Thursday, February 1, 2024

Robert Hunter Biden Motion to Dismiss Federal Gun Charges: The Briefs Are In.

The briefing is now complete on Hunter Biden's Motion to Dismiss Based on Immunity Conferred by his Diversion Agreement. This motion was filed in the District of Delaware where three felony gun counts are pending against Biden. Biden contends that the Diversion Agreement was a binding contract once signed by the parties to it, and that the only parties to it were Biden and the U.S. Attorney's Office. DOJ disagrees on both points. Biden also argues that U.S. Probation's approval was not necessary and that, even it was necessary, U.S. Probation in fact approved the Agreement.  A similar motion will no doubt be filed in the federal tax case now pending in the Central District of California, with respect to the aborted tax-related Plea Agreement, but Biden's chances of success are much better at getting the federal gun charges in Delaware dismissed, since Diversion agreements do not require approval by the district court. The Diversion Agreement was related to the overall Plea Agreement that blew up last July in Judge Maryellen Noreika's Delaware federal courtroom. Here are Biden's original brief, the Government's Response, and Biden's Reply. Attached also is the Declaration of Christopher Clark, who was Biden's attorney involved in the negotiations surrounding the Plea and Diversion Agreements.

U.S. v. Robert Hunter Biden-Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Indictment Based on Immunity Conferred by Diversion Agreement.

U.S. v. Robert Hunter Biden-Government's Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Indictment Based on Immunity Conferred by Diversion Agreement.

U.S. v. Robert Hunter Biden-Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss the Indictment Based on Immunity Conferred by Diversion Agreement.

U.S. v. Robert Hunter Biden--Declaration of Christopher J. Clark.

(wisenberg)

 

 

February 1, 2024 in Celebrities, Corruption, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Deferred Prosecution Agreements, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Media, News, Privileges, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 25, 2024

U.S. v. Stephen Bannon Case Materials: Willfulness and the Reliance on Advice of Counsel Defense.

We are awaiting any day now a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Steve Bannon's appeal of his conviction for violating Title 2, United States Code, Section 192 by willfully refusing to testify or provide documents to the January 6 Committee in response to its subpoena. In allowing Bannon to remain free on bond pending appeal, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols noted that Bannon's appeal raised substantial questions of law: "In particular, as I've noted throughout this case, there is a substantial question regarding what it should mean for a defendant to willfully make default under the contempt of Congress statute and what evidence a defendant should be permitted to introduce on that question." Bannon was prevented from introducing evidence, arguing to the jury, or having the trial court instruct the jury, that his attorney had advised him not to comply with the subpoena. Under a 63-year-old D.C. Circuit precedent, Licavoli v. United States, willfulness in the context of Section 192 does not require a showing that the defendant intended to violate the law or acted with an evil motive or bad purpose. The government need only prove that the failure to comply was deliberate. It is extremely unlikely that Licavoli is still good law today, given numerous Supreme Court white collar crime opinions since 1961 requiring the government to prove an intent to violate a known legal duty in order to show willfulness. Here are some case materials from U.S. v. Stephen Bannon.

U.S. v. Stephen Bannon - Sentencing Hearing Transcript Excerpt.

U.S. v. Stephen Bannon - Declaration of Robert J. Costello.

U.S. v. Stephen Bannon - Defendant's Opposition to Government Motion in Limine on Advice of Counsel.

U.S. v. Stephen Bannon - Government's Reply re Motion in Limine on Advice of Counsel Defense 3.8.22 - FINAL.

U.S. v. Stephen Bannon - Defendant's Surreply re Government Motion in Limine on Advice of Counsel.

(wisenberg)

January 25, 2024 in Celebrities, Congress, Contempt, Current Affairs, Judicial Opinions, Media, News, Obstruction, Privileges, Prosecutions, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Free Speech v. Fair Trial: D.C. Circuit Rules on Trump Gag Order

On Friday, December 8, 2023,  a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan's Gag Order in U.S. V. Trump. Here is the opinion, written by Judge Patricia Millett. Trump's attorneys praised the opinion, but vowed to appeal. 

(wisenberg)

December 12, 2023 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Judicial Opinions, Legal Ethics, Media, News, Obstruction, Privileges, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 4, 2023

Trump Immunity Claim Rejected By D.C. Circuit For Now

On Friday December 1, 2023, in Blassingame v. Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that, at this stage of the proceedings, former President Donald Trump is not entitled to dismiss the consolidated civil case against him (brought by Capitol Police officers and others who were present at the Capitol on January 6, 2021) based on the doctrine of Presidential Immunity. Importantly, and overlooked in most of the press reporting on the ruling, the Court left open the possibility that Trump could prevail on a later motion for summary judgement. But at this stage of the proceedings, prior to the development of a factual record, the Court had to accept the plaintiffs' allegations as true. Since a President's purely private acts, even while serving as President, are not protected by the doctrine of Presidential Immunity, the record was not sufficiently developed to grant the former President's motion to dismiss.

Here is the opinion in Blassingame v. Trump.

(wisenberg)

December 4, 2023 in Civil Litigation, Current Affairs, Judicial Opinions, News, Privileges | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Trump Gag Order Appeal: Oral Arguments Are Next Up In D.C. Circuit

The parties' briefs are all in and the case is set for oral argument on Monday, November 20, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Gathered together here are: Former President Trump's Opening Brief re Appeal of Judge Chutkan's Gag Order; the Government's Answering Brief; Trump's Reply Brief; and the Gag Order itself.

10-17-23 Trump Gag Order in DC Case

U.S. v. Trump - Donald Trump's Opening Brief re Appeal of Gag Order

U.S. v. Trump - Answering Brief of the United States re Donald Trump's Appeal of Gag Order

U.S. v. Trump - Reply Brief of Defendant-Appellant Donald Trump re Trump's Appeal of U.S. District Court Chutkan's Gag Order

(wisenberg)

November 18, 2023 in Celebrities, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Legal Ethics, Media, News, Privileges, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Hunter Biden's Motion for Issuance of Rule 17(c) Subpoenas Before Trial

Today Hunter Biden's lawyers filed a Motion for Pretrial Issuance of Subpoenas Duces Tecum, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(c)(1), to Donald Trump, William Barr, Jeffrey Rosen, and Richard Donoghue. The proposed subpoenas demand documents relating to decisions involving the investigation or prosecution of Hunter Biden in both the Trump and Biden Administrations. The defense maintains that the documents are highly likely to be relevant to its contention that the Hunter Biden Indictment is an example of a constitutionally impermissible vindictive or selective prosecution. Defendants are entitled under the Sixth Amendment to present a defense and to  compulsory production of witnesses and documents in aid of that right. Here is the motion. U.S. v. Hunter Biden - Defense Motion for Issuance of Subpoenas Duces Tecum Pursuant to Rule 17(c) and Memorandum in Support.

(wisenberg)

November 15, 2023 in Corruption, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Deferred Prosecution Agreements, Fraud, Investigations, News, Privileges, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Trump Defense Counsel & Case Timing

Former President Trump's counsel of the past have faced a lot of questions, and may face more if they are called as witnesses in one of his upcoming trials. Questions such as attorney-client privilege, the crime-fraud exception, and perhaps even questions revolving around an advice of counsel defense may be on the horizon.  These cases will offer many issues for discussion.

Two of his current counsel (Drew Findling and John Lauro) are individuals who have handled many criminal defense cases, and in some instances very successfully for a defendant.  In this regard we are likely to see many pre-trial motions and there may also be a possibility of appeals to resolve legal issues prior to trial. 

Drew Findling, a past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a member of the esteemed American Board of Criminal Lawyers, is not an attorney who shies away from trial.  Unlike some former prosecutors who are now criminal defense counsel, Attorney Findling knows his way around a courtroom and has successfully defended a long list of clients including many in the hiphop world (see here). If an indictment is handed down in Georgia, this likely last case against Trump may be primed to be the first case that goes to trial. But here again, legal issues may be raised with attempts to get appellate rulings that could stall the legal process. 

In the DC case, we see Attorney John Lauro, an experienced white collar attorney, as one of the lead counsel for Mr. Trump. He spent the day on many TV talk shows and also did this heart-to-heart talk with David Oscar Marcus (here). One argument that Lauro will likely be making in his court arguments is that he needs more time to prepare for trial. But the prosecution may come back noting the many interviews that he did have time for today. 

A key factor in many of these cases will be timing. Will the defense want to go to trial as was the case of a speedy trial being granted to the late-Senator Ted Stevens who went to trial about 40 days prior to Alaskans voting in his Senate race? Or will the defense want to stall trials for fear of a conviction prior to the election?  And as discovery starts rolling out, will the defense position change? Will the discovery prove detrimental to his political aspirations, perhaps even hurt his political ambitions, and if that happens will Trump perhaps be the one asking for a speedy trial? 

(esp)  

August 6, 2023 in Privileges, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 8, 2023

How To Think About The Hunter Biden Whistleblowers’ Disclosures And The Hunter Biden Plea Agreement. Part I.

There are three key elements to the recent disclosures by IRS Criminal Investigation Division whistleblowers concerning the DOJ’s criminal investigation of Hunter Biden: 1) the false and/or conflicting statements by Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss and Attorney General Merrick Garland about the degree of authority and independence conferred upon Weiss by DOJ; 2) the alleged efforts of Delaware AUSAs and DOJ Tax Division prosecutors to slow-walk the case and block or delay avenues of investigation; and 3) the alleged underlying criminal conduct of Hunter Biden.

Part I

Let’s start with the false and/or conflicting statements by Garland and Weiss. AG Garland has repeatedly made public statements, sometimes sworn, indicating that Trump-appointed Delaware U.S. Attorney Weiss had (and still has) complete independence and authority to bring charges against Hunter Biden in any federal district where venue might lie, free of political interference.  Note that there is a difference between being able to run your investigation free of political interference and having the authority to bring charges in a federal district outside of Delaware. You can give Weiss all of the freedom to investigate he wants and still deny him the ability to bring charges in the District of Columbia or the Central District of California. But Garland recently reiterated that Weiss had (and has), “complete authority to make all decisions on his own,” had, “more authority than a special counsel,” and was “authorized to bring a case anywhere he wants in his discretion.” Garland has also stressed that Weiss never came to him asking for special counsel authority.

But here is a key contradictory fact we now know, thanks to the transcribed interview of IRS-CID Supervisory Special Agent (“SSA”) Gary Shapley, a/k/a Whistleblower #1 and the documents Shapley provided. Delaware U.S. Attorney Weiss told a roomful of IRS and FBI special agents and DOJ attorneys, on October 7, 2022, "that he is not the deciding person on whether charges are filed." He then revealed that, months before, he had sought and been denied the authority to bring felony tax evasion charges against Hunter Biden in the District of Columbia by District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves. Weiss further told the agents at the same October 7, 2022, meeting that he had requested special counsel status from Main Justice in order to bring charges in the District of Columbia but had been rebuffed. (Weiss also told the agents and prosecutors in the October meeting that the case was then at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California awaiting its decision on whether to file. He stated that if CDCAL rejected his request he would go to Main Justice again to ask for special counsel status.)

Weiss’s October 7, 2022, statement to the roomful of agents and prosecutors is clearly at odds with Garland’s public comments that Weiss had all the authority he needed to bring charges in any federal district. Garland has not indicated how he conferred this authority on Weiss. Was it reflected in a written authorization giving Weiss special attorney status under 28 USC §515(a)? Was it orally conveyed? If orally conveyed, did Garland merely invite Weiss to ask in the future for any authority he needed? Is this all a shell game in which Weiss asked Deputy Attorney General (“DAG”) Lisa Monaco for special attorney or special counsel status which she rebuffed and never reported to Garland?

Weiss’s June 7, 2023, letter to Congressman Jim Jordan, purported, “to make clear that, as the Attorney General has stated, I have been granted ultimate authority over this matter, including responsibility for deciding where, when, and whether to file charges and for making decisions necessary to preserve the integrity of the prosecution, consistent with federal law, the Principles of Federal Prosecution, and Department regulations.” This statement had to be clarified once the Shapley transcript and supporting documentation were released to the public. So on June 30, 2023, Weiss wrote again to Jordan, setting out his geographically limited charging authority but noting his ability to request special attorney status under 28 U.S.C. § 515 in the event that a U.S. Attorney in another federal district does not want to partner with him on a case. Then the kicker: “Here, I have been assured that, if necessary after the above process, I would be granted § 515 Authority in the District of Columbia, the Central District of California, or any other district where charges could be brought in this matter.” Translation? I never asked Main Justice for special attorney status or authority. But if Weiss was being truthful in his June 30, 2023 letter to Jordan, he certainly lied to federal agents on October 7, 2022 when he told them that he had asked for special counsel authority to bring the Hunter Biden case in the District of Columbia and been denied.

Honest prosecutors running a legitimate criminal investigation do not need to lie to their case agents or prevaricate in their public pronouncements. And Garland surely realizes that his public statements to date, for whatever reason, have left a misleading impression. Yet he has done noting to get to the bottom of what happened. It’s time for him to lance the boil. More to come in Parts II and III.

(wisenberg)

 

July 8, 2023 in Corruption, Current Affairs, Fraud, Government Reports, Grand Jury, Investigations, Legal Ethics, Money Laundering, Privileges, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 9, 2023

Trump Indictment # 2

First there was an indictment against Former President Donald Trump coming out of the Manhattan DA's office - here (Indictment # 1)

Now there is a federal indictment against Former President Donald Trump coming out of an investigation of Special Counsel Jack Smith into the alleged conduct by Trump in handling sensitive classified documents and conduct responsive to requests by DOJ for return of these documents - here

It remains to be seen if the former president will face additional indictments in Georgia or Washington, DC. 

Here are some thoughts of Indictment # 2 -

  1. The Indictment charges Trump with 37 counts - the charges are: 31 counts of Willful Retention of National Defense Information (793(e)); 1 count of Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice (1512(k)); 1 count of Withholding a Document or Record (1512(b)(2)(A)); 1 count of Corruptly Concealing a Document or Reconrd (1512(c)(1)); 1 count of Concealing a Document in a Federal Investigation (1519); 1 count of Scheme to Conceal (1001(a)(1)) and 1 count of False Statements and Representations (1001)(a)(2).
  2. The Indictment charges Waltine Nauta with 6 counts - the charges are  1 count of Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice (1512(k)); 1 count of Withholding a Document or Record (1512(b)(2)(A)); 1 count of Corruptly Concealing a Document or Reconrd (1512(c)(1)); 1 count of Concealing a Document in a Federal Investigation (1519); 1 count of Scheme to Conceal (1001(a)(1)) and 1 count of False Statements and Representations (1001)(a)(2).
  3. The 44 page Indictment (49 if you count the Trial Attorney Certificates) is detailed – but it is not a speaking indictment (there are no irrelevancies in the Indictment).  Compare this to the Michael Sussman indictment of one count that was 27 pages and resulted in a jury verdict of not guilty. 
  4. Special Counsel Jack Smith's statement from his press conference on Friday afternoon is professional, limited (only 347 words), and he does not grandstand - see here. This emphasizes that this is a non-political investigation. He makes a point of noting that "It’s very important for me to note that the defendants in this case must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law." 
  5. Some of this case appears to come from former President Trump's prior lawyers.  The attorney-client privilege is sacred, but it can be pierced when the client attempts to use the lawyer to commit a crime or fraud. 
  6. It is difficult to try a case involving classified material as the government will likely not want to disclose the actual classified material.  But that should not present a problem here as the charges go to obstructing justice, concealing information, and false statements.  The actual content, other than it being a high security level and having potential damage to national security, should not be an issue.
  7. Should a judge who is appointed by the accused remain on the case? Remember, this is not a situation of looking at a policy or action of the plaintiff or defendant, this is a criminal case and the defendant appointed the judge to her position.  
  8. One has to give Jack Smith credit for filing this in Florida.  He could have stetched the envelope and charged it in DC, but instead he did the right thing and followed venue rules that should be adhered to. 
  9. If these same charges were against any other defendant, would it be likely that they would result in a quick plea? But a defendant has the right to challenge charges against him or her and the right to a trial by jury.
  10. Attorney General Merrick Garland has removed politics from the DOJ, which is a good thing. He even removed himself from this case and appointed a special prosecutor.   Remember Jack Smith handled the prosecution against Democrat John Edwards, who was not convicted. Claims that this is a political indictment have no basis. 

(esp)

June 9, 2023 in Celebrities, News, Obstruction, Privileges, Prosecutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Total Victory for the Defense in Greenbelt Health Care Fraud Case

After a three-week trial, and only one full day of deliberations, a federal jury in Greenbelt, MD acquitted Kasandra Vilchez-Duarte and Donnie Amis on all counts of an indictment charging conspiracies to defraud Medicaid and violate the Anti-Kickback statute.  Congratulations to the defense teams: Federal Defenders Maggie Grace & Ned Smock on behalf of Ms. Vilchez-Duarte, as well as John McNichols & Allie Eisen (Williams & Connolly) and Eugene Gorokhov (Burnham & Gorokhov) on behalf of Mr. Amis.

(wisenberg)



June 29, 2022 in Defense Counsel, Fraud, Privileges, Verdict | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Eastman Letter and the Fifth Amendment

Here is the Eastman Letter to January 6th Select Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson from Eastman's attorney Charles Burnham, invoking Eastman's Fifth Amendment Privilege Against Self-Incrimination and raising other issues as well. The letter is in response to a Committee subpoena for Eastman's testimony and documents. Burnham's letter  leaves open the question of whether Eastman will appear at all, although that is clearly the proper course. As I noted here, in order to successfully invoke the Fifth Amendment Privilege Against Self-Incrimination the client must appear and invoke it on a question by question basis. This will be easy for Eastman to do, as Burnham's letter makes clear, because so many public figures and office-holders have expressed their belief that he has serious criminal exposure. Federal judges, most recently U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, have suggested that January 6 rally speakers have exposure as well. Chairman Thompson wants to "test" the assertions of witnesses invoking the privilege and Norm Eisen, E. Danya Perry, and Joshua Perry argue here in the Washington post that he should vigorously do so with witnesses such as Eastman and former DOJ Civil Division Chief Jeffrey Clark. But a Fifth Amendment assertion by either man is a no-brainer. All Burnham has to do is point to the public record, as he amply does in his letter. Almost any question after name, address, age, and current occupation could furnish a link in a potentially incriminatory chain. The Committee also demanded from Eastman a broad array of documents, and Burnham has invoked the Fifth Amendment "Act of Production" Privilege, a part of the Privilege Against Self-Incrimination, with respect to these documentary demands.  Eastman arguably does not even have to provide a Privilege Log, because the very act of listing the documents might bring into play the "foregone conclusion" exception to the Act of Production Privilege. Of course, the Committee may be able demonstrate that the existence and possession of such documents by Eastman is a "foregone conclusion" based on testimony and documents it has received from other witnesses. Stay tuned. 

(wisenberg)

December 7, 2021 in Congress, Contempt, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Investigations, Legal Ethics, Privileges | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Re-evaluating DOJ's Special Matters Unit

In 2020, the Fraud Section of the DOJ created the Special Matters Unit (SMU).  The naming of this unit was somewhat interesting in that in the early years of white collar crime, larger law firms used the term "special matters" for their section handling white collar criminal activity. Initially, many large firms did not handle any criminal matters and preferred to refer these cases to outside law firms.  Gradually, the business of handling white collar criminal matters became too profitable to send elsewhere, and the firms created sections called "special matters" to handle these cases.  Today, more firms in an effort to attract this business now openly advertise their white collar and government investigations sections.  So, to see in late 2020 the DOJ Fraud Division creating a new unit and calling it "special matters" was fascinating. 

But there is a big difference between the defense and government side of "special matters."  The government unit was created to deal with:

"issues related to privilege and legal ethics, including evidence collection and processing, pre-and post-indictment litigation, and advising and assisting Fraud Section prosecutors on related matters. The SMU: (1) conducts filter reviews to ensure that prosecutors are not exposed to potentially privileged material, (2) litigates privilege-related issues in connection with Fraud Section cases, and (3) provides training and guidance to Fraud Section prosecutors."  (see here)

It appears that this unit was created in response to the 4th Circuit decision, U.S. v. Under Seal, 942 F.3d 159 (4th Cir. 2019), that found the government's use of a taint or filter team improper.

It certainly can be argued that the better process is to appoint a "special master" as was done in Michael Cohen's case. But the question is whether taint teams should continue to be allowed. With continual discovery violations being noticed, this is a time to re-evaluate whether outsiders may be a better way to proceed when issues of attorney-client privilege arise resulting especially from government searches of law offices. 

(esp)

March 9, 2021 in Privileges | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Should Congress Be Allowed to Obtain President Trump's Financial Information?

The Supreme Court on March 31st will hear oral arguments in the cases of Trump v. Mazars USATrump v. Deutsche Bank, and Trump v. Vance, the first two of the cases consolidated for argument.  

The question in the Mazars case is whether the Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives has the constitutional and statutory authority to issue a subpoena to "the accountant of President Trump and several of his business entities" that "demands financial records belonging to the President." The question in the Deutsche Bank case is "whether three committees of the House of Representatives had the constitutional and statutory authority to issue subpoenas to third-party custodians for the personal records of the sitting President of the United States."  The question in the Vance case is whether a subpoena issued by NY's DA against the President as part of "a criminal investigation that, by his own admission, targets the President of the United States for possible indictment and prosecution during his term in office," "violates Article II and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution." 

For background on the cases see Amy Howe's terrific introduction as part of a Scotus Blog Symposium on these three cases. (here).  Also check out the other symposium pieces as they come online on the Scotus Blog here.

There are many amici briefs on these cases that provide unique points that highlight issues not covered in the main briefs.  I want to focus on one amici brief - The Brief of Financial Investigation and Money Laundering Experts in Support of Respondent Committees of the U.S. House of Representations.  The brief is filed by Jonathan J. Rusch as well as Steven E. Fineman and Daniel Chiplock of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Berstein, LLP.  This brief provides important history that "there is nothing unusal about Congressional investigations of the financial affairs of presidents and their family members."  They note that what is unusual here is the fact that the President has "consistently demonstrated his resolute opposition to the disclosure of financial information relevant to Congress's concern." Obtaining this information from two banks is therefore needed. 

To prohibit these subpoenas would mean that a President could engage in conduct that could never be scrutinized. It is sad to see a President failing to allow scrutiny of this information - information that would be coming from banks and not take up Presidential time. After all - if there is nothing improper, the subpoenas would provide that proof for all to see the propriety of the President's conduct. It is more troubling to see a resistance to important money-laundering initiatives that have come from both the executive and legislative branches of government.

(esp)

March 10, 2020 in Investigations, Money Laundering, News, Privileges | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 5, 2018

That's Entertainment: Judge Ellis and the Hearing on Manafort's Motion to Dismiss

Attached is the transcript of  yesterday's hearing in the Eastern District of Virginia on Paul Manafort's Motion to Dismiss the Indictment against him: USA v PAUL J MANAFORT JR - 5-4-2018 Hearing on Motion to Dismiss. The hearing was before Judge T.S. Ellis III and was characterized by Judge Ellis's typically blunt and withering wit.

Here are some takeaways:

  1. Despite the headline worthy comments of Judge Ellis, the Court will reject Manafort's argument that the Indictment should be dismissed because the Order appointing Mueller is broader than the Special Counsel regulation allows. DAG Rod Rosenstein's  August 2 2017 Letter Re The Scope of Investigation and Definition of Authority makes clear that Mueller had the authority from the first day of his appointment, on May 17, 2017, to investigate Manafort for colluding with Russian officials during the 2016 election in violation of U.S. laws and for crimes arising out of payments Manafort received from former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. Judge Ellis indicated that he considered this to be the government's strongest argument. Unless Judge Ellis believes that Rosenstein's August 2 letter was an after-the-fact sham, the letter puts an end to Manafort's central claim. Judge Ellis may also find, although this is not as certain, that the Special Counsel regulation creates no personal rights for Manafort that are enforceable in a judicial proceeding. In other words, this is a non-justiciable intra-branch matter within the Department of Justice.  
  2. It was striking to me that Michael Dreeben, who spoke for the government, did not lead with the argument that Rosenstein's August 2 letter resolves the question of whether Mueller is acting within his authority. Why not? Is it because, Mueller does not want a detailed factual inquiry on this point? During the motions hearing, both sides referenced Rosenstein's December 13, 2017 House Judiciary Committee testimony. Here are relevant Excerpts from that testimony, in which Rosenstein stated under oath that "the specific matters are not specified in the [May 17] order. So I discussed that with Director Mueller when he started, and we've had ongoing discussion about what is exactly within the scope of his investigation." (Rosenstein could not say with 100% certainty what parts of Mueller's investigation were an expansion and what parts were a clarification of Mueller's original mandate. He promised to get back to the House Judiciary Committee on this point.] Dreeben told Judge Ellis that the "specific factual  [August 2] statement, as [DAG] Rosenstein described in his Congressional testimony, was conveyed to the special counsel upon his appointment in ongoing discussions that defined the parameters of the investigation that he wanted the special counsel to conduct." So which is it? Was the scope of the investigation crystal clear on March 20, 2017 or on May 17, 2017, or did it have to be hammered out in ongoing discussions. Rod Rosenstein's May 17 2017 Order Appointing Robert S. Mueller III clearly states that Mueller has the authority to conduct the investigation confirmed by former FBI Director Comey in his March 20, 2017 Congressional testimony. Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing, wanted to see any memos written by Rosenstein leading up to Mueller's appointment to help determine the scope of Mueller's authority. When Judge Ellis asked Downing how he knew such memos existed, Downing, who worked under Rosenstein for five years, replied: "Mr. Rosenstein is a stickler for memos being written, for there to be a written record for the actions of the Department of Justice." Downing argued that if Rosenstein exceeded his authority in appointing Mueller, Mueller "does not have the authority of a U.S. Attorney." In that event, according to Downing, any indictment procured from the grand jury by Mueller's operation would presumably be null and void.
  3. Fox News's assertions that Judge Ellis accused the Mueller team of "lying" and using "unfettered power" to target Trump are not supported by the record. Judge Ellis did express extreme skepticism regarding one of the government's arguments and made the undoubtedly true statement that the government was using Manafort to go after Trump.
  4. The non-justiciable, intra-branch dispute argument by Mueller's people could end up biting them in the butt in another context. Expect President Trump to use a similar argument if he is subpoenaed, asserts Executive Privilege, and is challenged on this point by Mueller. Trump will argue that Mueller, as an inferior officer within the President's DOJ, lacks regulatory authority to contest Executive Privilege, and that the entire matter is a non-justiciable, intra-branch dispute. Contrary to general assumptions, U.S. v. Nixon does not settle this issue. The Supreme Court in Nixon rejected President Nixon's justiciability argument, but did so on the basis that Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski had the explicit authority to contest assertions of Executive Privilege pursuant to the terms of the federal regulation that governed his appointment. As far as I can tell, Special Counsel Mueller has not been given explicit authority to contest issues of Executive Privilege.

(wisenberg)

May 5, 2018 in Corruption, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Fraud, Government Reports, Grand Jury, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, News, Obstruction, Perjury, Privileges, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Of Course Michael Cohen is Taking the Fifth

Everyone is reporting that Michael Cohen is taking the Fifth Amendment (see here and here). This is no surprise.  For the government to get a search warrant, probable cause is needed.  Further when there are parallel proceedings - with both possible civil liability and criminal prosecution, lawyers are quick to request a stay of the civil proceeding pending a resolution of the criminal action. When an individual is a target or subject of an ongoing investigation, not talking is about the best a lawyer can advise to their client. Perhaps the only monumental aspect of this case is that the individual taking the 5th Amendment happened to be the President's lawyer.

(esp)

April 25, 2018 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, News, Privileges, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Law Office Searches - Nothing New Except the President's Lawyer This Time

The NYTimes is reporting that the FBI raided the office of President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.  (see here). Raids on law offices are not new, and there have been many law offices throughout the years that have had FBI teams show up to obtain boxes of materials and computers.  In places such as the Southern District of Florida, one might find a law office raided by the FBI when the attorneys represented individuals engaged in drug dealing, and the government believed that the attorneys were involved in the illegality. But perhaps what is new here, is that the attorney represented the President of the United States, albeit in his personal capacity.

Law firm searches are particularly tricky as the attorney is likely to have privileged information that may be compromised when the investigating agents view items in cases they are opposing.  The US Attorney's Manual sets forth a procedure for searching law offices (U.S. Attys Manual - 9-13.420) to protect this information. The Manual provides that "[f]or purposes of this policy only, 'subject' includes an attorney who is a 'suspect, subject or target,' or an attorney who is related by blood or marriage to a suspect, or who is believed to be in possession of contraband or the fruits or instrumentalities of a crime."   The Manual notes that:

There are occasions when effective law enforcement may require the issuance of a search warrant for the premises of an attorney who is a subject of an investigation, and who also is or may be engaged in the practice of law on behalf of clients. Because of the potential effects of this type of search on legitimate attorney-client relationships and because of the possibility that, during such a search, the government may encounter material protected by a legitimate claim of privilege, it is important that close control be exercised over this type of search. Therefore, the following guidelines should be followed with respect to such searches:"

The guidelines then note that prosecutors should use the "least intrusive approach," obtain "authorization by United States Attorney of Assistant Attorney General," consult with the Criminal Division - including submitting "a draft copy of the proposed search warrant, affidavit in support thereof, and any special instructions to the searching agents regarding search procedures and procedures to be followed to ensure that the prosecution team is not "tainted" by any privileged material inadvertently seized during the search." "If exigent circumstances prevent such prior consultation, the Criminal Division should be notified of the search as promptly as possible." The guidelines also provide that there is "safeguarding procedures" in place "to ensure that privileged materials are not improperly viewed, seized or retained during the course of the search." And in conducting the search, "to protect the attorney-client privilege and to ensure that the investigation is not compromised by exposure to privileged material relating to the investigation or to defense strategy, a "privilege team" should be designated, consisting of agents and lawyers not involved in the underlying investigation."  Specific procedures are used for searching and seizing computers.  Finally, guidelines also exist concerning the review of the materials obtained.

Bottom line - 1) All of this takes time. 2) The use of a search warrant against a law firm is not new. 3) Can a government taint team really assess privileged material? 4) The government procedures are concerned about protecting their cases, but who is monitoring and protecting the attorney's cases?

Hopefully, a court will soon step in to evaluate any privilege issues.

(esp) 

April 9, 2018 in Privileges, Searches | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Environmental Crime Prosecutions Down

Trac reports - "The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during the first six months of FY 2017 the government reported 152 new environment prosecutions. If this activity continues at the same pace, the annual total of prosecutions will be 304 for this fiscal year. According to the case- by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this estimate would be the lowest ever recorded since the Justice Department started tracking its environmental prosecutions over two decades ago."  For more information and data see here.

(esp)(w/disclosure that she received her BS degree from Syracuse University).

May 23, 2017 in Environment, Privileges | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Comey Digs A Deeper Hole

In white collar cases, prosecutors often stress the signs or "indicia" of fraud inherent in a given defendant's conduct.  In the FBI/DOJ investigation of Secretary Clinton we have several signs of incompetence and/or highly irregular conduct on the part of those in charge. The one that stands out most clearly to anyone who practices white collar criminal defense was the decision to allow Cheryl Mills to attend Secretary Clinton's FBI interview. Competent prosecutors do not allow a key witness to participate as an attorney in an FBI interview of the main subject. It just isn't done. It isn't a close question. It is Baby Prosecution 101. Director Comey's attempt to justify this decision during yesterday's House Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing was disingenuous and disgraceful.  According to Comey, the FBI has no power to control which attorney the subject of an investigation chooses to represent her during an interview. This is literally true, but irrelevant and misleading. Prosecutors, not FBI agents, run investigations. Any competent prosecutor faced with the prospect of Ms. Mills's attendance at Secretary Clinton's interview would have informed Clinton's attorneys that this was obviously unacceptable and that, if Clinton insisted on Mills's attendance, the interview would be conducted under the auspices of the federal grand jury. At the grand jury, Secretary Clinton would not have enjoyed the right to her attorney's presence in the grand jury room during questioning. In the event Clinton brought Ms. Mills along to stand outside the grand jury room for purposes of consultation, competent prosecutors would have gone to the federal judge supervising the grand jury and attempted to disqualify Ms. Mills. In all likelihood, such an attempt would have been successful. But of course, it never would have gotten that far, because Secretary Clinton will do anything to avoid a grand jury appearance. So, Director Comey's response was a classic dodge, one of several that he perpetrated during yesterday's hearing. As noted above, the decision to allow Ms. Mills to attend Secretary Clinton's FBI interview was only the clearest example to date of irregular procedures sanctioned by the prosecutors in charge of the Clinton email investigation. More to come on that in a subsequent post.

(wisenberg)

September 29, 2016 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Grand Jury, Investigations, Legal Ethics, News, Obstruction, Privileges | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 21, 2016

New Paper re Internal Investigations and Privilege

I have just published a new article in the Compliance Elliance Journal entitled "Internal Investigations and the Evolving Fate of Privilege."  

Abstract

In 1981, the United States Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling in Upjohn Co. v. United States. The decision made clear that the protections afforded by the attorney-client privilege apply to internal corporate investigations. This piece examines the fundamental tenets of Upjohn, discusses some recent challenges to the applicability of privilege to materials gathered during internal investigations, and considers the manner in which the international nature of modern internal investigations adds complexity and uncertainty to the field.

The article is available for free download here

(LED)

March 21, 2016 in International, Investigations, Privileges, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cosby Decision May Affect Oral Agreements in Practice of Criminal Law

 

The decision by a Philadelphia suburban trial court that a previous prosecutor's publicly announced promise not to prosecute Bill Cosby was not enforceable has virtually no precedential value anywhere, but it may affect how prosecutors, defense lawyers, defendants and targets act throughout the nation. The rule of law from this case seems to be that a former prosecutor's (and perhaps a current prosecutor's) promise not to be prosecute, at least when not memorialized in a writing, is not binding, even when the target relies on it to his potential detriment.  That promise can be disavowed by a successor prosecutor, and perhaps by the prosecutor himself.

Occasionally, cases arise where defense lawyers contend that prosecutors violated oral promises made to them and/or their clients.  Such situations include those where a prosecutor, it is claimed, promised a lawyer making an attorney proffer that if his client testified to certain facts, he would not be prosecuted or would be given a cooperation agreement and favorable sentencing consideration.  Often these instances result in swearing contests between the adversary lawyers: the prosecutor denies making any such promise and the defense lawyer says he did.  In most instances, in the absence of a writing,  the court sides with the prosecutor.  With respect to plea agreements, some courts have set forth a black-letter rule that promises not in writing or on-the-record are always unenforceable.

The Cosby case is very different.  There the (former) prosecutor in testimony avowed his promise, which was expressed in a contemporaneous press release, although there was no formal writing to defense counsel or a court, and expressly testified he did so in part in order to deprive Cosby of the ability to invoke the Fifth Amendment in a civil case brought by the alleged victim,  he also said that he believed his promise was "binding."   Cosby, according to his civil lawyer, testified at a deposition because of that prosecutorial promise.  (Generally, prudent prosecutors, when they announce a declination to prosecute give themselves an "out" by stating that the decision is based on currently-known information and subject to reconsideration based on new evidence).

To a considerable extent, the criminal justice system relies on oral promises by prosecutors (and sometimes judges) to defense lawyers and defendants, especially in busy state courts.  And, in federal courts, while immunity agreements are almost always in writing, federal prosecutors (and occasionally, but rarely,  federal judges) often make unrecorded or unwritten promises.   Sometimes such prosecutorial promises are made in order to avoid the time-consuming need to go through bureaucratic channels; sometimes they are made by line assistants because they fear their superiors would refuse to  formalize or agree to such a promise;  sometimes they are made to avoid disclosure to  a defendant against whom a benefiting cooperator will testify.  Based on the Pennsylvania judge's decision,  some defense lawyers (and some defendants) will believe that prosecutors' oral promises are not worth the breath used to utter them, and, perhaps, since there appears to be no dispute that such a promise was made here, that written promises are barely worth the paper they are written on. 

Defense lawyers are frequently asked by their clients whether they can trust the prosecutor's word in an oral agreement.  My usual answer is that they can: most prosecutors are reliable and honest.  Defense lawyers are then sometimes  asked a variant question about what will happen if the promising prosecutor leaves the office or dies.  My usual answer is that if there is no disagreement as to whether the promise was made, it will be honored.  The Cosby decision has made me reconsider that response. 

There are certain highly-publicized cases of celebrities of little precedential or legal value that have a considerable effect on the practice of law by both prosecutors and defense lawyers.  The case of Martha Stewart, who was, on highly disputed testimony,   convicted of 18 USC 1001 for lying in a voluntary proffer to prosecutors investigating her purported insider trading (which, assuming it occurred, was most likely not a crime),  is still invoked by prosecutors in cautioning witnesses not to lie to them and by defense lawyers in cautioning witnesses about making a voluntary proffer.  The Cosby case will likely be cited by defense lawyers and their clients concerning the uncertain value of oral agreements with prosecutors.  The skepticism of many defense lawyers about the reliability of agreements with the government and trustworthiness of prosecutors will grow.   I suspect the sarcastic refrain of some defense lawyers, "Trust me, I'm the government," will be said more often. 

I assume that the decision will be appealed, and also that a motion will be made to exclude Cosby's deposition because it was a consequence of the promise.  That latter motion is likely to be denied based on the judge's decision on the issue discussed here, although since the judge failed to set forth any reasoning for his decision, there may be room for distinguishing that issue from the one decided.

Although the judge's ruling has no doubt pleased those clamoring for Cosby's conviction and those desiring a decision on the merits, it may have a considerable negative effect on the perceived integrity and reliability of prosecutorial  non-memorialized promises and the actual practice of criminal law.  And it reveals once again how celebrity cases often make bad law.

February 4, 2016 in Celebrities, Civil Litigation, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Martha Stewart, Privileges, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)