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Profile: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Shortly after Joseph Wilson and his wife, outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, file a lawsuit against White House officials over the conspiracy to smear Wilson’s character and expose Plame Wilson as a covert intelligence agent (see July 13, 2006), the Wilsons are joined in the lawsuit by a nonpartisan watchdog organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The organization agrees to represent the Wilsons on a pro bono basis. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 255-256]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington logo.Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington logo. [Source: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington]Joseph and Valerie Plame Wilson name new counsel for their lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and former White House official Lewis Libby (see July 13, 2006). The Wilsons have engaged the non-profit, public interest organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as successor counsel. They have also engaged Washington attorneys Joseph Cotchett and Frank Pitre to represent them at trial. Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky remains as co-counsel. [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, 8/15/2006] Cheney also retains counsel for the lawsuit. He hires Emmet T. Flood, a Washington lawyer who helped defend former President Bill Clinton during Clinton’s impeachment trial. Though Flood defended Clinton, a Democrat, he has donated money only to Republican political candidates. [TPM Muckraker, 8/15/2006]

Entity Tags: Joseph Cotchett, Emmet Flood, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Erwin Chemerinsky, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Frank Pitre

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: John Hess, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Central Intelligence Agency, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jeff Stein, US Department of Homeland Security, Jane Harman, Norman Ornstein, National Security Agency, Melanie Sloan, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Federal judge Emmet Sullivan rules that the FBI must publicly reveal information from its 2004 interview with then-Vice President Dick Cheney during the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation (see May 8, 2004). The information has been kept classified by both the Bush and Obama administrations, who have argued that future presidents, vice presidents, and their senior staff may not cooperate with criminal investigations if they know what they say could became public. Sullivan rules that there is no justification to withhold the FBI records of Cheney’s interview, since the leak investigation has long since concluded. Further, the idea that such a judgment may lead to future reluctance to cooperate with investigations is ‘incurably speculative’ and cannot affect his judgment. To rule in favor of the Bush and Obama administrations, Sullivan says, would be “breathtakingly broad” and “be in direct contravention of ‘the basic policy’ of” the Freedom of Information Act. He does allow some portions, affecting national security and private communications between Cheney and former President Bush, to be redacted. Those portions include details about Cheney’s talks with then-CIA Director George Tenet about Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), talks with then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, discussions about Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), discussions about how to respond to press inquiries about the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity, and Cheney’s involvement in declassification discussions. The Justice Department has previously indicated that it would appeal any ruling allowing the information of Cheney’s testimony to be made public. The declassification was sparked by a July 2008 lawsuit filed by the watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Justice Department seeking records related to Cheney’s interview in the investigation. In August, CREW sued for the records. CREW’s Melanie Sloan says the group hopes the Obama administration will reveal the entire record in the interest of transparency. “The American people deserve to know the truth about the role the vice president played in exposing Mrs. Wilson’s covert identity,” she says. “High-level government officials should not be permitted to hide their misconduct from public view.” [Associated Press, 10/1/2009; Politico, 10/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Melanie Sloan, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Obama administration, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

American Future Fund logo.American Future Fund logo. [Source: American Future Fund / Talking Points Memo]Three citizen watchdog and pro-campaign finance groups, the Center for Media and Democracy, Protect Our Elections, and Public Citizen, allege that the tax-exempt nonprofit group American Future Fund (AFF) is violating tax law by operating primarily as a political advocacy group. AFF was founded and is operated by Nick Ryan, a former campaign advisor for former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and former Representative Jim Nussle (R-IA), and the head of a political consulting firm, the Concordia Group. Ryan also founded a pro-Santorum “super PAC” called the Red, White and Blue Fund. State Senator Sandra Greiner (R-IA) and prominent Iowa Republican Allison Dorr Kleis serve as the organization’s directors. The group states that it advocates for “conservative and free market ideals.” The New York Times will later confirm that Bruce Rastetter, co-founder and CEO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, a large ethanol company, provided the seed money for AFF in 2008. Investigations by the Center for Public Integrity will also show that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) contributed $300,000 to the organization in 2010. The group also received $2.44 million from another 501(c)4 group, the American Justice Partnership, which advocates for “tort reform,” and over $11 million from the Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, another 501(c)(4) organization. The Times will find that AFF-supported candidates win 76 percent of the time, making the group “one of the most effective outside spending groups of the 2010 election cycle.” The law allows 501(c)4 groups (see 2000 - 2005) such as AFF to operate without taxation or legal scrutiny as long as they spend the bulk of their resources on “further[ing] the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” and not political advocacy. Moreover, federal election law provides that if a group’s major purpose is electioneering and it spends at least $1,000 to influence elections, it must register as a political action committee (PAC). A New York Times analysis recently showed that AFF spent 56 percent of its television budget on political advertising, and so far has spent $8.8 million on television ad buys. Its ads attack Democratic candidates in Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, and West Virginia, and expressly tell voters to cast their ballots against these candidates. And the organization’s Web site says it exists to “target… liberal politicians.” The group says it plans to spend as much as $25 million on the 2010 elections. In a press release, Public Citizen says that AFF, “a conservative nonprofit group pouring money into the 2010 midterm elections, appears to be violating campaign finance law.” The three groups file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking it to decide whether AFF has violated the tax code. If so, AFF would be forced to re-register as a PAC and be subjected to more disclosure requirements, particular who donates to the organization and how much they donate. Craig Holman of Public Citizen says: “American Future Fund is pulling out the stops to ensure that Republicans are elected this November. That imposes on the group the legal duty to register with the FEC and disclose exactly who is funding all those expenditures.” Protect Our Elections spokesperson Kevin Zeese says: “In this first post-Citizens United (see January 21, 2010) election, corporations and their executives are testing the limits of the law and crossing over into illegality. They cross the line when they use nonprofit groups to urge people to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’ a specific candidate. Political committees violate the law when they accept anonymous contributions for their work. These violations of federal election and tax laws need to be challenged now; otherwise we will see even more anonymous corporate donations trying to illegally manipulate voters into voting against their own interests in future elections.” And Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy says: “Groups spending millions to attack Americans running for office should not be able to use their tax-free status to hide the truth about which fat cats are behind their ads. Voters have a right to know which corporations or millionaires are laundering their profits through nonprofits like the American Future Fund, whose main business seems to be electioneering. We have joined this complaint to demand that the law be enforced and the truth be told.” [Center for Media and Democracy, Protect Our Elections, and Public Citizen, 10/12/2010 pdf file; Public Citizen, 10/20/2010; Mother Jones, 1/28/2011; iWatch News, 6/21/2012] AFF will continue to operate as a 501(c)4 group in spite of the FEC complaint, and will continue to spend heavily on anti-Democratic ads, many of which will be proven to be false by organizations such as FactCheck (.org). More complaints will be filed against the organization, including a February 2011 IRS complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). [iWatch News, 6/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, Red, White and Blue Fund, Center for Public Integrity, Bruce Rastetter, American Justice Partnership, American Future Fund, Allison Dorr Kleis, Public Citizen, Protect Our Elections, Sandra Greiner, Nick Ryan, Federal Election Commission, Kevin Zeese, Craig Holman, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Concordia Group, Center for Media and Democracy, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, New York Times, Lisa Graves

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Newt Gingrich 2012 presidential campaign logo.Newt Gingrich 2012 presidential campaign logo. [Source: Logo Design Love (.com)]The political watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) files a complaint against presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) alleging that he sold his mailing list to his own campaign for $42,000. CREW files the complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and calls the transaction an unlawful personal use of campaign funds. The complaint also alleges that Gingrich seems to be improperly commingling book sales and campaign events. The mailing list sale was never listed on FEC disclosure forms. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says: “Newt Gingrich will do anything to make a buck, even sell his own mailing list to his campaign. He has a long history of playing fast and loose with ethics rules, so it should surprise no one to learn he is at it again.” Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond says in response that “if the FEC considers the complaint, they will find that the rules are being followed and published regulations are being enforced.” It is not unusual for political campaigns to buy and sell mailing lists, but the Gingrich case is unusual because Gingrich’s campaign says it bought the mailing list directly from Gingrich, and not from a political committee or group. Documents show that Gingrich stated in July 2011 that he was owed $47,005 by the campaign for “direct mail list/travel.” At the time, Hammond said the campaign paid Gingrich $42,000 for the mailing list. Hammond claims that he, not Gingrich, owned the mailing list, and that the failure to disclose the payment was merely an oversight. In its complaint, CREW notes that the mailing list was not included as an asset in Gingrich’s financial disclosure records, which are filed by presidential candidates. Therefore, the group argues, the list appears to be owned by Gingrich Productions, which is the name of the holding firm now headed by Gingrich’s wife Callista. Gingrich Productions routinely sells books and other materials at the same venues as Gingrich holds campaign-related events, an improper “commingling” of sales and campaign appearances. Federal law prohibits candidates from using campaign resources to profit personally or from using corporate funds to subsidize a campaign. [Washington Post, 12/19/2011] On the same day as the complaint filing, the press reveals an “extraordinary” and potentially illegal relationship between Gingrich and an “independent” political PAC (see December 19, 2011).

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Federal Election Commission, Melanie Sloan, R.C. Hammond, Newt Gingrich presidential campaign (2012)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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