The Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are no longer seen as impartial investigators whose dogmatic adherence to being apolitical used to be a hallmark characteristic. The FBI especially was seen as the gold standard in law enforcement. Our preeminent domestic intelligence and law enforcement agency has been engulfed in scandal. It seems to constantly walk into public relations disasters, though that may be intentional due to their long-standing desire to indict Donald Trump. That obsession with the former president has led this agency to interfere in three consecutive election cycles. The Russian collusion hoax in 2016, the running interference of the Hunter Biden laptop, which is ongoing, and now their August 8 raid on Mar-a-Lago. All of which were executed to benefit the Democratic Party. Prosecutorial overreach is pervasive, but it’s hardly a new tactic.
The breach from which the Justice Department used these comprehensive dragnet operations to take whatever they wanted without any consideration for constitutional rights or attorney-client privilege dates to the earliest days of the War on Terror. The Trump years made this more public since their target was the president of the United States. Former Rolling Stone editor Matt Taibbi had a lengthy post about the grossly unconstitutional tactics deployed by the DOJ. That includes the department suppressing exculpatory evidence, threatening witnesses for the defense, and becoming somewhat cultish in recognition of the vast array of legal resources and power to inflict massive damage on the reputations of ordinary citizens. They’re out of control, and when challenged in court by defense attorneys regarding the protection of civil liberties and due process, the government has always said delays would irreparably damage the integrity of the investigation. Only the Department of Justice’s version of events is an accurate account of the case, whatever that may be. Doesn’t this sound a bit familiar? Oh, right—that’s precisely why the DOJ objected to a special master reviewing the documents they seized from Mar-a-Lago. Such a review by an independent outside arbiter would constitute a national security risk.
Taibbi recounts more than a few accounts in which the DOJ executed arguably extrajudicial prosecutions, accompanied by the now-infamous TAINT teams, which analyze the documents and records seized in searches. The issue is that they also peruse files protected by attorney-client privilege, most of which have nothing to do with whatever search warrants were issued or its more extensive investigation.
Taibbi cited the case of the late “Blind Sheik,” Omar Ahmad Ali Abdel Rahman, as the first of his examples where the DOJ ran amok. The sheik was serving a life prison term for an array of terror charges that stemmed from his involvement in the first World Trade Center bombing. Abdel Rahman had Lynne Stewart provide legal representation; a task offered to her by former Attorney General Ramsey Clarks since no one wanted the job. Lynn, who skirted on the radical side, took the job, and it ended up destroying her career. She became a top target of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft (via Matt Taibbi SubStack):
After 9/11, the government felt it needed to apply maximum pressure not just on Rahman — whom Osama bin Laden had pledged to free a year before the Tower attacks — but his attorney, New York-based Lynne Stewart. A well-known radical lawyer in the tradition of Bill Kuntsler, Stewart came to represent Rahman on the urging of former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, essentially taking the case because no one else would. This decision would have consequences.
The first time Attorney General John Ashcroft tried to criminally charge Stewart, on April 8, 2002, it was a dramatic rollout. Ashcroft had been savaged by David Letterman over his ear-piercing rendition of “Let the Eagles Soar,” but accepted an invitation to be a Letterman guest, using the spot to announce Stewart’s indictment.
“We simply aren’t going to allow people who are convicted of terrorism continue to achieve terrorist objectives by sending messages and directing the activity from prison,” he said, to applause from Letterman’s hep audience.
Ashcroft charged Stewart with providing “material support” to a terrorist organization. The theory was Stewart aided terror by giving a press release to Reuters relaying Rahman’s remarks. The problematic line suggested Rahman was instructing followers to call off a cease-fire with the government of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Stewart, now deceased, later wrote about the message she conveyed…
Stewart was controversial but well-respected by other attorneys, many of whom were shocked by her indictment, even if they disagreed with her politics. Some were furious with her for communicating a message on Rahman’s behalf, while others felt she was just advocating for her client.
The government raided Stewart’s law office. They took boxes of rolodexes, audio tapes, and computers, which “had also been used to perform legal work for clients of other attorneys… or for clients of the defendant who were not identified in the warrant and who likely have no relation to this case,” a judge later wrote.
The state’s plan was to assign a “special team of officers” to take possession of all this stuff — a taint team, though it wasn’t called that — start rifling through it, and direct questions about privilege to “a special Assistant United States Attorney” who’d supposedly been “walled off from the prosecuting team.”
Through this method Ashcroft and then-Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney James Comey sought not only the full documentary cavity search of Stewart, but of every one of her clients not named Rahman, along with every attorney who worked with Stewart, and every one of their clients. Under the auspices of an internal privilege “review,” in other words, the government got a free look at the material they would have had the hardest time gaining permission to search through normal means — protected communications between criminal attorneys and their clients.
Since then, the Department of Justice has continued with the ‘seize everything for the TAINT team’ approach, some of which has been given legal blessings by lower court judges. In essence, we have learned that TAINT teams analyze information that wouldn’t have otherwise been cleared in a search warrant. It’s a clever workaround that might need a Supreme Court ruling to stop the ongoing abuse of this power. The more recent case of Ken Ravenell, a Maryland-based attorney, is a more recent example, besides Trump, that shows how TAINT teams and raids are very much what gets the DOJ’s rocks off regarding these operations:
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Maryland had long been pursuing a lawyer named Ken Ravenell, one of the top criminal attorneys in Baltimore, believing he was essentially part of the criminal operation of a Jamaican marijuana kingpin named Richard Byrd.
That the feds raided Ravenell’s office in 2014 was one thing. The real shocker came in 2019, when the U.S. Attorney and the I.R.S. raided the law office of Ravenell’s lawyer, Joshua Treem. If the Lynne Stewart case was about intimidating the lawyer of a suspect, this case was about intimidating the lawyer of the lawyer of a suspect.
The DOJ didn’t just take Treem’s files. It took huge amounts of data and files from the firm where Treem was and is a partner, Brown, Goldstein, and Levy. This group of lawyers had been repeatedly recognized as a top firm by U.S. News and World Report and Best Lawyers in America, with several attorneys winning annual “Baltimore Lawyer of the Year” awards, including Treem himself. Despite their standing, the Justice Department treated Treem’s firm like terror suspects, delivering a surprise search replete with armed, kevlar-clad agents, on the basis of a warrant issued in an ex parte hearing with a district judge, meaning the firm had no chance to contest the raid.
The Brown, Goldstein, and Levy lawyers were in a state of shock. “For a civil rights law office, mid-morning on a business day, in the middle of Baltimore, they felt the need to get fully armed,” says Treem, laughing in amazement as he recalls the scene.
“They never even sent a subpoena,” says fellow partner Kobie Flowers, who took pictures of the raid. “That was part of our argument later in the Fourth Circuit. We’re all officers of the court. We all have ethical duties to follow. We can’t destroy evidence. Had you just sent a subpoena for this stuff, we would have given it over to you.”
One consequence of becoming a criminal suspect was that Treem, who’d received a target letter six months before, had a conflict of interest that prevented him from defending Ravenell, which of course might have been part of the point. “I had to withdraw from representing my client,” says Treem. “Once I got the target letter, I had to advise my current clients and any people who were calling me to ask for representation.”
Asked if such tactics could be interpreted as a message, that any attorney who wants to stay in business should think twice about representing someone the government is serious about pursuing, Flowers said the intimidation factor goes further than that. “On the one hand, it’s a strategy move. They get to kick Josh off the case,” he said. “But the next step, or a corollary to that thought, is: for many criminal defense attorneys, it causes them to question whether they want to be in this profession?”
Flowers, himself a former prosecutor of corrupt police officers, added: “Who’s going to raise their hand against the most powerful government in the history of humankind, if doing so means that you might be searched, have armed agents raid your offices, and then be wrongly accused?”
It leads to Mr. Trump’s ongoing legal duel with the DOJ, which is the culmination of the years of judicial abuse and overreach, coupled with the media collaboration and indirect assistance in increasing the legal pressure on those targeted by the DOJ. Taibbi zeroed in on how no one is held accountable for actual breaches of protocol, like the leaking of grand jury testimony, along with the media’s use of language that’s eerily like the arguments cited in DOJ briefs regarding their suspects. The former Rolling Stone editor noted the January 6 investigation where reporters are allergic to the word riot but will say insurrection and describe the rioters as insurrectionist per 8 U.S. Code § 2384 about seditious conspiracy. Spoiler alert: that’s what they’re being charged with in court:
In Trump-related cases, the DOJ has pushed the tactical envelope in all the same ways it has with other types of unpopular defendants over the years, only it’s done so with a disturbing (and perhaps correct) presumption that the public wants them to color outside the lines more than ever, and deal even more cruelly with targets. The DOJ has political winds at its back it lacked even in the early War on Terror days as it campaigns openly to replace an adversarial system with Judge Dredd style, guilty-when-charged, one-stop-shopping justice.
Not just the Justice Department but multiple federal enforcement agencies have cheated and bullied in countless cases involving the Orange One, without inspiring a whit of outrage from traditional civil liberties defenders.
Whether it’s the FBI lying to the FISA court to get authority to secretly spy on the obviously minor character Carter Page, or prosecutors falsely claiming Maria Butina sold sexual favors (inspiring countless headlines identifying her as a Red Sparrow-style prostitute-spy) before sending her off to solitary confinement for no reason, or sending undercover agents to spy on Michael Flynn when he went with Trump to a pre-election security briefing held by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (meaning, as Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz noted, the FBI was effectively spying on the ODNI’s office as well), or burying exculpatory reports from informants about everyone from Page to George Papadopoulous, falsely spreading rumors to journalists that Flynn had an affair with an Oxford PhD candidate, lying to journalists (and even congress) by claiming the release of the name of long-ago outed government source Stefan Halper could “risk lives,” and my personal favorite, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller arguing that obliging the defense’s right to discovery in a case against a Russian suspect “unreasonably risks the national security interests of the United States,” federal investigators have seemed almost proud of their indifference to due process in the last seven years.
One major innovation, however, is the DOJ/FBI investigation that never leads to formal charges or a trial, but is ostentatiously covered in the news media, almost as if that is the point. The DOJ isn’t just involving itself in censoring news stories, even true news stories, it has also become a major generator of news, whispering thousands of headlines into existence in the last seven years, which their own former employees then comment upon on television. The pee tape for instance never got near a courtroom, but the FBI director helped create the “hook” the networks needed to report it by holding a meeting with then-President-elect Trump that was leaked to CNN (and soon, the rest of the world) within about five minutes. The agency has become a driver of public opinion in ways the Pentagon after 9/11 never dreamed of.
Again, a lot of what’s gone on in the Trump years involves the same stunts the DOJ pulled in earlier cases.
How could these abuses go on for so long? A part of it is underreporting, but it’s also the nature of the characters in the DOJ’s crosshairs. They’re not saints. Many are execrable people with wrap sheets that warrant life prison terms for charges like conducting terror campaigns on American soil. Others are drug kingpins, but as you know, just because you’re a heinous individual doesn’t mean you’re stripped of your constitutional rights without due process. The point is we have universal principles that must be protected, even when those targeted are individuals with whom you despise to your core politically. If you let bias take over doing what’s right, that’s how you allow an authoritarian ethos to take over institutions like the Justice Department, which can ruin lives. We’re seeing a Democrat-run DOJ execute a political hit job on Donald Trump. We have a Republican attorney general go after a radical lefty under Bush. Both sides of the river are guilty of overreach, yet without a doubt—the Left decided to go totally off the rails under the Obama administration.
Taibbi’s lengthy and thorough deep dive into the rogue operations of the Justice Department, like Col. Kurtz in Cambodia, shreds the nauseating presser by Attorney General Merrick Garland in August. The man described his employees at the Justice Department as good-natured, dedicated public servants who are the most authentic patriots. No, they’re just bad people—all of them. They abuse their power because they know accountability is absent and imaginary, just like the smoking gun evidence proving Russian collusion. Remember, the references to the cultish mindset that’s overtaken the Justice Department under Project TAINT.
“Defense lawyers describe a dramatic change in the attitude of federal prosecutors, who in the Trump years especially began giving off a vibe they describe as part activist, part menace, part secret society weirdness,” Taibbi wrote: “Cops go home and have barbecues, try to forget,” says one lawyer. Hale-Bopp cultists is the term this lawyer prescribed to federal prosecutors. Taibbi also took a funny swipe at ex-DOJ officials who were either offended or taken aback that we’re describing the Mar-a-Lago search as a raid. It was a ransacking aimed at warning Trump not to run again, with the invisible stamp of the Biden White House. Even if you didn’t think that—Taibbi makes sure to set up his lengthy feature in a way that both sides can find an agreement:
The state more and more now avails itself of a procedural trick that would have horrified everyone from Jefferson to to Potter Stewart to Thurgood Marshall. Investigating, say, one lawyer, prosecutors raid a whole firm, taking everything — emails, client files, cell phones and personal computers — then have a supposedly separate group of lawyers, called a “taint” or “filter” team, examine it all. In this way they learn the private details of hundreds or even thousands of clients in a shot, all people unrelated to the supposed case at hand.
But, they say, don’t worry, we’re not using any of those secrets, you can trust us. After all, we’re United States Attorneys.(And their paralegals. And legal assistants. And, perhaps, a few IRS or DEA or FBI agents, whose only job is to make cases against the types of people in those files. But still, don’t worry). Just because the whole concept of attorney-client privilege, as well as the 1st, 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments — guaranteeing rights to free speech, against unreasonable searches, and to due process and legal counsel, respectively — were created to bar exactly this kind of behavior, they insist the state would never abuse this authority.
Taint team targets are unpopular. They’re accused drug dealers, terrorists, corporate tax cheats, money launderers, Medicare fraudsters, and, importantly of late, their lawyers. You can add Trump administration officials to the list now. In cases involving such people government prosecutors have begun making an extraordinary claim. As a citizen cries foul when the state peeks at attorney communications, the Justice Department increasingly argues that affording certain people rights harms the secret objectives of the secret state.
The Trump case is almost incidental to this wider story of extralegal short-cuts, intimidation, improper searches, and especially, a constant, intensifying effort at discrediting the adversarial system in favor of an executive-branch-only vision of the law, in which your right to stand before a judge or jury would be replaced by secret bureaucratic decisions. “Trump has become the way they sell this,” says one defense attorney. “But it’s not about Trump. If you focus on Trump, you’ll miss how serious this is. And it started a long time ago.” When? “Go back to 9/11,” he says. “You’ll see.”
Don’t sit there and say you can’t be next. You can be—for merely expressing a differing opinion. The actions of the Justice Department are evidence that they will go to the ends of the earth to destroy people they don’t like, which is what psychopaths do.