July 2, 2010
From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
Supreme Court Spectacle: Kagan Evasive, White House Obstructs Press Investigation of Supreme Court Nominee
The Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing with Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan concluded on Wednesday. Once again the nation was reminded just what a ridiculous farce these hearings have become. (Trust me on this, I attended the first day of the hearings and sat through each and every opening statement by Senate committee members and Ms. Kagan.)
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that one Senator actually asked the Supreme Court nominee to weigh in on the “werewolf vs. vampire” debate raging among teenage fans of the movie series Twilight, there were a number of serious reasons to be concerned about how this hearing proceeded: starting with Kagan herself.
Remember now, this is the same Elena Kagan who had previously criticized judicial nominees for being evasive in their responses to the committee. Yet there she was this week, ducking, dodging and running out the clock.
When one Senator asked whether she would characterize the Roberts court as “too activist,” Kagan said, “I don’t want to characterize the court because someday I hope to join it.” When asked if she considered herself a liberal progressive, she pretended not to know what the term meant. At one point after a frustrating line of questioning, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter (a Democrat) lamented, “…you haven’t answered much.”
Those questions Kagan answered did nothing to counter conservative critics who believe she will be a “liberal progressive” on the High Court. We all know what the term means. So does the President who nominated her for that very reason. For example, Kagan refused to say the federal government has no right to tell the American people what to eat, a response that telegraphs that she will surely vote to turn back major constitutional challenges to Obama’s healthcare government takeover. Even reading the tea leaves of her cagey testimony, she surely is Obama’s leftist political plant for the High Court.
Other lowlights include her feeble defense of her decision to throw military recruiters off of the Harvard Law campus in violation of federal law and her ethically-questionable machinations to push for partial-birth abortion back when she was a political hack at the Clinton White House. (Our friends at Americans United for Life have done some excellent work on this issue.) She wouldn’t even tell Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) whether there are certain inalienable rights as referenced in our nation’s Declaration of Independence. An editorial in today’s Washington Examiner described the exchange:
Coburn pressed, asking Kagan if her response meant “you wouldn’t embrace what the Declaration says, that we have certain God-given rights, and that among these are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” Kagan replied that “my job as a justice is to enforce the Constitution and the laws.” She emphasized that she was “not saying that I do not believe there are not rights pre-existing the Constitution and laws.”
While Kagan was busy stonewalling her way through her confirmation hearing, we uncovered new information showing the Obama White House was busy obstructing a press investigation into her life and career.
This week we obtained documents from Hunter College High School regarding a White House effort to deny New York Times education reporter Sharon Otterman access to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s brother Irving, who currently teaches at the New York school.
Otterman requested and received permission from both the school and Irving Kagan to attend one of Mr. Kagan’s constitutional law classes before White House Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest intervened. “I’m definitely not comfortable with that at this point,” Earnest wrote to Ms. Otterman on May 11, 2010.
Earnest instructed Irving Kagan in an email on May 11 to direct press inquiries directly to the White House:
This reporter says she has permission from you and from the school to sit in on your class. I’ve articulated my concerns to the [Hunter College public relations representative] Meredith [Halpern] — who now says she agrees with me. I’ve articulated my concerns to the reporter, who’s feeling misled that we’re telling her no and she says she was told yes.
In the future, it’s important to direct all reporter inquiries to the White House. It’ll be easier for you to stay out of the middle of these conversations if you send them directly to us without responding.
Irving Kagan appeared to have no issues with Ms. Otterman’s presence in his classroom. “I told my folks at school I was willing to participate, but only with your agreement. Was that a mistake? If I hadn’t [been] willing to do it, I would have just said no, and not wasted your time.”
There was no indication in any of the documents regarding the White House’s specific objections to Ms. Otterman’s request.
It should go without saying that the Obama White House has no business interfering with independent press investigations of Kagan. These documents show that the Obama White House could care less about transparency on the Kagan nomination and is no friend of an independent media. One wonders what else the White House has covered up on Kagan’s background.
Many observers believed Kagan would be confirmed absent any major “gaffes” during the hearing. Why has this become the qualifying factor for Supreme Court confirmation? We should not be overly concerned about gaffes or slips of the tongue that occur during a hearing. We should be more concerned about the questionable choices made by the nominee throughout their career. And Elena Kagan has made many questionable choices, has no judicial experience and has little legal practice experience. (See banning the military and partial birth abortion for just two examples).
The press would like you to believe Kagan’s confirmation is a foregone conclusion. It is not. Please make your voices heard now on the Kagan nomination. With so many crucial issues, such as illegal immigration and Obamacare, on the docket, there is too much at stake to remain silent. A list of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee is here. Please contact them today. Given Kagan’s lack of transparency, Senators would well be within their rights to filibuster until she gives forthright answers about her record and her judicial philosophy.
Blago Trial Sends Shock Waves to Obama White House
With all of the focus on the Kagan nomination and the oil spill in the Gulf, an important government corruption trial involving impeached former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has flown under the radar. (Judicial Watch, of course, has not forgotten about Blagojevich and, in fact, we sent our blogger Irene Garcia to Illinois to cover the trial. More on that in a moment.)
While all of the action in the Blagojevich trial is taking place in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, shock waves from testimony this week reached the Obama White House.
As you may recall, Blagojevich is charged with dozens of crimes including attempting to “sell” the Illinois Senate seat left vacant when President Obama ascended to the White House. And the question on everyone’s mind from the beginning is this: What did President Obama know about this scheme and when did he know it?
Of course, around the time the scandal broke, Obama instructed White House lawyer (and former Clinton crony) Greg Craig to conduct an “investigation” to determine what contacts, if any, the White House had with the Blagojevich team about the Senate seat. Among the conclusions of Craig’s report: President Obama had “no contact” with Blagojevich’s inner circle regarding the Senate seat.
However, as Time.com blogger Michael Scherer points out, testimony during the Blagojevich trial suggests the President and Craig “failed to tell the entire story:”
On Tuesday, an Illinois union leader, Thomas Balanoff, testified that he received a phone call the day before the election from President Obama to discuss Valerie Jarrett and the Senate seat. Balanoff would serve as a go-between, connecting the Obama inner circle to the Blagojevich inner circle.
The Chicago Sun-Time’s excellent “Blago Blog” summarizes Balanoff’s testimony:
“Tom, I want to talk to you with regard to the Senate seat,” Obama told him. Balanoff said Obama said he had two criteria: someone who was good for the citizens of Illinois and could be elected in 2010. Obama said he wasn’t publicly coming out in support of anyone but he believed Valerie Jarrett would fit the bill. “I would much prefer she (remain in the White House) but she does want to be Senator and she does meet those two criteria,” Balanoff said Obama told him. “I said: ‘thank you, I’m going to reach out to Gov. Blagojevich.”
And that’s just what Balanoff did three days later when he met with Blagojevich. So if Balanoff’s testimony under oath is to be believed, the Obama White House was caught in a lie. Craig’s report mentioned a conversation between Jarrett and Balanoff but nothing about the President’s phone call. What else did Craig leave out?
As I mentioned, our own Irene Garcia is covering the Blagojevich trial from start to finish and you can read her outstanding blog reports here. (Irene covered the OJ Simpson criminal trial for the LA Times, so she knows her way around a courtroom.) Here’s one highlight from Irene’s firsthand reporting:
Blagojevich’s former Chief of Staff John Harris testified that President Obama sent Blagojevich a list of “acceptable” candidates to fill the seat.
According to explosive wiretaps played during the trial, Blagojevich wanted the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services if he selected Obama’s first choice, Valerie Jarrett.
Rod Blagojevich tried to sell President Obama’s U.S. Senate seat but he also considered appointing himself in a worst-case scenario if he didn’t get the right bribe. (Media mogul Oprah Winfrey was also considered.)
As regular readers of the Update know well, Judicial Watch has been investigating Blagojevich corruption for years. In 2007 Judicial Watch filed an open records lawsuit in Cook County court to obtain documents related to the federal investigation of Blagojevich. And just last year Judicial Watch obtained public records that prove Obama and Blagojevich had repeated contact after Obama became president even though the White House strongly denied it.
Remember to keep reading Irene’s Corruption Chronicles blog for regular updates and I’ll be sure to keep you posted in future installments of the Weekly Update.
Emails: Pentagon Colludes with Congressional Offices before Releasing Documents on Congressional Military Travel
Why is the Pentagon colluding with congressional offices on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about congressional travel junkets? That’s what we’d like to know.
Recently we uncovered emails from the Department of Defense (DOD) that show the Pentagon worked hand-in-hand with congressional offices prior to releasing documents subject to FOIA law about congressional military travel.
These “heads up” emails involved FOIA requests filed by JW, The Wall Street Journal, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call, among other organizations, related to the use of military aircraft by a number of congressional members, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
What was the purpose of these emails? They provided advanced notification to congressional offices regarding which organizations issued FOIA requests, when the documents would be released and, in many cases, the actual documents to be released as attachments. But the Pentagon’s Office of General Counsel didn’t stop there. They also followed up with phone calls as well.
Here’s just one excerpt from a November 17, 2009, Pentagon email to Wyndee Parker, National Security Advisor to Speaker Pelosi, related to a Judicial Watch FOIA request:
Subject: Judicial Watch FOIA to DoD re: Speaker Travel
We are preparing a release responsive to the Judicial Watch FOIA request attached.
I have put all Speaker Pelosi related travel docs on a CD and will send this in the LA [Legislative Affairs] run today or tomorrow
The package will be under your name and will go to H232 if that works. Please let me know.
As always, the documents are for your office use only as there may be additional redactions made.
Please call if you have any questions.
In addition to merely warning congressional offices of pending FOIA requests, as in the above email, in some cases the Pentagon provided assurances to congressional staffers regarding whether the documents released contained sensitive information.
For example, in a December 9, 2009, email to Mark Lopez, Chief of Staff for Congressman Peter Visclosky (D-IN), the DOD staffer writes: “CQ appears to be trolling for something to write re: your boss. I do not see much here, but I don’t know the reporter’s agenda. There will be additional releases on this request. I will give you a heads up on those too.” Another Pentagon staffer notes in a November 9, 2009, email to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “I don’t find any of the documents especially newsworthy, but wanted you to have them before they go out.”
Additional email correspondence from senior staff with the House Intelligence Committee voiced objections to the Pentagon’s refusal to redact the names of congressional staffers from documents released and requested the opportunity to review redacted material before release.
It looks as if, in some cases, documents on military junkets were released to individual members of Congress months before they were released to the public. This is outrageous. There is absolutely no reason why politicians should have the ability to preview FOIA documents before they are released to the American people. These insider notification emails to Congress are inappropriate and should be stopped immediately.
You may recall that Judicial Watch has initiated a comprehensive investigation of congressional military travel. Click here to read more. Previously, we uncovered internal Pentagon email correspondence detailing attempts by Pentagon staff to accommodate Pelosi’s onerous requests for military escorts and military aircraft, as well as the speaker’s last minute cancellations and changes — which cost taxpayers a bundle.
Judicial Watch also uncovered documents indicating that House Speaker Pelosi’s military travel cost the United States Air Force $2,100,744.59 over a two-year period, including $101,429 for in-flight expenses.
The collusion between the Pentagon and Congress raises one’s suspicions regarding what information has been withheld and for what reason. We continue to battle the Pentagon for documents related to congressional military travel.
In the meantime, have a wonderful Independence Day. (And maybe, for kicks, send the White House a copy of the Declaration of Independence to convey to Ms. Kagan.)
Until next week…
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