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Eastern European ‘minor leaguers’ blowing up Brooklyn underworld

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from Ben Feuerherd | New York Post.


A ragtag crew of Eastern European criminals in Brooklyn recently managed to do something they havenxe2x80x99t in years xe2x80x94 grab the spotlight from more xe2x80x9csophisticatedxe2x80x9d gangs, thanks to a daring jail break from Rikers Island, law-enforcement experts say.

The xe2x80x9cminor-leaguers,xe2x80x9d known as the xe2x80x9cKavKaz Nation,xe2x80x9d have wreaked havoc in the criminal underworld in southern Brooklyn for nearly a decade by stealing from drug dealers, staging home-invasion robberies and working as cocaine and marijuana traffickers, authorities say.xc2xa0xc2xa0

But the hoods xe2x80x94 who consider their turf to be Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach xe2x80x94 typically fail to rise to the highest level of ex-Soviet organized crime, whose top leaders are referred to as xe2x80x9cThieves-in-Law,xe2x80x9d according to a former Brooklyn federal prosecutor specializing in Eastern European rackets.xc2xa0

xe2x80x9cKavKaz Nation gangsters are absolutely violent and dangerous.xc2xa0 But most of them are minor-leaguers compared to the more sophisticated Eastern European organized criminals linked to Thieves-in-Law,xe2x80x9d said Matt Jacobs, a former assistant US attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Yet KavKaz crew members recently made headlines over a bold jail escape from the cityxe2x80x99s floating lockup at Rikers Island, officials say.

Brooklyn federal prosecutors allege that a top-ranking KavKaz member, Roman Nikoghosyan, provided help to a cohort after the escapee shimmied down a rope from his fifth-floor cell at the jail barge, known as the Vernon C. Bain Correction Center, on July 10.

Nikoghosyan had planned to sneak Rikers escapee David Mordukhaev to California, but the cross-country escape plan was eventually foiled, in part because the FBI had wiretapped Nikoghosyanxe2x80x99s phone, authorities say.xc2xa0

Both suspects were arrested by the feds soon after they were caught allegedly plotting how Mordukhaev could steal away to the Golden State.xc2xa0

But even the escape was a stunning coup for the crew, which draws its members from the Eastern European enclave in southern Brooklyn.

KavKaz gangsters have been known to associate with members of the Bloods, the notorious street gang with a strong set in nearby Coney island, federal prosecutors allege.

The crewxe2x80x99s name is derived from the Caucasus region of Eurasia, which includes countries such as Armenia, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Azerbaijan. Some members ink tattoos of the Caucasus Mountains on their bodies to show allegiance to the crew.

As they pulled off robberies and other capers in the past decade, KavKaz gangsters have landed on the radar of the true illicit Eastern European shot-callers in Brooklyn xe2x80x94 but often for the wrong reasons.xc2xa0

In 2012, Russian mobster Leonid Gershman xe2x80x94 a ruthless Sheepshead Bay gangster serving 16 years in federal prison xe2x80x94 suspected KavKaz members of robbing one of his Ocean Avenue marijuana stash houses.xc2xa0

After the robbery, Gershman and two of his cohorts lured KavKaz crew member Misha Azaryev, who they suspected of the break-in, to Ocean Parkway near Avenue Y, federal prosecutors charged.xc2xa0

While it was still light outside on the residential stretch of the thoroughfare, the gangsters confronted Azaryev about the robbery xe2x80x94 and one of them pulled a pistol. Azaryev ran off, but was tripped up by the gangsters and viciously beaten.xc2xa0

One of the hoods smashed Azaryevxe2x80x99s face in with the butt of his pistol, sending his teeth flying in the air xe2x80x94 all while terrified onlookers ate their dinner on a nearby front lawn, prosecutors wrote in court documents.xc2xa0

In the end, Gershmanxe2x80x99s crew let KavKaz members keep the cash they had swiped in the stash house robbery. There had been a mix-up.xc2xa0

xe2x80x9cWe later found out that Misha [Azaryev] wasnxe2x80x99t the person that did it. They just used his car. He just got beat up basically for nothing,xe2x80x9d one of Gershmanxe2x80x99s cohorts later testified.xc2xa0

At least one KavKaz leader has been an exception to the notion that the crew is less than sophisticated, rising to a high level in the organized-crime world of southern Brooklyn, Jacobs said.xc2xa0

Natik Nisimov, a KavKaz boss who owned a barbershop on Ditmas Avenue in Kensington, commanded enough respect among Eastern European gangsters that he could influence decisions by someone like Gershman, authorities say.

In 2013, a low-level cocaine courier for Gershman, who was of the same ethnic background as KavKaz crew members, told his boss he had been robbed of his product and cash while making deals, according to prosecutors.xc2xa0

Gershman suspected a set-up and met with the courier, Rufat Zarbailov, in the underground parking garage of his Ocean Parkway building. There, the gangster held a box cutter to Zarbailovxe2x80x99s face and threatened to give him a xe2x80x9c150,xe2x80x9d or a cut from mouth to ear that would require 150 stitches to close.xc2xa0

After the threat, Zarbailov ran to Nisimov, the KavKaz leader, who was able to convene a sit-down with Gershman to squash the beef. In the end, Gershman agreed not to maim Zarbailov or to extort money from him, but pair also agreed the low-level courier would be xe2x80x9cout of the game.xe2x80x9dxc2xa0

Despite his rising stature in the underworld, Nisimov met his end because of a seemingly non-consequential beef with another tough in southern Brooklyn.

In 2015, Nisimov was gunned down in the morning hours of March 24 on Ocean Parkway near Quentin Road in Midwood, according to the Brooklyn District Attorneyxe2x80x99s Office.

The gunman, a Brighton Beach resident named Jeffrey McCrae, suspected Nisimov had passed a knife to an attacker who stabbed one of his friends earlier that morning, according to prosecutors.

Evidence later cleared Nisimov of any involvement in the stabbing, authorities said. McCrae convicted of the killing in 2018 and sentenced to 19 years in prison.xc2xa0

In terms of last monthxe2x80x99s jailbreak, Mordukhaev pleaded guilty last week to a violation of federal supervised release over it and was slapped with a nearly two-year sentence in Brooklyn federal court, a rep for the US Attorneyxe2x80x99s Office said

Nikoghosyan has not been charged in the escape. But he was charged in a five-count indictment last week for allegedly extorting a marijuana dealer who worked for him and for attempting to move luxury cars he fraudulently obtained from California to New York.xc2xa0

The feds also charged him with being a felon in possession of a weapon after they found a Hi-point 995 rifle at a Brooklyn stash house he allegedly controlled.xc2xa0

Nikoghosyanxe2x80x99s lawyer, Don Savatta, said he plans to plead not guilty to the indictment.xc2xa0

xe2x80x9cWe expect that the evidence as it unfolds will be different from the allegations being made now,xe2x80x9d he said.

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Reuters launders FBI claims that “scant” evidence exists of coordinated January 6 plot to overthrow the government

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from World Socialist Web Site (en).


This past Friday, August 20, Reuters published an xe2x80x9cexclusivexe2x80x9d report citing four anonymous current and former law enforcement officials xe2x80x9ceither directly involved or briefed regularlyxe2x80x9d on FBI investigations into January 6, who claimed that xe2x80x9cscantxe2x80x9d evidence has been uncovered that there was an organized plot to overthrow the election of president Joe Biden by Trump accomplices and fascist militia groups.

This bogus claim is contradicted by the ongoing prosecutions of fascist militia members who are closely tied to the Republican Party and particularly to Trumpxe2x80x99s closest supporters, like ultra-right operative Roger Stone. The central purpose of this obvious lie is to downplay the significance of the attack, and cover up for the role of state agencies, including the FBI itself, in facilitating it.

The most important quote cited by Reuters is attributed to xe2x80x9ca former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation.xe2x80x9d The unnamed law enforcement official refers to leading Trump co-conspirators, long-time crony Roger Stone and the fascist Alex Jones of InfoWars.

Speaking of the over 579 people charged in connection with the January 6 attack the former federal official notes that, xe2x80x9cNinety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases. Then you have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.xe2x80x9d

The xe2x80x9corganizedxe2x80x9d fascist militia groups played the leading role in the attack on the Capitol and both groups, specifically the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, have close and ongoing ties with the Republican Party and Stone and Jones in particular. The naming of these two men by the official is noteworthy given their central role in whipping up Trumpxe2x80x99s paramilitaries and supporters in support of Trumpxe2x80x99s xe2x80x9cstolen electionxe2x80x9d lies, which he continues to propagate to this day.

Stone is a long-time Republican political operative going back to Nixon administration. He avoided prison after being pardoned by Trump last July for lying to congressional committees and to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Stone is a frequent guest on InfoWars. During a September 10, 2020, appearance on the program, he stated that the only way Trump could lose would be if the election was xe2x80x9ccorruptedxe2x80x9d and therefore Trump should invoke the Insurrection Act and seize mail-in ballots, likely to be heavily Democratic, in battleground states.

Stone has previously admitted in court documents that he maintains close relations with the Proud Boys militia group, allowing high-ranking members access to his home, phone and e-mail accounts, and using them as bodyguards in public appearances.

At a rally December 12, 2020 in Washington D.C., Stone, flanked by Proud Boys chairman and admitted FBI informant Enrique Tarrio and xe2x80x9csergeant of armsxe2x80x9d of the Seattle Proud Boys chapter Ethan Nordean, tells the assembled that the election xe2x80x9cisnxe2x80x99t over until we say it is!xe2x80x9d

Nordean, a bodybuilder and street brawler, is one of at least 38 Proud Boys who have been charged in connection to January 6. In addition to facing charges of obstructing an official proceeding, aiding and abetting, violent entry, disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, destruction of government property, obstructing of law enforcement, Nordean is one of at least six Proud Boys to have been charged with conspiring to obstruct the certification of Joe Bidenxe2x80x99s Electoral College victory. At least 40 Oath Keeper, Proud Boy and Three Percenter militia members have been charged with conspiracy, i.e., an organized plan, to overthrow the election.

According to encrypted communications seized by the government and recounted in prosecutorsxe2x80x99 briefs, Nordean was given xe2x80x9cwar powersxe2x80x9d leadership over the 200-plus Proud Boys who spearheaded the attack on the Capitol on January 6. A March court filing notes that Nordean and other Proud Boy leaders had specifically planned to whip up xe2x80x9cnormies,xe2x80x9d or xe2x80x9cnormieconsxe2x80x9d (normal conservatives) on January 6 in order xe2x80x9cto incite and inspire them to xe2x80x9cburn that city to ash todayxe2x80x9d and xe2x80x9csmash some pigs to dust.xe2x80x9d

As for Jones, who previously hosted Nordean as well Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes on his InfoWars program to spread fascistic lies about the election, the Wall Street Journal reported in January that Jones pledged $50,000 of his own money in exchange for a speaking slot at the January 6 xe2x80x9cStop the Stealxe2x80x9d rally in Washington D.C., where Trump sent the crowd marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to storm the Capitol. Jones ended up speaking at a xe2x80x9cStop the Stealxe2x80x9d rally the day before, while video taken the day of the attempted coup shows Jones leading Trump supporters with a bullhorn to march on the Capitol.

Videos taken on January 6 show Jones marching with InfoWars producer and co-host Owen Shroyer. The same day the Reuters article appeared, Shroyer was charged by federal prosecutors with illegally going into a restricted area on the Capitol grounds and disorderly conduct.

Significantly, the Reuters report indicates the ongoing complicity of the Democrats in covering up Trumpxe2x80x99s coup: xe2x80x9cSenior lawmakers have been briefed in detail on the results of the FBIxe2x80x99s investigation so far and find them credible, a Democratic congressional source said.xe2x80x9d

This is only the latest example, following the truncated impeachment, the joint bipartisan Senate cover-up report and the last monthxe2x80x99s House Select Committee hearing, to demonstrate that the foremost concern of Democratic xe2x80x9cinvestigationsxe2x80x9d is not to expose the deep support Trumpxe2x80x99s coup had within the capitalist state and among congressional Republicans. They serve to defend the institutions of the state and preserve xe2x80x9cunityxe2x80x9d with their xe2x80x9cRepublican colleagues.xe2x80x9d Both are essential to the defense of bourgeois class rule.

The so-called xe2x80x9ccrediblexe2x80x9d Reuters report has been hailed by leading Trump co-conspirators and fascists, including Alex Jones, who said Friday, claiming there was no coup attempt, xe2x80x9cWexe2x80x99d have had guns if that was our plan.xe2x80x9d On the social media site Gab, Stone wrote, xe2x80x9cbased on todayxe2x80x99s news reports I would say that the FBI investigating January 6 determined that xe2x80x98Roger Stone STILL did nothing wrong!xe2x80x99xe2x80x9d

Former <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”></a> CEO and millionaire propagator of Trumpxe2x80x99s stolen election lies, Patrick Byrne, likewise hailed the Reuters article, which in his words showed, xe2x80x9cThere was no organization behind January 6, no Republicans.xe2x80x9d He characterized the article as xe2x80x9c…a very politically strong report.xe2x80x9d

xe2x80x9cSomebody in the FBI yesterday, did something heroic, they came out with this report. And I want us all to applaud them,xe2x80x9d added Byrne.

Byrne has been the main sponsor of the sham xe2x80x9cforensic auditxe2x80x9d in Arizona. Byrne created a non-profit dubbed The America Project, which has provided over $3.25 million to facilitate the xe2x80x9cauditxe2x80x9d in Maricopa County, Arizona and has produced a book and movie called The Deep Rig which purports to show evidence of election fraud.

Joining this noxious crew was libertarian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who likewise cited the Reuters report as proof that nothing of significance happened on January 6.

xe2x80x9cThe only thing more deranged than claiming Russia had taken over control of the US through blackmail is calling January 6 an xe2x80x98Insurrection,xe2x80x99xe2x80x9d he tweeted, adding that January 6 was simply a xe2x80x9c3-hour riot that got put down.xe2x80x9d

Greenwaldxe2x80x99s approach to the FBI is somewhat selective. In this case, he accepts FBI propaganda, laundered through Reuters, as good coin, because it reinforces his complacent view that there was no significant threat to democracy on January 6.

Last month he denounced the World Socialist Web Sitexe2x80x99s exposure of his defense of the fascist militia members arrested for conspiring to murder Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, falsely claiming that the WSWS article defended the FBI.

What is consistent here is that Greenwald downplays the threat of fascist violence, either, in the case of Michigan, claiming it was FBI entrapment, or, in the case of January 6, citing the FBI whitewash as proof that there was no real danger.

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The Model for Fixing the DOJ

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from The Atlantic.


President Joe Biden is facing problems Gerald Ford would have appreciated. Like Ford in 1974, Biden has come into office following a president accused of criminality. Both Biden and Ford inherited a Department of Justice plagued by scandal and well-grounded charges of politicization. Both had to choose a nominee for attorney general knowing that recent occupants of that office contributed to partisanship and displayed a lack of integrity. And both took office while questions lingered about recent leadership of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a component of the DOJ.

Ford managed to make progress on all of these problems in just two and a half years. By the end of his presidency, he had laid the groundwork for a historic improvement in both the appearance and the reality of nonpartisanship and professionalism at the DOJ. Jimmy Carterxe2x80x99s one-term presidency continued the work. The 1970s ended in a much better place than they had begun, with solidly entrenched laws, rules, and norms that kept the DOJ largelyxe2x80x94not entirely, but largelyxe2x80x94free from partisanship and serious misconduct for decades.

Understanding the nadir reached at the department in the early 1970s, and the creative repair that took place under Ford and Carter, reveals how aberrational Donald Trumpxe2x80x99s relationship with the department was, and, looking ahead, what problems and opportunities today face Biden and the new attorney general, Merrick Garland, as they attempt to move on from the past four years. Scandal can create political will for reform. Biden and Garland have an opportunity to both shore up the 1970s framework and address new problems revealed by the Trump presidency.

David A. Graham: Whatxe2x80x99s the Justice Department actually for?

In a certain sense, they have an easier task than their predecessors in the 1970s. The leadership failures at the DOJ were much worse in the previous era compared with today. James Comey mishandled the public disclosures about the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which might have affected the 2016 election, but he was an honorable and law-abiding FBI directorxe2x80x94a far cry from J. Edgar Hoover. Comeyxe2x80x99s replacement, Chris Wray, is competent and professional. Trumpxe2x80x99s attorney general William Barr acted unethically in a number of high-profile matters, but there is no evidence that he committed crimes in office, as Nixonxe2x80x99s attorney general John Mitchell had. Moreover, under Ford, new policies needed to be created from scratch. Today, there is already a model and a department workforce acculturated to prize nonpartisanship and professionalism.

But the repudiation of Nixon and Watergate was ultimately bipartisan. Todayxe2x80x99s Republican Party, by contrast, has yet to reject Trump and what he did to the countryxe2x80x99s institutions. For Biden and Garland, that makes the work ahead much more difficult.

Perhaps Fordxe2x80x99s most important decision was to seek a nominee for attorney general who would be indisputably independent of the White House and understood by all to be a person of high integrity. He selected Edward Levi, the president of the University of Chicago and a former law professor and law-school dean who had served in the DOJ early in his career. A very successful academic administrator, Levi was widely admired for his probity and commitment to calm, reasoned problem solving. At his Senate confirmation hearing, Levi testified that he was not sure if he had ever registered as a Republican or a Democrat to vote. In addition to being independent in his personal politics, Levi pledged to operate the department free from any partisan or other improper interference from the White House.

At his swearing-in ceremony, Levi described the need for the appointment of someone like him, noting a xe2x80x9ccorrosive skepticism and cynicism concerning the administration of justice,xe2x80x9d in particular the belief that law might be xe2x80x9can instrument of partisan purpose.xe2x80x9d There was good reason for this cynicism. For some time, presidentsxe2x80x94Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedyxe2x80x94had appointed senior campaign aides to the attorney generalxe2x80x99s post. Nixon took this bad idea to a new level. When confirmed, Levi became the sixth attorney general in five years. Nixonxe2x80x99s first, Mitchell, was a close friend of Nixonxe2x80x99s who had run his 1968 presidential campaign. Mitchell started working on the presidentxe2x80x99s 1972 reelection campaign while still attorney general, participating in decisions about both legal and illegal campaign activities. He eventually resigned his government position and moved to the campaign full-time. Mitchell was deeply involved in the Watergate crimes, and was indicted along with a number of White House aides in early 1974, while Nixon was still president. His career ended with a prison sentence and disbarment.

Read: The operatic life of Richard Nixon

Nixonxe2x80x99s next attorney general, Richard Kleindienst, came from a political background in Arizona. He allegedly learned early on about White House involvement in the Watergate crimes but kept it to himself. Kleindienst resigned in 1973 after only nine months in office while details about Watergate were slowly leaking out; he said too many colleagues and friends appeared to be involved for him to stay on. The next year he was convicted of having lied to the Senate about a Nixon White House directive to go easy on ITT in an antitrust case because the company gave money to the Republican Party.

Nixonxe2x80x99s third attorney general, the exemplary Elliot Richardson, did not last long. When Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox sent a subpoena to Nixon calling for previously secret Oval Office tape recordings, the president ordered Richardson to fire Cox. Richardsonxe2x80x94who had vowed to the Senate at his confirmation hearing to protect the Watergate investigationxe2x80x94refused and resigned, starting the so-called Saturday Night Massacre. Richardsonxe2x80x99s deputy, William Ruckelshaus, who immediately became the acting attorney general, also refused and left office that day. The third in line at the DOJxe2x80x94Robert Borkxe2x80x94was willing to fire Cox. Nixon abolished the office of special prosecutor, and White House aides directed the FBI to seal the offices of Cox, Richardson, and Ruckelshaus. Yet the explosion of outrage in Congress and the press forced Nixon to acquiesce to a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, who would work independently of the attorney general. Congress began impeachment proceedings a week after the firings, and Jaworski pursued the litigation that would result in a Supreme Court order to Nixon to turn over the damning tapes. Nixonxe2x80x99s end was near, but the Justice Departmentxe2x80x99s reputation had already been severely damaged.

The FBI was consumed with troubles of its own. A few months before Nixonxe2x80x99s 1972 reelection, FBI Director Hoover died in office after nearly 50 years at the helm. Nixon appointed as acting director a Justice Department lawyer, L. Patrick Gray, because he was an old Nixon friend and campaign aide and was expected to be a White House loyalist. Gray destroyed incriminating Watergate documents and allowed White House aides to have access to confidential FBI files and interviews on the Watergate investigation, and soon resigned in disgrace.

Meanwhile, information was leaking out about the FBIxe2x80x99s manifold misdeeds under Hoover. The roots of the abuses and illegality dated back to before Nixon and Watergate. For instance, it was Robert Kennedy, attorney general in his brother Johnxe2x80x99s administration, who in 1963 approved an FBI wiretap of Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout his tenure as director, Hoover had done what he wanted. As Senator Edward Kennedy put it after Hooverxe2x80x99s death, xe2x80x9cThe FBI has never before been truly accountable to anyone for anything.xe2x80x9d Under Hoover, the FBI surveilled, infiltrated, and disrupted supposedly subversive groups involved in the civil-rights movement, Vietnam War protests, and environmental activism. Prominent cultural figures suspected of left-wing views were monitored, including Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Langston Hughes, and John Lennon. Hoover kept files of salacious or otherwise damaging information on politicians, too, and was viewed as untouchable in his job because of his potential to blackmail. He was also willing to use illegal methods to gather political intelligence for Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Nixon, including wiretapping sitting members of Congress, executive-branch officials, journalists, and others.

In the early and mid 1970s, various congressional committees investigated misdeeds at the Justice Department and its FBI component, and some important members of Congress proposed radical institutional change. Senator Sam Ervin, a Democrat from North Carolina, introduced a bill to turn the DOJ into an independent agencyxe2x80x94akin to the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Federal Trade Commission. Ervin proposed that the attorney general be removed from the Cabinet, given a six-year term in office, and protected by statute from presidential dismissal unless xe2x80x9cfor neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.xe2x80x9d Ervinxe2x80x99s bill would also have given hiring and firing authority over the FBI director and U.S. attorneys to the attorney general rather than to the president. Other reform-minded senators made similar proposals. For instance, Senator Henry xe2x80x9cScoopxe2x80x9d Jackson, a Democrat from Washington, proposed a bill that would have made the FBI director removable by the president only for good cause, such as neglect of duty or criminal conviction.

Ultimately, both constitutional realities and calculations of good policy doomed these proposals. Advised by the Congressional Research Service, the Justice Departmentxe2x80x99s Office of Legal Counsel, and other legal experts, Congress in 1973 and 1974 concluded that Article II of the Constitutionxe2x80x94which gives the president xe2x80x9cthe executive powerxe2x80x9d and the duty to xe2x80x9ctake care that the laws shall be faithfully executedxe2x80x9dxe2x80x94required that the president be able to fire the attorney general and FBI director at any time. The Constitution, it was agreed, anticipates that the president sets the broad policy directions for law enforcement, and that the most senior executive officials heading law-enforcement entities are directly accountable to the presidentxe2x80x94to ensure that the presidentxe2x80x99s policies are carried out and to prevent the rise of another Hoover.

Yet there was also widespread agreement that the White House should only rarely, in unique circumstances, involve itself in specific investigative or charging decisions. After the president and his political advisers determined priorities and broad policies, the specifics should be left to a functionally independent Justice Department. There was likewise agreement that considerations of political partisanship or other corrupt motives should never again be allowed to influence federal law enforcement, and that lawbreaking by DOJ officials could never again be tolerated.

The idea that the Justice Department should be independent of the White House had been developing for a long time, and was certainly already present by the early 1970s. This is why Nixon acted secretly when he tried to undermine the Watergate investigation from within while publicly claiming that the department would pursue the matter vigorously. But the revelations about Watergate and Hooverxe2x80x99s FBI, and the intense public and congressional conversations about reforms, helped crystallize the need for an independent, professional, nonpartisan Justice Department in the minds of the countryxe2x80x99s political class.

When he took office in early 1975, Attorney General Levi began the process of implementing this broadly shared vision. His work, which was continued by Attorneys General Griffin Bell and Benjamin Civiletti, who served under President Jimmy Carter, was spectacularly successful.

One set of efforts was aimed at transparency and accountability for past abuses. Levi committed to Congress that information would be uncovered and released where possible and that Justice Department officials would cooperate with investigations. Congress and the public were understandably shocked by many of the revelations. Former FBI Assistant Director William Sullivan testified to the Senatexe2x80x99s Church Committeexe2x80x94a select group formed to investigate intelligence-related abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, FBI, and other entitiesxe2x80x94that the FBIxe2x80x99s work in domestic intelligence gathering had been xe2x80x9ca rough, tough dirty business,xe2x80x9d and that the bureau had used the same techniques against Americans as it did against the KGB. Members of Congress were displeased (to put it mildly) to learn about the secret FBI dossiers kept on some of them. Levi ordered a full review of the FBIxe2x80x99s actions against King.

Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes: How to corrupt the Justice Department

Dozens of criminal investigations were opened on FBI agents who had ordered or carried out illegal xe2x80x9cblack-bag jobs.xe2x80x9d Two very senior FBI officials were convicted of authorizing illegal break-ins at the homes of relatives of members of the Weather Underground, a violent far-left group. Together with the criminal convictions of Attorneys General Mitchell and Kleindienst, this helped emphasize the message that illegality would not be tolerated any longer.

Levi also created two offices to investigate misconduct by DOJ officials and employees. Both were called the Office of Professional Responsibilityxe2x80x94one for the FBI and one for the DOJ as a whole. Later, Congress added more oversight by creating an inspector general for the department, tasked with rooting out waste, fraud, and illegality and reporting to both Congress and the attorney general.

Levixe2x80x99s team at the department developed guidelines to govern FBI investigations, with the aim of ensuring that only legitimate inquiries were pursued and that more intrusive investigative techniques were reserved for serious cases. As noted, a particular problem under Hoover had been investigations of groups composed of American citizens who held views critical of the governmentxe2x80x94whether it be in the area of civil rights, the war in Indochina, or other areas. The FBI often targeted groups based purely on expressive behavior that should have been considered protected by the First Amendment. To stop such abuses, Levi issued Domestic Security Investigation Guidelines, which required a defined factual predicate to initiate any investigation. A full investigation could only be authorized by the FBI headquarters, and required the bureau to have xe2x80x9cspecific and articulable factsxe2x80x9d suggesting acts of violence or federal crimes. Levi also centralized oversight of the FBI by Justice Department lawyers.

Another key innovation was developed by Attorney General Bell. In a 1978 speech to Justice Department employees, Bell announced that all communications coming from Congress or the White House to the Justice Department about specific party matters must be routed through the attorney general or the departmentxe2x80x99s second- and third-in-command lawyers, the deputy attorney general and the associate attorney general. Communication about broad matters of policy could flow freely, but White House intervention in specific cases would be severely limited and monitored.

Congress added other key reforms. The Senate announced that political operatives would not be considered appropriate nominees for attorney general. Two landmark statutesxe2x80x94the first in 1968 concerning ordinary criminal cases, and the second in 1978 concerning foreign intelligence investigationsxe2x80x94require both high-level executive-branch sign-off and judicial review before bugging or wiretapping is allowed in the United States.

Another 1978 statute created the independent-counsel mechanism to investigate wrongdoing at high levels in the executive branch. Responding to the Saturday Night Massacre, Congress expressly cut the president out of the loop for initiating or terminating such investigations. (Both parties in Congress were happy to let this law lapse in 1999 after the experience of Ken Starr and other overly aggressive independent counsels.)

The combined effect of these and other reforms served the country well for decades. But few reforms were actually codified in statute. Most operated at the level of norms, practices, and sub-statutory executive-branch policies. The success of the system therefore depended on multiple actors continually agreeing to abide by relevant rules. The Senate needs to be consistently vigilant about who it confirms into senior offices, and Congress must exercise active oversight to detect and deter abuses. Attorneys general, FBI directors, and other senior political appointees need to be people of high character who are devoted to the ideals that Levi embodied. Presidents, White House counsels, and other political aides of the president likewise need to commit themselves to respecting the independence of the Justice Department, even if it feels inconvenient at times. The various watchdog offices within the department need to do their jobs fearlessly and with integrity. Career employees at the FBI and the DOJ need to strive to make decisions solely on the basis of law and facts, without regard for improper considerations such as partisanship. The press and outside interest groups need to monitor, publicize, and criticize any deviations from the important norms crystallized in the 1970s.

This system and these commitments were severely stressed by the presidency of Donald Trump. Trump openly challenged the norms of Justice Department independence in a way Nixon never did. Trump publicly called on the department to punish enemies and protect his friends. He fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions because Sessions was not implementing this corrupt program. Trump fired FBI Director Comey for refusing to pledge personal fealty, and then admitted on television that he had acted to protect himself personally from the Russia investigation. And so on.

Biden has so far said and done the right things. He (or aides speaking for him) has stated frequently as a candidate and president that he will have an xe2x80x9cindependentxe2x80x9d Department of Justice that does not answer to the White House. Biden also picked as attorney general a person of outstanding character and qualifications. Perhaps even more importantly, as the legal commentator and scholar Benjamin Wittes wrote, Garland is xe2x80x9cthe closest thing American political and legal life offers in this polarized time to a figure above politics.xe2x80x9d Garland and several senators paid tribute to the example of Ed Levi at Garlandxe2x80x99s confirmation hearing.

In some ways, Biden and Garland face an easier task than Ford and Levi did. Levi, with crucial assistance from Congress, needed to come up with new policies from scratch, whereas Garland inherits a Justice Department with an honorable tradition to return to.

But in other ways, the problems are knottier today. Trumpxe2x80x99s frontal assault on the notion of independent, nonpartisan, professional law enforcement took place in an era of political polarization that is much worse than in the 1970s. xe2x80x9cPolitical sectarianismxe2x80x9d or xe2x80x9cpernicious polarizationxe2x80x9d in American politics has made it intensely difficult to cooperate across party lines in Congress, or even to agree on important facts. (Was there collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia? Who truly won the 2020 presidential vote?)

In the 1970s, the leaders of both parties more or less shared a common understanding about the abuses of Nixon and Hoover. xe2x80x9cAlternative factsxe2x80x9d had not yet infected our politics. Abusive government behavior toward the other side of the aisle was not tolerated or even lauded by party leaders. The relative agreement about facts and values allowed important norms to develop to protect the independence and professionalism of the Justice Department. The two political parties were still able to reach common ground about nominees for key roles, and about important legislation.

Kevin Wack: American justice isnxe2x80x99t impartial anymore

Congress was a crucial partner in crafting and implementing the 1970s reforms. Today, polarization, a 50xe2x80x9350 Senate, and the filibuster mean that Congress might be absent in the reform effort.

There is another way in which Garland is facing a tougher job than Levi did. Only one month after Nixonxe2x80x99s resignation made him president, Ford granted his predecessor a full pardon for any federal criminal offenses he might have committed. Levi thus came to office freed of the awesome responsibility of figuring out how to handle the alleged criminality of a former president. By contrast, Biden pledged during the campaign that he xe2x80x9cabsolutelyxe2x80x9d will not pardon Trump and that the Department of Justice will decide independently of the White House how to proceed on any federal investigations or criminal charges. That is a weighty burden for Garland and the department today.

Enduring constitutional realities mean that fundamental restructuring of the Justice Department is off the table today, as it was in the 1970s. Federal law enforcement can never be turned entirely into an apolitical civil-service bureaucracy. As a result, weaknesses revealed by the Trump years must be addressed in more fine-grained and subtle ways. There are a number of good proposals already circulating. Jack Goldsmith and Robert Bauerxe2x80x94a senior DOJ official under George W. Bush and White House counsel to Barack Obama, respectivelyxe2x80x94just published a book filled with helpful ideas. Groups such as Protect Democracy and the Center for American Progress have proposed reforms, as have thoughtful members of Congress, including Representative Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Representative Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. (I have also offered a few ideas.) The stakes are very high: Nonpartisan, professional law enforcement is one of the key factors that separate tyrannies from countries with a meaningful rule of law. The country is fortunate that the work of people like Ed Levi in the 1970s set the United States on the right path; their values and ideas can be an enduring source of guidance.

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Exclusive: FBI finds scant evidence U.S. Capitol attack was coordinated – sources

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WASHINGTON, Aug 20 (Reuters) – The FBI has found scant evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election result, according to four current and former law enforcement officials.

Though federal officials have arrested more than 570 alleged participants, the FBI at this point believes the violence was not centrally coordinated by far-right groups or prominent supporters of then-President Donald Trump, according to the sources, who have been either directly involved in or briefed regularly on the wide-ranging investigations.

“Ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases,” said a former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. “Then you have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.”

Stone, a veteran Republican operative and self-described “dirty trickster”, and Jones, founder of a conspiracy-driven radio show and webcast, are both allies of Trump and had been involved in pro-Trump events in Washington on Jan. 5, the day before the riot.

FBI investigators did find that cells of protesters, including followers of the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys groups, had aimed to break into the Capitol. But they found no evidence that the groups had serious plans about what to do if they made it inside, the sources said.

Harrowing scenes from the U.S. Capitol siege

Pro-Trump protesters storm the U.S. Capitol to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., U.S. January 6, 2021. Picture taken January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Ahmed Gaber – RC263L9P157M

Prosecutors have filed conspiracy charges against 40 of those defendants, alleging that they engaged in some degree of planning before the attack.

They alleged that one Proud Boy leader recruited members and urged them to stockpile bulletproof vests and other military-style equipment in the weeks before the attack and on Jan. 6 sent members forward with a plan to split into groups and make multiple entries to the Capitol.

But so far prosecutors have steered clear of more serious, politically-loaded charges that the sources said had been initially discussed by prosecutors, such as seditious conspiracy or racketeering.

The FBI’s assessment could prove relevant for a congressional investigation that also aims to determine how that day’s events were organized and by whom.

Senior lawmakers have been briefed in detail on the results of the FBI’s investigation so far and find them credible, a Democratic congressional source said.

The chaos on Jan. 6 erupted as the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives met to certify Joe Biden’s victory in November’s presidential election.

It was the most violent attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812, forcing lawmakers and Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence, to scramble for safety.

Four people died and another died the following day, and more than 100 police officers were injured.


Trump made an incendiary speech at a nearby rally shortly before the riot, repeating false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and urging supporters to march on the Capitol to pressure lawmakers to reject Biden’s victory.

In public comments last month to the Democratic-led congressional committee formed to investigate the violence, police officers injured in the mayhem urged lawmakers to determine whether Trump helped instigate it. Some Democrats have said they want him to testify.

But the FBI has so far found no evidence that he or people directly around him were involved in organizing the violence, according to the four current and former law enforcement officials.

More than 170 people have been charged so far with assaulting or impeding a police officer, according to the Justice Department. That carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

But one source said there has been little, if any, recent discussion by senior Justice Department officials of filing charges such as “seditious conspiracy” to accuse defendants of trying to overthrow the government. They have also opted not to bring racketeering charges, often used against organized criminal gangs.

Senior officials had discussed filing such charges in the weeks after the attack, the sources said.

Prosecutors have also not brought any charges alleging that any individual or group played a central role in organizing or leading the riot. Law-enforcement sources told Reuters no such charges appeared to be pending.

Conspiracy charges that have been filed allege that defendants discussed their plans in the weeks before the attack and worked together on the day itself. But prosecutors have not alleged that this activity was part of a broader plot.

Some federal judges and legal experts have questioned whether the Justice Department is letting defendants off too lightly.

Judge Beryl Howell in July asked prosecutors to explain why one defendant was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor charge carrying a maximum sentence of six months, rather than a more serious felony charge.

Spokespeople for the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, which is leading the Jan. 6 prosecutions, declined to comment.

The congressional committee investigating the attack will talk with the FBI and other agencies as part of its probe.

Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Kieran Murray and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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CDC study shows 74% of people infected in Massachusetts Covid outbreak were fully vaccinated

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