Weekly Update: JW Wins Capitol Hill Ethics Battle
JANUARY 06, 2017
Judicial Watch Calls On House to Retain Congressional Ethics Office
JW Uncovers Another Obama Administration Email Scandal
Jihadists Train, Plan U.S. Attack from Mexican Border State
Premier Vodcast: Chris Farrell’s “On Watch” Investigative Report
True to our non-partisan mission, nine years ago, we worked with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Special Task Force on Ethics Enforcement to push for an independent body to help handle ethics investigations of House members.
This effort led to the establishment in 2008 of the Office of Congressional Ethics. This week House Republicans proposed a rule change that would eliminate this office and set up a new entity under the complete control of the House Ethics Committee. This new entity would be less transparent and would be subject to severe restrictions on any investigations of allegations of misconduct.
Now this all took place during a late day meeting this past Monday, which was a federal holiday. Tracking developments from home, it became clear what was happening, and I tweeted the following:
Poor way to begin draining the swamp, @SpeakerRyan.
The liberal media and Democrats, of course, pounced, picking up the tweet and highlighting the opposition of the conservative Judicial Watch to this ethics gambit. Many Americans, who are conservative and principled, quickly saw this as more of the business as usual gamesmanship from Washington politicians who don’t want to be held accountable. (Democrats were particularly dishonest in their criticism, as many would have loved the see the ethics office disappear.)
Adding to the pressure on Congress, I issued this statement for JW on Tuesday morning:
It is shameful that House Republicans are trying to destroy the Office of Congressional Ethics, the most significant ethics reform in Congress when it was established nearly a decade ago. This drive-by effort to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics, which provides appropriate independence and transparency to the House ethics process, is a poor way for the Republican majority to begin “draining the swamp.” The American people will see this latest push to undermine congressional ethics enforcement as shady and corrupt. The full House should seriously consider whether it wants to bear the brunt of public outrage and go through with the rule change this afternoon.
President-elect Trump followed JW’s lead and good sense, subsequently tweeting his concern about the changes, too:
With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS [Drain The Swamp]
At least for now, Mr. Trump clearly remembers how he won the presidency on his anti-corruption message.
More importantly, constituents called their House members to voice their objections. And within a few hours, House Republicans retreated and left the Office of Congressional Ethics intact.
Judicial Watch’s leadership and independence were noted all over the media (see, for example, Town Hall, The Washington Post, and Breitbart). Even the liberal New York Times gave us a backhanded compliment:
The public protests over the House move to weaken the office were heartening. Even the conservative group Judicial Watch paused in its pursuit of Hillary Clinton to decry the [Rep. Bob] Goodlatte [R-VA] proposal as a “poor way to begin draining the swamp.”
The House Republicans now supposedly will do what they should have done in the first place, which is to discuss any ethics reform in a manner that is more transparent. Your Judicial Watch will continue to be a leader in that debate, advocating stronger ethics and more transparency and accountability on Capitol Hill.
Many officials in the Obama administration, and not just Hillary Clinton, improperly used personal email accounts to conduct official business. And we are concerned that they will destroy these emails when they leave office this month.
For that reason, we asked a federal court to preserve the personal email accounts of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and other top officials. Judge Randolph D. Moss held a court hearing this week.
We had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking agency records in the personal email accounts used by Secretary Johnson, Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Chief of Staff Christian Marrone, and General Counsel Stevan Bunnell to conduct official government business (Judicial Watch v U.S. Department of Homeland Security (No. 1:16-cv-00967)).
The lawsuit has already uncovered documents showing that Johnson and other top DHS officials were exempted from a strict ban placed on web-based personal email accounts despite heightened security concerns.
The order for the hearing follows a Motion for Preservation Order filed by Judicial Watch on December 22. In that filing Judicial Watch asked the court to issue a preservation order for the non-.gov emails of Johnson, Mayorkas and Bunnell because their departure from government service is anticipated upon the installation of the new administration and Homeland Security will no longer have any control over these individuals:
The records at issue are in the physical possession of three current agency officials and one former agency official. With the upcoming change in administrations on January 20, 2017, it is likely that the three officials currently in office (Secretary Jeh Johnson, Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and General Counsel Stevan Bunnell) will leave government service.
Counsel for DHS has informed [Judicial Watch’s] counsel that DHS has “asked” these officials to preserve the agency records in their possession. DHS’ counsel declined to provide any evidence supporting this assertion. Because [Judicial Watch] does not know specifically what DHS asked its employees to do and what, if any, other steps DHS has taken to ensure preservation, Plaintiff is concerned DHS’s mere requests to its employees are insufficient. This will be particularly concerning once the officials possessing the emails leave government employment, as the agency will have no control over the actions of these officials.
A court order requiring preservation of these emails is particularly necessary now as DHS has suggested that these officials may have been acting without authorization by sending emails from these accounts…. As such, there is no assurance that these officials will abide by a “request” by the agency to preserve these emails, particularly after their employment ends.
An order requiring DHS to take steps to preserve the agency records at issue is consistent with an agency’s recordkeeping responsibilities to retain and manage government records subject to the Federal Records Act….If the agency officials are permitted to leave their employment while retaining agency records in their personal email accounts, it risks creating a situation comparable to that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In that instance, it is undisputed that only a portion of Secretary Clinton’s emails eventually were returned to the agency.
[Judicial Watch] respectfully requests expedited consideration of this motion in light of the likely imminent departure from government service of the three agency officials possessing agency records in their personal email accounts.
The court hearing exposed that the Obama administration has done absolutely nothing to retrieve the government records likely on these accounts. The transcript reads:
THE COURT: But you say to me there’s no reason to doubt that the agency will pursue the records and that they’ll be returned, but it’s been six months. Is there any evidence that anything has been done to retrieve those documents or records?
HEAPS: I think that the six months though, your Honor, refers to the time in a FOIA request which is independent of any obligations under the Federal Records Act. And I don’t think we would be in this position with respect to the FOIA case had a valid request been filed or submitted.
THE COURT: But put that aside for a second. I mean, the government has been on notice at least since May though that there’s reason to believe that there are e-mails that are residing on individuals’ private servers that are government records, right?
HEAPS: Your Honor, the first thing I would point out — and I think it’s important because we’re going back and forth between FOIA and the Federal Records Act, is we don’t have reason to believe — or let me be clear, we don’t know that there are federal records that are in the personal e-mail accounts.
THE COURT: So has anyone checked to see if there are? Has anyone asked a question, anything to try and figure that out?
HEAPS: I can’t represent one way or the other to that, your Honor.
As you see in the transcript, we didn’t get our requested preservation order yesterday. But the court did require the government to provide more information and may take action soon. Judge Moss’s follow-up order reads:
On or before 1/12/2017, the Government is to produce, under seal, for in-camera submission, the preservation requests that it sent to all four of the individuals; The Government is also to file a notice on the public record, on or before 1/12/2017, regarding the in-camera filing, and to indicate the individuals intentions with respect to abiding by the preservation requests.
I told reporters after the hearing that Obama administration was creating another “Hillary Clinton-type email disaster with eyes wide open.” But as with the Clinton emails, your Judicial Watch is on the case and our attorneys will try to use the courts to enforce the rule of law and preserve your right to know.
For years we have alerted you to the dangers posed by a porous border with Mexico. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the only people wanting to enter our country illegally are children and families seeking work “Americans don’t want to do.” Last week, I alerted you to our report about Islamic terrorist fundraising and planning in Latin America.
I have more concerning news for you today from our Corruption Chronicles blog – which sounded the alarm on jihadists training just 130 miles from our border with an eye on entering the United States.
A Jihadi-cartel alliance in the Mexican state of Nuevo León is collaborating to carry out attacks in American cities and ports of entry along the southern border, according to intelligence obtained by Judicial Watch from confidential U.S. and Mexican law enforcement sources. As part of the plan, militant Islamists have arrived recently at the Monterrey International Airport situated in Apodaca, Nuevo León, about 130 miles south of the Texas border.
An internal Mexican law enforcement report obtained by Judicial Watch confirms that Islamic terrorists have “people along the border, principally in Tijuana, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.” Cartel informants tell law enforcement contacts that “they are only waiting for the order and the times to carry out a simultaneous attack in the different ports of entry or cities of the United States of America.” Drug cartels have a working “agreement” with Islamic terrorists, according to a high-ranking Mexican police administrator, who said that men from the Middle East arrive regularly into the country to “train” jihadists.
Judicial Watch sources include veteran law enforcement officials in the U.S. and Mexico as well as longtime undercover informants who have worked for intelligence agencies in both countries, mainly in the crime-infested southern border region. They can’t be identified out of fear for their safety. One seasoned Mexican law enforcement official told Judicial Watch that a key cartel informant verified picking up various Middle Eastern individuals from “evil groups” at the Monterrey Airport in the last few days alone. The informant is extremely credible and has also worked for several U.S. government agencies, Judicial Watch has verified through various federal, state and local sources.
The relationship between Islamic jihadists and Mexican drug operations is nothing new and Judicial Watch has been reporting it for years as part of an ongoing investigation into cartels, corruption and terrorism. The partnership has ignited a major security threat for the U.S. with Islamic terrorists training in southern border towns near American cities. This includes an ISIS training camp just a few miles from El Paso, Texas, in an area known as “Anapra” situated just west of Ciudad Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Back in 2014 Judicial Watch broke a story about a Mexican-based ISIS operation to attack the U.S. with car bombs or other vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED). The threat was so imminent that Ft. Bliss, the U.S. Army post in El Paso, implemented increased security measures even though authorities publicly denied the plot.
Earlier this year Judicial Watch obtained State Department documents showing that for more than a decade the U.S. government has known that “Arab extremists” are entering the country through Mexico with the assistance of smuggling network “cells.” In 2015 Judicial Watch reported exclusively that Mexican drug cartels are smuggling foreigners from countries with terrorist links into a small Texas rural town near El Paso and they’re using remote farm roads—rather than interstates—to elude the Border Patrol and other law enforcement barriers. The foreigners are classified as Special Interest Aliens (SIA) and they are being transported to stash areas in Acala, a rural crossroads located around 54 miles from El Paso on a state road – Highway 20. Once in the U.S., the SIAs wait for pick-up in the area’s sand hills just across Highway 20.
I encourage you to also read the Corruption Chronicles report on the systematic bribing of DHS agents who allow drugs and illegal aliens to enter our country through El Paso. The border is a disaster of corruption and threats to our national security. We will continue to press urgently for appropriate responses from public officials, while continuing our cutting-edge investigations exposing the truth.
Let me introduce to you a new feature here at Judicial Watch: Chris Farrell’s “On Watch,” a weekly “vodcast,” or video, on a pressing government corruption issue of the day. Chris is JW’s Director of Investigations and Research.
This week he looks at the marriage of convenience between Islamist militants and the cartels in Mexico. You will be shocked at what is going on – how militants are brought into Mexico, given new identities, participate in cartel smuggling of drugs and people, and then sneak across the border. “Mohammed” is being remade as “Manuel.”
The video is only 11 minutes long, but I assure you that you will never think about the border in the same way again.