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Profile: Barbara Comstock

Barbara Comstock was a participant or observer in the following events:

Lawyers for FBI laboratory employees send an urgent letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft alleging that a key prosecution witness in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) may have lied during McVeigh’s trial. The accusations center around Steven Burmeister, now the FBI laboratory’s chief of scientific analysis, who testified that the FBI crime lab found residues of explosives on the clothing that McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested after the bomb exploded (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). The letter reads in part, “Material evidence presented by the government in the OKBOMB prosecution through the testimony of Mr. Burmeister appears to be false, misleading, and potentially fabricated,” referring to testimony Burmeister had given in an unrelated civil case, which contradicted his testimony in the McVeigh case; Burmeister had talked about the restrictions on his work area and the requirement that laboratory employees wear protective clothing. The letter is sent to Ashcroft by fax and by courier with the notation “urgent matter for the immediate attention of the attorney general.” The letter will sit in Ashcroft’s clerical office for nearly two months before being turned over to the FBI. Justice Department spokesperson Barbara Comstock will say that neither Ashcroft nor other top department officials ever saw the letter, and it was never reviewed to determine if it should be given to McVeigh’s lawyers. Prosecutors used Burmeister’s testimony to determine the exact composition of the bomb McVeigh used to bring down the Murrah Federal Building and kill 168 people. The judge in the trial, Richard P. Matsch, refused to allow McVeigh’s lawyers to hear criticisms of the crime lab’s evidence handling (see January 27, 1997 and May 20, 1997). The accusations against Burmeister were never given to McVeigh’s lawyers, even as a judge was weighing the option to delay McVeigh’s execution because the government failed to turn over other evidence (see May 10-11, 2001, May 16, 2001, and June 1-7, 2001). The letter is later turned over to the lawyers of convicted bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997, June 4, 1998, and May 15, 2001), who will face 160 counts of murder in an upcoming trial by the State of Oklahoma (see September 5, 2001). [New York Times, 5/1/2003]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Barbara Comstock, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven G. Burmeister, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Richard P. Matsch

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

At the request of FBI Director Robert Mueller, Attorney General John Ashcroft files a declaration invoking the “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953) to block FBI translator Sibel Edmonds’ lawsuit against the government from being heard in court. [New York Observer, 1/22/2004] The Justice Department insists that disclosing her evidence, even at a closed hearing in court, “could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the foreign policy and national security of the United States.” The “state secrets privilege,” derived from English common law, has never been the subject of any congressional vote or statute. Normally, the privilege is used to block the discovery of a specific piece of evidence that could put the nation’s security at risk. But Ashcroft’s declaration asserts that the very subject of her lawsuit constitutes a state secret, thus barring her from even presenting her case in court. The text of Ashcroft’s declaration is classified. [Vanity Fair, 9/2005] The Justice Department’s Director of Public Affairs, Barbara Comstock, says in a press release: “To prevent disclosure of certain classified and sensitive national security information, Attorney General Ashcroft today asserted the state secrets privilege.… The state secrets privilege is well established in federal law… and allows the Executive Branch to safeguard vital information regarding the nation’s security or diplomatic relations. In the past, this privilege has been applied many times to protect our nation’s secrets from disclosure, and to require dismissal of cases when other litigation mechanisms would be inadequate. It is an absolute privilege that renders the information unavailable in litigation.” [US Department of Justice, 10/18/2002; Siegel, 2008, pp. 201]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Sibel Edmonds, Barbara Comstock, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The Associated Press reveals that 10 days before the execution of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997, June 11-13, 1997, and 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001), lawyers for FBI laboratory employees sent an urgent letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, saying that a prosecution witness in the McVeigh trial, forensic expert Steven Burmeister, may have lied on the stand (see June 11, 2001). The letter was never given to McVeigh’s lawyers. McVeigh’s former lawyer Stephen Jones says, “It is truly shocking and just the latest revelation of government conduct that bankrupts the prosecution, investigation, and verdict.” Justice Department spokesperson Barbara Comstock says she does not believe the allegations, even if true, would have affected the outcome of the trial, saying, “Court after court has found that the evidence of guilt against McVeigh was overwhelming.” FBI officials call the allegations against Burmeister specious. FBI laboratory director Dwight Adams says: “It didn’t happen. Steve Burmeister is one of the FBI’s finest experts. He is meticulous and honest.” [New York Times, 5/1/2003]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Associated Press, Barbara Comstock, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh, Dwight Adams, Steven G. Burmeister

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

After former White House official Lewis Libby’s indictment (see October 28, 2005), he retains the services of three of Washington’s most powerful attorneys: Theodore Wells, William Jeffress, and John Cline. [Boston Globe, 2/26/2006] (Cline will not officially join the defense team until mid-November.) [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22/2005] Wells, who has successfully defended other government officials from criminal charges, is “an excellent choice,” according to criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt. Jeffress is a partner at Baker Botts, the law firm headed by former Secretary of State James Baker. [Jeralyn Merritt, 11/3/2005] Cline is an expert on classified government documents; according to former CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, he is “presumably hired to help the defense figure out how to ‘graymail’ the government, that is, force the government to choose between prosecuting an employee for serious crimes or preserving national security secrets.” Stanford University criminal law expert Robert Weisberg says of Cline’s addition to the team: “This is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the government. This suggests they are going to use a very concerted and aggressive strategy.”
Legal Defense Fund Headed by GOP Fundraiser - Shortly after the indictment, Libby’s legal defense fund is created, headed by former GOP finance chief Melvin Sembler, a Florida real estate tycoon. Sembler is a highly successful fundraiser for Republican candidates, and is a close friend of Vice President Dick Cheney. Lobbyist and former Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock, a close friend of Libby’s, recruited Sembler to head the fund. According to Comstock, Sembler “holds Scooter [Libby] in high esteem as many members of the committee have. We’re confident that Scooter will be exonerated. He has declared he’s innocent.” [Tampa Tribune, 11/24/2005] In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will note, “Sembler, ironically enough, was President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Italy when the embassy in Rome first received the forged yellowcake documents, whose contents precipitated [Joseph Wilson]‘s trip to Niger and Libby’s legal odyssey.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 289-290] The first contribution to the defense fund comes from Richard Carlson, a former US ambassador, the former president of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, and the father of conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. “He spent years in government service,” Carlson will later say of Libby, whom Carlson calls a friend. He “hasn’t made a lot of dough.” The fund will soon raise over $2 million, in part through a Web site, scooterlibby.com (see February 21, 2006). Comstock and former Cheney communications director Mary Matalin (see July 10, 2003 and January 23, 2004) are deeply involved in the fund. The fund’s board of directors and advisers is studded with prominent Republicans, including former Republican presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Jack Kemp; former senator, lobbyist, and actor Fred Thompson; former senator Alan Simpson; former Education Secretary William Bennett; Princeton professor Bernard Lewis, one of the driving intellectual forces behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq; former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick; former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham; former Clinton Middle East envoy Dennis Ross; and former CIA Director James Woolsey, another neoconservative ally of Libby’s. [New York Times, 11/18/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22/2005; Boston Globe, 2/26/2006] Howard Leach and Wayne Berman, two top fundraisers for the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, are also part of the defense fund. Comstock tells a New York Times reporter that because both Ross and Woolsey served in the Clinton administration, the Libby defense fund is a bipartisan entity. She adds that the amount of money raised by the fund will not be disclosed: “It’s a private trust fund for a private individual and we haven’t disclosed that.” [New York Times, 11/18/2005; Tampa Tribune, 11/24/2005]
Plame Wilson Disappointed in Woolsey's Involvement - Plame Wilson will write of her disappointment that a former CIA director (Woolsey) could come to the defense of someone accused of outing a covert CIA agent. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 289-290]

Entity Tags: Dennis Ross, Tucker Carlson, Theodore Wells, Steve Forbes, Barbara Comstock, Wayne Berman, William J. Bennett, William Jeffress, Alan Simpson, Baker Botts, Bernard Lewis, Spencer Abraham, Robert Weisberg, Valerie Plame Wilson, Mel Sembler, Fred Thompson, Howard Leach, Jack Kemp, James Woolsey, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James A. Baker, John Cline, Jeralyn Merritt, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Richard Carlson, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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