s friends in the office making those kinds of decisions.”
Begins Pressuring Justice Department - Shortly after taking office, McKay begins pressuring Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Larry Thompson to replace the prosecutor on the Wales case. McKay will recall having several “tense conversations” with Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Christopher Wray concerning this issue. In March 2002, the DOJ assigns a more experienced prosecutor to the case. The DOJ sends no additional manpower to Seattle to help with the case, and initially offers a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer, an amount FBI Special Agent Charles Mandigo will later call “insultingly small.” (After McKay’s intervention, the DOJ later raises the reward to $1 million.) McKay later says that while he is not directly involved in the investigation, he pushed hard for the DOJ to commit more resources to the investigation, and felt it was his responsibility to act as a conduit between the Seattle FBI office and the DOJ regarding resources for the case. He will say that while he was assertive, he remained professional and appropriate in his conduct; no one in the DOJ ever complained to him about his actions, he will say. “My mistake was that I assumed ‘recusal’ was ‘recusal’,” he will say. “I had erred in assuming that I was completely recused from even asking questions about the allocation of resources. I assumed it would have the highest priority within the Department of Justice. I once worked at the FBI for a year, and during that time an agent was killed in Las Vegas. They deploy like crazy when an agent is killed. Agents got off the airplane that night from DC to investigate. The director of the FBI flew out. That was not the reaction we were getting from the Department of Justice after Tom Wales was killed. Over 2002, I decided that really it should be my job to advocate for appropriate resources to be devoted to the Wales case.”
Speculation as to Politicization of Investigation - Many involved in the investigation believe that the Wales murder is a low priority for the DOJ because his liberal politics clash with the rightward tilt of the senior officials appointed by the Bush administration.
Aggressive but Appropriate - A 2008 Justice Department investigation of the 2006 US Attorney firings (see September 29, 2008) will find no reason to dispute McKay’s recollection of events. Both Thompson and Wray will describe McKay as being aggressive about making sure the investigation has adequate resources. Thompson will recall no tension between himself and McKay, though he will recall some of his then-staff members complaining about McKay’s pressure and demands for resources. Thompson will admit to becoming irritated with McKay on occasion, but will emphasize that McKay conducted himself in an appropriate manner at all times. It was “not new in the annals of the Department of Justice [that] a DAG got aggravated with a US Attorney,” he will say. He will not recall discussing the matter with Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the architect of the plan to fire the US Attorneys (see November 15, 2006). Wray will recall that some in the DOJ considered McKay to be “high maintenance,” in regard to the Wales investigation and with other issues. While some in the DAG’s office informally discussed McKay’s behavior among themselves, Wray will recall, no formal review of his conduct was ever undertaken. Wray will also not recall any discussions with Sampson, though he will say he kept Gonzales’s office apprised of the events surrounding the Wales investigation. Margolis will recall McKay being somewhat emotional about the Wales case and extremely pushy, he found his conduct entirely justifiable considering the situation. Margolis will say that he doubts Sampson would have listed McKay for removal because of his interactions with Thompson. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Remains Unsolved - The Wales murder will remain unsolved. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007]

Entity Tags: D. Kyle Sampson, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Christopher Wray, Charles Mandigo, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John L. McKay, Thomas C. Wales, David Margolis, Larry D. Thompson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Mike German.Mike German. [Source: Publicity photo]FBI agent Mike German is assigned to a counterterrorism case involving international militant groups. Apparently a domestic militia group in Tampa, Florida is considering allying with a major, unnamed militant Islamic organization. He becomes concerned that the investigation will fail due to “grave violations of FBI policy and possibly even grave violations of the law.” He complains to the Justice Department’s inspector general, claiming that FBI managers have falsified records, failed to properly handle evidence, falsely discredited witnesses, and failed to adhere to laws and regulations about electronic surveillance. German also sends his complaints directly to FBI Director Robert Mueller. But Mueller does not respond. Some time after German submits his complaints, he is removed from the case. “The phone just stopped ringing, and I became a persona non grata. Because I wouldn’t let this go away, I became the problem.… My entire career has been ruined, all because I thought I was doing the right thing here.” Frustrated with the bureau’s continuing mismanagement, he will retire from the FBI in 2004. [New York Times, 8/2/2004; Government Executive, 1/26/2005] German will later be exonerated in a 2005 Justice Department report investigating his charges (see December 3, 2005).

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Mike German, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, US Domestic Terrorism

President Bush terminates an investigation into controversial Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff by firing the US Attorney supervising the investigation. A US grand jury in Guam has been investigating a secret arrangement between Abramoff and Superior Court officials to lobby against a court reform bill pending in Congress since February 2001 that would give the newly formed Guam Supreme Court authority over the Superior Court. The bill passed. Abramoff—a $750-an-hour lobbyist and former member of the Bush-Cheney transition team—was paid by a series of $9,000 checks, totaling $324,000, funneled through Laguna Beach, California, lawyer Howard Hills. The arrangement was designed to hide Abramoff’s role in working for the Guam court. On November 18, Acting US Attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands Frederick A. Black issued a subpoena demanding that a Superior Court official turn over all records involving the lobbying contract, including bills and payments. (Black had already launched an investigation into the former governor of Guam, Carl Gutierrez, for diverting government funds for personal gain; Black apparently intended to tie the two investigations together.) However, today Black is abruptly demoted, with the White House issuing a statement announcing that it will name a replacement for him. Although Black is considered an “acting” US Attorney, he has held the post for over 10 years. Now he is demoted to an Assistant US Attorney and barred from continuing his investigations. Those investigations are now in limbo. In May 2003, Black will be replaced by Leonardo Rapadas without any Senate debate. Rapadas will be chosen for the job by Guam Republicans; lobbyist Fred Radewagen, who worked for the Gutierrez administration, will carry the recommendation to White House political chief Karl Rove in early 2003. (Radewagen has access to the top levels of the White House, including Rove.) Rapadas will quickly recuse himself from the Gutierrez investigation and the Abramoff grand jury will be dismissed. [Los Angeles Times, 8/8/2005; Nation, 2/2/2006] Later investigation will show that Gutierrez hired Abramoff in the spring of 2002 to help him force Black out of office. “I don’t care if they appoint [B]ozo the [C]lown, we need to get rid of Fred Black,” Abramoff wrote to colleagues in March 2002. Black began investigating Abramoff for the $324,000 contract Abramoff had received, and in return Abramoff asked for help from the Justice Department (DOJ). In turn, the DOJ forwarded the information to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. And, White House political director Ken Mehlman told White House official Leonard Rodriguez, a protege of Rove, to “reach out to make Jack [Abramoff] aware” of all Guam-related information, including people being considered to replace Black. “Abramoff claimed he had a top political guy at DOJ he could go to, to get rid of Black,” a source will tell reporter Ari Berman. In May 2002, Abramoff had a risk-assessment report of Guam and the neighboring Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) killed; the report, requested by Black, called for the federalizing of immigration laws on the islands, a rule change that would have slowed the influx of cheap labor to CNMI, as well as jeopardizing Abramoff’s $1.6 million contract with the local government. (In CNMI, workers are paid $3.05 an hour to make clothing branded “Made in the USA.”) Abramoff learned of the report from David Ayres, then the chief of staff for Attorney General John Ashcroft, whom Abramoff hosted at a Washington Redskins football game. Not only was the report quashed, its author, regional security specialist Robert Meissner, was demoted. Meissner later told people that he thought his boss at the time, Paul McNulty, the US Attorney for Eastern Virginia, “had everything to do with” suppressing the report. McNulty later became deputy attorney general. A colleague of Meissner’s will later say: “McNulty was kind of the fireman at Justice. He was the guy trying to run around and put a lid on things that could become political, especially with Abramoff.” Another element of the effort to rid Guam of Black was to paint him as a supporter of President Clinton, although he was appointed by the first President Bush, and Gutierrez himself was a Democrat. In November 2002, Black asked the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section (PIN) for help in investigating Abramoff’s lobbying activities. McNulty was forwarded the request, as was Gonzales. The DOJ offers no help to Black. Days later, after Black convenes a grand jury to look into Abramoff’s activities, Black is removed as US Attorney. “Fred was removed because he asked to indict Abramoff,” one of Black’s colleagues at Justice will later tell Berman. “I don’t believe it was a coincidence.” In June 2006, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will determine that nothing untoward occurred in the Black firing. However, the report will be based largely on information provided by the administration, including apparently misleading testimony from Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Gonzales, who had by that time become attorney general. Rapadas was only chosen to replace Black after Black had launched his probe into Abramoff’s doings. David Sablan, who headed the Guam Republican Party at the time, will say in 2007, “I just wonder whether they wanted to prevent Fred Black from staying on.” The OIG report will indicate that Sampson discussed the US Attorney candidate for Guam and other posts with President Bush, a statement Bush will later disavow. [Nation, 2/2/2006; Nation, 4/16/2007]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Ken Mehlman, Karl C. Rove, Leonardo Rapadas, Public Integrity Section, Paul J. McNulty, Robert Meissner, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Howard Hills, Jack Abramoff, George W. Bush, Clinton administration, Carl Gutierrez, Guam Supreme Court, D. Kyle Sampson, David Ayres, David Sablan, Alberto R. Gonzales, Frederick A. Black, Fred Radewagen, Ari Berman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

FBI agent Mike German quits the FBI and becomes a whistleblower against the bureau. He claims that FBI superiors committed illegal acts to hinder his investigation into terrorism in Florida (see September 2002). He complains, “What’s so frustrating to me is that what I hear the FBI saying every day on TV when I get home, about how it’s remaking itself to fight terrorism, is not the reality of what I saw every day in the field.” He also says, “Opportunities to initiate proactive investigations that might prevent terrorist acts before they occur, which is purported to be the FBI’s number one priority, continue to be lost, yet no one is held accountable.” He cites “a continuing failure in the FBI’s counterterrorism program” which is “not the result of a lack of intelligence, but a lack of action.” [New York Times, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mike German

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General is leaked to the New York Times. The report largely backs the allegations made by whistleblower ex-FBI agent Mike German (see September 2002 and August 2, 2004). It finds that FBI officials mishandled a terrorism investigation German was involved in, falsified documents in an effort to cover up agency mistakes, and retaliated against German. In one instance, someone altered dates on three FBI forms using correction fluid to conceal a violation of federal wiretap law. After German tried to complain directly to FBI Director Robert Mueller, other FBI agents distanced themselves from him. For instance, the head of the FBI undercover unit, Jorge Martinez, froze German out of teaching assignments and told another agent that German would “never work another undercover case.” [New York Times, 12/3/2005] Notwithstanding, German is critical of the inspector general’s report. He says the authors of the report distorted some facts and failed to fully investigate whether the investigation he was working on was a genuine terrorist conspiracy. [Government Executive, 12/12/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Jorge Martinez, Mike German

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Justice Department’s Inspector General, Glenn Fine, writes to Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Fine is responding to their request for an investigation of Justice Department officials’ role in authorizing and overseeing the use of waterboarding by CIA interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Fine notes: “[U]nder current law, the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] does not have jurisdiction to review the actions of [Justice Department] attorneys acting in their capacity to provide legal advice. Legislation that would remove this limitation has passed the House and is pending in the Senate (see April 23, 2008), but at this point the OIG does not have the jurisdiction to undertake the review you request.” [US Department of Justice, 2/19/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Glenn Fine, Sheldon Whitehouse, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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