June 28, 2012
By TOM RAUM |
WASHINGTON (AP) — Contempt of Congress? Subpoenas? Stonewalling?
Maybe there’s a smoking gun in the Republican-led investigations of the Obama administration — and President Barack Obama’s pushback. But a large part of them could be what always goes on during a presidential campaign: political gamesmanship.
It ranges from House GOP contempt threats against Attorney General Eric Holder to Obama's waving a to-do list in the face of lawmakers.
Within two weeks, Obama fired a new pair of volleys across the bow of the congressional GOP leadership.
The first was his decree — bypassing Congress — that theU.S.will not, in most cases, deport illegal immigrants who were brought to theU.S.as children. The other was his assertion of executive privilege to shield certain internal Justice Department documents from a House subpoena.
Both actions drew expressions of GOP outrage in Washington and on the campaign trail.
The documents involved a botched U.S. gun-trafficking operation that was designed to track firearms headed into Mexico but which led to the disappearance of thousands of weapons and the 2010 shooting death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
House Speaker John Boehner said Terry’s family deserved answers about the guns that killed him and went so far as to suggest a White House cover-up. Others specifically likened the actions of Obama and Holder to the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon in 1974.
That may seem like a bit of a stretch, but in an election year outsized charges and countercharges tend to swirl.
Executive privilege has been claimed by presidents going back to George Washington to hide the inner workings of their administrations from congressional eyes.
As a senator, Obama sharply criticized President George W. Bush's invocation of executive privilege — a blast from the past Republicans were quick to exploit.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s team leaped into the fray. “President Obama’s pledge to run the most open and transparent administration in history has turned out to be just another broken promise,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Holder insisted he and his aides have spent countless hours cooperating with Congress and already have provided nearly 8,000 documents on the ill-fated operation.
Escalating tensions on Capitol Hill are likely to intensify as the Supreme Court rules later this week on Obama’s health care law and lawmakers face June 30 deadlines on a crucial transportation reauthorization bill and a scheduled rise in student loan interest rates.
The pattern of investigations by Republican-led House panels recalls the many congressional probes during President Bill Clinton’s administration.
They ranged from the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, which led to an impeachment vote by the House, to probes of the suicide of White House aide Vince Foster, the Clinton's Whitewater property dealings in Arkansas, Hillary Rodham Clinton's investment gains, the workings of her health care task force and the mass firing of the White House travel office.
“There were 80 different investigations roughly between 1995 and 2001, and that doesn’t include the later investigations of Clinton’s 11th-hour pardons and gifts,” said Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University. He noted that some of the same committees that relentlessly investigated Clinton are now pursuing Obama.
Light called the gun-trafficking probe and the contempt of Congress threat against Holder “a highly partisan effort to create a big issue for the 2012 election to undermine Obama's credibility through this particularly flawed operation.” But he also suggested that Obama’s use of executive privilege “makes him look like he might be hiding something.”
In any event, Light said such politically charged probes can “tarnish both the president and Congress.”
It isn’t only Republicans who investigate. When Bush sat in the Oval Office, congressional Democrats launched high-profile probes of the secret deliberations of Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force and the Justice Department’s 2006 midterm firing of nine U.S. attorneys.
The myriad investigations of the Clintons, however, transpired against a far different backdrop than now.
“In Clinton’s time, the economy was relatively good and getting better. In Obama’s time, it’s relatively bad and getting worse,” said Doug Schoen, who served as Clinton’s pollster and who has criticized Obama’s economic performance.
“The picture of intransigence coming out of Washington is not helpful to the president,” Schoen said. And, borrowing a Watergate-era term, he added: “Stonewalling can’t help Obama. I’m not sure it will hurt him, but it certainly can’t help him.”
The strictly party-line contempt recommendation came last week from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, even though its chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., later acknowledged that Congress has no evidence of a White House cover-up such as alleged by Boehner and several other GOP lawmakers.
Boehner said Wednesday the House will move forward with the contempt of Congress vote against Holder on Thursday, after last-minute talks with the White House failed to resolve the impasse.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, quoting Issa, on Monday told reporters, “The chairman said over the weekend that there was no evidence — let me repeat — no evidence of White House involvement in any cover-up or attempt to cover up this issue.”
Holding an attorney general in contempt of Congress would be unprecedented. It also would probably be unenforceable since it is the Justice Department itself — headed by the attorney general — that must act on such recommendations.
“It’s clear that this is nothing more than a political witch hunt to distract from the fact that Republicans in Congress have no interest in focusing on what we need to focus on, which is jobs and the economy,” said Democratic Party chief Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.
The gun-trafficking probe joins ongoing ones into theCaliforniasolar-panel company Solyndra, which received a $528 million federal loan from the Obama administration before filing for bankruptcy protection and laying off 1,100 workers.
June 21, 2012
By MIKE SCHNEIDER | Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A judge will formally read the charges against the 11 Florida A&M band members facing felony charges in the hazing death of a drum major.
They're being arraigned Thursday in an Orlando courtroom, seven months after 26-year-old Robert Champion died following a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel.
Most of the defendants have waived their arraignments and won't appear in court.
Two defendants who haven't hired attorneys may be assigned public defenders.
Champion died in November following what authorities have said was a hazing incident after FAMU's football game in Orlando. His autopsy report listed his cause of death as a homicide as the result of repeated blows to his body.
June 21, 2012
By TOBY STERLING | Associated Press
AMSTERDAM (AP) — The International Criminal Court installed Gambian war crimes lawyer Fatou Bensouda as its new prosecutor for a nine-year term on Friday.
Bensounda replaces Luis Moreno-Ocampo in a job that has become one of the most prominent in international law over the past decade. She will be tasked with trying to bring to justice alleged war criminals, including Uganda’s Joseph Kony, Libya’s Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
In an address to the court, Bensouda said she was “humbled” by her appointment and promised to continue pursuing all cases that fall under the court's jurisdiction.
“As I speak, massive crimes continue to be committed in Darfur (Sudan); Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army’s acts of violence continue unabated in central Africa,”she said.
“Nothing short of arresting all those against whom warrants have been issued will ensure that justice is done for millions of victims of the crimes committed by these fugitives.”
Court President Sang-Hyun Song oversaw Bensouda’s acceptance of the prosecutor’s duties in a courtroom in a suburb of the Hague, Netherlands.
The International Criminal Court was founded in 2002 as the permanent successor to numerous ad-hoc war crimes tribunals set up over the past two decades such as the U.N. Yugoslav tribunal and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Bensouda has served as deputy prosecutor at the ICC since 2004.
In her address, she said that Moreno-Ocampo set up the prosecutor's office in 2003 with “two staff members ... six empty floors and no cases ongoing.”
“I inherit a well-respected and sound functioning office, with almost 300 staff from 80 countries, seven situations under investigation, 14 cases before the chambers, seven preliminary examinations and one verdict.”
In March, trial judges handed down the court's first conviction, that of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, for conscripting child soldiers. He awaits sentencing.
In an interview earlier this month, Bensouda responded to several criticisms frequently put forward against the prosecutor and the court, including that it is used as a political tool by Western powers and that all its current cases involve Africa.
“First of all, let me say that yes, I am an African and I am very proud of that,” she said.
“But I am a prosecutor for 121 states parties,” she said, referring to all the countries that endorse the court.
She said she would investigate any grave crime in any territory that falls under her jurisdiction, and the international court is bound to be criticized both when it intervenes in a conflict and when it doesn’t.
When the court intervenes, as it did in indicting Sudan’s al-Bashir and Ivory Coast’s former President Laurence Gbagbo, it is accused of selective enforcement. But she said prosecutors must act on the basis of the evidence they have.
“Laurence Gbagbo is our first case” in Ivory Coast, she said. “There will be others.”
She said the court is also blamed for failing to intervene, as in the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and in Syria — areas where it has no jurisdiction.
“Syria is a case in point,” she said. “It’s not a member of the ICC; we do not have jurisdiction over Syria unless the U.N. Security Council were to refer Syria to us.”
Asked whether she would lobby for countries that don’t endorse the court, such as the U.S., to join it, she said that would be outside the scope of her job.
She said she was frustrated by the failure to capture Kony, who was indicted in 2005 . His case became broadly known in the U.S. earlier this year after the “Kony2012” video campaign by a human rights group became an Internet sensation.
But “Joseph Kony, even though we have not been able to arrest him all this while, I think the intervention of the ICC has contributed immensely to bringing peace to Northern Uganda,” she said.
She said that countries that support the court have a duty to help it carry out arrests.
“The ICC doesn’t have an intervention force,” she said. “But the police of 121 member states are the police of the ICC. The armies of these countries are the armies of the ICC.”
Moreno-Ocampo, who was present Friday for Bensouda’s swearing-in, is expected to take a job with FIFA, the international football (soccer) governing body, investigating corruption in the sport.
June 21, 2012
By ALICIA A. CALDWELL and JIM KUHNHENN |
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama suddenly eased enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws Friday, an extraordinary step offering a chance for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work. Embraced by Hispanics, his action touched off an election-year confrontation with many Republicans.
Mitt Romney, Obama’s GOP election foe, criticized the step but did not say he would try to overturn it if elected.
Obama said the change would become effective immediately to “lift the shadow of deportation from these young people.”
“Let’s be clear: This is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, this is not a permanent fix,” Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. “This is the right thing to do.”
The administration said the change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the “DREAM Act,” legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military.
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be able to avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.
The move comes in an election year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida. While Obama enjoys support from a majority of Hispanic voters over Republican challenger Romney, Latino enthusiasm for the president has been tempered by the slow economic recovery, his inability to win congressional support for a broad overhaul of immigration laws and by his administration’s aggressive deportation policy.
Some Republicans in Congress — and the governor of Arizona, whose state has been at the center of enforcement controversy — strongly criticized the Obama action. But the response from Romney was more muted.
Romney said Obama’s decision will make finding a long-term solution to the nation's immigration issues more difficult. But he also said the plight of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children is “an important matter to be considered.”
During the Republican presidential primaries, Romney said he would veto the DREAM Act with its pathway to citizenship.
Obama’s new policy tracks a proposal being drafted by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential vice presidential running mate for Romney, as an alternative to the DREAM Act, formally the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act.
Rubio said, “Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer.” But, like Romney, he said it was “a short-term answer to a long-term problem,” and he added, “By once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one.”
The change in enforcement policy, to be carried out by the Department of Homeland Security, comes one week before Obama plans to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ annual conference in Orlando, Fla. Romney is to speak to the group on Thursday.
Making his case on humanitarian grounds, Obama said, “These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
The political appeal for many of America’s Hispanics was clear. The president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, Janet Murguia, said, “When it comes to the Hispanic community, this action is a political plus” for Obama. “It’s always good to be able to point to your track record and move the needle toward a promise that you made.”
In Los Angeles, immigrant students and their supporters rallied at a downtown street to celebrate the announcement, briefly blocking a freeway entrance ramp.
The change drew a swift repudiation from Republican lawmakers, who accused Obama of circumventing Congress in an effort to boost his political standing and of favoring illegal immigrants over unemployed U.S. citizens.
“President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people,” Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, GOP chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
And Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a longtime hardliner on immigration issues, said he planned to file suit to halt the policy.
Still, neither House Speaker John Boehner nor Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell addressed the issue, underscoring the difficulty for Republican leaders as they walk a fine line of trying to appeal to the nation's fastest-growing minority group while not alienating their conservative base.
In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer said the change represented a “pre-emptive strike” before an upcoming Supreme Court ruling that could uphold parts of the state’s tough immigration enforcement law. She also said the new policy would muddy the waters for Arizona’s enforcement efforts.
Many Republicans, including Romney, say they want tighter border security measures before they will consider changes in immigration law. Romney opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college but has said he would do so for those who serve in the armed forces.
Praise for the new policy was also swift. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus applauded the move as long overdue. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, called the decision “an historic humanitarian moment” and compared it to the decision two decades ago to give political asylum to Cuban refugees fleeing the communist island. “This is at least a reflection of that moment in history.”
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “Ending deportations of innocent young people who have the potential to drive tomorrow’s economy is long overdue, as are many commonsense reforms needed to center our immigration policy around our economic needs.”
Midway through his remarks, Obama was interrupted by a reporter from a conservative online publication, Neil Munro of the Daily Caller, who shouted, “Why do you favor foreigners over American workers?” Clearly irritated, Obama said that he was explaining the policy, not looking for an argument, and that the change was the “right thing to do for the American people.”
Obama in the past has resisted pressure to use his executive authority to relax deportations in such a broad manner. The administration had been reviewing deportations on a case-by-case basis, and officials said they concluded that by using the same authority they could help a larger swath of immigrants while at the same time helping unclog immigration courts.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the decision “is well within the framework of our existing laws.”
The Obama administration's deportation policies have come under fire, and Latino leaders have raised the subject in private meetings with the president. In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported a record 396,906 people and is expected to deport about 400,000 this year.
A December poll by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that 59 percent of Latinos disapproved of the president's handling of deportations.
The administration announcement comes ahead of an expected Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s tough 2010 immigration law that, among other things, requires police to ask for immigration papers from anyone they stop or arrest and suspect is in the country illegally.
The Obama administration has challenged the law.