Exclusive: Unknown DOJ Lawyers IdentifiedMarch 3, 2010 - 2:07 PM | by: Mike Levine
A day after a conservative group released a video condemning the Justice Department for refusing to identify seven lawyers who previously represented or advocated for terror suspects, Fox News has uncovered the identities of the seven lawyers.
The names were confirmed by a Justice Department spokesman, who said “politics has overtaken facts and reality” in a tug-of-war over the lawyers’ identities.
“Department of Justice attorneys work around the clock to keep this country safe, and it is offensive that their patriotism is being questioned,” said Justice Department Spokesman Matt Miller.
The video by the group Keep America Safe, which dubbed the seven lawyers “The Al Qaeda 7,” is the latest salvo in a lengthty political battle.
For several months, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has led an effort to uncover politically-appointed lawyers within the Justice Department who have advocated for Guantanamo Bay detainees or other terror suspects.
“The administration has made many highly questionable decisions when it comes to national security, ” Grassley said in a recent statement. “[Americans] have a right to know who advises the Attorney General and the President on these critical matters.”
An extensive review of court documents and media reports by Fox News suggests many of the seven lawyers in question played only minor or short-lived roles in advocating for detainees. However, it’s unclear what roles, if any, they have played in detainee-related matters since joining the Justice Department.
Before joining the Justice Department, Jonathan Cedarbaum, now an official with the Office of Legal Counsel, was part of a “firm-wide effort” to represent six Bosnian-Algerian detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, according to the web site of the firm WilmerHale.
That effort brought the case Boumediene v. Bush to the Supreme Court, which reaffirmed the right of detainees to challenge their detention.
But, according to a review by Fox News, Cedarbaum’s name appears only once in court records of detainee-related cases. Specifically, he’s named as part of the WilmerHale legal team in a 2007 filing with the Supreme Court, and he was joined in that filing by Eric Columbus, a former WilmerHale attorney who is now senior counsel in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General.
Alongside Cedarbaum in the Office of Legal Counsel now is Karl Thompson, who while working for the firm O’Melveny & Myers became one of seven attorneys to represent Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
But, according to court documents, Thompson was only part of Khadr’s defense team for seven months, from October 2008 to May 2009.
More than five years before that, Joseph Guerra, now Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the Justice Department, was one of five lawyers from the firm Sidley Austin to help three civil liberties groups, including the self-described “conservative” Rutherford Institute, file a detainee-related brief with the Supreme Court.
The brief urged the justices to hear the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was held as an “enemy combatant” before the Bush Administration decided in 2006 to prosecute him in a civilian court..
Similarly, in November 2006, Tali Farhadian, now an official in the Office of the Attorney General, was an attorney with the firm Debevoise & Plimpton when she helped file a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, urging the federal appeals court to hear the case of Ali al-Marri, the only “enemy combatant” at the time being held on U.S. soil.
In addition, Beth Brinkmann, now Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Civil Division, was a partner with the firm Morrison & Foerster when she helped compile at least two Supreme Court briefs dealing with Guantanamo Bay detainees.
In 2007, she and others co-signed a Supreme Court brief by 20 former federal judges calling for further protection of detainees’ rights, and the next year she co-signed a brief by two advocacy groups, including The Rutherford Institite, urging the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from al-Marri.
The most extensive detainee-related work by a current Justice Department official, though, may have been done by Tony West, the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
For several years, while working in Morrison & Foerster’s San Francisco office, West represented “American Taliban” Johh Walker Lindh, a move that was hotly debated after West was nominated to the Justice Department in January 2009. West wasn’t confirmed until April 2009.
In a recent letter to Grassley, Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich said nine Justice Department lawyers in total previously represented terror suspects, contributed to court briefs in detainee-related cases or otherwise helped advocate for detainees.
Weich acknowledged in the letter that Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal previously represented a Guantanamo Bay detainee and that National Security Division Attorney Jennifer Daskal previously worked for Human Rights Watch, which advocates on behalf of detainees.
Weich declined to identify the other lawyers, but he insisted that no political appointee at the Justice Department “would permit or has permitted any prior affiliation to interfere with the vital task of protecting national security, and any suggestion to the contrary is absolutely false.”
He also said that any suggestions of a “conflict of interest” are “an apparent misapprehension” of legal standards, adding that all political appointees have taken pledges to meet ethical standards.
Asked whether any of the seven previously unidentified lawyers now work on detainee-related issues, Miller declined to comment.
An article in The National Law Journal shows that, as recently as December, Brinkmann represented the government a defamation case that had reached a federal appeals court.
As for the two lawyers who were named by Weich in his recent letter to Grassley, Daskal has “generally worked on policy issues related to detainees” while at the Justice Department, said Weich, adding that her detainee-related work “has been fully consistent with advice she received from career Department officials regarding her [ethical and legal] obligations.”
Weich said Katyal “has not worked on any Guantanamo detainee matters, but has participated in litigation involving detainees who continue to be detained” elsewhere.
Still, the video released Tuesday includes the image of a recent Investors Business Daily headline wondering whether the Department of Justice could be called the “Department of Jihad.”
“Why the secrecy?” asks the video from Keep America Safe, which is run by Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Debra Burlingame, whose brother was killed in the 9/11 attacks, and Bill Kristol, a Fox News contributor.
Miller suggested it all comes down to politics.
“Each of the nine people referenced in the letter filed legal briefs that are available by using something as simple as Google,” he said. “We will not participate in an attempt to drag people’s names through the mud for political purposes.”
The Obama Administration is not the first to hire lawyers who represented or advocated for terror suspects.
Pratik Shah, an assistant to the Solicitor General hired by the Bush Administration, was part of the WilmerHale team that put together arguments for the Boumediene v. Bush case.
Trisha Anderson, an adviser in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel who was also hired by the Bush Administration, was previously an attorney at Attorney General Eric Holder’s former firm, Covington & Burling, where she helped represent 13 Yemeni detainees.
Varda Hussain, an attorney hired in 2008 with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, was an associate with the Washington-based firm Venable when she helped represent three Egyptians being held at Guantanamo Bay.
“Varda has spent over 500 hours in the past year fighting to bring due process to our clients,” a firm newsletter said in 2006.