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A Reagan-appointed federal judge thinks a secret written reprimand is too soft a punishment for a prosecutor who fails to disclose critical evidence to a defendant's attorneys. And he finds it "disturbing" that the Department of Justice would have different stances on the issue in public and private, The New York Times reports.

That's why Chief Judge Michael J. Wolf of Boston sent a frustrated letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and also asked state officials to investigate the prosecutor's conduct.

Assistant US attorney Jeffrey Auerhahn quietly received a written reprimand after it became clear that he never disclosed key evidence in a 1992 mafia case where Vincent Ferrara pleaded guilty to ordering the murder of Vincent J. Limloli. Ferrara was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Wolf ordered Ferrara's release in 2005 when he found out that a key witness had told a police officer a different story than what was used as evidence against Ferrara.

Wolf also flagged Justice Department behavior in his complaint:

In a secret report in January 2005, the Office of Professional Responsibility, or O.P.R., at the Justice Department had also concluded that the memorandum contained exculpatory information and should have been turned over.

Publicly, however, the Justice Department took a different position in appealing Judge Wolf’s order releasing Mr. Ferrara. In an April 2006 brief, for instance, Justice Department lawyers said they had no duty to disclose the detective’s memorandum because it contained no material information.


A former federal prosecutor quoted in the story said this is highly unusual, and if the judge's statements are true, "it looks like a black mark on the department."

The clock is ticking down for Guantanamo Bay. Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the 2006 Military Commissions Act, the legislation passed to bless the Bush administration's military tribunals for enemy combatants charged with war crimes. The act itself was a fallback: the GOP Congress passed it only after the Court struck down the tribunals in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, leaving Bush with no claims to the lawfulness of his preferred remedy for trying al-Qaeda detainees.

Now, facing the prospect of the Court again striking down the tribunals, the administration is looking to preempt the legal challenges to Guantanamo. A faction led by National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and Defense Secretary Bob Gates is exploring a legislative remedy to close the facility and, perhaps, create a new legal framework for trying its inmates:

Essentially, the administration would propose legislation that would result in dividing the estimated 375 Guantánamo detainees into three legal categories. The one that would call for legislative action would include detainees like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 2001 attacks, and others whose trials would risk exposing intelligence operations. This group, estimated at two dozen to 50, would be placed indefinitely in military brigs on American soil.

A second group would also be moved to the United States, most likely to face trial in military courts, but perhaps with more legal guarantees than in the current military tribunal system.

The third, and largest, group would consist of detainees to be released to their home countries.


Strange as it sounds, such a fix would mean the administration is, at different turns, expanding and abandoning its long-held stance that enemy combatants aren't entitled to due process.

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The House’s efforts to pass ethics reform that give weight to outside complaints has stalled yet again; it is now two months since a task force was supposed to have presented a model for going forward with legislation. For his part, task force leader Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) doesn’t understand why his peers are wary of oversight. (Associated Press, The Hill)

Angry at Libby, but you don’t remember why? Here’s a timeline of the CIA leak to refresh your memory. (Associated Press)

The New York Times’ lawsuit against the Justice and Defense Departments has been dismissed. The Times was suing both agencies for refusing to turn over documents associated with the warantless wiretapping program. (Associated Press)

CREW has just completed a study of the Bush administration’s enforcement of executive authority entitled "Crossing the Line". The analysis can't quite be called exhaustive as it came out yesterday, back when Scooter Libby was still going to jail. (CREW)

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Yesterday, the president played his part. The injustice of Scooter Libby serving one day of jail time for lying to investigators and a grand jury in order to shield the vice president has been averted.

But don't forget that for the past several months, other prominent elements of the Washington establishment have been playing their parts, too. The Scooter Libby Defense Trust has collected close to $5 million, and its many moneyed donors rejoiced at the news, reports The Washington Post:

Former ambassador to Italy and developer Mel Sembler was returning from a fundraiser, and his chartered flight had just touched down in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"I got off the airplane and picked up my telephone and turned it back on again and found about 12 phone messages," said Sembler, the chairman of the Libby Legal Defense Trust. "I was most pleased with my president."

Richard Carlson, former ambassador to the Seychelles, was standing near his wife when he heard the news from an Associated Press reporter.

"My wife burst into tears," Carlson said.


But, sadly, the hard work the trust's patrons have had to endure (all because of the unquenchable bloodlust of a certain prosecutor) is not over. $5 million is not enough, apparently. Their man is still burdened with a conviction, two years probation, a $250,000 fine (which will not be covered by the fund, Sembler tells the Post), and only Libby's lawyers can save him now. And his lawyers must be paid. So their quest continues.

Who are these champions of justice? A roll call:
The advisory committee of Libby's trust is made up of developers, investors, publishers, think-tankers. There's former senator Fred Thompson, the "Law & Order" star and Republican presidential aspirant -- who even held a fundraiser for Libby at his McLean home, according to Carlson....

There are former Cabinet-level officials, including Ed Meese, Jack Kemp and Spencer Abraham. There is conservative thinker Bill Bennett and political philosopher Francis Fukuyama. There's Ron Silver, of "West Wing" fame. There's Mary Matalin, a former Cheney adviser, and Nina Rosenwald, chairwoman of the Middle East Media Research Institute. There is Steve Forbes, who knows a thing or two about writing checks.

If 30 months of prison time was too stiff a sentence for Scooter Libby, then seven years is far too long for former Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL), according to one of his lawyers.

Montgomery-based attorney Susan James, who handled Siegelman's sentencing hearing, predicts that President Bush's decision to commute Libby's sentence will be referenced in briefs across the country soon -- including her own.

"[Bush] has basically come in and said the sentence is too harsh," James said. "I'll find some way to weave that into our argument."

Siegelman was convicted on corruption charges stemming from appointing a healthcare CEO, Robert Scrushy, to a public board. Like Libby, he was also convicted of obstruction of justice charges, which were related to a $9,000 motorcycle transaction. But unlike Libby, who was give six to eight weeks to report to jail, Siegelman was taken into custody immediately after the judge announced his sentence. Before the commutation announcement this evening, Siegelman's lawyers had argued that he should have been allowed to remain free while awaiting his appeal.

"He doesn't want to be treated like Paris Hilton, but he does want to be treated fairly like Scooter Libby," said another one of Siegelman's lawyers, Vince Kilborn.

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Posted just now on CNN, from Lea Anne McBride, spokeswoman from Vice President Cheney:

"Scooter has dedicated much of his life to public service at the State Department, the Department of Defense and the White House. In each of these assignments he has served the nation tirelessly and with great distinction. I have always considered him to be a man of the highest intellect, judgment and personal integrity -- a man fully committed to protecting the vital security interests of the United States and its citizens. Scooter is also a friend, and on a personal level Lynne and I remain deeply saddened by this tragedy and its effect on his wife, Harriet, and their young children. The defense has indicated it plans to appeal the conviction in the case. Speaking as friends, we hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man."

From Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT):

“The President’s muted words and deeds in the aftermath of this conviction pale in comparison to what he said before the investigation was launched.

"The President has the constitutional power to do this. But accountability has been in short supply in the Bush Administration, and this commutation fits that pattern. It is emblematic of a White House that sees itself as being above the law."

Just got off the phone with Joe Wilson, whose exposure of the hollowness of the Niger-Iraq uranium claim set in motion the chain of events that led to Scooter Libby's perjury and, today, his sentence's commutation by President Bush. Wilson -- who is pursuing a civil suit against Libby, Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney -- called on Bush and Cheney to release the transcripts of their interviews with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald "to let the American people know what they knew and when they knew it." If not, Wilson says, "Congress should hold hearings on the president's role in the obstruction of justice."

Wilson:

"From my viewpoint, the president has stepped in to short circuit the rule of law and the system of justice in our country. In so doing, he has acknowledged Mr. Libby's guilt for, among other things, obstruction of justice, which by definition is covering up for somebody in a crime. By commuting his sentence, he has brought himself and his office into reasonable suspicion of participation in an obstruction of justice. The commutation of (Libby's) sentence in and of itself is participation in obstruction of justice."


Asked if he expected Bush to pardon or commute Libby's sentence, Wilson replied, "I have never known what to expect. The administration is now trying call this compromise. At end of day, it's allowing a neoconservative cult to engage in special pleading. … This from the president who refused to listen to the Pope's clemency appeals over the execution of first female prisoner in Texas since the Civil War," referring to the 1998 execution of Karla Faye Tucker while Bush was governor.

Wilson noted the commutation will have no impact on his lawsuit against Libby, Rove and Cheney. Today's presidential decision, he said, "should demonstrate to the American people beyond a reasonable doubt how unbelievably corrupt this administration is from top to bottom."

From Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

The President’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.

The President said he would hold accountable anyone involved in the Valerie Plame leak case. By his action today, the President shows his word is not to be believed. He has abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice, he has failed to uphold the rule of law, and he has failed to hold his Administration accountable.

From Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office (D-NV):

"The President's decision to commute Mr. Libby's sentence is disgraceful. Libby's conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq War. Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone. Judge Walton correctly determined that Libby deserved to be imprisoned for lying about a matter of national security. The Constitution gives President Bush the power to commute sentences, but history will judge him harshly for using that power to benefit his own Vice President's Chief of Staff who was convicted of such a serious violation of law."

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