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Culture of corruption: Holder, terrorists, Covington & Burling

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By Michelle Malkin  •  November 18, 2009 02:00 PM

Update: 11/19 9am…Holder hedges on GOP request for disclosure/recusal information


Attorney General Eric Holder, Team Obama’s Dirty Dozen (get your trading cards here)

If you’ve been paying attention, you already know all about AG Eric Holder and his DOJ staff’s national security conflict of interest as senior partner with Covington & Burling — the prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm, which represents 17 Yemenis currently held at Gitmo.

I first mentioned it here in January and spotlighted the problem in chapter 4 of Culture of Corruption.

In fact, Holder and Covington & Burling have a lucrative niche in terrorist representation.

I’m reprinting the relevant section from Culture of Corruption so you have it at your fingertips. All of this was known before Holder was confirmed as AG, which, as I’ve pointed out before, makes it all the more inexplicable that 19 Republican senators — Alexander (R-TN); Bennett (R-UT); Bond (R-MO); Chambliss (R-Ga); Collins (R-ME); Corker (R-TN); Graham (R-SC); Grassley (R-IA); Gregg (R-NH); Hatch (R-UT); Isakson (R-GA;) Kyl (R-AZ); Lugar (R-IN) McCain (R-AZ); Murkowski (R-AK); Sessions (R-AL); Snowe (R-ME); Specter (R-PA); and Voinovich (R-OH) — cast their votes for him. Now, they are reaping what they helped sow.

Excerpted from Chapter 4: Meet the Mess – Inside the Crooked Cabinet, Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin (see book for footnotes)

“Don’t go into corporate America,” First Lady Michelle Obama admonished supporters on the campaign trail. Remember? She extolled the rewards of public service over the material perks of life at a high-powered law firm. She certainly didn’t take her own advice—and neither did her husband’s own attorney general. If he hadn’t pulled out all the stops campaigning for the president, raising money at lavish celebrity events, and offering his strategic and legal advice—and if Eric Holder had an “R” by his name instead of a “D”—he might have served as the perfect poster boy for Mrs. O’s caustic campaign against white-shoe corporate law.

After a quarter-century as a government lawyer, Holder joined the prestigious Covington & Burling business and corporate law firm. He represented a gallery of the Left’s fattest targets in Big Pharma and Big Business, defending them in fraud and discrimination cases that drove progressives mad. Holder has served both his corporate and government masters well—and he has the bank account and stock portfolio to prove it. His salary jumped from under $200,000 as deputy U.S. Attorney General for the Clinton administration to more than $2 million a year as a Covington & Burling senior partner. During 2008, Holder spent countless hours away from his corporate office working for the Obama campaign—raising money, fielding calls, making speeches. “I hope the management committee is going to be real understanding when they see my billable hours this year,” Holder joked to The American Lawyer. It’s an investment, of course, and the law firm will get its political dividends later.

Holder returns to a more modest $186,000 salary as Obama’s attorney general. But parting has its perks, too. The Washington revolving door pays.

Covington & Burling will make a separation payment valued at between $1 million and $5 million, plus a repayment of up to $1 million from the firm’s capital account, plus a retirement plan of up to $500,000. His net worth: $5.7 million. Reflecting on his past eight years raking in the dough and watching him schmooze friends and clients from his “elegant new Manhattan offices,” an American Lawyer profile observed: “Life is good for private citizen Eric Holder, Jr.” President Obama and the missus, such outspoken detractors of climbing the corporate ladder and influence-peddling, were unavailable for comment.

One wonders what the Obamas would say about Holder’s lucrative work for Chiquita Brands International if it had been performed by, say, John McCain’s top lawyer? As chief counsel for the global company, Holder won a “slap-on-the-wrist plea deal to charges that it had paid off” Colombian paramilitary death squads. Liberal critics of Holder point out that he used his influence as a former Clinton Justice Department official to negotiate a sweetheart deal for Chiquita. The company pleaded guilty to illegally doing business with the “Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia” or AUC (designated as an international terrorist organization by the State Department in 2001). Chiquita admitted negotiating with and forking over $1.7 million in protection racket money to the guerillas beginning in 1997. AUC terrorists slaughtered thousands of civilians to gain control of Colombia’s banana fields. The company ignored the advice of outside counsel (not Holder or anyone else at Covington & Burling) to stop the illegal payments in 2003:

• “Must stop payments.”
• “Bottom Line: CANNOT MAKE THE PAYMENT”
• “Advised NOT TO MAKE ALTERNATIVE PAYMENT through CONVIVIR”
• “General Rule: Cannot do indirectly what you cannot do directly”
• Concluded with: “CANNOT MAKE THE PAYMENT”
• “You voluntarily put yourself in this position. Duress defense can wear out through repetition. Buz [business] decision to stay in harm’s way. Chiquita should leave Colombia.”
• “[T]he company should not continue to make the Santa Marta payments, given the AUC’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization[.]”
• “[T]he company should not make the payment.”

Even after disclosing the payments to the Justice Department in the spring of 2003, Chiquita continued funneling money to the terrorists. According to the Justice Department: “From April 24, 2003 (the date of Chiquita’s initial disclosure to the Justice Department) through February 4, 2004, Chiquita made 20 payments to the AUC totaling over $300,000.” And yet, despite knowingly and repeatedly breaking the law, not a single Chiquita official was prosecuted or jailed. The $25 million criminal fine was written off as the cost of doing business. And, stunningly, the plea agreement forged by Holder and the DOJ succeeded in protecting the identities of the executives involved in the bloody terrorist payoffs.
Putting on the best terrorist defense is a Covington & Burling specialty. Among the firm’s other celebrity terrorist clients: 17 Yemenis held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The law firm employed dozens of radical attorneys such as David Remes and Marc Falkoff to provide the enemy combatants with more than 3,000 hours of pro bono representation. Covington & Burling co-authored one of three petitioners’ briefs filed in the Boumediene v. Bush detainee case, and secured victories for several other Gitmo enemy combatants in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Falkoff went on to publish a book of poetry, Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak, which he dedicated to the suspected terrorists: “For my friends inside the wire, Mahmoad, Majid, Yasein, Saeed, Abdulsalam, Mohammed, Adnan, Jamal, Othman, Adil, Mohamed, Abdulmalik, Areef, Adeq, Farouk, Salman, and Makhtar. Inshallah, we will next meet over coffee in your homes in Yemen.”

How sweet. One of the class of Yemeni Gitmo detainees that Falkoff described as “gentle, thoughtful young men” was released in 2005—only to blow himself up (gently and thoughtfully, of course) in a truck bombing in Mosul, Iraq, in 2008, killing 13 soldiers from the 2nd Iraqi Army division and seriously wounding 42 others.

The Senate shrugged at the glaring conflict of interest Attorney General Holder presents in handling Gitmo legal issues. Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Cucullu, author of Inside Gitmo: The True Story Behind the Myths of Guantanamo Bay, makes the ethical problem plain:

As a senior partner, he undoubtedly had significant input on what kind of charity cases his firm picked up. He surely knew that dozens of lawyers from his firm were among the 500-plus civilian lawyers representing the 244 or so remaining detainees (on top of military-court-appointed defenders). Even now, his Covington colleagues continue to allege rampant torture at Gitmo. They’re fighting hard to have detainees tried through the US court system—essentially given the same rights as US citizens. And their arguments and plans hinge largely on having Holder issue a bad report card.

Recent polls indicate that at least half of Americans disagree with affording the detainees legal rights on US soil. Will they have the same access to Holder’s ears as his former colleagues do?

The White House says that Holder will formally recuse himself from charging decisions and prosecutions affecting any of Covington & Burling’s clients, but he will have unfettered oversight over Obama’s order to close the facility within a year. Moreover, there’s a gaping loophole in the Obama administration ethics rules that will allow Holder to participate in decision-making despite his conflicts of interests if he can show that his participation in a matter outweighs an appearance or actual conflict of interest. If you think Holder’s professional connections won’t have any influence on the outcome of these decisions, I have a Colombian banana farm to sell you.

Among the other eyebrow-raising cases Holder took on at Covington & Burling:

*Signing up to assist then Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in a casino license battle in 2004. The state’s gaming board had approved the construction of a disputed casino, overruling the recommendation of the board’s staff. Rank-and-file investigators had qualms over the casino developer’s alleged mob ties and over Blago’s appointment of a crony fund-raiser to oversee the state’s deal-making with the casino. The fund-raiser, Christopher Kelly, turned out to be a business partner of convicted Obama/Blago confidante and real estate mogul Tony Rezko. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Rezko “held an option to lease a hotel site next to the proposed casino site.” Holder held a public press conference with Blago to announce his role as a special “independent” investigator into the matter. The dog-and-pony show produced no report, but Holder and his law firm had contracted to conduct the probe for a tidy $300,000. Somehow, the foul-smelling case slipped Holder’s mind; he failed to mention it in his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.

*Forging a massive settlement for Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the addictive painkiller OxyContin, with the state of West Virginia in 2004. The state accused the drugmaker of deceptively marking OxyContin as safe and effective for minor pain. The firm’s marketing practices, the state maintained, led to West Virginia users becoming addicted to the drug. State attorney general Darrell McGraw Jr., a Democrat, filed suit. In an article entitled, “Why Eric Holder Represents What’s Wrong with Washington,” liberal columnist David Corn described Holder’s pivotal role in negotiating a settlement that spared executives a criminal trial:

This suit was a serious threat to the drugmaker, and it eventually called in Holder. And in November 2004, the morning that the case was about to go to trial, Holder helped negotiate a settlement. Working in the judge’s chambers in West Virginia, he forged an agreement under which the firm would have to pay $10 million over four years into drug abuse and education programs in West Virginia. Purdue would not have to admit any wrongdoing. (Days earlier, the firm had offered the state about $2 million to settle; McGraw had turned down Purdue and had not bothered to produce a counter-offer.)

The settlement was a big win for the company. Ten million dollars was a piddling amount compared to what Purdue was reaping from OxyContin sales. More important, this settlement helped keep the lid on the firm’s criminal activities. There would be no trial—and no public release of documents or testimony about the company’s actions, which were already being investigated by federal prosecutors. In late 2002, the feds had begun an investigation of Purdue, with the first of what would be nearly 600 subpoenas for corporate records related to the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of OxyContin.

In May 2007, the company and its three top executives pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraudulently marketing OxyContin by claiming it was less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms. Purdue and the three execs agreed to pay fines of $634.5 million.

*Brokering a settlement for pharmaceutical kingpin Merck, which had been besieged by multiple state lawsuits over Medicaid overbilling and doctor kickbacks involving four popular drugs. Merck admitted no wrongdoing, paying $671 million to make whistleblowers, state probes over their pricing, and bribery charges go away.

In his tony Manhattan offices, Holder did what any corporate lawyer worth his multi-million-dollar salary and benefits package would do: Represent his clients to the best of his ability. But in his first tours of duty as a government lawyer, Holder repeatedly put politics above the national interest. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Holder’s infamous roles in issuing pardons to Clinton crony Marc Rich and clemency to convicted bank robbers and bombers of the Puerto Rican terrorist group, FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional), received the most heat. In both cases, the government servant played a far more active role in intervening than he ever cared to admit.

The Los Angeles Times added new information to the terrorist clemency case by disclosing before the hearing that Holder had “repeatedly pushed some of his subordinates at the Clinton Justice Department to drop their opposition to” the FALN commutations. Holder, the paper determined from whistleblower interviews and documents, “played an active role in changing the position of the Justice Department” to facilitate President Clinton’s commutations for 16 violent terrorists from the group. The FALN had waged a bloody bombing campaign that maimed dozens of New York City police officers and resulted in the deaths or injuries of scores of other victims. Holder forged ahead with his meddling on behalf of the president against the protests of the FBI, NYPD, federal prosecutors, and victims.

The nation’s top law enforcer did not pay the bombing victims or their families the courtesy of notifying them of the decision to release the unrepentant terrorists until after the clemencies were publicized in the media.

As for the Marc Rich case, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy accurately described it as “one of the most disgraceful chapters in the history of the Justice Department.” Congressional investigators called it “unconscionable.” Fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich, on the run for evading nearly $50 million in taxes, found the best lawyer he could buy: former Democratic White House counsel and intimate friend of Eric Holder, Jack Quinn. Despite his denials, memos showed Holder knew of the pardon in advance, failed to notify prosecutors and the FBI that it was coming, “and even gave Quinn public-relations advice on getting out the ‘legal merits of the case.’” The evidence clearly shows Holder and Quinn violated department protocols and colluded to keep the Justice Department out of the pardon deal.

Appearing contrite at his Senate confirmation hearing, Holder confessed:

I’ve accepted the responsibility of making those mistakes. I’ve never tried to hide. I’ve never tried to blame anybody else.

What I’ve always said was that, given my—given the opportunity to do it differently, I certainly would have.

I should have made sure that everybody, all the prosecutors in that case, were informed of what was going on. I made assumptions that turned out not to be true. I should have not spoken to the White House and expressed an opinion without knowing all of the facts with regard to that matter.

That was and remains the most intense, most searing experience I’ve ever had as a lawyer. There were questions raised about me that I was not used to hearing.

I’ve learned from that experience. I think that, as perverse as this might sound, I will be a better attorney general, should I be confirmed, having had the Mark Rich experience.

…It was something that I think is not typical of the way in which I’ve conducted myself as a careful, thoughtful lawyer. As I said, it is something where I made mistakes, and I learned from those mistakes.

Washington, alas, was determined to repeat the mistakes of the past. The Senate, including 19 Republicans, confirmed Holder on February 2, 2009.

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Posted in: Eric Holder,Gitmo

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Categories: Barack Obama, Corruption, Democrats, Eric Holder

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