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Allan Lengel

Allan Lengel, editor of ticklethewire.com, is  a veteran journalist who has covered law enforcement at major publications including the Washington Post and the Detroit News. He also served as an intern under the late investigative columnist Jack Anderson and was an adjunct journalism professor at the University of Maryland.

Sally Yates Sends the Right Message to the Trump White House

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates wasn’t going to be around very long at the Justice Department considering she was a holdover from the Obama administration.

Nonetheless, she should be commended for standing up to President Donald Trump, who implemented an executive order that was poorly thought out and executed.

Hopefully she has set a tone and a message to the White House: Federal law enforcement will not compromise its principles when asked to do something that violates the law.

It’s not likely to be the last time the administration directs federal law enforcement officials to do something questionable.

The president on Tuesday, when announcing his Supreme Court nominee, talked about the importance of the Constitution and the rule of law. We should take him at his word that he places great importance on upholding the law, not bending or breaking it.

In the coming months and years, some law enforcement officials may be forced to make a choice between doing the right thing for the country or keeping their jobs and following a White House order.

Hopefully they’ll do the right thing.

They can always get another job.

They can’t always get another reputation.

 


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FBI Director James Comey Becomes a Prisoner of His Boy Scout Image

Scott #1145

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The other day, a commentator on MSNBC described FBI Director James Comey as having a Boy Scout image. That’s a good thing for an FBI director.

The problem is that Comey appears to have become a prisoner of that image, and has placed more importance on  his image and the FBI’s image than the American people, the Justice Department and the presidential election, which is the World Series of democracy in this country.

Simply put, Comey, appeared to be so worried about his image, that he screwed up by firing off a letter notifying Congress  about emails his agents stumbled upon while investigating Anthony Weiner, estranged husband of Huma Abedin. He says he was obligated to update Congressional members.  Plenty disagree with that assumption, at least under the circumstances.

The problem is, at this point, days before the election, Comey has no clue as to what the emails say or what significance they have. It would be different if he knew.  But agents have yet to start reviewing them.

Sure,  Comey should be obsessed about doing the right thing. But doing the right thing isn’t always best for his, nor the FBI’s image. Sometimes you have to take a hit, knowing you’re doing the right thing. In this case, he did  what he thought was the right thing for his and the FBI’s image above all else. It was wrong.

Before Friday, Comey’s image was already under attack by some current and former FBI agents, conservatives on Capitol Hill and the Donald Trump camp — all of whom felt the FBI gave Hillary Clinton and company special treatment during the email probe, and that Clinton should have been indicted.

Comey and his underlings in the bureau have been catching hell for that.

Now, this.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Justice officials reminded the FBI of the department’s position “that we don’t comment on an ongoing investigation. And we don’t take steps that will be viewed as influencing an election,” said one Justice Department official.

“Director Comey understood our position. He heard it from Justice leadership,” the official said. “It was conveyed to the FBI, and Comey made an independent decision to alert the Hill. He is operating independently of the Justice Department. And he knows it.”

I’m sure Comey thought he was doing the right thing, though I wonder if he wasn’t also hoping to make amends with all those who faulted him for not recommending charges against Clinton.

Comey is no stranger to the politics of Washington and the sensitivity of elections.

In March 2004, during the President George W. Bush administration, Comey was deputy Attorney General when he rushed to the intensive care unit where Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized. Comey had learned that White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on the way to visit Ashcroft and get him to reauthorize Bush’s domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.

Comey went there and prevented that from happening. Back then, even though it was such an egregious attempt to violate the law, Comey knew better then to come out publicly that year and expose the Bush administration’s highly questionable intentions months before the November election in which Bush was seeking a second term.

I don’t agree with some who suggest that Comey be fired or resign. He is a stand up guy and has been good for the FBI.

But in this case, he screwed up.

On the upside,  Comey has turned Donald Trump around. Trump now thinks he’s A-Ok.

Not many Boy Scouts can say they’ve got Donald Trump in their corner.

 


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15 Years Later, Ex-Congressman Gary Condit Decides to Lie About His Relationship With Chandra Levy

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-12-27-00-am

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Ok, so it’s an election year where both sides in the presidential race have been endlessly accusing one another of lying. Perhaps, having been out of the game for a while,  former Congressman Gary Condit, a blue dog Democrat from California, feels left out and has the itch to lie, too.

I’m referring to his high-profile interview on Dr. Phil this week in which he insisted that he had a platonic relationship with intern Chandra Levy. He says police tried to frame him.

“I saw her one time outside the office, at a restaurant, and she came by my condo once,” Condit said of Levy on Dr. Phil. “Maybe twice. Yeah, I think it was twice she came by. Once again, I want to make this clear: There’s nothing unusual about someone coming by my condo. A lot of people did. People have made some speculation that that means something special … Both times she had a valid reason to come by.”

While at the Washington Post, I was one of the lead reporters who covered the tragic disappearance of Chandra Levy in 2001 and the discovery of her skeletal remains in 2002 in Rock Creek Park in northwest D.C.

Back in 2001, I first reported that Condit, during his first interview with D.C. police, admitted that Levy, who was from his California Congressional district, had slept over his apartment in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington. She was a 24-year-old intern with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Condit was then asked by police: So you were having an affair, to which he replied: “You figure it out.” At the time, details of the police interview were confirmed by five sources.

As the summer wore on, D.C. police and the FBI insisted that he was not a suspect. But they continued to investigate him, and follow up with interviews. He was certainly a person of interest, though there were some in law enforcement who felt strongly that he did not harm Levy.

Still, things weren’t going so well for Condit. The public was suspicious. (The next year he lost his bid for re-election).

His handlers, including the very aggressive and able Washington lawyer, Abbe Lowell, decided it would be best for him to take to the airwaves and clear things up.  ABC’s Connie Chung was granted the interview, which was a big get at the time.

On Aug. 23, 2001, the interview aired. It was a disaster.

Chandra Levy

Chandra Levy

A source who knew Condit told me that he was supposed begin the interview by reading a statement and admitting that he had an affair with Levy. The thought was that such candidness would give him credibility when he denied having anything to do with her disappearance.

Instead, he decided to forgo the statement and answer Chung’s questions.

It was a public relations nightmare. I watched the interview in the newsroom in near shock. I couldn’t believe he was being so evasive.

Chung asked if he had anything to do with her disappearance.

He responded: “No, I didn’t.”

She eventually got around to asking about the relationship.

CHUNG: Can you describe your relationship? What exactly was your relationship with Chandra Levy?

CONDIT: Well, I met Chandra … last, um, October. And we became very close. I met her in Washington, DC.

CHUNG Very close, meaning …?

CONDIT: We had a close relationship. I liked her very much.

CHUNG: May I ask you, was it a sexual relationship?

CONDIT: Well, Connie, I’ve been married for 34 years, and I’ve not been a … a perfect man, and I’ve made my share of mistakes. But um, out of respect for my family, and out of a specific request from the Levy family, I think it’s best that I not get into those details uh, about Chandra Levy.

If there were a time to plead his case, and deny having the relationship, it would have been then. But Condit knew better. So did the public.

Chung, who knew she had a ratings winner, pressed on. It was the biggest story of the summer.

CHUNG :  What we’re talking about is whether or not you will come forward to uh, lift this veil of suspicion that seems to have clouded you. Can you tell us … did you have a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy?

CONDIT:  Well, once again, I’ve been married 34 years. I have not been a perfect man. I have made mistakes in my life. But out of respect for my family, out of a specific request by the Levy family, it is best that I not get into the details of the relationship.

CHUNG:  Can you tell me this: was Chandra Levy in love with you? Were you in love with her?

CONDIT:  Well, I don’t know that she was in love with me. She never said so. And I was not in love with her.

CHUNG: Did she want to marry you and have your child?

CONDIT:  I only knew Chandra Levy for five months. And in that five months’ period, we never had a discussion about a future, about children, about marriage. Any of those items never came up in that five-month period.

CHUNG:  Did you ever make promises to her?

CONDIT: Never.

CHUNG: Did she want you to leave your wife?

CONDIT:  No. I mean, I’ve been married for 34 years, and I intend to stay married to that woman as long as she’ll have me.

And, oh yes, by the way, if there’s still any doubt,  investigators recovered a pair of  Chandra Levy’s underwear with Condit’s semen.

Condit has now written a book on his experiences titled: “Actual Malice: A True Crime Political Thriller.”

Obviously, he’ll sell more books if he’s viewed as a victim rather than a married Congressman full of b.s. who carried on an affair while his dutiful wife stayed back home in Modesto, Calif.

Eventually, the focus shifted to Ingmar Guandique, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador,  who ended up being convicted of Levy’s murder in 2010. He was  sentenced to 60 years in prison, but the conviction was tossed and a new trial was ordered. In July, shortly, before the trial was to begin, the U.S. Attorney’s Office  dropped the charges, saying it couldn’t prove the case.

Some people still think Guandique did it. After all, he had previously attacked female joggers in the park before Levy disappeared.

But others are once again asking: Who killed Chandra Levy?


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Despite All the Dead Motorists, GM Gets to Pay Off Justice Department

handshake

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

DETROIT — Imagine if you will, if former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was able to pay the Justice Department hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of going to prison for 28 years. Imagine if Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, accused of having a hand in 19 murders, was able to pay a couple million dollars to the Justice Department instead of serving life in prison.  Imagine if Dr. Farid Fata, a Detroit area oncologist who administered chemotherapy to patients who didn’t even have cancer, paid a $10 million fine instead of getting a 45-year sentence.

And then imagine, if you will,  if General Motors was able to pay $900 million to the Justice Department in lieu of having some of its employees go to prison for sweeping under the rug a gravely serious problem with faulty ignitions that resulted in well over 100 deaths.

Call it murder.  Call it negligent homicide. Call it manslaughter.

Call it a bloody injustice. Call it a shame that General Motors is able to pay off the Justice Department to make a criminal case go away.  Reuters reported Wednesday that GM has agreed to pay about $900 million in fines and sign a deferred-prosecution agreement to end a federal investigation into its handling of problems.

The Justice Department will charge the company, not any individuals, with criminally hiding the defect from regulators and in the process defrauding consumers. So what.

The Justice Department has historically failed to address some corporate crimes appropriately by letting some folks off without prison time. The message is clear in cases like this: “Just give us money and we’ll make it go away.” GM could have recalled these dangerous cars with faulty ignitions 10 years ago, but nobody made them do it, so they didn’t.  Lives could have been saved.

Sure, GM’s CEO Mary T. Barra can take some credit for cleaning house and getting rid of those responsible. Now, those folks have lawyered up and shut their yaps.

The word is that the Justice Department didn’t have enough incriminating documents or a real whistleblower to put together a solid criminal case against individuals.

But that’s no reason not to pursue a criminal investigation. If the feds could get N.Y. Underboss Salvatore “Sammy The Bull” Gravano to flip and rat out his boss, John Gotti, they could certainly have worked the case more and gotten some white collar workers to flip on co-workers.

Again, Mary Barra and GM should get some credit for cooperating with a federal investigation and offering payouts to victims, but that shouldn’t mean a free pass for those who could have acted responsibly and saved lives.

The $900 million is certainly a lot of money to you and I. But for GM, that’s a quarterly earning. GM can absorb that.

We rely on the automakers to produce a safe product, one that many of us rely on nearly everyday of our adult lives.  We don’t expect the automakers to be perfect and always produce a flawless product.

But we do expect them to respond appropriately, and in a timely manner, when they realize a flaw in their product could kill us.

Unfortunately, the Justice Department has once again sent a message to the automakers that cover ups are OK, so long as you have the money to pay for them when you get caught.

 


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My Adventures Tracking Marion Barry

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

In March of 1997, after being on strike at the Detroit News for 19 months, I headed off to D.C. to work for the Washington Post.

Sure, D.C. was home to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but to me, just importantly, it was home to the legendary Mayor Marion Barry, the guy who had become fodder in the comedic stratosphere after being busted in 1990 in an FBI sting for smoking crack. Comic Chris Rock had a field day with Barry.

Barry’s death on Sunday at age 78 reminded me of the various encounters and dealings I had with him over the years while working at the Washington Post. Sometimes I had to track him down to get a quote for someone’s story or go to a community meeting where he was speaking ,or write about his encounters with the law.

He was a character, and a charismatic one at that, though it seemed in the latter years he had far less energy and zip and suffered from various ailments.

My first dealings with Barry came after I’d been at the paper a short time. Barry had publicly said he had turned over a new leaf and was loyal to his wife. He said he was no longer a stray cat on the prowl.

But some reporters at the paper were hearing differently, that he was still running around, and had at least a couple girlfriends on the side. They had names and addresses.

The Post editors wanted me to stake out the alleged girlfriends’ homes to show that Barry was lying. It smacked of the Gary Hart story the Miami Herald pursued in 1987 after Hart, who was running for president, denied rumors he was a womanizer. The Herald staked out a D.C. townhouse and found that Hart had spent the night with a woman named Donna Rice.

To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable snooping over something so tawdry. I didn’t like the Gary Hart story, and wasn’t too crazy about this one. But I was relatively new at one the nation’s top papers, and thought, well, if the Washington Post is doing this, it must be journalistically OK. Frankly, weeks and years later, I never felt good about it, and in hindsight, should have probably objected to taking part in the stakeout.

Nonetheless, one night I headed out to a stakeout on a street off of North Capitol, just blocks from Union Station. I sat about five houses down from the alleged girlfriend’s home. I remember sitting in the car, calling a friend back in Detroit and saying something like: “You’re not going to believe what they’ve got me doing.”

I thought, even if Barry showed up and went inside the house, short of him spending the night, what was I going to prove without peeking in the window to make sure he was getting naked? Other than that, for all I knew, he could have been going over there to watch a Seinfeld show marathon.

I sat there for a few hours. No Barry.

Another night I was sent out to an apartment parking lot in Southwest Washington. Again, no Barry. Eventually, before I took off, I asked a few people in the parking lot if they had ever seen Barry come around. They had not.

That was the end of that.

The next year, I was working on a story on the 40th anniversary of Ben’s Chili Bowl, a legendary hot dog joint on U Street in D.C. Barry was a regular, as were a lot of politicians, and he was particularly fond of the turkey burgers. While interviewing him, he gave me a very memorable line, which unfortunately was cut from the article because of space.

“Ben’s Chili Bowl is for everybody. It’s for people who go to Morehouse and people who got no house.”

I loved that line.

Eventually, a Control Board, similar to an emergency manager here in Michigan, stripped Barry of his powers. And in 1998, he decided not to run for mayor again. Four years later, the man was back. He announced he was running for city council.

“It’s great waking up in the morning clean and sober,” he said at the time.

But weeks later, I wrote a story, along with colleague Martin Weil, that U.S. Park Police had found traces of marijuana and cocaine in Barry’s car. Police had been trying to keep the story quiet.

What happened was police encountered Barry after responding to a call of a suspicious vehicle in a no-parking zone in an area of D.C. known as Buzzard Point. The officer saw Barry ingesting something and searched the car.

Authorities decided the amounts of illegal drugs were too small to support a prosecution.

Barry dropped out the council race shortly after.

But he wasn’t done.

In 2004, he ran and won a seat on city council. He remained as a council member until his death.

He was a complex man with an addictive personality. Life wasn’t so easy.

But it sure was interesting for him. And frankly, he made it interesting for a lot of other folks including journalists like me.

The Washington Post Editorial board on Sunday put it best:

Those people will mourn Marion Barry today, but they should not be alone. All in this city who knew him over his half-century here ought to mourn the great promise lost over the course of a life that conformed in many ways to the dictionary definition of ancient tragedy, and recall with admiration the man who helped knock down barriers that are almost unimaginable to those of a younger generation.

 

 

 


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Terrorists Have Probably Given Secret Service More Credit Than It Deserves

Director Julia Pierson

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

I think the American public in general has been blown away by recent news of the lapses in Secret Service security involving the President.

I have to think, had terrorists any clue that it was so easy to breach security and get into the White House, they would have tried something long ago.

Thank goodness that the perception of a secure White House has trumped the reality. How any one could make it so far into the White House is mind boggling. 

Of the many times I passed the White House, I never once thought it would be easy to get in.  It looked so daunting. So secure. Apparently, not so.

 I’ve known a lot of outstanding Secret Service agents over the years, and I have to believe there’s a collective feeling of shame for the agency.  

Should Secret Service Director Julia Pierson have been fired?

Well, under the circumstances there seemed to be no other choice.  

There had to be an expression of outrage that came from the Hill as well as the White House, not to mention the public.

So, yes, the coach had to be fired when the team performed so poorly. In this case, it’s not a game.  

Now, we have to bring some of the top security experts in the world to evaluate the weak points in the presidential security details, both on the road and at the White House. It wouldn’t hurt to bring someone from Israel, a nation obsessed with security.

 We in America need so be obsessed about this issue. 

 

 


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We May Never Feel As Safe As We Did on Sept. 10, 2001

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Thirteen years  ago today, I was walking down Connecticut Avenue NW  in Washington, D.C.,  on my way to work, about to get on the subway, when I ran into a friend who asked if I had heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

I hadn’t. By the time I got off the subway at the Farragut North stop downtown, the city was in a panic. I ran into my editor at the Washington Post, who said she had heard that planes had crashed into the Pentagon and the State Department. Rumors were running rampant.

We got to the newsroom and everyone was standing around TVs watching the incredulous events unfold. 

A second plane had already crashed into the World Trade Center and a third had crashed into the Pentagon, not all that far away. We were under attack.

We all got our assignments. I was sent to D.C. Police headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW to hang out all day. I walked there, about 1.5 miles.  On the way over there, you could hear everyone on the street calling loved ones, checking in.

At police headquarters, a  group of reporters stood out front, hanging out. The police chief, Charles Ramsey, (who is now the Philadelphia Police chief) would occasionally drive by and give us updates. A plane in Pennsylvania was still unaccounted for. We kept looking up at the sky wondering if it just might come our way.

The world changed that day. We had been shaken before as Americans. We had the Oklahoma City bombing and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, but this was of a magnitude we had never seen before.

We’ve learned a lot since that time. At first, the FBI, jittery from not unearthing the 9/11 plot, and getting plenty blame for that, followed up on every tip it got, regardless of how silly it might have seemed. In time, it learned to separate the wheat from the chaff. Also, for a while, authorities were overly paranoid about anyone in D.C. taking photos or video of buildings. That eventually changed.

Plus, the government, the White House, the FBI and other agencies,  had a lot to learn about Islam.  The FBI shifted its top priority to terrorism, and we created the Department of Homeland Security, which frankly, the verdict is still out on how effective that has been.

Since that day, Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve become far more aware of  the potential terrorism threat.

Frankly, in the days that followed Sept. 11, 2001, I thought life would never be normal again.  Fortunately, things have returned to some semblance of normalcy.

But we’ll likely never feel as safe as we did on Sept. 10, 2001.


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Justice Department’s Seizure of Associated Press Phone Records is Disgusting!

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Last time I checked, John Mitchell of the Nixonian era was no longer our Attorney General.

But you’d be hard pressed not to feel that the crooked Mitchell was heading up the Justice Department, which we now learn,  secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press. It’s something John Mitchell would have done.

AP calls it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.”

I call it one of the most disgusting things to come out of Justice  in a long long time.

Eric Holder’s Justice Department has offered no public justification.

That’s because there is no justification in a nation where we have a First Amendment, in a nation where the government is not supposed to run amok and trample on the rights of press.

(Update: Holder said Tuesday that he recused himself from the probe involving AP and that deputy Attorney General James Cole supervised the probe. He said he’s certain everything was done according to the law, and that the aggressive probe into a leak was essential.)

In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012, according to AP.

AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt shot off a letter to Attorney Gen. Eric Holder Jr.:

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”

The Obama administration has come under constant attack by the right. With offensive antics like this,  it may not be able to count on support from the other side of the aisle in the future.

This shouldn’t happen, that is, unless it’s really the ghost of John Mitchell who’s running the Justice Department.

I’m not sure Attorney General Eric Holder would like to be saddled with a legacy like that.

 


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