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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.

Here’s Why Chuckie O’Brien Deserves A Clearance Letter in Hoffa Murder

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Chuckie O’Brien in Florida in 2018. (Family photo)

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It’s time for the feds to give Chuckie O’Brien a letter of clearance that says he’s no longer a suspect in Jimmy Hoffa’s murder.

Why? Because the evidence is overwhelming.

For nearly 45 years, a cloud has hung over O’Brien, Hoffa’s confidante, “surrogate son,” driver, gofer and conduit to the mob. O’Brien, now 85 and in declining health, lives in Boca Raton, Fla.

Shortly after Hoffa’s disappearance July 30, 1975, O’Brien was named as a suspect by the FBI, something he’s had to live with ever since. For decades, the feds theorized that O’Brien picked Hoffa up outside the Machus Red Fox restaurant on Telegraph Road and drove him to his death. Hoffa was supposed to meet Detroit mobster Anthony Giacalone, who never showed for lunch.

Now his stepson, Jack Goldsmith, a former Justice Department official who teaches law at Harvard, has written “In Hoffa’s Shadow,” a book that lays out a pretty convincing case – including a timeline of his whereabouts that day – that O’Brien couldn’t have been involved.

Of course, O’Brien was no Boy Scout and was described by the FBI in 1976 as a pathological liar. Still, the facts strongly favor him.

The 368-page book, released in fall, has interviews with ex-FBI agents and a current federal prosecutor who believe O’Brien had nothing to do with the murder. Some, including current Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric M. Straus, had hoped to give O’Brien the letter officially clearing him of the crime.

But in 2014, after several years of trying, Goldsmith writes that then-U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade nixed the idea. She declined to comment for Deadline Detroit, as did the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Hoffa, 62 when he disappeared, had been released from prison in 1971 and was bent on reclaiming his throne as Teamster president. And he was willing to do almost anything, including expose the mob’s ties to the union and its pension fund, which organized crime essentially used as its private bank for loans. Some predicted Hoffa would get killed crossing the mob, which was happy with the leadership of Frank Fitzsimmons. They were right.

On the day he vanished, Hoffa was supposed to meet Anthony Giacalone for lunch at the Machus Red Fox. Giacalone not only stood him up, he made sure everyone saw him hanging out at the Southfield Athletic Club.

O’Brien surfaced as a suspect quickly.

New Agent on the Case

FBI agent Andrew Sluss, now retired, picked up the case in 2003.

He entered the investigation with the institutional belief that O’Brien was the likely wheelman for Hoffa’s last ride. But “within a year,” Goldsmith writes, “Sluss had concluded that this belief was erroneous and that Chuckie was not at the Machus Red Fox parking lot that afternoon. …Sluss also apparently studied the timeline of Chuckie’s activities during the afternoon of July 30 more carefully than the original investigators, and concluded that it was practically impossible for Chuckie to have picked up Hoffa…based on his known whereabouts that afternoon.”

As for Goldsmith’s account of the Hoffa investigation, Sluss tells Deadline Detroit: “I think it’s 100 percent accurate.” And he says with “no hesitation” that O’Brien is entitled to be formally exonerated with a letter.

Read more »


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The FBI Will Survive the Inspector General Report

Former FBI Director James Comey

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Dramatic headlines in the media may suggest otherwise, but truth be told, the long-awaited report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz contains few surprises.

Yes, we already knew ex-FBI Director James Comey stepped over the line at his press conference about not charging Hillary Clinton, and yes, we already knew he violated Department of Justice protocol by sending the infamous letter to Congress about reopening the email probe shortly before the election. And we already knew Comey thought his Boy Scout image trumped (no pun intended) the bigger picture: The presidential election. And we  knew that FBI agent Peter Strzok, a key investigator in the Clinton and Russian probes,  exchanged emails that were anti-Trump.

The 500-page report, an exhaustive one at that, includes damaging emails from Strzok that will give Trump plenty fodder for his late night twitter rants. Perhaps most damning is an email from Strzok in August 2016, shortly before the election. He wrote to an FBI lawyer, saying  “we’ll stop” Trump from making it to the White House.

Trump’s “not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” the lawyer, Lisa Page, wrote to Strzok, who was romantically involved with.

“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok wrote.

Ok, there was some little surprises. The report found that Comey had used his personal email for such things as sending himself a draft of a speech. The report found the practice was inconsistent with with DOJ policy, and certainly, it’s ironic considering he blasted Hillary Clinton for using personal email at the State Department. Still, it should be noted that it doesn’t appear he used personal email for classified info.

The report found that there was no evidence of bias inside the FBI to rig the Clinton investigation, which should come as a disappointment to the president and his allies, who figured that was a certainty.

Institutions like the FBI survive these things. The FBI has had its share of troubles over the decades. Ditto for agencies like ATF. That agency   has survived such messes as Waco and Operation Fast and Furious.

To show resolve shortly after the report was released, FBI agent Thomas O’Connor, president of the FBI Agents Association, issued a statement:

“FBI Special Agents put their lives on the line each and every day to protect the American public from national security and criminal threats.  The Inspector General’s (IG) report found no bias in the investigation.  It shows that Agents perform their duties with a focus on complying with the law and the Constitution.

“We support, as always, the Bureau reviewing and utilizing its policies and disciplinary processes to help ensure that we remain the world’s premier law enforcement organization.  We also reiterate that attacks on our character and demeaning comments about the FBI will not deter Agents from continuing to do what we have always done––dedicate our lives to protecting the American people.”

 It’s seldom good news when a federal law enforcement agency comes under such scrutiny. But ultimately it sends a positive message to the American people that no person or agency is beyond reproach.

In any event, this too shall pass.

Read the Full Report.


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Rudy Giuliani’s Fear of a Perjury Trap is Pure Nonsense

Donald Trump, via Wikipedia

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Former N.Y. Mayor and Rudy Giuliani, who served as U.S. Attorney from 1983-89, is going around telling everyone who will listen that he fears Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III is trying to set a perjury trap for President Donald Trump.

“The reality is we’re not going to sit him down if it’s a trap for perjury,” Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, tells Fox News.  “And until we’re convinced of that … we’re just going to have to say no.”

“Let me emphasize,” Giuliani added, “he wants to explain that he did nothing wrong.”

Let’s simply say this: You can’t be guilty of perjury if you tell the truth.

The truth is that Trump has had a problem at times distinguishing between truth and alternative facts.

All the president has to do is tell the truth.

Simple as that.

Perjury is charge for people who lie.

The truth is a great defense against perjury.


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Trump’s Remarks Point to A Bumpy Road for Jeff Sessions and Christopher Wray

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Heading up a major law enforcement agency like the Justice Department or FBI is never easy. It’s a major headache. There’s always a crisis around the corner.

Keeping your job and doing it with integrity has only been more challenging under the Trump administration. Don’t count on Jeff Sessions sticking around as Attorney General for all too long, and expect Christopher Wray to face endless ethical dilemmas dealing with President Donald Trump after his confirmation as FBI director.

The president’s remarks to the New York Times give a pretty clear indication of tumultuous times ahead for the two.

Trump tells  the paper that he would never have hired Sessions had he known he was going to recuse himself in the probe into Russia.

“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump said.

Everyone, perhaps except Trump, realizes Sessions had no choice considering he was in the the inner circle of the Trump campaign in 2016, and he met with Russian officials. It was a no-brainer for Sessions, and frankly, had he not, he would have been under great pressure on the Hill and from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to recuse himself.

Then there’s the comment about the FBI director.

“The FBI person really reports to the president of the United States,” Trump said in what clearly is an untrue statement. Sure, the FBI director can brief the president on a regular basis, but he doesn’t answer to the president, at least not in the way Trump thinks.

The FBI’s website states, “Within the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI is responsible to the attorney general, and it reports its findings to U.S. Attorneys across the country. The FBI’s intelligence activities are overseen by the Director of National Intelligence.”

Trump won’t have a very hard time pushing Sessions out. That seems to be a certainty.

But considering he’s already fired one FBI director, Trump will have a tough time firing a second one without catching hell from Congress and the American people.

These are challenging and complicated times for law enforcement.

What isn’t complicated is doing the right thing and not bending to pressures from the White House.

President Nixon tried undermining the justice system, and we know justice prevailed.


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Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, The Canary in the Coal Mine, Already Gasping for Air

Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general.

Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general.

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, a former U.S. Attorney from Baltimore, is the canary in the coal mine for the Justice Department. In very short time, in that role, he’s already gasping for breath, having been put smack in the middle of the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

The phrase “canary in the coal mine” refers to caged canaries miners would carry down into the mine tunnels. If dangerous gases collected, the gases would kill the canaries before killing the miners. In this case, the dangerous gases could be the dubious demands by President Donald Trump that could compromise the Justice Department, and ultimately kill the canary’s government career.

Skeptics of the Trump administration have always expected that Attorney General Jeff Sessions would play politics and try to please his boss, the president.  But Rosenstein, a career prosecutor who has worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has a reputation as a straight shooter. The expectation is that he’ll stand up and say no if Trump tries to compromise the department. If Trump pushes too far and won’t back off, everyone assumes he’ll get fired or quit.

But very quickly, he’s already gasping for air.

Rosenstein authored a letter for the president detailing how Comey acted inappropriately during the Hillary Clinton email probe and implied he should be fired, but never said it outright. Trump then shot off a letter to Comey, saying he was going by the recommendation of Rosenstein and Sessions to fire him. Skeptics found it hard to swallow that Trump had concerns for Clinton.

Yellow canary - Serinus canaria on its perch in front of a white background

Rosenstein apparently felt duped, or at least that’s how it’s being portrayed in the press.

The Washington Post reported that Rosenstein threatened to “resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.”

People will be closely observing, paying close attention to see if  the chirping continues to come from Rosenstein’s new office at Justice, or whether at some point, it’s silenced.

 


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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

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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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