1. CACI's headquarters is pictured. | AP Photo

    CACI's headquarters is pictured. | AP Photo

    Appeals court clears way for trial in Abu Ghraib suit

    A federal appeals court has cleared the way for a trial in a decade-old lawsuit accusing a military contractor of responsibility for torture of prisoners at the notorious, U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but one judge assigned to the case warned the ruling could have “dangerous” results.

    The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday turned down a bid by one the contractor firm, CACI Premier Technology, to invoke sovereign immunity. That protection — typically reserved for U.S. government agencies — bars suits for money damages, except where Congress has waived that immunity.

    The three-judge panel did not rule on whether or not CACI is entitled to “derivative” immunity as a result of its work for the U.S. government, but unanimously held that the issue was too muddled for the appeals court could resolve in advance of trial.

    “Even if a denial of derivative sovereign immunity may be immediately appealable, our review is barred here because there remain continuing disputes of material fact with respect to CACI’s derivative sovereign immunity defenses,” Judge Henry Floyd wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Stephanie Thacker. “Given these continuing factual disputes, this appeal does not turn on an abstract question of law and is not properly before us.”

    One of the jurists on the appeals panel, Judge Marvin Quattlebaum, agreed with the ruling dismissing CACI Premier’s appeal, but wrote separately to expressed concerns about subjecting government contractors to suit, particularly those handling assignments for the U.S. military.

    “Our narrow interpretation of the collateral order doctrine in this case has taken us down a dangerous road,” Quattlebaum wrote. “This proceeding has allowed discovery into sensitive military judgments and wartime activities. It has also opened the door to an order that the United States has no sovereign immunity for claims that our military activities violated international norms—whatever those are.”

    “These may seem like minor inconveniences given the conduct at issue has been uniformly condemned and because the defendant here is a private contractor. But while we have no jurisdiction to address them now, the implications from these proceedings are potentially quite significant,” Quattlebaum added.

    The plaintiffs in the case filed suit in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2008, claiming that they suffered torture and other war crimes that were either carried out or aided by CACI employees.

    CACI Premier could ask the full bench of the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit to take up the appeal. Such en banc rehearings are rarely granted. The contractor could also seek review or an emergency stay from the Supreme Court.

    However, without some intervention by a higher court, the case will be returned for trial to U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema. She had ordered a trial to begin last April, but shelved that after the appeal was filed. Brinkema has ruled that a trial is needed in the case to resolve disputes over whether CACI broke the law or otherwise violated its contract, potentially voiding any immunity claim.

    An attorney pressing the suit on behalf of the Iraqis, Baher Azmy of the Center for Constitutional Rights, welcome the decision and said a trial should go forward promptly.
    “We hope this decision clears the last of the innumerable obstacles that had stood in the way of what our clients have wanted for over 10 years — to tell their story in an American court of law,” Azmy told POLITICO.

    CACI spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling Sunday night.

    In the decision Friday, the appeals judges disagreed about whether a denial of a sovereign immunity claim may be immediately appealed if the facts about it are clear. Floyd and Thacker seemed to indicate that such a claim couldn’t be appealed before a judge rules on the merits of a case, but Quattlebaum disagreed.

    Floyd and Thacker are appointees of President Barack Obama. Quattlebaum was appointed by President Donald Trump. Brinkema is an appointee of President Bill Clinton.

  2. Rod Rosenstein

    “Local government is failing in Baltimore,” former deputy U.S. attorney general Rod Rosenstein told POLITICO via email. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

    Rod Rosenstein, the former deputy U.S. attorney general and longtime chief federal prosecutor in Baltimore, is reacting to the high-profile, caustic comments by President Donald Trump about that city’s crime problems.

    In response to a query from POLITICO, Rosenstein did not comment directly on Trump’s assertion that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is responsible for his city’s violence problem.

    However, the ex-prosecutor did echo some of Trump’s message, arguing that Baltimore’s political leaders have fallen down on the job and the city’s voters have done little to hold them accountable.

    “Local government is failing in Baltimore,” Rosenstein told POLITICO via email. “The best things the government can do to help people are to provide a more effective law enforcement system and a more effective education system.”

    “They need to make the streets safe for law-abiding citizens and allow motivated students to leave failed schools and get a good education. That will only happen if voters hold elected local officials accountable for crime and education,” Rosenstein added. “People get the government they vote for. “

    Pressed about Trump’s rhetoric — which many lawmakers have described as racist — and his description of Cummings’ Baltimore-based district as “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” Rosenstein declined to comment. (Cummings, as a member of Congress, has no direct role in local police policies.)

    While Rosenstein is best known for his decision to appoint Robert Mueller to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, Rosenstein also spent more than 11 years as the U.S. Attorney for Maryland, working from a Baltimore office and trying to keep violent crime in check in the city.

    In addition to serving as the Senate-confirmed, chief federal prosecutor there from 2005 to 2017, Rosenstein spent four years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Maryland in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

    Baltimore has experienced a surge in violence in recent years, with 309 homicides in 2018 and 199 so far this year, according to statistics compiled by the Baltimore Sun.

    Rosenstein, who lives in Bethesda, has repeatedly lamented the rise in violent crime in Baltimore, tying the phenomenon to perceptions by police that political leaders did not want proactive law enforcement. (Cummings, as a member of Congress, has no direct role in local police policies.)

    “It’s very painful to me. We have a crisis in violent crime in Baltimore,” Rosenstein said at a 2017 Senate hearing.

    “The Baltimore City mayor admits that crime is ‘out of control.’ If that is true, people should be held accountable,” Rosenstein told an audience in Chicago that year. “Crime is not like the weather. If crime is out of control, it is because people failed to control it.”

    (The mayor Rosenstein referenced, Catherine Pugh, resigned in May amid a scandal involving the University of Maryland hospital system’s purchases of a children’s book she wrote.)

    In a speech last year in Florida, Rosenstein attributed the spike in homicides in Baltimore to a decision “to cut back on policing and prosecution.”

    The longtime federal prosecutor has also argued that some measures implemented after police-involved shootings or allegations of discriminatory policing have led to police abandoning legitimate techniques to head off crime.

    “We need to avoid these kind of wholesale remedies that result in officers refraining from doing what we need them to do because we need them to be confident that they can go out and engage with criminal suspects and keep people safe. And they need to know they’re going to have political support from their communities,” Rosenstein told a police conference in Los Angeles in February.

    “In Baltimore and Chicago, literally hundreds of people lost their lives because of political decisions that resulted in police refraining from doing the good things that we need them to do,” he said.

    In front of most of those audiences, Rosenstein also acknowledges abuses by some Baltimore police officers.

    Just before he became deputy attorney general in 2017, Rosenstein’s office obtained a racketeering indictment of seven Baltimore police officers on the city’s Gun Trace Task Force. They were accused of stealing money, property and drugs from citizens.

    “This is not about aggressive policing, it is about a criminal conspiracy,” Rosenstein said in a statement announcing the indictment. “Prosecuting criminals who work in police agencies is essential both to protect victims and to support the many honorable officers whose reputations they unfairly tarnish.”

    All seven of those officers and an eighth officer charged later either pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial.

  3. Cambridge Analytica

    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 21: Signs for company Cambridge Analytica in the lobby of the building in which they are based on March 21, 2018 in London, England. UK authorities are currently seeking a warrant to search the premises of Cambridge Analytica after the company has been involved in a row over its use of Facebook data. Their CEO Alexander Nix has since been suspended. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images) | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

    Attorneys for Facebook and the District of Columbia squared off in court Friday over the social media giant’s demands to keep secret an email exchange among its employees about the firm’s dealings with now-defunct political data-targeting company Cambridge Analytica.

    D.C. government attorneys pressing a consumer privacy lawsuit against Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal filed copies of the messages in D.C. Superior Court in March, but the firm has insisted that the communications are confidential business records that should not be put on the public record.

    D.C. officials said the email chain demonstrates that Washington-based employees of Facebook began raising concerns internally in 2015 that the company’s data was reaching Cambridge Analytica through third-party applications approved by Facebook and that the targeting firm — which shut down in May 2018 — might be misusing that data.

    During a 20-minute hearing Friday, Facebook lawyer Chantale Fiebig told Judge Fern Saddler that because she didn’t rely on the email chain in a recent ruling declining to throw out the case, there’s little reason to make the internal company records public.

    “The document was irrelevant and unnecessary to these proceedings,” Fiebig said.

    Saddler confirmed that in May, when she turned down the company’s motion to dismiss the case, she didn’t consider the messages.

    “That should be clear. I did not,” the judge said.

    However, D.C. Acting Deputy Attorney General for Public Advocacy Jimmy Rock said the District’s position in favor of releasing the emails grew stronger last week when Facebook agreed to pay $100 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading investors about its handling of user data. The SEC settlement was announced alongside a larger, $5 billion deal with the Federal Trade Commission over alleged breaches of Facebook’s announced privacy policies.

    Rock noted that the publicly-released SEC complaint includes part of the same email exchange.

    “It quotes directly from the document, referring to Cambridge Analytica as being a sketchy company,” the D.C. attorney told the judge. “There cannot be legitimate prejudice at this point to Facebook.”

    Facebook lawyers have stressed that the filing by the SEC contains only 15 words from the email chain.

    “The political advertising employees recognized Cambridge as a well-known firm within the political advertising space and a client of Facebook’s advertising business, and had described it as a ‘sketchy (to say the least) data modeling company that has penetrated our market deeply,’” the SEC complaint says.

    Saddler sounded somewhat skeptical of the D.C. government’s arguments, noting that Facebook stamped the document “confidential” when turning it over to District officials last year.

    Fiebig, of law firm Gibson Dunn, stressed that the document was handed over under a written agreement that limited its disclosure to other government agencies and under the Freedom of Information Act. “I would just ask the court to apply a little bit of common sense here,” she said.

    Facebook has also argued to keep the document secret because its release could affect pending litigation in California and Illinois related to the firm’s dealings with Cambridge Analytica.

    The Facebook lawyer also noted that the Supreme Court “just decided” a case that gave broad sweep to a FOIA exemption for confidential business information.

    But Rock countered: “That is not a decision applying the District’s FOIA law.” He also noted that there is a “strong presumption” that court filings should be public.

    At a couple points during the hearing, the judge suggested she might need to set another session to hear further argument on the issue. However, she did not set further argument and simply told the parties to return for a status conference in mid-October.

    The privacy suit that gave rise to the fight over the emails is continuing. Facebook asked to file an immediate appeal of Saddler’s ruling refusing to toss out the case, but the judge turned down that request.

  4. Donald Trump

    Justice Department attorneys said that later tweets from President Donald Trump made it “crystal clear” that he had not ordered a declassification. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    President Donald Trump’s order last September to declassify parts of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant and subsequent tweets from Trump that arguably withdrew the earlier directive created enough uncertainty that a lawsuit seeking to force greater disclosure of the records will be allowed to continue, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

    The Justice Department had urged U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta to shut down the Freedom of Information Act suit, arguing that all the unreleased parts of the warrant for former Trump adviser Carter Page remain classified.

    However, Mehta said a series of factors combined to create a factual dispute denying the government victory in the case, at least for now. These included a Sept. 17 White House press release that said much of that information was declassified, Trump’s tweets four days later seeming to back away from the decision, and the Justice Department’s failure to adequately account for the statements.

    “To support its position, Defendant relies on legal arguments, and not sworn declarations,” Mehta wrote. “Defendant offers no reason to believe that the Press Release inaccurately conveys the President’s ‘directive.‘ Thus, contrary to what Defendant says, it would appear that the President did make ‘his intentions clear ... to declassify information.’”

    Justice Department attorneys said later tweets from Trump made it “crystal clear” that he had not ordered a declassification, but Mehta also rejected that position.

    “The tweet only injects ambiguity as to the President’s intentions. The tweet does not identify the documents to which the President is referring, let alone refer to the Pages, and it leaves unclear whether the President rescinded the directive announced in the Press Release,” wrote Mehta, an appointee of President Barack Obama.

    Mehta noted that while Justice Department attorneys presented arguments about what Trump meant, no official signed a factual submission under penalty of perjury detailing what had happened.

    “Defendant should have provided some clarification about what instructions the Department of Justice received concerning the ‘declassification’ of the Pages’ contents. But none of the declarations submitted by Defendant even mention the Press Release,” the judge observed.

    The Justice Department also argued the same information could be withheld as information from a confidential law enforcement source or as revealing confidential law enforcement techniques. Mehta also turned down those arguments, saying they would have rendered Trump’s initial announcement a nullity because the information would’ve been kept secret regardless. “The court cannot presume that the President’s declassification order was meant to have no practical effect,” the judge wrote.

    Mehta gave government lawyers until Aug. 30 to submit a new declaration explaining the events surrounding Trump’s declassification announcement, the later tweets and whether the Justice Department is authorized to use the alternative law enforcement exemptions to withhold the disputed information.

    Justice Department spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision, which came in a FOIA lawsuit filed in 2017 by USA Today legal reporter Brad Heath and a prodisclosure nonprofit group, the James Madison Project.

    The group and its attorneys have also represented POLITICO reporters in FOIA litigation.

  5. Robert Mueller

    Former special counsel Robert Mueller deflected questions and reiterated past points during his long-anticipated testimony Wednesday. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Mueller disappoints Trump critics, again


    Robert Mueller failed to deliver what critics of President Donald Trump wanted Wednesday, but they must be getting used to that by now.

    For nearly two years, many Democrats have regarded Mueller as a Messiah figure who will deliver them from the plague of the Trump presidency through something akin to divine intervention.

    From the time the special counsel began rolling out indictments in 2017, liberals became convinced with each arrival and departure of prosecutors from the D.C. federal courthouse that a massive, unifying indictment was looming that would charge Trump campaign operatives with conspiring with Russia and WikiLeaks to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

    Perhaps it was already under seal? Some expected a case sweeping in individuals who were charged, like campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump confidant Roger Stone, with others close to the president who’d not been charged, like Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner. There was even talk Mueller might buck Justice Department policy and charge the president himself.

    When that round of speculation fizzled amid signs that Mueller was preparing to wind down his probe, attention shifted to the special counsel’s report. Perhaps the veteran prosecutor and former FBI director hadn’t charged Trump, but he would deliver a report that accused Trump of various crimes — akin to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s impeachment referral for President Bill Clinton in 1998.

    That, too, proved illusory. Mueller’s 448-page report contained a raft of damaging allegations against the president and outlined at least 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice, as well as a slew of apparent lies. But the special counsel never directly accused the president of a crime, as many of his opponents had hoped.

    After the lengthy report (and its initial framing by Attorney General Bill Barr) failed to interest or resonate with most Americans not already turned off by Trump’s conduct, Democrats experienced a third bout of Mueller-mania, convincing themselves that in-person testimony by the special counsel would be riveting, producing a national teaching moment that would bring his report to life.

    Mueller did his best to dissuade them, declaring in a May 29 statement to the media that he would add no new substance if called before Congress.

    “Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony,” the special counsel said, exuding a distinct lack of enthusiasm. “I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”

    Despite Mueller’s plain reluctance, Democrats pressed on, ultimately subpoenaing him for the hearings Wednesday. The advance billing was so outsized that the reality seemed certain to underwhelm, but it turned out to be even less whelming than that.

    Through the first three-hour hearing, before the House Judiciary Committee, Mueller — who also announced May 29 that he was leaving the Justice Department and returning to private life — often seemed ill at ease and had difficulty identifying which lawmaker was questioning him. He repeatedly asked members of both parties to repeat their questions, fouling up the rhythm the questioners were trying to establish.

    Answers, when offered, were often curt or monosyllabic, like “Correct,” “Yes” or “No.” But more often, he brushed the question aside, referring to the text of the report, calling the matter outside his “purview” or simply saying, “I’m not going to get into that.”

    At times on Wednesday, Mueller just seemed out of it. Under questioning by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), the former special counsel appeared to deny that his office looked into whether the Trump campaign worked with WikiLeaks or others to steal Hillary Clinton campaign emails.

    “That matter does not fall within our investigation,” Mueller said, puzzlingly, given that this was a central focus of his probe.

    At another point, Mueller claimed not to know anything about Fusion GPS, the private investigation firm commissioned by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to prepare a dossier of opposition research that appeared to fuel the early FBI investigation into ties between Trump, his advisers and Russia.

    Democrats had justified the hearings by saying that, despite Mueller’s caveats, they would at a minimum be able to get him to be able to read parts of his report aloud. But he refused even to do that. The standout moment of the first hearing for Democrats was an exchange with the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).

    “Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Nadler asked. “No,” Mueller replied.

    If TV ads were the goal, an actual sentence from the witness might’ve been nice. When it came a short time later, Mueller used legal jargon that again denied Democrats their soundbite.

    “The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” the ex-prosecutor said.

    Democrats seemed to score another small win when Mueller appeared to agree with Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) that the reason Trump wasn’t indicted was because of a longstanding Justice Department policy against charging sitting presidents.

    However, at the outset of a second appearance Wednesday before the House Intelligence Committee, Mueller snatched that meager victory away, indicating that he misunderstood and actually disagreed with Lieu’s language. “That is not the correct way to say it,” Mueller declared.

    During the later hearing, Mueller seemed more at ease and responsive. On a couple of occasions, he offered what amounted to direct rebuttals of Trump talking points.

    “When Donald Trump called your investigation a witch hunt, that is also false, is it not?” asked Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the Intelligence chairman.

    “I like to think so, yes,” Mueller replied, adding later: “It is not a witch hunt.”

    However, his most quotable comments beyond that were warnings about the dangers of continued Russian interference in U.S. elections, not condemnations of Trump that would provide fodder for impeachment.

    It emerged during the hearings that Democrats had been signaled in advance of his unwillingness to narrate his own report. That, like Mueller’s request to the Justice Department for guidelines that he adopted to limit his testimony, should have been a warning that Democrats were facing a rough ride Wednesday. But canceling the hearing once the subpoenas were issued was a nonstarter.

    Many impeachment backers seemed to detect that the hearings were not providing the momentum proponents of that approach had hoped for.

    “A frail old man, unable to remember things, stumbling, refusing to answer basic questions,” filmmaker Michael Moore wrote on Twitter. “I said it in 2017 and Mueller confirmed it today — All you pundits and moderates and lame Dems who told the public to put their faith in the esteemed Robert Mueller — just STFU from now on.”

    Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe tweeted: “Much as I hate to say it, this morning’s hearing was a disaster. Far from breathing life into his damning report, the tired Robert Mueller sucked the life out of it. The effort to save democracy and the rule of law from this lawless president has been set back, not advanced.”

    Tribe was more upbeat about the afternoon session, praising Schiff’s questioning.

    After Mueller’s five-plus hours on the Hill, Democratic leaders did their best to paint the hearings as a successful showcase of the president’s misdeeds.

    “It is the crossing of a threshold in terms of a public awareness of what happens and how it conformed to the law or not,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters. “We think today was really a milestone.”

    But the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), sounded more resigned to the possibility that Democrats who want to impeach Trump may have to find the courage of their convictions because many Americans may never engage, and public opinion in favor of removing Trump may never swing Democrats’ way.

    “We’re accumulating information and doing the best we can,” Cummings said just after he launched into another urgent appeal to voters. “What the American people do with it, that’s another thing, but we will not stand by and fail to give them the total picture.”

    “I’m begging — I’m begging the American people to pay attention to what’s going on, because if you want to have a democracy intact for your children and your children’s children, and generations yet unborn, you’ve got to guard this moment,” Cummings added. “This is our watch.”

  6. George Nader

    Businessman George Nader was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport last month on a child pornography charge. Federal magistrates in New York and Alexandria, Va., denied motions for his release. | C-SPAN via AP

    Businessman who testified in Mueller probe indicted on child pornography charges


    A wealthy Lebanese-American businessman and Middle East expert who was a witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation has been indicted on charges of importing child pornography and traveling with a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity.

    George Nader, 60, entered a not guilty plea through his attorney Friday morning in federal court in Alexandria, Va., during a brief arraignment on the new indictment, which was returned July 3 and unsealed Friday.

    Nader was involved in various meetings and discussions related to the Trump presidential transition that drew the attention of Mueller investigators, including a meeting that Erik Prince, the founder of private military contractor Blackwater, held with a Russian ally of President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles in January 2017.

    Nader also took part in a meeting in Trump Tower the previous month that involved President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, his then-chief strategist Steve Bannon and Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince in the United Arab Emirates.

    When Nader flew into Dulles Airport outside Washington in January 2018, he was questioned by agents working for Mueller. A search of three iPhones seized from him that day via a search warrant allegedly turned up child pornography.

    Prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Nader over the images in April 2018 but kept the charges under seal and never told his attorneys about them even as he continued to cooperate with Mueller’s probe, lawyers said.

    Nader was arrested on the criminal complaint early last month at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as he flew in from overseas. Magistrate judges in New York and Alexandria denied his requests for release.

    Nader was wearing an Alexandria jail jumpsuit Friday for the five-minute hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema. She set a trial date of Sept. 30.

    A defense attorney for Nader, Jonathan Jeffress, urged Brinkema to reconsider the earlier orders to detain Nader pending trial.

    “This is not a typical child pornography case,” Jeffress told Brinkema, asking that the defendant be released to home detention under armed guard.

    However, the judge said she wasn’t inclined to let Nader out.

    “I think the decision to detain your client was appropriate,” Brinkema said, noting Nader’s extensive overseas connections, the type of conduct at issue and the potential for a lengthy prison sentence.

    Brinkema did say she would look at a written motion the defense submitted seeking Nader’s release, but she told prosecutor Jay Prabhu not to bother filing a response unless she asks for it. She did say she expects motions challenging the charge relating to transporting a minor, which dates to 2000.

    The defense’s bail submission stresses Nader’s cooperation with Mueller.

    “He testified multiple times under a grant of formal immunity before a grand jury empaneled in the District of Columbia,” Nader’s lawyers said.

    His attorneys said the videos that led to the charges are 12 recordings found in WhatsApp on one of Mr. Nader’s phones. Nader’s defense said he didn’t know they were there.

    “Neither the volume of the images or the content aligns with a typical federal child pornography (or obscenity) prosecution,” the defense team wrote. “The government is overreaching in this case.”

    The defense contended that Nader can’t pose much danger because he was allowed to leave and enter the country numerous times after the videos were discovered.

    Nader received a six-month sentence and a $2,000 fine from a federal judge in Northern Virginia in 1991 on a felony charge of transporting sexually explicit materials in foreign commerce, according to the records POLITICO obtained last year.

    U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton also imposed a $2,000 fine on Nader, the records show.

    Details of the Virginia case have not been previously reported, but it was known that Nader faced a similar charge in federal court in Washington in 1985 involving allegations of importing from the Netherlands magazines depicting nude boys. A judge later dismissed those charges.

    The Associated Press reported that Nader was convicted in the Czech Republic in 2002 of 10 cases of sexually abusing minors. He received a one-year prison sentence in that case, a court spokeswoman said, according to the news-wire service.

    The minor mentioned in the new indictment is also Czech, Prabhu said at the arraignment Friday.

  7. Greg Craig

    WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: Greg Craig, former White House counsel to former President Barack Obama departs from the U.S. District Courthouse following a hearing on April 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. The charges against Craig stem from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and include lying to the Justice Department and concealing information connected to work Craig did in 2012 for the Ukrainian government. | Zach Gibson/Getty Images

    A federal judge on Wednesday granted a defense motion to keep jurors from hearing about former White House Counsel Greg Craig’s efforts to get a job for Paul Manafort’s daughter at Craig’s law firm while Craig was engaged in a multimillion-dollar assignment for the government of Ukraine.

    Craig is set to go on trial in Washington next month on two felony charges alleging that he made false and misleading statements to the Justice Department in connection with the project to prepare a report for public release on a controversial prosecution in Ukraine that many critics regarded as politically motivated.

    U.S. prosecutors wanted to buttress their case against Craig by telling jurors that the veteran Washington lawyer intervened with his Skadden Arps colleagues at Manafort’s request, urging them to hire Andrea Manafort, a new law school graduate, as an associate in 2012.

    “It shows he is willing to act at Mr. Manafort’s request and Mr. Manafort’s behest,” prosecutor Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez said.

    Campoamor-Sanchez said the episode with Andrea Manafort supported the notion that Craig was acting for Paul Manafort when Craig contacted New York Times reporter David Sanger about the Ukraine report in 2012. The prosecutor said Craig is expected to testify at trial that he made that contact to protect his own reputation, not on behalf of Ukraine.

    “There’s quite a similarity between both things,” Campoamor-Sanchez insisted.

    But U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson was unconvinced that the job offer and ultimate hiring of Andrea Manafort needed to be broached in front of the jury to point to Craig’s desire to satisfy her father, who played a role in retaining Skadden for the Ukraine report.

    “It seems to me you would have other evidence you can rely on that would make the point that he wanted to keep Mr. Manafort happy,” said Jackson, who handled one of the two cases that wound up with a seven-and-a-half year prison sentence for the former Trump campaign chief.

    “Seems to me the whole business with the daughter is a sideshow,” the judge said, also calling it “prejudicial” and “a waste of time.”

    “I find the probative value of the evidence to be quite minimal. … It’s hard to characterize it as much more than an effort to go after the defendant’s character in general,” Jackson added.

    Although Jackson ruled in favor of Craig on the issue, she expressed displeasure with his defense team for putting Andrea Manafort Shand’s name in a court filing after prosecutors omitted it from an earlier submission, simply describing her as “a relative” of Manafort.

    Jackson asked defense attorney Adam Abelson what the purpose was of including the name. He said that it was already widely known and reported, so it seemed pointless to omit it.

    Jackson also gave a tongue-lashing to prosecutors about putting extensive evidence into public pleadings and to defense lawyers for the tone of some of their attacks on the prosecution.

    “I’ve probably had my fill of colorful verbs and adjectives and adverbs,” the judge said at the outset of Wednesday’s hearing. “The defense, in particular, has laid on a hefty dose of condescension over everything. I don’t think we need to hear that kind of tone today.”

    “There’s been a lot of using the docket to say: ‘This is my case and [here’s how] I’m going to win it,” she complained. “I’m just not sure that’s what the docket is for.”

    In another ruling Wednesday, Jackson declined a defense request to strike language from the indictment claiming that, during a meeting with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in 2017, Craig repeated false and misleading statements about his Ukraine work. However, the judge has not yet ruled on whether the comments to Mueller’s investigators can be mentioned at the trial, set to open Aug. 11.

    The nearly three-hour-long court session delved into a slew of complicated legal issues related to the case, including pivotal defense motions to throw out each of the two counts in the indictment.

    Jackson made no immediate rulings on those, but there were hints she might grant a motion by Craig’s lawyers arguing that an allegedly false and misleading letter he sent to the Justice Department about the Ukraine work did not violate a special statute for inaccurate submissions under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Craig’s defense contends that because he was under no legal obligation to submit the letter, it couldn’t run afoul of the FARA false-statement law.

    “There’s no provision of FARA that dictates or governs what must be said in a responsive letter,” Craig lawyer William Murphy said. “It doesn’t apply to a letter that’s not defined by the statute.”

    Murphy also argued that if the law was vague on the point, the vagueness should redound to Craig’s benefit, knocking out that count of the indictment.

    However, prosecutor Jason McCullough contended that Craig’s letter could and did amount to a false statement under the foreign-agent law.

    “From the beginning Mr. Craig was aware that the FARA unit was looking at whether he had an obligation to register,” McCullough said. “That is front and center to the initial inquiry to Mr. Craig. The letter filed in response to that fell squarely within the meaning of this statute.”

    But the judge noted that the October 2013 letter really wasn’t in response to any specific questions from the Justice Department and was essentially a follow-up on a meeting Craig and other Skadden lawyers attended to talk about why they believed no FARA registration was needed. While making no ruling on the point, she suggested that such a submission seemed too spontaneous to be considered a formal FARA filing.

    Craig’s report on Ukraine’s handling of the corruption trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, a political rival to the country’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych, came years after Craig’s 2009 stint as President Barack Obama’s White House counsel and years before Paul Manafort became Donald Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016.

    Defense attorneys seemed to find less traction with their arguments against the first count in the indictment — a charge that Craig used a scheme to deceive officials about what he actually did to promote his report on Tymoshenko in U.S. media outlets.

    Craig’s lawyers claim that charge is defective because his statements to Justice Department officials about media outreach were literally true and he had no legal duty to volunteer all relevant details of the work done by him or others. His attorneys have repeatedly noted that a decade-old ruling stemming from the Jack Abramoff lobbying affair found that omissions in statements to government officials are prosecutable only where there is some legal obligation to answer the government’s questions.

    “There must be a specific duty to disclose specific facts,” Craig lawyer William Taylor said, summarizing the decision in a case against David Safavian, a General Services Administration official. “You can’t prosecute someone for not saying something they’re not asked.”

    “You’re saying … he can answer them halfway and not all the way?” Jackson asked skeptically.

    Prosecutor Molly Gaston said it was clear that a meeting Craig and other lawyers attended in October 2013 was part of an effort to enforce the foreign-agent-registration law.

    “This was a law enforcement inquiry by the FARA unit,” Gaston said, noting the officials’ initial view that Craig illegally failed to register for the Ukraine-related work. “If a statute creates a duty, it’s not permissible to engage in this kind of cute, cat-and-mouse game.”

    Jackson sounded mystified by aspects of the 2008 D.C. Circuit ruling that the defense says is crucial to the case against Craig.

    “I read the opinion at least 20 times,” the frustrated jurist said. “Can you tell me what the reasoning is?”

  8. United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman

    U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a news conference in New York on Monday. | Richard Drew/AP Photo

    Jeffrey Epstein prosecution could rise or fall on a single word

    The new sex-trafficking prosecution against Jeffrey Epstein could rise or fall on how a judge interprets a single, rather mundane word.

    The pivotal term — “globally” — lurks on the second page of a seven-page agreement signed in 2007 and finalized the following year, detailing a pledge by federal prosecutors in Florida not to prosecute Epstein for serial sexual abuse of underage girls if he pleaded guilty to two prostitution-related felonies in state court.

    “IT APPEARING that Epstein seeks to resolve globally his state and federal criminal liability…” reads the document laying out what critics have described as a sweetheart deal well-connected defense lawyers won from the then-U.S. Attorney for Southern Florida Alex Acosta, who now serves as Labor secretary.
    Some lawyers say Epstein’s future may turn on how much weight the courts give to that tricky adverb.

    “That word is his best hope,” said Loyola Law School law professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor.

    Epstein’s attorneys are already arguing that the decade-old pact was intended to dispose of all potential claims that Epstein engaged in sexual abuse, sex trafficking, soliciting prostitution and similar crimes relating to his penchant for hiring underage girls to give him massages that included sex acts.

    “How in the world can that deal be undone?” Epstein defense lawyer Reid Weingarten asked at Epstein’s arraignment Monday in Manhattan, where Epstein entered a plea of not guilty. “It sure seemed like a global [resolution] to everyone at the time, including my client.”

    Prosecutors disagree. Before Epstein even appeared in court Monday, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, said the unusual non-prosecution agreement didn’t affect his office’s ability to go after Epstein in New York.

    “That agreement only binds — by its terms, only binds the Southern District of Florida. The Southern District of New York is not bound by that agreement and is not a signatory to that agreement,” Berman said.

    However, a careful reading of the earlier deal reveals some ambiguity about the geographic scope of the agreement. Some ex-prosecutors say they’re surprised at the vagueness of the document on that point.

    For one thing, it lacks language commonly included in many federal plea agreements, explicitly warning defendants that the deal only binds the local U.S. Attorney’s office.

    “It is really weird it doesn’t have the standard language,” said former federal prosecutor Ken White.

    Part of the reason may be that Epstein’s settlement with Acosta’s office wasn’t a typical plea agreement. It was a pledge not to prosecute Epstein if he fulfilled certain conditions. It also involved contingencies related to state court action that would rarely be included in a federal plea agreement.

    “It wasn’t done on a normal form. That seems like part of the explanation,” said White. “But given how incendiary it was and high profile it was, I find it incredibly suspicious that it didn’t have that language.”

    There is some variability in standard plea agreements from district to district, leaving it unclear just what language on not binding other districts was typical a decade or so ago in Florida. (The federal court in South Florida has also eliminated online, remote access to most plea agreements from the time, complicating research on the point.)

    Part of what’s puzzling about the agreement not mentioning any geographic limits is that when the deal was negotiated it was well known to prosecutors and defense attorneys that the wealthy Epstein had homes in New York and on a private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, both of which fall under the jurisdiction of other U.S. Attorneys’ offices.

    Emails released through a lawsuit challenging Epstein’s non-prosecution deal show that federal prosecutors scrutinized Epstein’s conduct on Little Saint James Island, but couldn’t find evidence of “assaults” there. It’s unclear to what extent Epstein’s activities in New York were examined during the earlier probe.

    The non-prosecution agreement does include several references to South Florida and to a specific grand jury there that investigated Epstein’s conduct. It also says that if Epstein complies with the terms of the deal “no prosecution…will be instituted in this District.”

    One possibility is that the decision to not detail the geographic scope of the Epstein deal was intentional. An explicit agreement not to prosecute Epstein in New York or the Virgin Islands would likely have required formal clearance through U.S. Attorneys’ offices in those places.

    That could have delayed, complicated or even scuttled the deal Epstein’s high-priced, high-powered legal team had managed to cut for him in Florida, where he wound up serving only 13 months in county jail, with much of that time on “work release” at his office during the day.

    “I wonder whether this level of ambiguity was bargained for,” said White.

    “They had a really sweet deal in Florida. It looks like they were really trying to keep it on the QT,” said Levenson, noting language in the agreement about allowing Epstein notice to fight any Freedom of Information Act request for the terms of the deal.

    Ultimately, Epstein’s current lawyers’ argument seems unlikely to prevail, in part because defendants rarely win arguments about implied promises in their plea deals.

    Prosecutors have already told the court that precedents in the 2nd Circuit, which covers New York, indicate it is “well settled” that plea agreements are limited to prosecutors in the district that signs them, absent some agreement to the contrary.

    Epstein’s defense could and likely will argue the deal should be interpreted under 11th Circuit precedents given that it was largely hashed out in Florida. Judges there sometimes look at evidence beyond the written agreement, but New York federal courts seem to interpret plea deals under the prevailing precedents in the 2nd Circuit.

    And while some defendants could argue they were duped into a vague deal by inattentive or ineffective lawyers, that will be tough for Epstein to argue, since he was represented by the likes of former judge and independent counsel Kenneth Starr and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.

    “Here’s a guy who’s got sophisticated counsel,” Levenson said of Epstein. “I don’t think a judge is going to say: ‘You just didn’t get good lawyering on this.’”

  9. Bijan Kian

    A win for Bijan Kian’s defense on the issue would knock out one of the two charges against him, leaving only a single felony conspiracy charge | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

    Judge raises doubts on charge against Flynn partner

    A federal judge raised repeated doubts Friday about the validity of a criminal charge the former business partner of Gen. Michael Flynn is facing in connection with a lobbying and public relations campaign Flynn has admitted was secretly mounted on behalf of the Turkish government.

    Lawyers for Bijan Rafiekian, who is known as Bijan Kian, argued at a court hearing that the indictment filed against him last December and updated last month was legally faulty because it didn’t address whether the lobbying and op-ed writing Flynn International Group allegedly did for Turkey was a “legal commercial transaction.”

    The argument is a technical one, but it could have major ramifications for the case against Kian, which is set to go to trial July 15.

    Prosecutors say Kian is free to seek to defend himself by claiming the work was entirely legal, but Kian’s lawyers say making him prove that reverses the typical burden of proof where prosecutors must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

    “That is not the way this is supposed to work,” defense attorney James Tysse said during the nearly two-hour hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. “It should be the government’s burden not ours. ... The defendant shouldn’t have to prove his innocence.”

    But Justice Department attorney Evan Turgeon said precedents don’t require the government to rule out in advance of trial all “exceptions” that might be claimed by a defendant like Kian.

    “It’s a defense, not an element” of the crime, Turgeon insisted.

    Judge Anthony Trenga pressed Turgeon half a dozen times to explain what law the op-ed writing and lobbying violated. “That’s what I’m having trouble understanding here,” the judge said. “It’s a convoluted statute.”

    The prosecutor struggled to come up with an answer that satisfied Trenga.

    “I don’t think we need to,” Turgeon said.

    “You may not need to, but tell me,” the judge countered.

    Eventually, Turgeon said Kian’s activities violated the Foreign Agent Registration Act (also known as FARA). He also said that was why Kian and others were intent on covering up Turkey’s role and instead asserted the work was on behalf of a Netherlands company, Inovo BV.

    “If what they were doing is not a violation of the statute, it wouldn’t matter if they were concealing it,” replied Trenga. He noted that the “legal commercial transaction” exception seems intended to cover people like those repairing an embassy roof, but regulations on the issue suggest it covers all kinds of services.

    Turgeon later noted that while op-ed writing and lobbying are legal, the government can still regulate them when they’re undertaken secretly for a particular, potentially troublesome purpose.

    “Taking pictures is lawful activity, but conducting surveillance for a foreign government” is not, the prosecutor said. He also suggested that the fact Flynn and Kian were paid shouldn’t excuse their actions.

    After coming under scrutiny as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to a single felony count of lying to investigators about his dealings with the Russian ambassador to Washington. In connection with the plea, Flynn also admitted that he lied to the Justice Department about the role Turkish officials played in directing the lobbying and PR work related to a Turkish dissident, Fethullah Gulen.

    Flynn’s sentencing has been delayed while he cooperates with prosecutors. He’s expected to be the star witness at Kian’s trial and to face withering challenges from Kian’s defense team, which has signaled plans to paint the short-tenured Trump national security adviser as a serial liar.

    Kian’s defense pointed out he wasn’t charged with violating FARA, but instead with running afoul of another statute often referred to as 951, which prohibits being an unregistered agent on behalf of a foreign government.

    Tysse also speculated on why, saying that — under FARA — prosecutors have to prove a knowing and intentional violation of the law, something that might be hard to do given how Kian and Flynn consulted with lawyers at various stages of the effort.

    A lawyer for another defendant who recently pleaded guilty to the FARA-like statute for infiltrating the NRA on behalf of Russia, graduate student Mariia Butina, recently made a similar claim.

    Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll said prosecutors insisted on filing a 951 charge, which carries a maximum prison sentence of up to 10 years, because they lacked proof she knew what she was doing was illegal. Prosecution under 951, which is more akin to espionage, doesn’t require such proof.

    A win for Kian’s defense on the issue would knock out one of the two charges against him, leaving only a single felony conspiracy charge against the Iranian-American businessman. That charge, too, could be reined-in to focus solely on whether he conspired to make false statements to the Justice Department about the lobbying work.

    Prosecutors would have to decide whether to seek another indictment, but that could delay the trial and adding the language might make it easier for Kian to argue that he’s not guilty because he was relying on advice from lawyers that what he was doing was legal. Proceeding with the conspiracy charge alone would reduce Kian’s possible prison sentence from 15 years to five. (Defendants typically get far less than the maximum.)

    Trenga issued no immediate ruling on the defense motion Friday, but promised to get one out “shortly.” He has previously emphasized his intent to stick with the July 15 trial date, but it’s unclear whether that date will hold.

    Proceedings are underway over the defense’s proposals to present classified evidence during the trial. Those issues typically require months or longer to work out, typically behind closed doors.

    During the public portions of Friday’s hearing, the judge said nothing about whether it’s still realistic to start the trial two weeks from Monday, but he and the lawyers did have a private discussion that courtroom observers could see but not hear.

    Kian was not on hand for Friday’s session.

  10. Paul Manafort

    Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who has been indicted for bribery, explored a venture to redevelop New York’s Drake Hotel with Paul Manafort (above) that never went forward. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

    A federal judge in Chicago has refused to throw out a foreign bribery and racketeering case against a Ukrainian oligarch with ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

    U.S. prosecutors indicted the Ukrainian businessman, Dmitry Firtash, in 2013, accusing him of leading a scheme to pay bribes to Indian officials in connection with a titanium mining project in that country.

    Firtash was arrested in Austria on the U.S. indictment the next year and has been free on bail of about $140 million as he fights extradition in Austrian courts.

    Firtash’s lawyers have also been challenging the American case in U.S. District Court in Chicago, but Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer issued a 39-page decision this week rejecting a variety of claims that the charges against Firtash are legally flawed.

    Prosecutors alleged that the plan called for selling the titanium to Chicago-based Boeing, but the natural gas magnate claimed the case against him lacked evidence that he actually did or directed any activity in the court district where he was charged.

    Pallmeyer disagreed, saying the goal of selling to Boeing made her court an appropriate location to hear the case.

    “Venue is proper in the district where an overt act was ‘intended to have an effect,’” she wrote in her opinion dated Friday and released Saturday. “The Indictment here need only allege that the charged conspiracy was intended to have an effect in the Northern District of Illinois. It does so.”

    Pallmeyer, a Clinton appointee, also rejected other arguments by Firtash that the indictment improperly seeks to apply U.S. law beyond U.S. borders.

    About a decade ago, Firtash and Manafort explored a venture to redevelop New York’s Drake Hotel, but the project never went forward.

    There’s no indication Manafort was involved in the titanium venture. Manafort is currently serving a 7½-year prison sentence after being convicted on a series of felony charges brought by then-special counsel Robert Mueller, including tax fraud, failing to report foreign bank accounts and conspiring to lobby on behalf of Ukraine’s government in the U.S. without registering with the Justice Department.

    Prosecutors have also accused Firtash of ties to Russian organized crime, although no such charge appears in the indictment. He has denied any such connection.

    Firtash’s U.S.-based attorneys, Dan Webb and Lanny Davis, said in a statement: “Motions to dismiss before trial are almost never granted. The court ruling here states only that the US prosecutors have jurisdiction to prosecute. It says nothing about guilt or innocence. We remain confident that Mr. Firtash, who is not accused in the indictment of paying any bribes and has never visited or done business in the United States, is innocent of these charges.”

    A final ruling from the Austrian Supreme Court on Firtash’s extradition is expected next week.

  11. Twitter logo

    Twitter’s 2014 lawsuit accused the government of violating the company’s free speech rights by restricting its ability to publish a transparency report. | Jeff Chiu/AP Photo

    Judge may shut down Twitter fight against surveillance secrecy

    Twitter’s legal campaign to disclose more information about surveillance requests it receives from the federal government appears to be running aground after a federal judge signaled that she is prepared to dismiss the nearly five-year-old lawsuit.

    In 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Rogers turned down the Justice Department’s bid to defeat the suit, but she said in an order Friday that new, secret information she received recently from the FBI has left her inclined to hand the government the victory it sought.

    The judge’s change of heart follows Attorney General Bill Barr’s decision in March to assert the state secrets privilege in the case to block Twitter lawyers from receiving access to an earlier classified filing in the suit.

    Barr’s move, first reported by POLITICO, was his first invocation of the privilege since returning to the attorney general’s post earlier this year.

    Twitter’s 2014 lawsuit accused the government of violating the firm’s free speech rights by restricting its ability to publish a transparency report providing greater detail about the surveillance-related court orders and administrative subpoenas it receives from the FBI, formally known as national security letters.

    Rogers’ two-page order says a new FBI declaration accompanying Barr’s March privilege assertion gave her a better understanding of the harms that could result from letting Twitter be more open about the data demands it gets from federal officials. The new statement came from Michael McGarrity, the FBI’s acting executive assistant director for national security.

    “In light of its review of the classified McGarrity Declaration, the Court is inclined to reconsider its prior order denying summary judgment,” Rogers wrote. “The Court is inclined to find that classified McGarrity Declaration meets the Government’s burden under strict scrutiny to justify classification and restrict disclosure of information in the Draft Transparency Report, based upon a reasonable expectation that its disclosure would pose grave or imminent harm to national security, and that no more narrow tailoring of the restrictions can be made.”

    Rogers also indicated she was inclined to deny a request by Twitter’s lawyers for access to McGarrity’s sealed, classified filing. (A unclassified version of his submission was made public in March.)

    The judge, an Obama appointee, didn’t immediately end the suit with her order Friday. Instead, she said she’d receive another round of filings from the social media company and the government before making a final ruling.

    Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but addressed earlier developments on its website. “Twitter strongly disagrees with the government's position and intends to vigorously defend against this motion and the assertion of the state secrets privilege. We will continue to fight for meaningful transparency through this and other efforts,” the firm said.

  12. Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Court of Appeals Building

    The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing in on the question of revealing grand jury information as House Democrats spar with the Justice Department for details of the Mueller investigation. | Ric Feld/AP Photo

    Appeals court to revisit grand jury secrecy


    A federal appeals court announced Tuesday that its full, 12-judge bench plans to revisit whether judges have the authority to disclose usually secret grand jury information in exceptional cases.

    The Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said it plans to take up, en banc, a case involving a historian’s request for access to records of a federal grand jury investigation into the 1946 lynching of two African-American couples in Walton County, Ga.

    Legal disputes about access to grand jury information are drawing unusual attention at the moment because of a standoff between the House Judiciary Committee and Attorney General Bill Barr over access to various materials related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia probe.

    Part of that fight is a disagreement over whether lawmakers are entitled to see testimony and evidence that is typically kept secret because it was obtained by a grand jury.

    The 11th Circuit’s brief order Tuesday wiped out the victory historian Anthony Pitch won in February, when a court panel voted 2-1, to uphold a lower-court order allowing disclosure of the records.

    The Justice Department has steadfastly opposed disclosure in such cases, saying that judges can only permit release through six explicit exceptions to the grand jury secrecy rule. However, government lawyers did not seek en banc rehearing of the decision.

    The court’s order Tuesday said an unidentified 11th Circuit judge acting on his or her own sought a vote on further review of the case. A majority of the court’s active judges agreed.

    It’s unclear precisely what triggered the rehearing, but Pitch’s attorney, Joe Bell, told POLITICO he believes it may be some combination of factors including a heated dissent by a district court judge who sat on the 11th Circuit panel and a conflicting, 2-1 ruling issued in April by the D.C. Circuit on a similar case involving another author, Stuart McKeever. He has asked the full D.C. Circuit to rehear his case, and there was a sign last month that they might do so.

    “I know it probably involves the McKeever decision and it might also be that everyone saw what’s going on with Mueller in Washington and they want to come out with some sort of united front,” Bell said.

    Whatever the 11th Circuit ultimately does, it won’t iron out disagreements among courts on the issue.

    Other appeals courts, including the New York-based 2nd Circuit and the Chicago-based 7th Circuit, have upheld judges’ right to release grand jury material sought by historians or in other circumstances not mentioned in the rule.

    However, the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit indicated in a 2009 case stemming from independent counsel Ken Starr’s Whitewater investigation that courts don’t have authority beyond that specifically laid out in the rule.

    A Justice Department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the 11th Circuit’s announcement.

    The case in question involves the July 1946 lynching of two married couples — George and Mae Murray Dorsey, and Roger and Dorothy Malcom — on Moore’s Ford Bridge. The killings were the subject of Pitch’s 2016 book, “The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town.“

    Bell said he remains convinced that sunlight is needed with regard to the actions the government did and did not take to investigate the post-World War II lynching.

    “I’m ready to argue this in front of the 12-member panel, and I’m going to continue to bang the drum for justice. Hopefully, I’ll prevail because I’m on the right side of history,” the New Jersey-based attorney said. “These are unavailable witnesses in a cold case. I want to know what really happened. What is the fear?”