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Tom Fitton's Judicial Watch Weekly Update

Obama Steps in Ground Zero Mosque Mess

August 20, 2010

From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:

Obama Steps in Ground Zero Mosque Mess

For months President Obama managed to stay out of the controversy over a plan to build a 13-story mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero, where radical Islamic terrorists murdered 3,000 innocents.

As I reported to you last week, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs deflected the question in a recent press conference when he said the mosque is “a matter for New York City.”

But last Friday night, during a White House dinner celebrating the start of Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting) President Obama couldn’t resist the temptation to weigh in: “Let me be clear: As a citizen and as President I believe that Muslims have the same right…to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan.”

As you might expect, the backlash from families of 9/11 victims was intense and immediate, forcing the president to offer a “retraction” the next day. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there,” President Obama said a day later. [Emphasis added.]

But the damage was already done. The president once again demonstrated that he is out of touch when it comes to the concerns of the American people.

It should not surprise anyone that the vast majority of Americans (68%) oppose the Ground Zero mosque. Democrat candidates, already left vulnerable by the complete failure of Obama’s domestic and foreign policies, couldn’t distance themselves from him fast enough. Heck, even Harry Reid abandoned ship: “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion,” said Reid’s spokesman in a statement. “Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.”

Ironically, the tidal wave of opposition to the president’s statement in support of the project might in the end lead to its undoing. The New York CBS affiliate reported on Tuesday the mosque could be on the move:

There was a possible resolution in the works in the debate surrounding the proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center near ground zero.

It looks as if the developers of the mosque may be willing to budge and move away from the Park 51 location where they originally planned the construction, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reports.

According to CBS 2, New York Governor Paterson was prepared to offer the mosque’s developers state land at a new location.

However, one of the men behind the mosque, Sharif El-Gamal, says this is all news to him and he insists he won’t budge: “This is not a debate. This is not a debate. This is us as Muslim Americans giving back to our community.”

No, this is a group of Muslim Americans (and their foreign government benefactors) who are trying to force the community to accept something it doesn’t want. And contrary to Obama’s intellectually dishonest remarks, I fail to see how Americans exercising their First Amendment rights to oppose the mosque somehow impinges the First Amendment rights of the mosque proponents. I know this president likes to apologize to our enemies, but to suggest that opponents of the mosque are opponents of the First Amendment takes his anti-Americanism to a new low. Sure enough, Obama’s Big Government ally Nancy Pelosi wants to investigate the 9/11 families and others opposing the mosque.

In the meantime, Judicial Watch continues its investigations of the controversy, launching a Freedom of Information Act request this week to the State Department concerning its taxpayer-financed junket for the Ground Zero Mosque Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

Stay tuned…

A Win for Blago as Government Cuts its Case Short to Protect Obama

After 14 days of jury deliberation, we have a verdict in the trial of disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. And I don’t think there’s a soul outside of the Blagojevich camp who believes justice was served.

According to The New York Times:

Prosecutors here once said that the conduct of Rod R. Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, was so despicable it would make Abraham Lincoln “roll over in his grave,” but 12 jurors in the federal corruption case against him were apparently not all so certain.

After deliberating for 14 days, the jury found Mr. Blagojevich guilty of a single criminal count — making false statements to the F.B.I., which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, one of the least severe penalties in the charges against him.

If you read the press coverage of this verdict, it is clear that public reaction to the verdict is nearly universal: “One count? That’s it!? Is this a joke?”

No, it’s no joke. And, truthfully, this is the result I expected after the government wrapped up its case. It looked like the prosecution’s case was distorted in order to protect President Obama, Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett. It’s that simple.

Let me explain.

As you know, we sent our Corruption Chronicles reporter to Chicago to report on the Blagojevich trial first-hand. Her name is Irene Garcia, and you can read some of her outstanding trial coverage by clicking here. But let me just give you a couple of quick highlights from Irene’s reporting:

  1. Blagojevich’s former Chief of Staff John Harris testified that President Obama had personal knowledge of Blagojevich’s scheme to get his hands on a presidential cabinet position by appointing a candidate handpicked by the president to take over Obama’s former Senate seat.
  2. Obama’s preferred candidate, at least initially, according to testimony, was Valerie Jarrett, currently the Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. (Obama and Jarrett go all the way back to the days when Obama was a law professor and Jarrett a corrupt slumlord.)
  3. Explosive federal wiretaps played at trial captured Blagojevich offering Obama’s Senate seat for a cabinet position. In one conversation, Blagojevich told Harris he wanted to be named Secretary of Health and Human Services if Valerie Jarrett got Obama’s seat. If Health Secretary “was available to me I could do Valerie Jarrett in a heartbeat,” Blagojevich said.
  4. The president also sent Blagojevich a list of other “acceptable” Senate candidates to fill his old seat. The list included Tammy Duckworth, Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, according to Harris. Harris also testified that three days after the 2008 presidential election Blagojevich told him he felt confident Obama wanted to swap perks.
  5. Blagojevich repeatedly ferried messages to President Obama through White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. For example, John Harris testified that Blagojevich asked him to call Emanuel to see if the president was “still in agreement” that the Senate seat should go to Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (The evidence suggests that Rep. Jackson, Jr. separately sought the Senate seat in exchange for a $1 million payoff.)

It looked to me that the trial was turning into a political nightmare for the Obama White House. And this may explain why the prosecution shut their case down a month early.

Immediately following the Blagojevich verdict, federal prosecutors promised to quickly retry the case, leading The Washington Post to speculate whether the Obama White House would be dragged into the mess this time around:

…if U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald has his way, there will be a new trial. New attempts by the prosecution to build a case against Blagojevich. New efforts by the defense to subpoena Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to the stand.

It might be no more likely that Jarrett and Emanuel would actually testify in court, but just the prospect will generate headlines again — headlines that would not aid the president’s goal of keeping his administration focused on the economy.

Let’s hope prosecutors get it right this time. I suspect that Eric Holder’s politicized Justice Department interfered with the investigation conducted by the reputedly independent U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. This trial and our independent investigation showed Obama lied about his communications with Blago. This is a serious case that demands an investigation and prosecution untainted by politics.

If and when there is a new trial, Irene will once again be back on the job, and I will continue to keep you posted in this space.

Judicial Watch Uncovers Key Documents Detailing Secret Obamacare Meetings

You may recall that back in March Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding closed-door health care meetings with Vice President Biden, HHS Secretary Sebelius, House Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid, Obamacare Czar Nancy-Ann Min DeParle and union officials.

Importantly, these secret meetings violated one of the president’s key campaign promises — to televise all health care discussions on CSPAN. And I think it’s worth reviewing what candidate Obama said about the health care debate during the campaign:

I’m going to have all the negotiations around a big table. We’ll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. Insurance companies, drug companies – they’ll get a seat at the table, they just won’t be able to buy every chair. But what we will do is, we’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.

Well so much for that. The president crafted his plan in secret with liberals in Congress and Big Labor, and then managed to power it, by hook and by crook, through Congress over the vociferous opposition of the American people. (You may recall that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously remarked that Congress had to pass the Obamacare bill so that we could all know what’s in it.)

The complete lack of transparency on the part of the Obama White House regarding the health care reform discussions is a scandal worthy of investigation. That’s why we filed our lawsuit. Here’s what we obtained recently:

  • A copy of Kathleen Sebelius’ schedule for the weeks of January 11-17, 2010, and January 4-10, 2010. Among other things, the schedule shows the attendees of several White House meetings that Sebelius attended, with a January 15 meeting specifically designated for a “POTUS MEETING ON HEALTH REFORM.” The meeting was scheduled from 1:30 pm to 4:00 pm in the White House Cabinet Room.
  • A list of all of the labor union leaders who attended the meetings along with brief biographical information on each participant. The list included: Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO; Andy Stern, President of the Service Employees International Union; and Jim Hoffa, President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, among other Big Labor leaders. It is interesting to see in the document that the meeting was paused so that Trumka could go up to Capital Hill to meet with “progressive” House members. (Trumka, by the way, is notorious. Back in the 1990’s, he invoked the Fifth Amendment in a corruption investigation involving the Teamsters and Clinton gang)
  • An agenda for a January 13 meeting between Big Labor and White House staff, including Vice President Biden. Importantly, this agenda was redacted in the original batch of documents released to Judicial Watch and was sent later under separate cover. The agenda shows that the meeting wasn’t about the public interest in health care, but about Big Labor’s concerns.

The January 13 meeting with Big Labor was reported on at the time. “Key labor leaders are back at the White House this afternoon for negotiations on health care, according to two sources,” Politico reported. “Their return suggests potential progress, or maybe a counteroffer, on resolving the standoff over taxing expensive insurance plans — one of the biggest remaining threats to the bill.”

The day after the meeting took place, The Washington Post reported that “The White House has reached a tentative agreement with labor leaders to tax high-cost health insurance policies.…The agreement clears one of the last major obstacles on the path to final passage of comprehensive health care legislation.”

So there is no question this was a significant meeting, as a deal was struck. And it helped pave the way for the Obamacare monstrosity.

Secret meetings like this, involving constitutionally-suspect czars, are one of the reasons that Americans are so concerned by this administration’s unethical approach to governing.

As you know if you’ve been reading this Update for any length of time, Judicial Watch is the nation’s leading organization fighting for government transparency. We believe it is critical to shine a light on the inner workings of government so the American people can know what our leaders are up to. This effort is especially important given the Obama administration’s never-ending quest to expand the size, scope and power of the federal government.

If you support Judicial Watch’s efforts to keep the Obama White House open and honest, please consider making a secure online contribution by clicking here.

Until next week…

Tom Fitton

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.

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