by Tom Fitton –
Judicial Watch & Allied Educational Foundation to Supreme Court: Protect the Laws that Keep Public Officials Honest
With a notorious Democrat in the White House, it bears repeating that there are corrupt politicians in both the Republican and Democrat parties. The “corruption caucus” in the political world is both bipartisan and growing.
True to our non-partisan educational mission, we joined with the Allied Educational Foundation (AEF) last week to file an amici curiae brief with the United States Supreme Court in support of a federal court of appeals decision upholding the conviction of a corrupt Republican politician – former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was found guilty by a jury of 11 counts of corruption and fraud.
(AEF, a JW frequent partner on amici briefs, is a charitable and educational foundation dedicated to empowering America through education and legal action.)
Here’s the story.
In September 2014, McDonnell was convicted for granting political favors to a Richmond businessman in exchange for golf outings, lavish vacations and $120,000 in loans. In July 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit unanimously rejected McDonnell’s appeal. In January 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to review the lower court’s decision. McDonnell alleges that the federal statues penalizing bribery and extortion are impermissibly vague under the U.S. Constitution.
In our amici brief in support of the Court of Appeals decision, we and AEF argue that the two laws at issue are straightforward tools for policing public corruption:
Public officials have a duty to act in the best interest of the people who elect them. When they make decisions based on personal interest, they are defrauding the public. The honest services statute criminalizes government corruption by punishing those who execute a scheme to deprive another of the right to “honest services.” The Hobbs Act prohibits extortion “under color of official right.”
Petitioner was convicted of violating these statutes when he accepted more than $175,000 in personal benefits (loans and luxury items) in exchange for agreeing to use the power of his office on behalf of his benefactor. In considering whether the actions taken by petitioner constituted “official acts,” amici urge the Court to adopt as broad as possible interpretation.
The honest services statute and the Hobbs Act have served as critical tools in prosecuting public corruption. The Court should adopt a broad interpretation of what constitutes an “official act” as not to deprive prosecutors of these critical tools.”
The amici brief suggests that curtailing or scrapping these statutes would guarantee that more corrupt politicians and bureaucrats would escape prosecution and that public corruption prosecutions already have dropped dramatically under the Obama administration:
A long-term decline in federal prosecutions for public corruption has continued and reached a 20-year low. Data from the Justice Department show that 505 individuals were prosecuted for corruption offenses during FY 2015, a decline of 3.6 percent from FY 2014 and down more than 30 percent from five years ago. For the first four months of FY 2016, there have been just 140 new official corruption prosecutions. This is the lowest level reported for such prosecutions in the last 20 years.
Moreover, the Obama administration has pursued 16 percent fewer public corruption charges against federal employees than the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, according to a 2014 DOJ report to Congress on public integrity … The Obama administration has filed an annual average of 390 such prosecutions compared to Clinton (1995-2000) average of 468 federal employees and Bush (2001-2009) average of 467).
Our brief highlights how hundreds of public officials have been successfully prosecuted for depriving the public of “honest services” and violating the Hobbs Act. You can see the astonishing list here.
It is no surprise that criminal politicians don’t like federal corruption laws, but that doesn’t make those laws unconstitutional. Under the Obama administration, there’s been a remarkable drop in government corruption prosecutions. Eviscerating anti-corruption laws is the last thing this nation needs – as public corruption is already out of control.
Defending the First Amendment against the Obama IRS
It seems these days that our core freedoms, protected under the U.S. Constitution, are under attack from every direction. We have been particularly concerned for some time about the IRS’ intentions toward freedom of expression in churches.
This week we joined with our client the Alliance Defending Freedom in moving to compel a federal court to require the IRS to reveal how it determines when to initiate “church investigations” (Alliance Defending Freedom v. Internal Revenue Service (No. 1:15-cv-00525) Case No. 1:15-cv-00525-EGS)). Alliance Defending Freedom is a wonderful alliance-building legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
We believe the agency has been stonewalling efforts to open its procedures to public scrutiny.
Back in 2014 the IRS reached a legal settlement with an atheist organization, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which said the IRS had “resolved the signature authority issue necessary to initiate church examinations.”
We know that the IRS has procedures for reviewing, evaluating, and determining whether to initiate church investigations, but nobody knows what those procedures are.
“The IRS is not above the law, and Americans deserve to know the truth about the agency’s secret deals with activists,” ADF Legal Counsel Christina Holcomb said. “The IRS has a legal obligation to explain why it is hiding things or else produce documents. Its ongoing refusal to follow the law is absurd, particularly since much of [what] we are asking for is information that the IRS has already provided voluntarily to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.”
In July 2015, months after we sued the agency for failing to comply with our Freedom of Information Act request, the IRS began producing documents. However, it withheld more than 10,000 of the 16,000 requested. Thousands were completely redacted.
Obama’s IRS first ignored the FOIA request and is now stonewalling in federal court. The public has a right to know about any new IRS guidelines for investigating the practice of our basic First Amendment freedoms.
In its 2014 lawsuit, the atheist group demanded that the IRS enforce the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations from making political endorsements for elected office. It authorizes the IRS to regulate sermons and other speech to ensure churches comply with the provisions of their designations.
In July 2014, the IRS announced that, according to the terms of an agreement reached with the atheist, it had been monitoring churches and other houses of worship for electioneering and other political activity. According to June 27, 2014, IRS letter to the Justice Department, the IRS has targeted 99 churches it said merited “high priority examination” for allegedly illegal electioneering activities. This church-targeting was determined by an IRS “Political Activities Referral Committee.”
Doesn’t the idea of this IRS “Committee” send a chill down your spine?
That’s why it is important we prevail in federal court, so our client and the American people can find out the truth about what the out-of-control Obama IRS is up to.
Only 3 U.S. Airports Require Employee Security Checks
Your Judicial Watch is a go-to source for information that is too often hiding in plain sight here in DC. Our Corruption Chronicles blog, a key part of our premier journalistic muckraker programs, again made waves this week for simply reporting on a Capitol Hill hearing that most everyone else missed. Here’s the piece in full:
Less than a month after a news outfit reported that dozens of airport employees around the country have potential ties to terrorists, officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) admit that only three airports in the United States require workers to undergo security checks. The astounding admission, delivered this week before Congress, comes on the heels of a number of cases involving gun and drug-smuggling schemes operated by airline employees at major airports, including those located in Atlanta, New York and San Francisco.
In all of the cases, airport workers used their security badges to access secured areas of their respective facilities without having to undergo any sort of check. As if this weren’t bad enough, last month government records obtained by the media revealed that 73 employees at nearly 40 airports across the nation were flagged for ties to terror in a June 2015 report from the DHS Inspector General’s Office. The files identified two of them working at Logan International Airport in Boston, four at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and six at Seattle-Tacoma International in Washington State. Here’s the government’s explanation for letting the potential terrorists slip by; the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) didn’t have access to the terrorism-related database during the vetting process for those employees. You can’t make this stuff up!
Now we learn that only three of the nation’s 300 airports-Atlanta, Miami and Orlando-require employees to undergo security checks before work, even though there’s an epidemic of illicit activity among this demographic. The unbelievable stat was delivered by DHS officials testifying at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing this week. In the aftermath of the Belgium terrorist attacks, the hearing was scheduled to address efforts in this country to prevent attacks on passenger and freight targets that could lead to mass casualties. The head of TSA, Robert Neffenger, told lawmakers that the agency has increased the inspection of employees five-fold in the last five months but admitted improvements must be made and the nation’s airports will provide a report by the end of the month assessing their vulnerabilities.
That still doesn’t explain why only three of the country’s airports require employees to undergo security checks a decade and a half after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Apparently DHS can’t afford it and doesn’t really need it. At least that’s what a little-known entity called the Aviation Security Advisory Committee determined last spring. Composed of individuals representing private-sector organizations affected by aviation security requirements, the committee typically meets four times a year and advises the TSA on aviation security matters. The panel was established in 1989 after a terrorist attack on Pan Am flight 103 and members include representatives from various trade groups such as the Cargo Airline Association, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, the U.S. Travel Association and the Airport Consultants Council. These are the folks that are deciding crucial issues associated with airport security.
In a 2015 report the committee wrote that most airports can’t afford daily employee screening and, even if they could, it wouldn’t do much good. That’s because full screening wouldn’t “appreciably increase the overall system-wide protection,” according to the committee’s findings and “no single measure can provide broad-spectrum protection against risks or adversaries.” Furthermore, this group of aviation advisors concluded that daily screening of airport workers “is incapable of determining a person’s motivations, attitudes and capabilities to cause harm, among other limitations.” Under that ridiculous argument, airport security would be eliminated altogether for everyone.
Other media outlets, including The Washington Times and Fox News, picked up our story and now there may be some attention in this dangerous security gap that exists nearly 15 years after 9/11.
JW Gets Props in The Wall Street Journal
Judicial Watch is as important an entity as any in Washington, thanks to our indefatigable desire to hold politicians accountable to the rule of law.
Accordingly, we tend to cause trouble for corrupt politicians such as Hillary Clinton, especially in our expert use of the Freedom of Information Act.
This week, Kimberley A. Strassel, writing in The Wall Street Journal, acknowledged this:
In recent weeks, not one, but two, esteemed federal judges have granted an outside group-Judicial Watch-the right to conduct discovery into the origins and handling of her private email system. It’s a reminder that Mrs. Clinton’s biggest problem this election isn’t Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. Her problem is a 1966 statute known as the Freedom of Information Act, and the judges who enforce it.
The judges have taken unprecedented steps to resolve this case. It is exceedingly rare-almost unheard of-for a judge to allow discovery in a FOIA proceeding. This is a testament to how grave Mrs. Clinton’s email problem is.
Strassel notes that our request to interview eight current and former State Department officials “holds the potential to expose the many and varied ways Mrs. Clinton may have skirted the rules, and in turn to put enormous pressure on the FBI to act.”
The beauty of FOIA is that it is designed to bring things to light. Mrs. Clinton has grown talented at outfoxing investigators, Congress, inspectors general, the press. But she made the error this time of playing games with a law that federal judges take seriously, and that gives outside watchdogs real leverage.
Remember, JW also leverages any support you give to hold corrupt politicians to account in a city where no one else really wants to do it.
Tom Fitton – President
425 3rd St, SW Suite 800
Washington, D.C. 20024