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Former FBI Analyst Says Trump’s Firing of Comey Shocked, Saddened Bureau

James Comey testifies about President Trump before a Senate committee.

James Comey testifies about President Trump before a Senate committee.

By Nora Ellingsen
Lawfare

On May 9, immediately after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CBS that the administration fired Comey, at least in part, because “rank-and-file” FBI employees had lost confidence in the Director—a claim that Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe later disputed when he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee a few days later.

I know a little something about rank and file FBI employees, having been one myself. I worked at the FBI for five years as an analyst in counterterrorism investigations before going to law school, and I still have a lot of friends and former colleagues there.

So Benjamin Wittes asked if I would write a short piece on morale at the Bureau following the firing. For the record, given what follows, let me stress that he didn’t ask for a puff piece about Comey. He asked what I could glean about the disparity between the White House’s account of the matter and McCabe’s. What is the mood like, he asked? And is there anything to be said for Huckabee Sanders’ claim?

I was hesitant to post on the subject. I am no longer an employee of the FBI, and even if I were, I would have concerns about presuming to speak on behalf of the more than 35,000 employees. I wasn’t sure I could write a fact-based post that would be able to capture or do justice to the mood of a massive and diverse organization. I’m not a pollster, after all.

But here’s the thing: opinion on the subject within the Bureau is not, as far as I can glean anyway, diverse at all. I spoke about my concerns with a friend and former coworker, explaining that I was worried that if I were to write on the subject, the post would devolve into a weepy love letter to Director Comey. My friend’s response went a long way towards summing up what, I believe, is actually the overwhelmingly consistent reaction of FBI employees to the firing of the director: “But how could the post be anything except a weepy love letter?”

Because the basic truth is that while Comey was a controversial figure in the larger political system and among Justice Department officials, he was not a controversial figure at the FBI at all. Nearly everyone loved him. In any other piece, I would caveat this statement as obvious hyperbole and oversimplification of the situation, but the degree of consensus on this point as I have talked to people has been incredible. In the most literal sense of the word, it’s almost hard to believe.

Commentary: Trump’s Firing of Comey Was ‘Legally Proper And Politically Necessary’

James Comey testifies about President Trump before a Senate committee.

James Comey testifies about President Trump before a Senate committee.

By Donald Brand
Fortune

As FBI director, James Comey proved himself a competent administrator capable of inspiring the loyalty of agents and staff. Yet President Donald Trump still should have fired him.

Despite the controversy that has ensued over the manner in which Trump fired Comey and the overblown comparisons to President Richard Nixon’s firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal, the simple reality is that Comey’s firing was both legally proper and politically necessary. None of this is to justify the inept way in which it was handled by a politically incompetent Trump administration. Nevertheless, Comey had politicized the FBI during the 2016 presidential campaign and he lacked the political skills to restore public confidence in the non-partisan character of the agency he headed.

Comey is widely regarded as a man of personal integrity. He first became known to the public when he threatened to resign rather than reauthorize a post-9/11 surveillance program that he viewed as legally suspect, even though it had the support of President George W. Bush and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. Attorney General John Ashcroft had been hospitalized for gall bladder surgery, and while he recuperated, Comey was filling in as acting attorney general. Comey not only refused to renew the program when authorization for it was imminently expiring, but he headed off an attempt by Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, and Gonzales to circumvent Comey by making a bedside appeal to the ailing Ashcroft.

Comey’s willingness to challenge presidential authority thus made him a seemingly ideal candidate for FBI director when he was appointed in 2013. The FBI has historically cultivated a reputation for non-partisan independence from both presidential and congressional interference.

Yet during the 2016 presidential election, Comey decided not to prosecute Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her actions regarding the handling of classified material on a private email server. In a May 9 memo, Rod Rosenstein, Trump’s deputy attorney general, argued that the former FBI director had improperly usurped the authority of the Justice Department in making that decision. That led Rosenstein to the conclusion that Comey should be terminated.

To read more click here.

Jones: Jeff Sessions Shows No Respect for Black Lives After Consent Decree Review

Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the Trump campaign.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the Trump campaign.

Solomon Jones
Philadelphia Inquirer

After the recent actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, even the few black voters who supported Donald Trump despite his bigoted campaign rhetoric must now admit the obvious. A vote for Trump was a vote for racist policies.

Sessions’ decision to order a broad review of federal agreements with dozens of law-enforcement agencies is nothing short of an attack on black and brown people. After all, those agreements were necessitated by systemic police abuses targeting minority communities. Attempting to pull out of those agreements – most of which have already been approved in federal court – delivers an indisputable message: Black lives don’t matter to the Trump administration.

And make no mistake. This is about black lives.

That truth is not lost on activists who’ve long fought systemic police abuses targeting blacks. Few of them are surprised that Sessions – who once was denied a federal judgeship based largely on allegations of racism – is the man leading the charge.

“Jeff Sessions’ entire career in the justice system is rooted in racism and anti-blackness,” Asa Khalif, who leads Pennsylvania Black Lives Matter, told me. “If there was ever a time to rally and stand together as black people, it’s now.”

Given that Trump thanked black people for not voting after his surprising Electoral College victory, I think Khalif is right. We must stand together, because the examination of police departments across the country were spurred by high-profile police killings of unarmed African Americans. The same black people featured prominently in Justice Department reports that meticulously documented patterns of systemic police abuse.

The Obama administration compiled one such report following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after suffering a spinal injury in a police van when officers failed to properly restrain him with seat belts. Based on interviews, documents and an extensive review of six years of data, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division concluded that the Baltimore Police Department engaged in an ongoing pattern of discrimination against African Americans.

The report minced no words in laying out the truth.

“BPD’s targeted policing of certain Baltimore neighborhoods with minimal oversight or accountability disproportionately harms African-American residents,” the report said. “Racially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD’s enforcement actions, from the initial decision to stop individuals on Baltimore streets to searches, arrests and uses of force. These racial disparities, along with evidence suggesting intentional discrimination, erode the community trust that is critical to effective policing.”

To read more click here. 

USA Today Columnist: ICE Should Stop Taking Parents from Children

Courtesy of ICE

Courtesy of ICE

Janet Murguia
USA Today 

The immigration debate in America is the place where conservative principles — fiscal responsibility, federalism and the “preservation of the family unit” — go to die.

As we’ve seen over the past two months, a country that has for centuries been a beacon for the world’s immigrants is now pursuing policies that will surely leave her on the wrong side of history. President Trump’s immigration agenda — one fitfully symbolized by a yet-to-be-built wall — threatens to tear apart American families while leaving a trail of misery across the United States.

As the president’s budget moves from bluster to blueprint, we can clearly see that the campaign rhetoric used to rile racists was not a cynical appeal waiting to be washed away by reason. His funding requests to Congress have set in motion an attempt to massively expand detention camps and escalate an already large deportation force. To put these dollars in perspective, the United States already spends about $18 billion on immigration enforcement. That’s more than on all the other federal law enforcement agencies combined: the ATF, the DEA, the FBI, the Federal Marshals Service and the Secret Service.

What confronts us now is scorched-earth immigration enforcement that will separate as many as 5.7 million American children from their parents. Some of them already have watched as newly emboldened Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have set upon their families. As White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer put it this past month, The president wants to “take the shackles off individuals in these agencies.”

This practice will have devastating consequences on our nation’s families, as illustrated by the story of 13-year-old Fatima Avelica, whose life was devastated in February by the president’s first nationwide immigration sweep. One month ago, she witnessed and captured on film the ICE arrest of her father Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez after they dropped her younger sister off at school. Agents were acting on a deportation order issued in 2014. Fatima sobbed from the back seat as her father, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who has lived in the United States for more than 25 years, was put in handcuffs and taken away.

To read more click here. 

Boston Globe Columnist: Time for FBI Director James Comey to Resign

FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey

By Michael Cohen
Boston Globe

James Comey really messed up.

The FBI director did not commit some garden-variety mistake. This is not an “oops” moment. For reasons that have more to do with protecting himself from dishonest Republican attacks, Comey committed an overtly egregious and political act that roiled the nation’s politics 11 days before Election Day — and undermined public trust in the nation’s criminal justice institutions.

And he needs to go.

When word broke Friday afternoon that Comey had notified Congress that he was taking a new look at Hillary Clinton’s apparently never-ending e-mail issue, it seemed like a bombshell moment.

But it is now increasingly clear that Comey was holding a dud. What he did know is that e-mails from Clinton’s assistant, Huma Abedin, had been found on the computer of her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. The problem is, that’s all he knew. There was no evidence that the e-mails were from Clinton, contained classified material, or had any investigative value.

Unreasonable Police Searches Are Illegal And Happen Far Too Often

police lightsBy Steve Chapman
Chicago Tribune

The most memorable moment of the recent Democratic National Convention was when the father of a Muslim U.S. Army captain killed in Iraq demanded of Donald Trump, “Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.” Conservatives, however, also revere our founding document. At the first tea party rallies in 2009, attendees waved copies.

But the Constitution is not self-enforcing, and one important section has eroded to the point of invisibility: the Fourth Amendment. It says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” In much of America, that guarantee is an empty promise.

The latest evidence came in a report on police practices in Baltimore, issued Aug. 10 by the U.S. Department of Justice after an investigation spurred by the 2015 death of Freddie Gray. It documents that the city’s law enforcement officers operate with virtually no regard for the Fourth Amendment.

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cops may stop someone when they have reasonable grounds to suspect criminal activity and, if they have reasonable grounds to think the person is armed, may frisk him lightly to detect weapons. They may not stop anyone they please, and they may not vigorously search a citizen’s clothing and body without a good reason.

The court intended to empower police only within strict limits. It emphasized, “No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law.”

But the Justice Department found that in Baltimore, police routinely stop people on the street without reasonable suspicion, conduct physical searches that lack adequate grounds and exceed legal limits, and arrest people without justification. Each of these practices is more than a mistake: It is a violation of fundamental liberties at the heart of what it means to be an American.

To read more click here. 

USA Today Column: CIA Isn’t Providing Presidential Candidates with Classified Info

donald trump rallyBy Ray Locker
USA Today

Intelligence briefings for presidential candidates, a tradition since 1952, have stirred more controversy this year than in any campaign since 1960, as the critics of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump say they can’t be trusted with vital national security information.

Trump’s habit of saying or tweeting anything that comes into his mind has led to unsubstantiated claims that he spilled secret information about Saudi Arabia, while critics such as House Speaker Paul Ryan say Clinton’s past use of an unsecured email server makes her ineligible to receive classified information.

Since President Harry Truman started the briefings to make sure the two nominees didn’t inadvertently veer into topics that interfered with ongoing policy, most briefings have been routine and uneventful. But there was an exception in 1960, when the fate of U.S. policy in Cuba drove much of the political debate, and that led to a change in nominee briefings that endures to this day.

Republican Vice President Richard Nixon and Democratic Sen. John Kennedy of Massachusetts were locked in an extremely tight race for the presidency. Kennedy claimed the incumbent administration of President Dwight Eisenhower was soft on the newly minted communist government of Fidel Castro in Cuba.

A growing exile community in the United States wanted Castro gone, and in March 1960, Eisenhower approved a covert program to oust Castro.

During the final weeks of the campaign, the Kennedy campaign released a statement calling for a brigade of exiled Cubans to retake Cuba. Kennedy, who was sleepingwhen the statement was issued, never saw it before it was released.

To read more click here. 

Other Stories of Interest

Columnist: Justice Department’s Data-Sharing Plan Protects Privacy

department-of-justice-logoBy Melanie Teplinski
Christian Science Monitor

Earlier this month, the Justice Department unveiled a legislative proposal to facilitate cross-border data sharing for law enforcement purposes. While critics called it a “threat to privacy,” that characterization reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the plan. To the contrary, it’s an approach that would promote privacy, security, and innovation. It should be applauded, not decried.

The draft legislation responds to significant law enforcement problems that result from the rise of the global reach of the Internet, and the peculiarities of US law.

Until recently, law enforcement officials could find most of the evidence needed to investigate local crimes within their own countries. There were, of course, times when evidence was moved across borders or agents were tracking multinational criminals and gangs. In those situations, law enforcement officers either opened joint investigations with foreign counterparts or employed the mutual legal assistance process and made diplomatic requests for sought-after evidence.

Today, however, evidence is routinely located in other jurisdictions, often in the US. Much of the world’s communications are digitized and held by American companies such as Google or Microsoft. A 30-year-old US law called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act prohibits these firms from turning over the contents of US-held communications to foreign governments, even if the requesting government is investigating its own citizens with respect to a local crime.

Now, imagine if British police investigating a murder in London seek the suspect’s emails. If the perpetrator used a British internet provider, investigators would have the emails in days. But if the email provider is an American company, police must initiate the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process, which requires a US judge to approve the request. And that takes an average of 10 months to complete. Meanwhile, the murder goes unsolved.

To read more click here.