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Archive for March 23rd, 2016

April Supreme Court Cases Include Conviction of Ex-Virginia Governor

By Ross Parker
ticklehthewire.com

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in four difficult criminal cases on the April docket. All without the incisive, biting and entertaining interrogation of Justice Scalia. But last month Justice Thomas asked his first question in more than a decade. That must have raised some eyebrows.

One of the highest profile cases of the term, McDonnell v. United States, will be among those argued. Bob McDonnell was the popular governor of Virginia, and his name had been mentioned as a Vice Presidential running mate. Probably not any more since his prosecution for bribery.

Gov. Bob McDonnell

Gov. Bob McDonnell

His financial problems led him and his wife to seek various loans and gifts valued at over $175,000 from a businessman who was promoting a dietary supplement under review by the FDA. The gifts included a $20,000 shopping spree by Mrs. McDonnell, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader. Not that I hold anything against former cheerleaders (some of my best friends…), but she does seem to be at the center of both the “quid” and the “quo” of this sordid affair.

The issue before the Court is whether the Hobbs Act felony of agreeing to take “official action” in exchange for something of value by exercising actual government power (i.e. bribery) was proven in the case, as opposed to merely providing routine political courtesies, benefits and access to others.

The evidence at trial included the following “official acts” by the governor, all around the time that the McDonnells were receiving their goodies: asking the Secretary of Health to send an aide to a meeting where Mrs. McDonnell and the businessman could pitch the product; attending a luncheon arranged by Mrs. McDonnell where  the businessman gave two state medical schools $200,000 to research the product; sending an ambiguous email (at Mrs McDonnell’s request) to a staffer regarding the medical school’s lack of responsiveness; inviting the businessman to a reception for the “Health Care Leaders”; and finally suggesting a meeting to discuss whether the product could be included in the state employee health plan. Note the First Lady’s involvement. Cherchez la femme

None of these actions by the governor resulted in any specific benefit to the businessman. Nor did the governor make any request or order that a government official do anything other than exercise his/her independent judgment. McDonnell said that he was doing nothing more than helping a state business and extending political courtesies.

The Solicitor General argues that at least some of the actions amounted to personal benefits conferred in exchange for an agreement to influence government matters. But McDonnell’s supporters filed more than a dozen briefs which warn that the expansion of the statute to include this kind of conduct will create an ill-defined situation where aggressive federal prosecutors could criminalize what has been merely political custom.

Read more »

Parker: April Supreme Court Cases Include Conviction of Ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

By Ross Parker
ticklehthewire.com

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in four difficult criminal cases on the April docket. All without the incisive, biting and entertaining interrogation of Justice Scalia. But last month Justice Thomas asked his first question in more than a decade. That must have raised some eyebrows.

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

One of the highest profile cases of the term, McDonnell v. United States, will be among those argued. Bob McDonnell was the popular governor of Virginia, and his name had been mentioned as a Vice Presidential running mate. Probably not any more since his prosecution for bribery.

His financial problems led him and his wife to seek various loans and gifts valued at over $175,000 from a businessman who was promoting a dietary supplement under review by the FDA. The gifts included a $20,000 shopping spree by Mrs. McDonnell, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader. Not that I hold anything against former cheerleaders (some of my best friends…), but she does seem to be at the center of both the “quid” and the “quo” of this sordid affair.

The issue before the Court is whether the Hobbs Act felony of agreeing to take “official action” in exchange for something of value by exercising actual government power (i.e. bribery) was proven in the case, as opposed to merely providing routine political courtesies, benefits and access to others.

Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell

Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell

The evidence at trial included the following “official acts” by the governor, all around the time that the McDonnells were receiving their goodies: asking the Secretary of Health to send an aide to a meeting where Mrs. McDonnell and the businessman could pitch the product; attending a luncheon arranged by Mrs. McDonnell where  the businessman gave two state medical schools $200,000 to research the product; sending an ambiguous email (at Mrs McDonnell’s request) to a staffer regarding the medical school’s lack of responsiveness; inviting the businessman to a reception for the “Health Care Leaders”; and finally suggesting a meeting to discuss whether the product could be included in the state employee health plan. Note the First Lady’s involvement. Cherchez la femme

None of these actions by the governor resulted in any specific benefit to the businessman. Nor did the governor make any request or order that a government official do anything other than exercise his/her independent judgment. McDonnell said that he was doing nothing more than helping a state business and extending political courtesies.

The Solicitor General argues that at least some of the actions amounted to personal benefits conferred in exchange for an agreement to influence government matters. But McDonnell’s supporters filed more than a dozen briefs which warn that the expansion of the statute to include this kind of conduct will create an ill-defined situation where aggressive federal prosecutors could criminalize what has been merely political custom.

Read more »

3 Theories About How the FBI May Open a Locked iPhone of a San Bernardino Shooter

Apple logoBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

There are several theories about how the FBI will unlock an iPhone without the help of Apple.

What we know is, the FBI canceled a court hearing on the case Monday after saying an “outside party” may be able to help access the iPhone’s information.

Fortune reports three theories.

Digital forensic researcher Jonathan Zdziarski said the FBI might be using a technique known as NAND mirroring, which would make copies of the phone’s memory chip. That would make it possible for the FBI to try enter the password as many times as it takes to unlock the phone.

“This technique is kind of like cheating at Super Mario Bros. with a save-game, allowing you to play the same level over and over after you keep dying,” Zdziarski writes. “Only instead of playing a game, they’re trying different pin combinations.”

Zdziarski said the FBI may also block the phone’ system that counts failed password attempts.

A third option requires removing the casing on the phones processor chip using lasers or acid, enabling officials to pull the password off the chip with probes.

The FBI said it needs about two weeks to try to open the phone.

Justice Department Files Charges Against Syrian Electronic Army Hackers

Syria mapBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The so-called Syrian Electronic Army has launched a series of cyber attacks targeting U.S. companies and government systems since 2011.

Now the Justice Department has filed charges against three of the group’s members, CNN reports.

The cyber-attackers targeted companies that they believe are oppose to Syria’s Assad regime, defacing websites, seizing social media accounts and penetrating computer systems from 2011 to 2014.

Among the targets were CNN, The Washington Post, NASA, the White House, Microsoft and Harvard University.

Charges filed in federal court in Alexandria, Va., allege the hackers are based in Germany and Syria.

Border Patrol Agents Track Down Horses Used to Smuggle Drugs into U.S.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Drug smugglers are known to use boats, tunnels and other means to bring drugs across the U.S. border.

On Sunday night, Border Patrol agents captured two horses that were helping smuggle packs of marijuana across the border near Sasabe.

Agents spotted two people on horseback illegally crossing the border, triggering a field and air operation.

When the smugglers saw a helicopter approaching, they abandoned their hoses and ran back across the Mexican border.

The horses were lugging about 100 pounds of marijuana.

Security Experts Harshly Criticized Donald Trump’s Response to Terrorism in Brussels

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

After the terrorist attacks in Brussels on Tuesday morning, Donald Trump made a series of statements that have confirmed the suspicions of many terrorism experts: The Republican frontrunner’s rhetoric doesn’t translate well into good foreign policy.

That’s what many security experts said following a day full of comments from Trump, The Washington Post reports. 

Just hours after the bombings, Trump was asked what he would do if he were the president.

“I would close up our borders to people until we figure out what’s going on,” Trump said Tuesday morning on Fox News. “We have to be smart in the United States. We’re taking in people without real documentation, we don’t know where they’re coming from, we don’t know what they’re — where they’re from, who they are.”

On NBC’s Today, Trump said he would use waterboarding and other torture techniques to gather information.

“Frankly, the waterboarding, if it was up to me, and if we changed the laws or had the laws, waterboarding would be fine,” Trump told Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer when asked about what techniques he favored. “If they could expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding. You have to get the information from these people.”

Security experts responded with harsh criticism.

Michael Chertoff, who served as secretary of homeland security under George W. Bush, said Trump’s ideas were “preposterous.”

“First of all, we have a much, much tougher refugee program than the Europeans have,” Chertoff said. “The problem the Europeans have is people showed up on their doorstep — hundreds of thousands, coming directly from the region. That does not happen in the U.S. We check people very carefully before we admit them as refugees.”

Terrorism expert Malcom Nance said Trump’s heated rhetoric was endangering U.S. intelligence and armed forces.

“Donald Trump right now is validating the cartoonish view that they [Islamist militant groups] tell their operatives and that they tell their terrorists,” Nance said. “That the United States is a racist nation, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and that that’s why you must carry out terrorist attacks against them.”

U.S. Warns Travelers of ‘Near-Term’ Attacks in Europe After Terrorism in Brussels

homeland2department-of-homeland-security-logo-300x300By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

U.S. authorities have issued a warning to Americans traveling to Europe that “near-term” attacks are possible throughout the continent.

“Terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation,” said the State Department alert, which expires on June 20, reports ABC News. 

“U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation.”

The warning urged Americans to take caution “during religious holidays and at a large festivals or events.”

The TSA also is beefing up security at major city airports and at rail and transit stations nationwide following the attacks in Brussels on Tuesday.

Homeland Security officials said there are “no specific, credible intelligence of any plot to conduct similar attacks here in the United States.”

“That said, we remain very focused on the threat posed by lone terrorist actors who may lack direct connection to a foreign terrorist organization,” said DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson in a statement.

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