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November 19, 2010
From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
Expel Rangel from Congress
On Election Day, voters sent a clear message to Washington politicians: No more corruption. No more secrecy. And no more backroom deals that enable shady politicians to remain in power. But did that message reach Congress?
If we are to look at what happened to Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) this week as a guide, the answer is “yes” and “no.”
At the beginning of the week, it looked like Rangel might finally get his comeuppance. On Tuesday, the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct (commonly known as the House Ethics Committee) convicted Rangel on a series of corruption charges that “brought discredit to the House.” As reported in The Hill and many other press outlets, Rangel was convicted by a House Ethics panel on 11 counts of violating ethics rules.
The convictions are serious and demonstrate a serial tendency on the part of Rangel to abuse his congressional office for personal gain. Judicial Watch and its supporters have been pushing the Ethics Committee to act for a long time, and it is satisfying to see some results.
You can read the official report from the House Ethics Committee here. The following is a summary of what the committee said Rangel did wrong:
- Rangel, who you may recall was formerly in charge of writing our nation’s tax policies, “forgot” to pay taxes on $75,000 in rental income he earned from his off-shore rental property.
- Rangel misused his congressional office, staff and resources to raise money for his private Rangel Center for Public Service to be housed the City College of New York. (He also put the squeeze on donors with business before his House Ways and Means Committee and used the congressional “free mail” privilege to solicit funds.)
- Rangel misused his residentially-zoned Harlem apartment as a campaign headquarters.
- Rangel failed to report $600,000 in income on his official congressional financial disclosure reports, which contained “numerous errors and omissions.”
It is worth noting that the Committee did not consider other serious corruption charges against Rangel. For example, it has been alleged that Rangel preserved a tax loophole for an oil company in exchange for a Rangel Center donation. The Committee also did not consider the charge that Rangel used improper influence to maintain ownership of his highly coveted rent-controlled apartment – the same apartment he improperly used for campaign activities. The list goes on and on.
And so, what do you do with a congressman who so flagrantly violated ethics rules – 11 times over? Expel him from Congress? Well that’s what Judicial Watch pushed for in a statement issued to the press on Wednesday.
Following a sanctions hearing, the full Ethics Committee, by vote of 9-1 recommended “censure” for Rangel, not expulsion. According to The Washington Post: “Censure, which is just below expulsion, is the second most serious punishment the House can impose on a member. The recommendation will next go to the full chamber, which will probably vote the week after Thanksgiving and is expected to endorse the committee’s decision.”
Some will try to play up the seriousness of the censure resolution, but it carries with it no tangible consequence for Rangel. I’ll put it this way. Censure was the punishment Bill Clinton was hoping to get from the House for the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Instead the House voted to impeach. And if the Senate had the courage to follow suit, he would have been tossed from office.
- Bribe Flushed, Stuffed In Bra
- Court Says Taxpayers Must Keep Financing Illegal Aliens’ Education
- Military To Monitor “Self-Radicalized” Personnel
- Napolitano May Exempt Muslims From Airport Pat-Downs
- Governor’s 2nd Term To Focus On Helping Illegal Immigrants
- Biden Says Stimulus Fraud At “Surprisingly Low Level”
- Rangel Asks Ethics Comm. To Keep Lax Punishment Tradition
- D.C.’s “Rubber Revolution” Matches Condoms To Personalities
- Financial Crisis Comm. Can’t Meet Probe Deadline
As this is Washington, politicians of both parties will pretend that censure is a serious punishment. But it is a “punishment” that simply requires Rangel to come to the well of the House and hear a disapproving statement read by lame-duck Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the real world, you get fired or thrown in jail for abusing your office and not paying your taxes.
Let me give you further context: The last time the House censured anyone was in 1983, when two congressmen (a Republican and Democrat) were censured for having sexual relationships with teenaged House pages. It seems that unless one is convicted of a crime, one can do anything as a congressman and not be thrown out of the House!
The fact that the House has so rarely resorted to censure is more indicative of the lack of seriousness about ethics in Congress than of the so-called severity of the censure punishment.
The full House should reject the Ethics Committee’s recommendation and expel Rangel from the House of Representatives.
This is a test for the incoming Republican leadership on whether it understands voters’ concerns about corruption in Congress.
Please call your congressman to let them know how you feel about the punishment that Rangel ought to face. You can reach the Capitol Hill switchboard at 202-224-3121.
Judicial Watch Appeals Lawsuit on Behalf of “Joe the Plumber”
Can a private citizen be subjected to a smear campaign by government officials for merely questioning a politician? That’s the issue at the heart of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit on behalf of Joe Wurzelbacher, known to most as “Joe the Plumber.”
When last I wrote about this lawsuit in this space, it was to give you the unfortunate news that a federal district court had (erroneously in our view) dismissed Joe’s claims. Judicial Watch lawyers have since filed an appeal for Mr. Wurzelbacher. And just last week we filed our first brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Here is why we’re asking the appellate court to review the lower court’s decision, according to our brief, which you can read in its entirety here:
Ultimately, review of the issues in this case is important, not just to hold these state officials accountable for this abuse of their power and the harm inflicted on Mr. Wurzelbacher, but because it goes to the heart of free expression and political participation in this nation.
Private citizens should not have to worry whether their letter, phone call, or simple question to a political candidate will cause them to be targeted for investigation. Mr. Wurzelbacher and all Americans should have the freedom to openly participate in their government without fearing reprisal from partisan government officials.
Now let’s quickly review the facts of this lawsuit.
As you may recall, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Wurzelbacher was throwing a football with his son in the front yard of his home when then-candidate Barack Obama and his campaign entourage passed by. Mr. Wurzelbacher, an employee of a small plumbing business, was given the opportunity to ask Obama a question about his tax policies affecting small businesses. Obama responded by famously saying, “It’s not that I want to punish your success; I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you — that they’ve got a chance at success, too. I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
This exchange between Obama and Mr. Wurzelbacher “went viral,” exploding into the news and on the web, garnering significant public attention. In fact, the exchange even made its way into the third presidential debate held on October 15, 2008.
Clearly, “Joe the Plumber” had struck a raw nerve with the Obama campaign. People saw the president’s comments for what they were: an endorsement of socialism. And Barack Obama was both embarrassed and on the defensive just weeks before the election.
Well, just days after Mr. Wurzelbacher asked his question the three highest ranking employees of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services at the time – who all just happened to be supporters of Obama – launched a dirt-digging expedition to try to smear “Joe the Plumber.” They instructed staff to access confidential office databases to retrieve sensitive information about Mr. Wurzelbacher, in an effort, it seems, to punish him for daring to question candidate Obama.
An Ohio Office of Inspector General report would later conclude that these investigations by the three government officials had “no legitimate agency function or purpose” and constituted a “wrongful act.”
Judicial Watch filed its lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Wurzelbacher on March 5, 2009. And on August 4, 2010, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, prompting Judicial Watch’s appeal.
There are two constitutional rights at issue here: The First and Fourteenth Amendments.
As our lawyers explain to the appellate court, there is a three-part test to determine when there has been a violation of the First Amendment: “1) the plaintiff engaged in constitutionally protected activity; 2) an adverse action was taken against the plaintiff that would deter a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that conduct; and 3) the adverse action was motivated at least in part by the plaintiff’s protected conduct.”
The lower court does not dispute points 1 and 3. However, the court ruled that Mr. Wurzelbacher did not effectively plead an “adverse action.” Judicial Watch disagrees. As alleged in detail in our brief, “the knowledge of Defendants’ improper investigation, prompted by Mr. Wurzelbacher’s First Amendment activities, caused him to suffer ‘emotional distress, harassment, personal humiliation, and embarrassment.’” Such injuries have been determined valid and compensable by court precedent (including precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court).
Regarding the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically the “right to be let alone,” the District Court ruled that the right to privacy is only triggered when the individual’s interests at stake relate to “those personal rights that can be deemed ‘fundamental’ or ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’”
Fair enough. But then the court advanced the argument that the improper dirt-digging done by the three government officials did not rise to that level. Again, we disagree: “It is certainly ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty’ that government officials cannot set out to violate the law and a person’s privacy by conducting improper investigations for improper reasons.”
Judicial Watch is proud to fight in court on behalf of Mr. Wurzelbacher. This is an important lawsuit, especially as the Obama administration continues to compile an “enemies list” and to retaliate against those who disagree with its now all too apparent socialist agenda.
JW Urges Pasadena PD to Abandon Sanctuary City Policy
You may recall back in July we filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Pasadena Police Department (PPD) after the city’s Chief of Police was quoted in the press saying the department prevents officers from “asking about anybody’s legal status unless it is a matter of national security.” (This lawsuit was filed Judicial Watch attorney Sterling “Ernie” Norris, who is also a former Los Angeles County prosecutor.)
Well, the lawsuit did the trick. We received a batch of documents in response to our original request that left no doubt that Pasadena is a sanctuary city operating outside of the law.
The key document from this initial batch is an April 4, 2006, internal memo to “All Employees” from former Pasadena Police Chief Bernard K. Melekian that states the following: “With the exception of national security issues, the Pasadena Police Department does not check the immigration status of people with whom it comes in contact. It has not done so for over thirty years and that practice will not change.” [Emphasis added.]
The memo goes on to suggest that this policy will remain in effect until the federal government adopts “a comprehensive national strategy that acknowledges the economic realities that produce the desire for people to come here” and until the borders are “physically secured.” This sounds like “we will disobey the law because we don’t like it.”
Chief Melekian then cited a well-worn (but spurious) justification for this unlawful policy: illegal alien crime victims and witnesses will not cooperate with law enforcement if they might be subject to deportation. (There are special visas specifically for any such witnesses or victims.)
Following up on this evidence, I sent a letter to the new Chief of Police Philip Sanchez on October 12, 2010, urging him to “reevaluate” the Pasadena Police Department’s policy and “conform it to the requirements of federal law.” Here’s an excerpt, but I encourage you to read the letter in full:
There is no way to reconcile the PPD’s policy, as articulated in the Chief’s Bulletin, with federal law. Limiting officers’ ability to inquire about a person’s immigration status to only those situations that involve national security directly contravenes [federal law]. PPD may not ignore federal laws when those laws are not to its liking or not consistent with its own policy preferences. Nor may the PPD set conditions that the federal government must meet, such as securing the border or adopting a different immigration strategy, before it will allow its officers to communicate or share information with federal immigration officials.
I told Chief Sanchez that federal law prohibits local law enforcement from interfering in the flow of communication between police officers and ICE. And I educated him on the federal protections already in place for crime victims and witnesses who are in the country illegally. Rather than adopting a “don’t ask, don’t tell” immigration policy that violates federal law, I urged the Pasadena Police Department to use the tools provided by the federal government to encourage Pasadena citizens to cooperate with the law while protecting themselves and their families.
Subsequent to my letter to Police Chief Sanchez, Judicial Watch made yet another shocking discovery: The Pasadena Police Department apparently has not been communicating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement at all!
We asked the PPD for documents regarding communication between the Pasadena Police Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And here is the PPD’s response: “No records regarding PPD’s contacts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement” as of October 26, 2010.
Now we know for a fact that illegal alien criminals have been arrested on serious charges. Judicial Watch obtained the official booking records for three illegal aliens arrested since August 30, 2010. (The police department did not automate this process until August 30 so no previous booking records were available.) And here are the three charges listed against these illegal alien criminals:
- Cruelty to Child; Possible Injury/Death
- Possessed Controlled Substance (1.35 grams of meth)
- Driving on a Suspended License
And yet, the Pasadena Police Department can document no communication with ICE regarding these dangerous individuals or any other illegal alien criminal that has gone through its system.
The citizens of Pasadena know about the devastating impact of rampant illegal immigration better than anyone. And yet the Pasadena Police Department is hanging citizens out to dry in order to continue its “politically correct” sanctuary policy. Pasadena may be taking its cues from the top. (Remember, the Obama administration recently announced that it will not penalize lawless sanctuary cities, such as Pasadena, that prevent the police from communicating freely with ICE.) But the law is still the law. And this Pasadena policy is certainly in violation.
Stay tuned for more updates in this space as Judicial Watch’s considers its next steps, which may include legal action.
Until next week…
Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation’s public life. To make a tax-deductible contribution in support of our efforts, click here.