LOS ANGELES – A top Justice Department official has told “60 Minutes” the federal government is ready to combat any “dangers” of state-sanctioned recreational pot, amid criticism of the Obama administration for its relative silence on legalization drives in three states.
Voters in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon are set to vote on Nov. 6 on whether to legalize and tax marijuana sales, raising the possibility of a showdown with the federal government, which views pot as an illegal narcotic.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole, in comments to “60 Minutes” posted on Saturday to the website of CBS affiliate KCNC-TV in Denver, said his office’s stance on pot would be “the same as it’s always been” if voters approved legalization.
“We’re going to take a look at whether or not there are dangers to the community from the sale of marijuana and we’re going to go after those dangers,” Cole told “60 Minutes” in an outtake from a report on Colorado’s medical marijuana industry due to air on Sunday, according to the CBS affiliate.
Cole’s statement is an indication the federal government, which has raided medical pot dispensaries in several of the 17 states that allow cannabis as medicine, could also take aim at state-sanctioned recreational marijuana.
It also represents a break with the Obama administration’s relative silence about the pot referendums, which has led to uncertainty about whether federal officials would stop states from taxing and regulating sales of pot in special stores to those 21 and older, as proposed under each of the three state initiatives before voters.
Representatives for the Justice Department did not return calls or emails seeking comment on Cole’s remarks.
A top legalization backer, however, dismissed them as “innocuous,” unlike the stance Attorney General Eric Holder took in 2010 just weeks before a failed California referendum to legalize pot.
Recently, federal district court Judge Cormac J. Carney of the Central District of California, dismissed a civil rights lawsuit filed against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on grounds of bogus “state secrets privilege” claims made by the Obama administration.
That suit, Fazaga v. FBI, was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The plaintiffs forcefully argued that the Bureau illegally spied on Muslim residents in southern California, targeting them for “special handling” solely on the basis of their religious beliefs.
The atrocity played out in Carney’s court against a citizens’ right to due process under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, constitutional guarantees that extend to all government actions and proceedings that can result in harm to an individual either civilly or criminally, is only the latest in a long line of capitulatory rulings by a diminished Judicial Branch.
Under Bush, and now Obama, the Justice Department demanded that Fazaga be thrown out on the most specious grounds: that presidential authority in all matters relating to national security cannot be challenged by those who are the victims of predatory actions, regardless of their egregious nature, by the secret state.
THE United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft was developed by men in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol was hatched in Massachusetts.
But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.
When an Oregon college student, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, thought of using a car bomb to attack a festive Christmas-tree lighting ceremony in Portland, the F.B.I. provided a van loaded with six 55-gallon drums of “inert material,” harmless blasting caps, a detonator cord and a gallon of diesel fuel to make the van smell flammable. An undercover F.B.I. agent even did the driving, with Mr. Mohamud in the passenger seat. To trigger the bomb the student punched a number into a cellphone and got no boom, only a bust.
This is legal, but is it legitimate? Without the F.B.I., would the culprits commit violence on their own? Is cultivating potential terrorists the best use of the manpower designed to find the real ones? Judging by their official answers, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are sure of themselves — too sure, perhaps.
Carefully orchestrated sting operations usually hold up in court. Defendants invariably claim entrapment and almost always lose, because the law requires that they show no predisposition to commit the crime, even when induced by government agents. To underscore their predisposition, many suspects are “warned about the seriousness of their plots and given opportunities to back out,” said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman. But not always, recorded conversations show. Sometimes they are coaxed to continue.
Undercover operations, long practiced by the F.B.I., have become a mainstay of counterterrorism, and they have changed in response to the post-9/11 focus on prevention. “Prior to 9/11 it would be very unusual for the F.B.I. to present a crime opportunity that wasn’t in the scope of the activities that a person was already involved in,” said Mike German of the American Civil Liberties Union, a lawyer and former F.B.I. agent who infiltrated white supremacist groups. An alleged drug dealer would be set up to sell drugs to an undercover agent, an arms trafficker to sell weapons. That still happens routinely, but less so in counterterrorism, and for good reason.
“There isn’t a business of terrorism in the United States, thank God,” a former federal prosecutor, David Raskin, explained.
“You’re not going to be able to go to a street corner and find somebody who’s already blown something up,” he said. Therefore, the usual goal is not “to find somebody who’s already engaged in terrorism but find somebody who would jump at the opportunity if a real terrorist showed up in town.”
And that’s the gray area. Who is susceptible? Anyone who plays along with the agents, apparently. Once the snare is set, law enforcement sees no choice. “Ignoring such threats is not an option,” Mr. Boyd argued, “given the possibility that the suspect could act alone at any time or find someone else willing to help him.”
Typically, the stings initially target suspects for pure speech — comments to an informer outside a mosque, angry postings on Web sites, e-mails with radicals overseas — then woo them into relationships with informers, who are often convicted felons working in exchange for leniency, or with F.B.I. agents posing as members of Al Qaeda or other groups.
Some targets have previous involvement in more than idle talk: for example, Waad Ramadan Alwan, an Iraqi in Kentucky, whose fingerprints were found on an unexploded roadside bomb near Bayji, Iraq, and Raja Khan of Chicago, who had sent funds to an Al Qaeda leader in Pakistan.
The DoJ set up a task force in the 1990s to investigate reports of data manipulation by the FBI crime laboratories.
The findings of the investigation revealed that the laboratories of the FBI manipulated DNA test results under pressure from superior authorities and presented flawed results for years in order to tilt the case in favor of the claimants and against the defendants.
The issue was first revealed in 1995 when Fredric Whitehurst, a chemist and lawyer who worked at the FBI’s crime lab, testified that he was told by his superiors to perjure in order to facilitate the prosecution of two men accused of involvement in the World Trade Center bombing in February 26, 1993.
“There was a great deal of pressure put upon me to bias my interpretation,” the FBI whistleblower said at the US District Court in New York in 1995.
Whitehurst had written or passed along scores of memos over the years warning about the lack of impartiality and scientific standards in FBI’s forensic research on the World Trade Center attack and in other cases.
After the Justice Department’s inspector general began a review of Whitehurst’s claims, Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh decided to launch a task force to dig through thousands of cases involving discredited agents, to ensure that “no defendant’s right to a fair trial was jeopardized.”
It took the task force nine years to complete the mission. However, it never publicly released the results of its case reviews of suspicious lab work, the names of the defendants who were convicted as a result and the nature or scope of the forensic problems it found.
Tens of thousands are probably in jails on account of the flawed and criminal lab work conducted by the FBI, Whitehurst noted.
A recent review by the US daily Washington Post on more than 10,000 pages of the task force documents revealed that “the panel operated in secret and with close oversight by FBI and Justice Department brass – including Reno and Freeh’s top deputy – who took steps to control the information uncovered by the group.”
Innocent prisoners who were probably jailed mistakenly never got the chance to have their cases reviewed, because neither their advocates nor their relatives were informed of the flawed nature of the FBI laboratory results.
The Justice Department continues to decline to release the names of the affected defendants.
Did Alan Dershowitz accept blood money (aka speaker’s fee) from the MEK, a designated terror group? If so, he may’ve violated federal law. For the past several years, prominent public figures including leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from the Mujahadeen al Khalq (MEK), a designated U.S. terror group. One of the most recent such individuals is Alan Dershowitz, who spoke last month at a DC MEK conference alongside Rudy Giuliani and others. Now, finally the Justice Department is investigating how the MEK paid these people. If the funds are found to have come from the group that would be a violation of federal law since Americans are not allowed to receive funds or cooperate with terror groups. Of course, the MEK is pretty shrewd about these things and doubtless paid them through a subsidiary that supposedly would not be directly connected to MEK. But if Justice can tie the entity that paid them to MEK, then these people are looking at potential criminal charges. What I think is really happening here is that the Justice Department is firing a warning shot across the bow telling them to get off the gravy train. The MEK is not only a former terror group that has assassinated Americans, it is currently a terror group assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. A recent Stratfor memo notes an Israeli source claiming the Mossad “contracted” these hits, which would mean it paid MEK for them. Who knows, if the memo is correct then some of the funds MEK got from these acts of terror could even be going into Dershowitz’ pocket. I’m sure he would be proud to be paid out of funds derived from the Mossad. And perhaps even proud of being paid out of fees for murdering Iranians. It would make the rest of us blanch, but likely not Dersh. Let’s remember, shall we, the Bush administration’s valiant attempt to prevent Tariq Ramadan from “polluting” the halls of Notre Dame with his “Islamist militancy,” revoking his visa only days before he was to take up a professorship there. His “crime?” Giving charity to a Muslim fund which was found years later to be affiliated with Hamas. He was expected to have foreseen that sometime in the future the charity would become prohibited. This was enough to bar him from the U.S. for years and require a federal lawsuit to rectify the injustice done him. MEK’s shenanigans are embarrassing the Obama administration. Besides killing Iranians and blowing up military bases, they’re also lobbying to be removed from the terror list. This presumably would enable them to be accepted into polite society and perhaps even receive covert funding directly from our own CIA. Yet a new gravy train. But MEK is making it inconvenient by shreying against U.S. treatment of its refugees inside Iraq, demanding that they be repatriated from there. Rudy Giuliani even called the camp housing the MEK members “a concentration camp.” I think Rudy went one bridge too far. I posted about this recently. Ed Rendell, who’s made eight speeches for MEK, earned $160,000 in blood money. I hope he pays twice as much in legal fees defending himself. Of course, he would never have spoken just for the gelt. It’s the principle of the thing you understand:
“I made a lot of money last year,” Mr. Rendell said. “I don’t need the money. I would never sacrifice my reputation for any amount of money.” He’s even attempting to argue that the events at which he spoke were subsidized not by MEK, but by wealthy Iranian supporters he met from the audience. If that’s the case, then I suppose he can produce the check and prove it.
PHOENIX — America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff finds himself entangled these days in his own thorny legal troubles: a federal grand jury probe over alleged abuse of power, Justice Department accusations of racial profiling and revelations that his department didn’t adequately investigate hundreds of Arizona sex-crime cases.
Rather than seek cover, though, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is seeking to grab the spotlight in the same unorthodox fashion that has helped boost his career as a nationally known lawman.
Arpaio on Thursday unveiled preliminary results of an investigation, conducted by members of his volunteer cold-case posse, into the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, a controversy that has been widely debunked but which remains alive in the eyes of some conservatives.
At a news conference, Arpaio said the probe revealed that there was probable cause to believe Obama’s long-form birth certificate released by the White House in April is a computer-generated forgery. He also said the selective service card completed by Obama in 1980 in Hawaii also was most likely a forgery.
“We don’t know who the perpetrators are of these documents,” Arpaio said, although he said he doesn’t think the president forged the documents.
Earlier, the 79-year-old Republican sheriff defended his need to spearhead such an investigation after nearly 250 people connected to an Arizona tea party group requested one last summer.
“I’m not going after Obama,” said Arpaio, who has criticized the president’s administration for cutting off his federal immigration powers and conducting a civil rights investigation of his office. “I’m just doing my job.”
Some critics suggest Arpaio’s aim is to divert attention from his own legal troubles while raising his political profile as he seeks a sixth term this year. The sheriff vehemently denies such strategies are in play.
“You say I need this to get elected? Are you kidding me? I’ve been elected five times. I don’t need this,” he said in a recent interview.
Democratic state Sen. Steve Gallardo said Arpaio is pandering to relentless critics of the president.
“It doesn’t matter what President Obama does, they’ll never support him,” Gallardo said. “It’s those folks who will continue to write checks to Sheriff Joe because of this stuff.”
Arpaio’s probe comes amid a federal grand jury investigation into the sheriff’s office on criminal abuse-of-power allegations since at least December 2009, focusing on the sheriff’s anti-public corruption squad. Separately, the U.S. Justice Department has accused Arpaio’s office of racially profiling Latinos, basing immigration enforcement on racially charged citizen complaints and punishing Hispanic jail inmates for speaking Spanish. Arpaio denies the allegations and said the investigation is politically motivated.
Critics also have sought Arpaio’s resignation for more than 400 sex-crimes cases over a three-year period ending in 2007 that were either inadequately investigated or weren’t investigated at all by the sheriff’s office after the crimes were reported. The sheriff’s office said the backlog was cleared up after the problem was brought to Arpaio’s attention.
Speculation about Obama’s birthplace has swirled among conservatives for years. “Birthers” maintain that Obama is ineligible to hold the country’s highest elected office because, they contend, he was born in Kenya, his father’s homeland. Some contend Obama’s birth certificate must be a fake.
Hawaii officials have repeatedly confirmed Obama’s citizenship, and Obama released a copy of his long-form birth certificate in April in an attempt to quell citizenship questions. Courts also have rebuffed lawsuits over the issue. Of late, the president’s re-election campaign has poked fun at it, selling coffee cups with a picture of the president’s birth record.
On Thursday, Obama’s campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt offered a light-hearted dismissal of Arpaio’s probe – he tweeted what he referred to as a “live link” to the sheriff’s news conference, but instead provided a link to a snippet of the old conspiracy-theory based TV series, “The X-Files.”
Arpaio has said he took deliberate steps to avoid the appearance that his investigation is politically motivated. Instead of using taxpayer money, the sheriff farmed it out to lawyers and retired police officers who are volunteers in a posse that examines cold cases. Other posses assist deputies in duties that include providing free police protection at malls during the holiday season or transporting people to jail.
Even as he is under fire by the federal government, the sheriff remains popular among Republicans.
GOP presidential candidates have courted him for his endorsement throughout the primary season. At last week’s GOP presidential debate in Arizona, Arpaio won loud cheers. During a question about Arizona’s border woes, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said the government ought to give local police agencies the chance to enforce immigration law as Arpaio has.
Bruce Merrill, a longtime pollster and senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said the subject of the investigation plays to the sheriff’s base of supporters. And, he said, it highlights Arpaio’s gift for publicity.
“It’s something that the press will cover,” Merrill said. “He’ll get a lot of exposure from it.”
The FBI arrested a man suspected of planning to carry out a suicide attack against the U.S. Capitol on Friday. But the would-be suicide bomber, identified as a Moroccan national who legally resides in Alexandria, Virginia, was the target of a lengthy FBI undercover investigation and the public was never in any danger, FBI and Justice Department officials stressed.
The man, identified as Amine el-Khalifi, 29, was charged Friday by criminal complaint with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. property, according to the Justice Department. If convicted, he could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison.
According to the criminal complaint affidavit, a confidential source reported to the FBI that El Khalifi met with other people at a home in Arlington, Virginia and expressed sentiments that the group needed to be ready for war. Over the next month, El Khalifi made frequent trips to the U.S. Capitol for surveillance and observation, finding where he would enter the building, choosing the time for the attack and studying how to avoid police officers.
On Friday, El Khalifi allegedly drove to a parking garage near the U.S. Capitol. He carried with him a MAC-10 automatic weapon and wore a suicide-bomber vest reportedly given to him by FBI undercover agents posing as accomplices in the sting operation. But, unbeknownst to El Khalifi, both the weapon and vest were rendered non-functional by the police. El Khalifi walked alone from his car towards the Capitol building, where he allegedly intended to shoot people and blow up the bomb, but was apprehended before leaving the parking garage, said the Justice Department.
“Explosives the suspect allegedly sought to use in connection with the plot had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement and posed no threat to the public,” Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd told Yahoo News in a statement Friday.
“The arrest was the culmination of an extensive operation during which the individual was closely monitored,” Andrew Ames, spokesman for the FBI Washington D.C. field office, told Yahoo News. ” At no time was the public in any danger.”
Mike Levine, who first reported the arrest on Fox News, said that the man became the target of an FBI undercover terrorism investigation after he allegedly expressed interest in carrying out an attack.
El Khalifi had been under investigation for a year, U.S. officials told the Washington Post.
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