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Gay-Rights Group To John Roberts: Everyone's Not 'Falling Over Themselves' To Back Gay Marriage

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 28, 2013    6:08 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The way Chief Justice John Roberts sees it, gay rights advocates have it pretty easy.

Referring to the "sea change" in public opinion about gay marriage, Roberts said during oral arguments on Wednesday in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case that politicians were "falling over themselves" to endorse gay marriage.

"I suppose the sea change has a lot to do with the political force and effectiveness of people representing, supporting your side of the case?" Roberts asked attorney Roberta Kaplan, who is representing Edith Windsor. "You don't doubt that the lobby supporting the enactment of same sex-marriage laws in different states is politically powerful, do you?"

Brian Moulton, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said it's important to take a step back when taking a look at the political power held by gay-rights supporters, calling Roberts' comments "frustrating."

"When you look at the court looking at protections for women in the late 70s, the court still concluded they were not politically powerful despite the fact that they had succeeded in passing laws to prohibit sex discrimination in employment nationwide," Moulton told The Huffington Post. "They really looked at, well, how well-represented are women in Congress and in state legislatures and really looked at it together with this history of discrimination."

"You hear the term political power and you think, OK, that means are people getting their voices heard, are they on the news. Maybe your immediate thought is, oh, well come to think of it, look at all this news around the Supreme Court, all the change on marriage in the last several years, if not the last couple of weeks, that does seem like a lot of political power," Moulton said.

"But then you step back and think, OK, well in 30 states, LGBT people have been unsuccessful in stopping their legislators and their neighbors from voting their families out of those state constitutions and are still a minuscule proportion of any legislature or Congress," Moulton added. "These are the kind of people who are never going to be able to achieve power in the decision-making bodies to be able to vindicate their rights on their own."

Former American Soldier Conspired With Terrorist Group In Syria, U.S. Charges

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 28, 2013    4:03 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Eric Harroun, a 30-year-old former U.S. soldier, has been charged by federal authorities in Virginia with conspiring to use a rocket propelled grenade while fighting with the al-Nusrah Front in Syria. Harroun has posted YouTube videos and Facebook posts that showed him working alongside the group, which is commonly referred to as "al Qaeda in Iraq."

Harroun made his initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Va. and will face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. Federal authorities said that the terrorist organization he worked with has claimed responsibility for almost 600 terrorist attacks in Syria.

When interviewed by the FBI on Wednesday, Harroun said he was part of an "RPG Team" and carried three rockets in a backpack along with an AK-47, according to the FBI. Harroun allegedly stated that he hit a tower with a rocket and other members of the team fired rockets that hit Syrian targets.

Foreign Policy reported in a story titled "The Jihadist from Phoenix" that Harroun "doesn't appear to strictly follow the tenets" of Islam. From the report:

While observant Muslims tend to shun alcohol, Harroun appears to enjoy drinking. A lot.

Alcohol and women came up in the majority of our conversations with Harroun. He stated openly that he drinks beer. While talking to us from what he said was a disco in Turkey, Harroun wrote he was "trying to bang some Turkish girl right now lol." He then referenced the eighth-century Abbasid ruler Harroun al-Rashid, explaining that he was "a Caliph of Baghdad and a womanizer." On another occasion he lauded the pleasures of Istanbul as "good beer and nice women."

The FBI affidavit is embedded below, followed by a slideshow of photos and videos Harroun posted on Facebook.


Bigmouth Congressman Spills Secret In Capture of Bin Laden Son-In-Law

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 22, 2013    8:48 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Peter King's (R-N.Y.) public thanks to Jordan this month for helping capture Osama bin Laden's son-in-law has upset a delicate U.S. government agreement to keep Jordan's role in the operation secret, U.S. officials told The Huffington Post.

King, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and until recently the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, was the first U.S. official to confirm the arrest of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. In a March 7 statement several hours before the indictment against Ghaith was unsealed, King thanked "our allies in Jordan" for help capturing Abu Ghaith, who served as a spokesman for al-Qaeda.

The effort to capture Abu Ghaith required work between the State Department and the United States national security apparatus as well as cooperation from foreign allies. While Jordan is one of the closest U.S. allies in the region, it would have preferred not to have its role mentioned because cooperating with the U.S can be politically toxic in the Middle East. The Jordanian embassy in D.C. did not respond to a request for comment, while the U.S. has yet to officially acknowledged its role.

King told The Huffington Post he was never notified of the operation to capture Abnu Ghaith through official channels. King said he learned of Jordan's assistance informally, from calls from reporters following up on foreign reports and from friends in New York's law enforcement community.

"Local law enforcement people knew about it in New York, it was no secret," King said of Jordan's role in the operation. Members of the New York City Police Department are on the FBI's New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which played a major role in the arrest.

King -- who once authored a barely veiled novel called Vale of Tears about a Long Island Republican congressman who saved New York City from a terrorist attack -- said his sources never told him to keep his mouth shut.

"I was never briefed on it, never told not to say anything. I just thanked everybody involved," King said. "I didn't go into any of the details, which were all over the media within hours."

A Justice Department lawyer said at Abu Ghaith's arraignment that he was taken into custody on Feb. 28. The U.S. never said where the arrest took place.

Abu Ghaith apparently was taken into custody in a luxury hotel in Turkey, but that country did not want to send him directly to the U.S. because he could face the death penalty . The suspect was reportedly being taken to Kuwait when he was apprehended by U.S. law enforcement on a stopover in Jordan.

It wasn't clear whether any of King's colleagues in Congress were informed of Abu Ghaith's arrest before King made his announcement. The White House said the day after the announcement that "relevant" congressional leadership "were informed about the indictment of Abu Ghaith and the decision to try him in New York," but did not say when those notifications took place.

King's March 7 statement was sent out shortly after 10 a.m. The Justice Department press release didn't hit reporters' inboxes until nearly 5 p.m. In the intervening hours, government officials across several agencies scrambled to explain the breach, according to several government officials speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Elise Foley and Joshua Hersh contributed reporting.

New Guantanamo Prison Plan Shows U.S. To Stay A While

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 21, 2013   10:19 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is weighing a proposal to build a new $49 million prison for special detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- another sign that the base President Barack Obama promised to shut down will remain open indefinitely.

The new prison proposal is in an early stage, unlike proposed upgrades that include a new dining hall, hospital and barracks for prison guards, which are more advanced. A spokesman said all of the facilities proposed for replacement are deteriorating because they were never intended to be permanent.

"Most of the buildings and infrastructure were built for a short-term mission," said Lt. Cmdr. Ron Flanders, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command. "We got down there in 2002, but never thought in a million years we would still have this in 2013 with no end in sight."

The prison proposal wasn't originally included in the $150 million budget that Gen. John F. Kelly, the Southcom commander, discussed in congressional testimony this week. But after after Kelly mentioned it during his testimony, Flanders disclosed the estimated cost to members of the media, as Charlie Savage at The New York Times first reported.

The prison is likely to replace Camp 7, the secretive facility that houses so-called high-value detainees like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, though government officials wouldn't discuss that facility.

Journalist Denies Charges In Anonymous Case

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 20, 2013    8:24 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Matthew Keys, the Reuters social media editor indicted last week on charges of helping hackers affiliated with the group Anonymous deface his former employer's website, denied Wednesday that he ever turned over a username and password for The Tribune Co. network.

"I did not give a username and a password to anyone," Keys wrote in a Facebook post. "I did not 'conspire' to 'cause damage to a protected computer.' I did not cause 'transmission of malicious code,' and I did not 'attempt' to cause 'transmission of malicious code.'"

Federal authorities alleged that Keys told members of the hacker group Anonymous to "go fuck some shit up" after handing over a username and password that allowed hackers to temporarily change a headline on a story published on the Los Angeles Times website.

"My attorneys have said much of the same over the past few days, but I feel it might mean more coming from me directly," Keys said in his Facebook post.

Keys, who was suspended from Reuters with pay after his arrest, is due in federal court in Sacramento, Calif., on April 12. His attorneys told The Huffington Post that he was acting as a journalist when he joined an Anonymous chat room.

“This is a guy who went where he needed to go to get the story," lawyer Jay Leiderman said. "He went into the sort of dark corners of the Internet. He’s being prosecuted for that, for going to get the story.”

Steven Reich To Depart Justice Department

  |   March 20, 2013    4:06 PM ET

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Voting Section Report Tries, Fails To Equate Obama, Bush Politicization

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 19, 2013    7:17 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Former Justice Department officials are pushing back on a report released last week that they say falsely equates the Bush administration’s politicization of the department's Voting Section with the Obama administration’s efforts to get the demoralized division back on track.

The 258-page document, issued by the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, cited a “troubling history of polarization” and “harassment and marginalization of employees and managers” in the department's Voting Section, the part of the Civil Rights Division charged with enforcing federal laws meant to prevent discrimination in voting. "Leadership and career staff alike must embrace a culture where ideological diversity is viewed as beneficial and dissenting viewpoints in internal deliberations are welcomed and respected," Horowitz concluded.

Those findings, the former officials said, lump accusations about politicization during the Bush and Obama administrations into one indistinguishable mess. The politicized hiring stemmed from the Bush administration alone, and the new report fails to take into account the consequences of those personnel decisions, they said.

“It does seem to me that the inspector general was going out of his way to try and write what someone who knew nothing about the subject would consider a balanced report,” Bill Yeomans, former acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, told The Huffington Post. “As we know in news coverage and so many instances, that’s the prescription for not coming up with the truth. Unfortunately, I think that’s what happened here.”

Other former Justice Department officials -- career staffers and political appointees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of employer restrictions or to avoid publicly criticizing the inspector general’s office -- echoed Yeomans' conclusion. "They were kind of going out of their way to say 'a pox on both your houses,'” said one. “That conclusion seems somewhat unsupported by their evidence."

“It just seemed to me they were trying to make it look balanced," said another former official. "I don’t know what was going on.”

To achieve that balance, Horowitz’s report recommended de-emphasizing civil rights experience in hiring decisions, a recommendation tough to imagine the inspector general making in any other area of the law.

“If you have an arms control bureau, would you hire people who were opposed to arms control?” a former Justice Department official asked.

“That’s one of the arguments that conservatives have pushed here -- that you need to take voting rights expertise out of the equation because people who have spent their lives working in the area of civil rights are, according to them, going to be liberal,” Yeomans said. “Unfortunately, supporting civil rights has become a partisan matter. So if you’re a civil rights supporter, you’re labeled a liberal.”

The timing of the report is less than ideal for the Obama administration. Tom Perez, who took over the Civil Rights Division in October 2009, was named this week as President Barack Obama’s choice to be secretary of labor. Section 5, the key provision of the Voting Rights Act that prevents certain states with a history of racial discrimination from voting changes without federal permission, may soon be struck down by the Supreme Court. Voting Section supporters said they worried the report may create a perception that the division can’t be trusted with Section 5 oversight duties, constantly under political scrutiny.

The inquiry itself has its roots in GOP circles. In 2010, Republican members of Congress began demanding answers to accusations that Obama’s Justice Department was hiring only liberals, that political considerations wrongly affected law enforcement decisions and that Freedom of Information Act requests from conservatives were being ignored. Their questions were initially set off by a decision early in the Obama administration to narrow the scope of a civil voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party. The case, heavily covered by Fox News, spawned accusations that the administration didn’t care about protecting white voters.

The report, reaching back to the Clinton administration, claims that former Assistant Attorney General Bill Lee oversaw a hiring “spree” before the Bush administration that was a “significant” source of “mistrust and polarization” within the Voting Section. The report found the “hiring campaign” had “generated mistrust between the incoming political leadership in the Division.”

Lee told HuffPost that the inspector general never tried to interview him before placing a significant chunk of the blame for the polarization at his feet.

“The IG’s Office contacted me in early February 2013 and apprised me of a portion of the report,” Lee said in an email. “The portion drew conclusions about the period I was assistant attorney general for civil rights without interviewing me or otherwise contacting me beforehand. I protested, provided some preliminary information, and requested that the IG interview me.”

The inspector general, said Lee, never responded.

“It just suggests that the investigation was launched with the purpose and they were eager to avoid inconvenient facts,” Yeomans said of the failure to interview Lee.

The inspector general's office had no comment on the criticisms of the report or the failure to interview Lee.

The vast majority of the incidents cited in the report -- many involving liberals targeting conservatives -- took place during the Bush administration. It recounts previously established facts about how Bradley Schlozman, the former acting head of the Civil Rights Division, referred to Voting Section attorneys as “commies” and “mold spores” and sought to “gerrymander” those “crazy libs” to make room for “real” and “right-thinking Americans.”

Lawyers with no civil rights experience were hired into career positions because of their conservative ideology. The report cited Schlozman specifically for having a "documented record of making hiring decisions on improper partisan bases."

One person that Schlozman promoted was Christopher Coates, who became the head of the Voting Section toward the end of the Bush administration. Schlozman, according to the report, referred to Coates as a “member of the team.” Coates, who would later go on to refer to civil rights organizations as “special interest lobbies for racial and ethnic minorities,” was perceived to be hostile to “traditional” voting rights enforcement, according to the inspector general's report.

It was Coates who approved the controversial New Black Panther Party case that is widely seen as a trap set for the Obama administration in the final days of the Bush administration. That case was pushed by J. Christian Adams, a conservative career Justice Department attorney hired during the Bush era that one longtime Voting Section official referred to as "exhibit A" of the type of person Schlozman hired.

The inspector general's report noted that Coates improperly tried to “balance” a hiring panel by selecting members based on their perceived ideology.

The Obama administration, perhaps unsurprisingly, excluded Coates from some meetings about defending the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act and discussed getting rid of him. In early 2009, according to the report, one Voting Section trial attorney asked the acting head of the Civil Rights Division when the unit would be "free from enemy hands," referring to Coates. Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King’s reply -- "LOL! No comment." -- was part of the inspector general’s case for demonstrating that Coates might have been targeted for his ideology.

Attorney General Eric Holder told the inspector general that he had the sense that Coates wanted to focus on “reverse-discrimination” cases at the expense of traditional civil rights cases. Holder said he understood Coates to be “not a person who believed in the traditional way in which things had been done in the Civil Rights Division.”

Despite talk of removing him, Coates was protected as a member of the senior executive service and didn’t leave until Perez was confirmed as assistant attorney general (after reportedly telling Perez he was a “lousy” manager).

“There’s a fairly simple story here, which is that the Bush administration dropped Brad Schlozman and Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams into the Voting Section to blow it up. It should be no surprise it blew up,” Yeomans said, referring to former Bush-era lawyers who have since signed onto an amicus brief now before the Supreme Court arguing that a provision of the Voting Rights Act they were supposed to enforce is unconstitutional. “I think the Obama administration has done an admirable job trying to put it back together and trying to restore professional standards.”

DOJ: Electronic Communications Privacy Act's 180-Day Stored Email Rule Not 'Principled'

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 19, 2013   11:33 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- A top Justice Department official said Tuesday there is "no principled basis" to treat email less than 180 days old differently than email more than 180 days old, putting the government's support behind updating an outdated aspect of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

Elana Tyrangiel, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of DOJ's Office of Legal Policy, said DOJ agreed that the ECPA's Stored Communications Act draws lines that "may have made sense in the past have failed to keep up with the development of technology."

Under the ECPA, emails on a server for more than 180 days is considered "abandoned" by users and can be accessed through a subpoena instead of a search warrant. Tyrangiel's comments came during testimony before a House Judiciary Subcommittee which is examining proposed changes to the ECPA.

"Acknowledging that the so-called '180-day rule' and other distinctions in the SCA no longer make sense is an important first step," Tyrangiel said in her prepared testimony. "The harder question is how to update those outdated rules and the statute in light of new and changing technologies while maintaining protections for privacy and adequately providing for public safety and other law enforcement imperatives."

Read Tyrangiel's full testimony here.

Defense Contractor, 59, Nabbed In Spy Drama With 27-Year-Old Chinese Lover

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 18, 2013   10:27 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- A 59-year-old former Army officer working as a defense contractor in Hawaii made his first court appearance Monday on charges of communicating classified information to a 27-year-old Chinese student he had been romancing, federal authorities said.

Benjamin Pierce Bishop, a civilian employee of a defense contractor based at U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, was arrested without incident on Friday and appeared in federal court on Monday, federal authorities said.

Bishop, who has held a top secret security clearance since July 2002, met the China resident, visiting the United States on a student visa, at a conference in Hawaii involving international military defense issues, according to the Justice Department. An FBI agent wrote in an affidavit that the unnamed student "may have been at the conference in order to target individuals such as Bishop who work with and have access to U.S. classified information."

Their romantic relationship began in June 2011, with Bishop providing classified information to the woman several times and storing classified documents at his home that he wasn't authorized to remove from work, the Justice Department said. At one point, when he traveled to the U.K. to visit the woman, Bishop tried to hide her identify on a request to leave for travel form "by slightly changing her given name to a masculine form of the same name and by adding a letter to the surname," according to an FBI agent's affidavit.

Bishop provided the woman with information relating to nuclear weapons, including intelligence on how the U.S. detects low- and medium-range ballistic missiles and information on early-warning radar systems, according to the government. He faces a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted.

Manssor Arbabsiar Sentencing Delayed In 'Amateur Hour' Iran Assassination Plot

  |   March 18, 2013    9:03 PM ET

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Supreme Court Voter Registration Case: Justices Weigh Proof Of Citizenship

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 18, 2013   12:29 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday weighed whether the state of Arizona should be allowed to create additional hurdles to voting that go beyond federal requirements.

Under the federal "Motor Voter" registration law, states are required to accept a voter registration form that asks individuals to state, under penalty of perjury, that they are a citizen. Arizona wanted to require individuals to go one step further and provide proof of citizenship.

Voting rights groups and the federal government say that allowing Arizona to impose additional requirements on top of the federal form would essentially defeat the purpose of the Motor Voter law, which was designed to streamline the voter registration process.

Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed to advocate for both sides of the case, known as Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. Kennedy argued that the federal form "is not worth very much" if Arizona could simply impose additional requirements on top of it, but later said that states had a "vital interest" in federal elections.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne argued that allowing would-be voters to simply state under oath that they are citizens amounted to "essentially an honor system," and said Arizona should be able to enforce its own eligibility requirements.

Justice Antonin Scalia appeared to agree, arguing that the penalty of perjury wasn't enough to prevent ineligible voters from registering.

"So it's under oath, big deal," Scalia said. "I suppose if you're willing to violate the voting laws you're willing to violate the perjury laws."

Regardless, voting rights advocates were cautiously optimistic after oral arguments concluded.

"A majority of the Court, including Justice Kennedy, appeared to recognize that the entire point of having a single Federal form was to streamline the voter registration process, and that approving Arizona's law would pave the way for a patchwork of 50 state forms," Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said in a statement. "We are optimistic that that recognition will lead the Court to strike down Arizona's law and respect Congress' power to protect the right to vote in Federal elections."

"Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act to encourage more people to vote in federal elections, but Arizona's law has precisely the opposite effect," said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The lower court correctly held that Arizona's law was inconsistent with federal law, and we're hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree. States should not be erecting obstacles that restrict our democracy's electorate, but follow laws that ensure voter registration is accessible to all eligible American voters."

PHOTO: Secret Guantanamo Listening Device Looks Like Smoke Alarm

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 11, 2013   12:09 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The website of the Office of Military Commissions on Monday posted a photo filed by defense attorneys for Guantanamo detainees that show one of the listening devices resembling a smoke detector present in rooms where suspected terrorists met with their lawyers.

A senior Guantanamo official testified last month that he was assured the device was not used to monitor communications between high-value detainees and their lawyers. The photo was filed by defense attorneys on Feb. 12 but was only posted to the website following a security clearance on Monday.

As Jason Leopold reported for Truthout, the units were manufactured by Louroe Electronics.

The judge running Guantanamo's court showed frustration back in January after it was revealed that an outside unidentified censor had the ability to cut off the feed of his courtroom. Read more about the current state of Guantanamo here.

guantanamo listening device

Senator Plotting Legislative Response If Voting Rights Act Is Gutted

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 6, 2013    2:20 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is hoping the Supreme Court doesn't strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, but he'll be prepared if they do.

Coons told Attorney General Eric Holder during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Wednesday that he'd like to work with the Justice Department "should there be a change in the status of the Voting Rights Act." The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on whether to strike down Section 5 of the 1965 law, which forces certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to get the federal government's permission to make changes to their voting laws and procedures.

"I'd love to work with you on whether there's room going forward for expedited proceedings or for special ways to make sure that voting cases still get heard, and some either reauthorization or strengthening or replacement for the Voting Rights Act," Coons told Holder.

Coons spokesman Ian Koski told HuffPost he didn't have any details to share yet. "Still hoping it won't be necessary," Koski said of the contingency plan.

Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, the official who heads DOJ's Civil Rights Division, told HuffPost last month that he was confident the court would uphold Section 5, but was coy when asked whether the division was making preparations in case the court struck it down.

Patrick Leahy Tells Eric Holder Senate Judiciary May Subpoena Targeted Killing Memos

  |   March 6, 2013   10:21 AM ET

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