A chapter from Homeland Insecurity

May 20, 2010 — Print this Page

Last year, a book that was casually, or selectively, disregarded by the media, for whatever reasons, was recognized by two associations that annually grants awards to important books published by independent and university presses. Homeland Insecurity by Terry Turchie and Kathleen Puckett walked off with two national awards- a Benjamin Franklin Award from IPBA and a Book of the Year Award from the IP. The book focuses on the harm that many Washington politicians have brought to the nation in order to satisfy their addiction to power and the lengths to which they went to disarm the only agency equipped to investigate them, the FBI.

The authors know of what they write.They are retired from the FBI. Terry Turchie was a Unit Director in Counter-intelligence and counter-
terrorism and Katheleen Puckett is a clinical psychologist,a retired Special Agent and a founder of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program.

Homeland Insecurity draws open the curtain drawn by key members of congress to prevent transparency. One of the chapters that pours a shard of light on a past and the current Speaker of the House, Dennis HAstert and Nancy Pelosi, is presented to provide a greater understanding of how the system of corruption in Washington works,
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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

DENNIS HASTERT AND NANCY PELOSI: The House Protects its Own

Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), the target of a 14-month public corruption probe, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a Northern Virginia investor who was wearing an FBI wire, according to a search warrant affidavit released yesterday.
“A few days later, on Aug. 3, 2005, FBI agents raided Jefferson’s home in Northeast Washington and found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers.—Washington Post, May 22, 2006

Large numbers of Americans have low opinions of their elected leaders. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in December 2005 found that 49% of those interviewed believed that “most members of Congress are corrupt.” A May 2006 Gallup poll referenced by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) placed the number of Americans feeling that corruption is a serious issue at 83% of those polled, while 64% believed that addressing corruption in its own ranks “should be a high priority for Congress.”

It’s disturbing to realize that an urgent and effective response to the real and growing threat of terrorism in the early 21st century depends on action from elected officials who, under the influence of their addiction to power, have consistently demonstrated track records of poor judgment, unethical and even criminal conduct during their public service.

Corruption thrives when there is a lack of transparency in government. As government leaders from both parties endorse steps to fight today’s terror war that depend more upon secrecy and intelligence rather than on law enforcement and public support, the actions of the government become more and more opaque to its citizens. This is supposedly for the public good, and we are the first to acknowledge that there is an undeniable need to protect sensitive sources of information in conducting the war on terror.
But less transparency also allows politicians to act for their own reasons, and in their own interests, behind a protective curtain of secrecy. Recall the desperate ploy resorted to by the Nixon White House in attempting to conceal its activities from FBI investigators by having the CIA throw a cloak of “national security” over its activities during Watergate.

Adding the promise of financial gain to a politician addicted to power creates an allure that proves irresistible to many. Whenever power and money collide, corruption - followed by a pattern of deceit and cover-up — is often the result. These dynamics are so endemic to human existence that they’ve been depicted in theater for millennia: from ancient Greece to the Elizabethan England of Shakespeare. Greed and a sense of entitlement lead to actions that lead to compromise of the public trust by heads of state as well as bureaucrats at the lowest levels of government.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 16, 2005, had this to say about public corruption and its impact on the fight against terror:


“Public corruption continues to pose the greatest threat to the integrity of all levels of government. Recent investigative efforts have been intensified to identify and convict Immigration, Department of State, and DMV officials illegally selling visas or other citizenship documents and drivers licenses to anyone with enough money. Their illegal activities potentially conceal the identity and purpose of terrorists...facilitating their entry, travel, and operation without detection in the U.S...Many major metropolitan areas in the U.S. have witnessed the indictment and conviction of corrupt public officials who betrayed the public trust for profit or personal gain. Over the last two years alone, the FBI has convicted more than 1050 corrupt government employees, including 177 federal officials, 158 state officials, 360 local officials...”

Nearly two hundred government officials have been indicted for misappropriation of billions of recovery dollars sent to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Over 80% have already been convicted on charges of fraud and bribery.

The case of Democratic Congressman William Jefferson from Louisiana presents a stunning example of the fierce opposition by politicians of both parties to investigation of their own actions by the FBI.

Jefferson currently faces a sixteen count indictment alleging he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and was involved in racketeering, conspiracy and money laundering. He and some members of his staff allegedly solicited millions of dollars from African business deals that were negotiated through his congressional office. FBI agents serving a search warrant on Jefferson’s New Orleans’ home found $90,000 in cash in his freezer, days after he received $100,000 in cash from an FBI undercover agent posing as an intermediary for African business interests.

The public revelation in 2006 of Louisiana Democratic congressman William Jefferson’s indictment on charges of bribery was overshadowed almost immediately by condemnation from Republicans and Democrats alike that the court-authorized “raid” on Jefferson’s congressional office by the FBI threatened the Constitution itself.

United in their outrage, then Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert and Democratic Party Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a joint statement:

“The Justice Department was wrong to seize records from Congressman Jefferson’s office in violation of the Constitutional principle of Separation of Powers, the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution, and the practice of the last 219 years. These constitutional principles were not designed by the Founding Fathers to place anyone above the law. Rather, they were designed to protect the Congress and the American people from abuses of power, and those principles deserve to be vigorously defended.”

The invasion of the seat of Congressional power by the FBI — for whatever reason — was seen as intolerable, and a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. Although he acknowledged that the raid was unprecedented, Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, rejected the Bipartisan House of Representatives claim that it violated the Constitution:

“...the Speech or Debate Clause [of the Constitution] does not shield Members of Congress from the execution of valid search warrants. Congressman Jefferson’s interpretation...would have the effect of converting every congressional office into a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime.”

Hogan’s decision was immediately overruled by an appellate court that directed him to consider individual seized documents in the case that Jefferson claimed were covered under legislative privilege. President George W. Bush played along, freezing the search warrant pending further review by the Justice Department Solicitor General. Although they have a difficult time agreeing on the most simple of concepts, the leadership of both parties agreed without prior consultation or debate that invasion of their congressional offices was a threat to the real balance of power in Washington: the “safe harbor” they allege the Constitution has awarded them in return for their selfless labors as government servants.

Although he was under indictment, Louisiana voters returned Jefferson to the Congress in a 2006 re-election bid. It didn’t seem to surprise his constituents that Jefferson had blatantly taken bribe money in exchange for his influence and ability to act in his official capacity as a U.S. congressman, and they expressed little outrage either on their own or on his behalf. They had seen it all before.

When their power is challenged, politicians know from the experiences of their colleagues that the best defense is to immediately use the media to counterattack the investigating agency - usually, the FBI. It’s all theater, brought on by a mutual concern that investigations of congressmen like Jefferson will spill over into the Democratic and Republican machines themselves, and will expose “the way business is done in Washington” to be the remarkably corrupt process it is.

In fact, corruption probes don’t work the way Speaker Hastert and Democratic Leader Pelosi described. However much they believe that the President of the United States and the Attorney General can choose who will be subjected to an investigation by the FBI and who will not, investigations begin when FBI agents do the basics of the job they’re sworn to do: talk to people.

Across the FBI’s 56 Field Divisions and from within its Headquarters Divisions, FBI agents work daily to develop relationships with a variety of American citizens representing all walks of life. They talk to thousands of people who report suspicious and criminal behavior, and then knock on doors, conduct interviews, gain trust and consider the likelihood that the information they gather is either true or untrue, based upon what they hear and what they are able to develop. Every case develops a different way, but they all come together based upon direct contact with people who contribute information that demonstrates a clear probability of the violation of federal law. If that probable violation is demonstrated to be by an official charged with the public trust, a public corruption case is opened.

As specific evidence is developed to indicate a crime has occurred or is occurring, any FBI agent in one of the Bureau’s offices can bring to bear unlimited resources, diverse talents and highly specialized skill sets to address the issue. When solving a crime hinges on forensic evidence, agents can call upon the real “CSI.” Every FBI field office has its own Evidence Response Teams (ERT), whose members have extensive and continuous training in identifying, collecting and preserving evidence at the most complex of crime scenes. From sifting through the charred rubble at the site of the first al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 to the millions of financial records at companies like Enron, Bureau specialists — often working with other federal, state and local law enforcement evidence technicians - routinely pull the most difficult elements together for analysis and presentation in a court of law as evidence of crime.
Whether the forensic evidence involves fingerprints, DNA, hair, fibers, tire treads or a hundred other possibilities, investigators bring cases together by combining the use of physical evidence with witness and expert interviews. While the average investigation may involve limited numbers of these and wrap up quickly, there are others that may take years and involve interviews of thousands of people. Forensic evidence, as vital as it is, must be accompanied by explanations as to why the evidence was found at a certain place or location and in many types of crimes, must fit hand in hand with evidence of the intent of the accused. Evidence of intent is found by knocking on doors, building relationships and “connecting the dots,” which is the FBI’s stock in trade, despite the hypocritical howling politicians engaged in for public display as they criticized the Bureau for its alleged failure to do so after the tragedy of 9/11.

When the dots lead to the doors of Congress, as they did in William Jefferson’s case, politicians appear to be far less happy with the FBI’s ability to connect them.

The political corruption case involving William Jefferson developed like all FBI cases before it. Through a combination of people reporting information and the development of evidence to validate the allegations, the case picked up steam and pointed in his direction. The collection of facts led to indictments by an impartial Federal Grand Jury and issuance of a search warrant by a federal judge.

The Jefferson investigation wasn’t suggested by the Executive Branch or driven by the Department of Justice; it was conducted by FBI personnel doing their jobs and enforcing the law. Although corrupt officials — as well as other criminals - may not like it, the Bureau receives a continual stream of information from the public — which includes political insiders with a whole variety of motivations — that must be evaluated during the investigative process. This isn’t done on behalf of the administration — although Presidents and their staffs have often attempted to influence investigations (as in Watergate), it’s done rather as a matter of procedure, and according to indications that violations of specific federal law may have occured.

When ABC News aired a story portraying Dennis Hastert as “in the mix” of a political corruption investigation involving Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the former Speaker went on the offensive. He labeled the leak of the information as a reprisal for his condemning of the FBI’s raid on the Congressional office of Congressman Jefferson.”We’re just not going to be intimidated.” Hastert fumed, and he went on to state the leak was an attempt to “smokescreen some of the separation of powers stuff that we’re doing.”

Separation of powers was a hot topic at the time on Capitol Hill. As an aggressive FBI conducted a leak investigation to identify who might have leaked classified information to the press about the NSA domestic surveillance program, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman questioned the tactics of the FBI and the Justice Department. Harman was quoted as saying,

“There is no credible claim that anyone in Congress leaked anything. I urge the Justice Department to carefully consider the separation of powers issue and the appearance of intimidation before proceeding any further.”

There was, in the end, considerable evidence supporting the identification of Senator Richard Shelby as the member of Congress who leaked the information. However, neither the Senate Ethics Committee nor the Justice Department saw to it that he suffered any consequences for his actions.
Scandals involving the Washington, D.C. political elite are nothing new, and they don’t necessarily shock the public. There have been massive corruption probes before, and there will be corruption probes in future. But the threat corruption poses to American democracy and clean government in an age of state and organization-sponsored terror has deadly ramifications that threaten American national security itself.
Politicians who either engage in corruption or refuse to deal with it apply the same poor judgment in evaluating avenues to war, debating the effectiveness of torture and charting the nation’s future strategies in fighting terror. The pattern of failure by top Congressional leaders to set the proper standards for all who come through the doors of Congress allows corruption to flourish, diffuses responsibility and endangers national security by a tacit acceptance of bad behavior and corruption in their own ranks.

Illinois congressman Dennis Hastert was elected to the House of Representatives in 1987. He became the Speaker of the House in January 1999, and served in the position until the Democrats regained the majority during the November 2006 elections. Replaced by Nancy Pelosi, Hastert announced that he would leave Congress at the end of 2007.

Hastert leaves behind him a range of ethical issues and confrontations with the FBI. In response, he repeatedly blasted the Bureau and the Department of Justice for allegedly singling him out for special scrutiny.
Hastert’s own actions, however, were the reason for public questioning of both his motives and actions respective to his own political power as Speaker.

Hastert was in charge when allegations erupted in 2006 that Representative Mark Foley, a Republican from Florida, had been sending inappropriate emails to teenage boys serving as House pages. Foley resigned suddenly from his position and Hastert himself called for a Department of Justice investigation.
Although that investigation is ongoing, a House panel released its own findings on the matter in December, 2006. The panel concluded that Republicans had ignored several instances of similar behavior by Foley over a ten-year period and that two of Hastert’s aides, Chief of Staff Scott Palmer and Chief Counsel Ted Van Der Meid, were repeatedly warned about Foley’s improper behavior towards House pages. Two Republican Congressmen, John Boehner of Ohio and Thomas Reynolds of New York, contradicted Hastert’s account that he knew nothing about the conduct until Foley’s resignation. Both Boehner and Reynolds told the panel they had advised Hastert of Foley’s conduct early in 2006.

Despite this, the House panel concluded that none of its rules were broken, and that there had been no systemic cover-up of the facts. In a telling phrase, they announced that “there is some evidence that political considerations played a role.”

In an article in the Baltimore Sun dated January 7, 2005, “Enabling Corruption,” Gary Ruskin cites yet another example of the complacent attitude and flawed decision making process that is endemic in the political apparatus of the United States:

“...Speaker Dennis Hastert wants to replace the current chairman of the House ethics committee, Colorado Republican Joel Hefley, with Lamar Smith of Texas, who is notoriously soft on corruption. Mr. Smith is famous in ethics circles for being chairman of the only ethics committee ever to have asked a federal judge to grant limited immunity to the target of an investigation, GOP Rep. Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, who was chairman of the House Committee on Transportation Infrastructure. In 1997, Mr. Smith also was the only ethics panel member to vote against reprimanding Speaker Newt Gingrich and fining the Georgian Republican $300,000.”

Speakers of the House have long been notorious for getting themselves into ethical and legal issues, so it’s important to note that Dennis Hastert is only following the examples of his predecessors. Speaker Carl Albert retired in the middle of the Koreagate scandal brought on by South Korean political fundraiser Tongsun Park. Tip O’Neill came to the rescue of his friend and colleague John Murtha during the FBI’s Abscam probe, securing Murtha’s seat in Congress even though he had failed to advise the FBI that he had been approached by Arab businessmen offering bribes. Jim Wright resigned as the House Ethics Committee explored ethics violations charges against him. The charges against Wright were brought by Newt Gingrich, who left Congress in 1998, himself the subject of 84 ethics charges. Bob Livingston of Louisiana was slated to replace Gingrich until Hustler Magazine exposed Livingston’s sexual dalliances. Tom DeLay resigned from Congress in June 2006, as investigations of massive influence peddling swirled around his Republican Party. And Dennis Hastert left Congress at the end of 2007 - after joining forces with Nancy Pelosi to make a stand against FBI agents “raiding” Congressional offices (executing a federal search warrant) looking for evidence of political corruption.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives is second in the line of presidential succession. The position involves tremendous power and an equal amount of responsibility to the public trust. The fact that so many Speakers have sorely abused that trust is itself an indication of the corrupting influence of power, as well as the fact that the higher one’s position, the greater the temptation to abuse one’s power becomes.

As the first woman to become Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi pledged to return the image of the U.S. Congress to a public service rather than public corruption. Her actions on behalf of William Jefferson, however, are not the only indications that she is as much a politician of the old school as her predecessors.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Alcee Hastings as a United States Federal Court Judge in 1979. By 1981, a Federal Grand Jury had indicted Hastings for accepting a $150,000 bribe to protect two convicted mobsters from receiving a prolonged prison sentence. A key witness at Hastings’ trial was his friend who had participated in the conspiracy surrounding the bribery. A Florida jury convicted Hastings’ friend, but acquitted the judge. Subsequent Federal appellate court reviews of the case forced it into the United States Congress, for consideration of impeachment. In 1989, Hastings stood impeached by the House of Representatives and was convicted by the Senate on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The investigation of Hastings’ bribery was conducted by the FBI, which had him under surveillance at critical times, and the Bureau developed the sources, evidence and the court case that resulted in Hastings’ eventual impeachment and conviction. Congressman John Conyers gave this statement to the Congress after he independently reviewed the evidence and weighed the case against Hastings:

“As a lawyer who occasionally got into courtrooms, I have been before my share of hostile judges, racist judges, in the North and in the South. I found nothing more satisfying, in the course of my congressional career, than to help the development of a capable and vigorous bar of African-American lawyers, men and women, and the elevation of some of its more outstanding practitioners to the prestigious position of Federal judge where they can serve,not merely as dispensers of equal justice under the law, but as models for their community and for the nation.

“So, I am saddened to come before you today to urge the removal of one of the handful of black judges who presently occupy the Federal bench. I am not happy to come here to argue that Alcee L. Hastings has forfeited his right to one of the most honored places in this American political system. But we did not wage the civil rights struggle in order to substitute one form of judicial corruption for another.

“...It is precisely because he betrayed his trust and betrayed those who looked to him for leadership, the possibility of a fairer, better system, that our obligation to face the truth as we see it in this matter is so great.”

In 1992, Hastings was elected to represent the 23rd Congressional District in Florida. In 2006, after the Democratic Party recaptured the House, Nancy Pelosi began considering Hastings for the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. In doing so, Pelosi overlooked an obviously qualified candidate, Jane Harmon, who had substantial experience in national security matters and the respect of other members of congress. But Pelosi did not like Harmon or her lobbying for the post.

Public outcry at Pelosi’s choice of Alcee Hastings forced her to retreat, nominating instead Congressman Silvestri Reyes, who today serves in the important post. But Alcee Hastings remains a member of the Committee, passing judgment on the FBI and some of the nation’s most sensitive intelligence operations. In a bid to become the chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence, Hastings had this to say about the agency he would oversee:

“...the FBI tampered with the evidence to trump up their charge that I lied. It was FBI whistleblower Frederic Whitehurst of the FBI who came forward with the revelation that Fred Malone in the FBI laboratory cut the strap of a man-purse of mine (they were popular in the ‘70s) and then testified that the lab determined that I had cut the strap to provide myself an alibi. That and additional revelations about improper FBI conduct in my case caused Judge Sporkin of the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia to state that if he had the constitutional authority, he would reverse the impeachment.”

Hastings’ election to Congress and placement on the House Intelligence Committee gives him the green light to see and hear the nation’s most sensitive investigative efforts by the agency he so detests. Years after his impeachment, Hastings paints a “common man” picture of his past:

“I don’t know anybody who has had their life gone over for nine years and they didn’t find anything...There were no Swiss bank accounts. What they found was I drank liquor and I had some girl friends. That’s not a crime.”

At the very least. Alcee Hastings’ past behavior seems to be at odds with the qualities of character necessary for for serving on one of the most sensitive committees in Congress. It’s clear that in considering him for chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Pelosi was motivated by political relationships more than careful consideration of national security.

Placing politics before national security has become the hallmark of Nancy Pelosi’s judgment. Consider the thinking behind her decision to support Democratic Congressman John Murtha for House majority Leader. In a letter to Murtha she wrote:

“Your strong voice for national security, the war on terror and Iraq provides genuine leadership for our party, and I count on you to lead on these vital issues...for this and all you have done for Democrats in the past and especially this last year, I am pleased to support your candidacy for majority leader for the 110th Congress.”

During the late 1970s, FBI agents posed as business representatives from a Middle Eastern country and sought to bribe United States Congressmen who thought they were currying potentially lucrative deals with a fictitious Arab sheik. By the time the cases were exposed and came to trial, 31 politicians were implicated in the scandal. A United States Senator and five United States Congressmen were convicted of bribery and conspiracy as a result of the ABSCAM investigation.

Although never charged with any crime, Congressman John Murtha was videotaped during a meeting with one of the supposed Middle Eastern businessmen, where he said the following:
“Now...I want to deal with you guys a while before I made any transactions at all, period. I want to say, ‘Look put some money in these guys.’ And I,just let me know, so I can say, you know, these guys are going to- they want to do business in our district. Then there’s a couple businesses that I’m not personally involved in but would be very helpful for the district, that I could make a big play of, be very helpful to me.

After we’ve done some business, then I might change my mind. But right now, that’s all I’m interested in... And I’m going to tell you this. If anybody can do it, and I’m not bull (expletive deleted) you fellows, I can get it done my way.

The undercover agents offered Murtha a $50,000 bribe, which he didn’t accept, although his wording appeared to preserve the possibility that he would reconsider after further evaluation of his suitors. Murtha and Pelosi, in his defense, have repeatedly emphasized that he didn’t accept any bribes and didn’t commit any crime. Once again, it is his faulty judgment and the dubious nature of his conduct that are at issue, and these issues are unresolved.Why didn’t Murtha report this incident to the FBI? He’d been offered a bribe, which is clearly a crime, He might logically have concluded that other politicians were being offered bribes by foreign nationals, which would also pose a serious potential threat to national security. Why not report the event to the appropriate law enforcement authorities?

Murtha has never been forced to answer the question, and has never provided a satisfactory explanation. Pelosi should have insisted upon one. But her judgment now is just as questionable as his judgment then. In considering Murtha for House Majority Leader, Pelosi again placed relationships and loyalties over national security. She has continued to use her powerful position as House Speaker to maintain the status quo. Despite all the fanfare accompanying her ascendancy to the position, she has failed to establish an oversight panel to aggressively pursue and emphasize ethics and honesty in the House of Representatives. It simply would not be the politically correct thing to do.
Significantly, the number of her fellow democrats who decided not to support her selection of Murtha resulted in the election instead of Congressman Steny Hoyer as majority leader (by a vote of 149-86).

In reaction to this development, Murtha said,”I am disconcerted that some are making headlines by resorting to unfounded allegations that occurred 26 years ago. I thought we were above this type of swift-boating attack. This is not how we restore integrity and civility to the United States Congress.”

For his part, Murtha has resisted a variety of ideas that would have made “the People’s House” a more honest one. A Wall Street Journal article from November 15, 2006 reported positions Murtha has taken on important ethics issues:

“In 1997 Mr. Murtha joined with Rep. Billy——-, a Louisiana Republican, in blocking outside groups and private citizens from filing complaints directly with the House Ethics Committee.”

“Mr. Murtha also pushed for a law that would require the Justice Department reimburse the legal bills of any member of Congress it investigated if it was shown the probe was not ‘substantially justified’- a privilege no other American enjoyed.”

Integrity and civility will be restored to the United States Congress and to politics in America when American citizens use their votes to clean the place up, since Republicans and Democrats alike refuse to do it themselves.
Whether they’re called political scandals, cover-ups, conflicts of interest, ethical violations, or violations of the federal criminal statues related to obstructing justice and lying, the result is the same. Americans lose faith and trust in their government, and are unsurprised and even cynical about the long history of betrayal of the public trust by elected officials. The sad truth is that no one expects politicians to behave or perform any better than they historically have.

But since these politicians are also the same people who are charged with insuring the safety of Americans in this latest age of terror, it is more important than ever to carefully monitor their “business as usual.”


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