Archive for the ‘Investigative’ Category

For those of you who are interested in the financial angle of terrorism, national security, and organized crime as I am, check out this article that ran in Foreign Policy yesterday.

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The report is a doozy (PDF file)…  Will live-blog details as I read them, including quotes and page numbers as necessary (Note: page numbers are based on their number in the PDF file, not the number that appears at the bottom of each).  Watch this space.

REACTIONS:

Statement from Sen. Ensign’s attorney Paul Coggins: “I am confident that the Department of Justice will conclude that Senator Ensign fully complied with the law.”

Separately, spokespersons for the FEC and the Department of Justice declined to comment on the Boxer/Isakson letters referring the case to them.

REPORT DETAILS:

CREW gets a shoutout… Melanie Sloan takes a victory lap: “The Committee’s investigation began after it received a complaint on June 24, 2009, from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ( CREW ). CREW supplemented that complaint on October 6, 2009. These filings presented allegations of sexual harassment/employment discrimination, post-employment ban violations, and issues related to payments to Douglas and Cynthia Hampton, Senator Ensign s former Administrative Assistant and campaign treasurer.” (p. 8 of the file)

Credible evidence of violations: “Based on the record in this matter, the Special Counsel respectfully submits that there is substantial credible evidence that provides substantial cause to conclude that Senator Ensign violated Senate Rules and federal civil and criminal laws, and engaged in improper conduct reflecting upon the Senate, thus betraying the public trust and bringing discredit to the Senate.” (p. 10)

Ensign plays hardball: “When a prominent Nevada constituent declined to hire Mr. Hampton, Senator Ensign instructed John Lopez, his Chief of Staff, to jack him up to high heaven and inform the constituent that he was cut off from Senator Ensign and could not contact him any longer.” (p. 10) Update: More details…  the constituent was identified as Nevada political consultant Sig Rogich.  Looking back on the episode, Lopez later testified: “I just wanted to mention that when the Senator asked me to do that, I really felt like this is wrong. I remember really feeling like that
was abusing the office, you know, cutting someone off from official action because he didn’t hire [Hampton], I thought I had qualms about what I was asked to do.” (p. 29)

Violations of One-Year Ban: Hampton “improperly contacted” on at least 12 different client matters, initiated at least 30 contacts to Ensign’s office and other Senate offices during the one-year ban period. (p. 10)

Office Policies Included Shredding and Gmail Accounts: “Before and after Mr. Hampton’s termination and during the time period when the Senator was helping Mr. Hampton get clients, Senator Ensign instituted office policies that had the effect of making Mr. Hampton’s contacts harder to detect, including a shredding policy, discouraging use of official Senate email accounts in favor of Gmail, and directing that all inquiries of the Committee go through Mr. Lopez, the person he directed to interact with Mr. Hampton.” (p. 11)

$96K Severance Payment: The $96,000 paid to the Hamptons from the Ensign Family Trust Fund constitued a severance payment. Ensign’s affidavit to the FEC saying it wasn’t severance payment is false. (p. 11) Update: Affidavit re: $96K signed by Ensign’s parents saying money was part of pattern of them giving money to the Hamptons, including all expenses paid trip to Hawaii in 2006.  Report calls these affidavits “misleading and potentially false.” (p. 12)

Potential Obstruction of Justice Violations: Ensign deleted documents and files knowing they were likely to be subject to legal claim. Also deleted his personal Gmail account which he used instead of his Senate account. Contents from Gmail account could not be reviewed for the investigation. Ensign deleted at least 5 documents after receiving document retention notice from Ethics Committee in October of 2009.  (p. 13)

Violation of Office Policies: Report says Ensign violated his own office policies regarding sexual harassment and fraternization. Report says Ensign engaged in behaviors that would have led to the termination of one of his employees according to his own office policy. (p. 13)

Affair Began After Burglary: After burglars broke into the Hamptons’ Nevada home, Ensign allowed them to stay at their place until the door was repaired and Cynthia Hampton felt safe to go back to the house. The affair began shortly after the Hamptons moved into the Ensign home. (p. 18)

Losing His Mind: When Ensign began pursuing Cynthia Hampton, “She asked Senator Ensign if he lost [his] mind, and he replied yes.” (p. 18)

Late Night Fodder Material: Hampton’s reaction after finding out about the affair – “When the cars were parked in the airport parking lot, Mr. Hampton jumped out of his car and chased Senator Ensign in the airport parking lot.” (p. 19)

What Happens in Vegas: Ensign and Hampton ended the affair around Christmas of 2007, but resumed again a month later. They would have trysts in Vegas hotel rooms reserved in her name, because “it always had to be under my name, it could never be under his name.” (p. 19)

Big Phone Bill: Hampton found out affair was continuing in February 2008 after discovering text messages on Ensign phone during CODEL trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. The phone bills for the calls during the trip totaled nearly $1,000. (p. 19-20)

“Put Your Pants On”: Sen. Tom Coburn, Hampton and others confront Ensign about the affair on Valentine’s Day, 2008. Ensign writes letter to Cynthia Hampton breaking it off but later admits it was a lie. Two days later, Hampton sees his wife’s and Ensign’s cars parked outside a hotel near their neighborhood and calls Ensign spiritual advisor Tim Coe. Coe calls Ensign, telling him I know exactly where you are. I know exactly what you are doing. Put your pants on and go home.” A few days later, Ensign tells Hampton he loves Cynthia and wants to marry her, and that he can’t work for him anymore. (p. 20)

I Wish I Knew How To Quit You: Ensign separates from his wife and moves in with his parents, and the affair continues through July 2008. Ensign bought two cell phones so they could communicate directly, and created fake Yahoo addresses for both of them.  Coe has Sen. Tom Coburn call Ensign’s father and tell him about the affair.  According to him, the call happened, and Ensign called him in a rage after hearing about his father. (p. 20-21)

Not a Happy Ending: The report notes that Cynthia Hampton has filed for divorce and bankruptcy proceedings, and is moving to California to work for an unidentified Christian organization. (p. 22)

Leaving Las Vegas: Plan to separate Hamptons from Ensign included possibility of moving them to Colorado and having Ensign take over mortgage on Hampton’s home in Vegas or buying it outright. Ensign not happy about idea of buying the house, says his father won’t help with the finances of helping the Hamptons relocate. (p. 22-23)

Coburn’s Role: “According to Mr. Coe, Doug was more confident talking to Senator Coburn about finances than he was us, and Mr. Hampton thought Senator Coburn could deliver John s father, who was wealthy. Senator Coburn played a support role, and encouraged Senator Ensign to consider the plans developed by Mr. Coe and others regarding transition and separation.” (p. 23)

Not-So-Golden-Parachute: During a lunch in Vegas, Ensign tells NRSC aides Michael and Lindsey Slanker that Hampton is leaving his office, but lies about the reasons why. The Slankers come up with idea of having Hampton work at their political campaign consulting firm November Inc. as a “platform” for his work. If Hampton could get clients, he could use November Inc. as “the business card.” Ensign’s response to the idea was “giddy” and he immediately called Hampton to tell him of the plan. (p. 23-24)

Pink Slip: Ensign fires Cynthia Hampton from her job in March of 2008, saying his father and wife wouldn’t allow her to continue working for him. (p. 24)

Severance Pay: The $96K severance package was calculated based on 2 months’ pay for him, a year’s pay for her. Here’s where the plot thickens: “The two discussed gift rules and tax law, and splitting up the payments into various amounts, totaling $96,000, as a way to avoid the payment of taxes on the amount.” (p. 25)

Vacation Money: In addition to the $96K, Hampton received $6K in his final paycheck from Ensign’s Senate office for 12 unused vacation days, which in fact he may have used. Report notes “his work attendance was significantly less in the months leading up to April 2008. Therefore, there were likely no vacation days available to Mr. Hampton upon his departure from the Senate.” (p. 27)

The I-word: Ensign’s chief of staff John Lopez testified before the Ethics Committee Special Counsel under a grant of immunity. (p. 28)

Not a Coincidence: “The timing of Senator Ensign’s interest in the destruction of records and communication with oversight committees coincides with the affair with Cindy Hampton, and Mr. Hampton s departure.” (p. 29)

Preparing to Lobby: “Mr. Hampton, because of his salary level, was required under Senate Rule 37 to notify the Ethics Committee within three days of commencing any negotiations for prospective private employment, and to immediately recuse himself from legislative matters affecting that prospective employer. Committee Staff and Special Counsel were unable to find evidence that Mr. Hampton ever filed such a notification.” Hampton left the Senate on May 1, 2008, and the report notes “Mr. Hampton was banned from contact with the Senate effective May 2, 2008,” because of ethics rules. However, the report says that just five days later, he e-mailed Ensign aide David Quinalty regarding FAA issues on behalf of a Nevada client. Ensign’s legislative staff figured out the implications of the email pretty quickly.

“Mr. Quinalty testified that in every way I could think of, [this email] struck me as inappropriate and odd and something I should take note of. Mr. Quinalty immediately took the email to Pam Thiessen. Ms. Thiessen testified that upon review of the email, she concluded that it look[ed] like he [Hampton] broke the law, broke the ethics ban. Ms. Thiessen had Mr. Quinalty print out multiple copies, and gave one to Mr. Mulvihill, with instructions to take it to the attention of the Ethics Committee. Ms. Thiessen then spoke with Mr. Lopez, and stated that on its face [the email] was illegal. So I told John Lopez this is illegal activity, that it’s got to stop, and that Doug Hampton was being cut off from the leg. [legislative] shop. Ms. Thiessen then announced to the entire legislative staff that Mr. Hampton had broken the law and no one was to help him. Members of Senator Ensign’s legislative staff recalled this announcement in their testimony.”(p. 31-32)

Compartmentalized Contacts: Ensign and Lopez agree to limit all dealings between Hampton and the office to the two of them, effectively removing the rest of the staff from the process. Lopez told him about the ethics concerns about Hampton’s lobbying efforts, to which Ensign responded with what Lopez described as a “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude. Lopez was ignorant about the affair until Ensign called a staff meeting to announce it in 2009. (p. 34-35)

Coburn the Negotiator?: Hampton’s lawyer testifies that Coburn acted as a negotiator between him and Ensign for a possible multimillion dollar settlement on behalf of his clients. Coburn denies it in testimony to the committee. This discrepancy could come back to haunt Coburn. Stories with headlines like “Tom Coburn gets new scrutiny in Ensign scandal”  and a lead paragraph alleging “the Oklahoma Republican may have not been completely candid when questioned by Senate investigators about the still unfolding scandal,” are not good. (p. 44-45)

Going Public: After hearing of Ensign’s rejection of the offer, Hampton decided to go to the media with his case, writing a letter to Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. A few days later, Hampton forwarded a copy of the letter to Sen. Rick Santorum, at the time a paid Fox News contributor. Santorum tipped off Ensign, and this forced him to make a public statement admitting to the affair in June of 2009. (p. 45)

Semantics About Severance: Staff and counsel reviewing his prepared text announcing the affair suggested removing all references to severance or payments. Attorney Chris Gober explained the legal concerns in an email to Ensign’s communications director:

“[t]he statement, as currently written, raises a host of
potential criminal issues for the Senator. The language
draws a direct connection between the affair, the
termination of the staffers, and the severance payment.
Although the statement attempts to legitimize the reason for
the payment, it’s awfully odd that he made the payments
from personal funds. If this statement doesn’t get the
attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, then nothing will.” (p. 48)

Questions About Ensign FEC Affidavits: The report alleges that Senator Ensign and his parents may have been less than truthful in affidavits they filed with the FEC regarding the $96K. “The affidavits of the senior Ensigns and of Senator Ensign appear to be misleading and potentially false on the central issue of the FEC investigation the nature of the $96,000 payment from the senior Ensigns to the Hamptons and the purported pattern of generosity from the senior Ensigns to the Hamptons.” The Special Counsel says that inconsistencies between facts and affidavits merit further investigation by DOJ and FEC. (p. 51-52)

The Senate Ethics Committee just published its findings on the John Ensign investigation.  It also published letters referring the case to the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission saying Ensign and others had violated laws relating to their relevant jurisdictions.

Stay tuned for more details.


The Washington Post reports intelligence officials have found Bin Laden’s handwritten and electronic journals as part of the intelligence treasure trove recovered during the Abbottabad raid. The article is well worth reading in full, but here’s an excerpt:

Osama bin Laden was preoccupied with attacking the United States over all other targets, a fixation that led to friction with followers, according to U.S. intelligence officials involved in analyzing the trove of materials recovered from the al-Qaeda leader’s compound.

In handwritten journals and long-winded compositions saved on computer hard drives, the officials said, bin Laden always seemed to be searching for a way to replicate the impact of al-Qaeda’s most devastating strike.

He exhorted followers to explore ways to recruit non-Muslims “who are oppressed in the United States,” in the words of one official — particularly African Americans and Latinos — and to assemble a plot in time for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

First of all, from a historical perspective, those journals will probably be a fascinating read. If they are ever released by the U.S. government, I’m sure someone like Peter Bergen would have a field day with that material and crank out another book or two. I’m currently reading “The Osama bin Laden I Know,” which is a fascinating first-hand oral biography of OBL collected from people who have met and dealt with him over the years that was published in 2006. Obviously, a lot has happened since then… It would be interesting to compare this (and Bergen’s previous book, Holy War, Inc.) with what’s in the journals. Hopefully with the passage of time and a few FOIA requests, some of this material can see the light of day for journalists and historians to study.

Second, if the account about OBL’s idea to recruit African Americans and Latinos to attack the United States is correct, it would show his complete misunderstanding of American society and culture, where immigrants, foreigners, and minority groups tend to assimilate and gain acceptance fairly quickly, in comparison to Europe, where they remain segregated due to social, political, and economic circumstances. That’s not to say that Al Qaeda wouldn’t have been able to find an occasional misguided soul here and there, but if he really believed this would work, he had definitely been drinking too much of his own Kool Aid.

H/T to Chuck Todd for the idea for the title of this post

Update: ProPublica has more details about the contents of the Bin Laden documents. Although it’s unclear as to what stuff is from journals and what isn’t, the whole thing is worth a read. Big surprise: bin Laden himself personally vetoed an offer from Al Qaeda’s leader in Yemen to let Anwar al-Awlaki take over, because he knew and trusted the Yemeni and didn’t want to change the status quo. If this is accurate, it will probably lead to a reassessment by experts of Awlaki as a viable option to succeed bin Laden and lead al Qaeda.

Not making this up – An FCC commissioner who voted to approve the NBC/Comcast deal is taking a new job lobbying for… the new NBC/Comcast conglomerate.

Would-be modern day saint Greg Mortenson got hit by a devastating one-two journalistic punch courtesy of Jon Krakauer and 60 Minutes pointing out his nonexistent loose relationship with the truth as it relates to some anecdotes and details in his best-selling books.

In making the comparison between Mortenson and James Frey, Krakauer notes, “Frey, unlike Mortenson, didn’t use his phony memoir to solicit tens of millions of dollars in donations from unsuspecting readers.”

Beyond the literary embellishment or outright fabrication alleged in both reports, the charges that Mortenson has mismanaged or used CAI funds for personal use, or claimed credit for building nonexistant schools raise even more troubling questions.  The fact that President Obama gave $100,000 of his Nobel Peace Prize money to Mortenson’s charity will bring even more scrutiny to what he’s done with the millions of dollars he’s raised over the years.

Again, I quote the Beatles: “Sexy Sadie what have you done / You made a fool of everyone.”

If you only read one story today, it should be this report from the Center for Public Integrity (via the Daily Beast):

Some journalists develop a delicate relationship with law-enforcement officials as they try to obtain sensitive information without getting too close to the government.

But a once-classified FBI memo reveals that the bureau treated a senior ABC News journalist as a potential confidential informant in the 1990s, pumping the reporter to ascertain the source of a sensational but uncorroborated tip that the network had obtained during its early coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing.

The journalist, whose name is not disclosed in the document labeled “secret,” not only cooperated but provided the identity of a confidential source, according to the FBI memo—a likely breach of journalistic ethics if he or she did not have the source’s permission.

The ABC employee was even assigned a number in the FBI’s informant database, indicating he or she was still being vetted for suitability as a snitch after providing “highly accurate and reliable information in the past” and then revealing information the network had obtained in the hours just after the terrorist attack by Timothy McVeigh.

The journalist “advised that a source within the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service advised that the Oklahoma City bombing was sponsored by the Iraqi Special Services who contracted seven (7) former Afghani Freedom Fighters out of Pakistan,” an April 17, 1996 FBI memo states, recounting the then-ABC journalist’s interview with FBI agents a year earlier on the evening of the April 19, 1995 bombing. (The Iraqi connection, of course, never materialized.)

This story has profound ethical questions for journalists and ABC News in particular. Journalists are supposed to get information from government sources, not the other way around. Obviously, until we know more about the identity of the reporter, it would not be useful or productive to speculate on his or her motives. But this revelation puts reporters, particularly investigative reporters who cover law enforcement, intelligence, or military beats, on the defensive. Don’t be surprised if at least one reporter, if not several, comes out publicly and says he or she has never been a government informant.

Update: Gawker is identifying the mole as current CBS News Washington Bureau Chief Christopher Isham.

Isham declined to comment when reached by Gawker. A CBS spokeswoman responded, “This is a matter for ABC News.”

Update II: Isham has released a statement denying he was the mole.

The suggestion that I was an informant for the FBI is outrageous and untrue. Like every investigative reporter, my job for 25 years has been to check out information and tips from sources. In the heat of the Oklahoma City bombing, it would not be unusual for me or any journalist to run information by a source within the FBI for confirmation or to notify authorities about a pending terrorist attack. This is consistent with the policies at every news organization. But at no time did I compromise a confidential source with the FBI or anyone else. Mr. Cannistraro was not a confidential source, but rather a colleague – a paid consultant to ABC News who had already spoken to the FBI about information he had received.