Mike Hasten: Botched wiretap attempt named ‘La. Watergate’

February 1, 2010

Mike Hasten

Gannett Capital Bureau

mhasten@gannett.com

Louisiana Democratic Party Chair Michael McHale labeled what appeared to be an attempt to wiretap U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans “Louisiana Watergate.”

The four young men arrested for the botched attempt to, as one of their lawyers said, catch Landrieu staffers ignoring calls complaining about her health-care vote fall far short of being Watergate-quality burglars.

But they’re still in big trouble for entering a federal office under false pretenses.

One of the four being the son of acting U.S Attorney Bill Flanagan in Shreveport makes it a bit more complicated.

Flanagan, who had been the lead assistant to U.S. Attorney Donald Washington, stepped into the top spot in mid-January when Washington resigned after learning that he would not be reappointed.

Jim Letten, the U.S. Attorney in New Orleans who is investigating the ordeal, is in the middle of a political play staged by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who stopped short of condemning the pretend phone repair crew.

Vitter said “it’s obvious this is a very serious matter. We’re blessed with an extremely competent U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans, and I know they’ll handle this as aggressively as they have other serious cases.”

Despite the fact that Landrieu told President Obama that she wanted Letten to stay in office and it’s tradition for a president to follow the advice of the senior senator of his political party in a state, Vitter put a hold on every federal criminal justice appointee Obama has named in Louisiana.

He said he would release the hold when Obama names Letten the U.S. Attorney.

Well, it’s happened, so Vitter is now taking steps to remove the hold.

Among those to come up for Senate confirmation is Lafayette attorney Stephanie Finley as U.S. Attorney in Shreveport.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who does not have a particularly close relationship with Landrieu, said the attempt to record her staff was “not acceptable.” He said he trusts the federal law enforcement system to “punish those actions.”

“That office represents the United States senator who was elected by the people of Louisiana,” Jindal said. “I don’t care what your politics are … we need to respect the law.”

Breitbart Says Letten Leaked on Landrieu Phone Case

By Ryan J. Reilly | February 1, 2010

An associate of conservative video-maker James O’Keefe, who is charged with trying to interfere with the phones at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) office in New Orleans, has accused the prosecutor overseeing the case of leaking information about the arrests to the news media.

Andrew Breitbart, a former Drudge Report editor and founder of BigGovernment.com, which employs O’Keefe, directed his ire at Jim Letten, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Breitbart made the claims in an appearance on Fox News. Letten’s office has denied his allegations.

Breitbart also alleged that  O’Keefe “sat in jail for 28 hours without access to an attorney.”

O’Keefe, 25, gained fame last year for making secret videos in several offices of the community organizing group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) that led to congressional efforts to cut off federal funding for the group.

O’Keefe was arrested last week in New Orleans along with three other conservative activists, including Robert Flanagan, the son of William J. Flanagan, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana in Lafayette.

Breitbart said that Letten’s purported leaks were a “concerted effort” to frame the episode in a way that would put O’Keefe in a bad position, reports Talking Points Memo. But the first report of the arrests came last Tuesday after the U.S. Attorney’s Office put out a press release around the same time as an article on the case, in the Times-Picayune was posted online.

Asked what motivation the U.S. Attorney would have to make such an effort, Breitbart responded: “Well, it’s tied to the Justice Department. And we’ve been very aggressive in asking Eric Holder to investigate what’s seen on the ACORN tapes, and he’s ignored it.”

Letten is a Republican who was appointed by President George W. Bush. He has bipartisan support from the state’s two senators to continue serving during the Obama administration, and was today named to an advisory panel for the Attorney General, a strong indication that Holder will retain him in his post.

Letten’s office denied Breitbart’s allegations in an interview with TPMmuckraker this afternoon. Jan Mann, first assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, told the site: “The suggestion that he makes about the motivations of our office are untrue. We’re not going to try this case in the press. But we deny the accusations about our office.”

According to an Associated Press narrative about the events leading up to the arrests, Flanagan  met O’Keefe, Joseph Basel, 24, and Stan Dai, 24, after O’Keefe spoke at The Pelican Institute, a think tank where Flanagan works. Their first meeting came five days before their arrest, said J. Garrison Jordan, Flanagan’s lawyer.

Flanagan, writes the AP, was an All-American pitcher for the Division III baseball team at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., He enrolled last year at Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, in Fairfax, Va. And he interned for Republican Rep. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Sen. Lamar Alexander, (R-Tenn.).

This story has been edited from its original version for clarity and to make clear that Jim Letten’s office denies the allegations.

http://www.mainjustice.com/2010/02/01/breitbart-says-letten-leaked-on-landrieu-phone-case/

Attorney General Holder Appoints Three New U.S. Attorneys to Advisory Committee

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Attorney General Eric Holder today announced the appointment of three new U.S. Attorneys to serve on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC): Sanford Coats of the Western District of Oklahoma; Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio; and Jim Letten of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

“I welcome the addition of these U.S. Attorneys to the AGAC, which plays a critical role in the department.  I will rely heavily on them as we work to further the department’s efforts to reduce violent crime and gang violence, promote civil rights, ensure fairness in the marketplace and above all, preserve our national security,” said Attorney General Holder.

The AGAC, chaired by U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota B. Todd Jones, was created in 1973.  The committee, which reports to the Attorney General through the Deputy Attorney General, represents the voice of the U.S. Attorneys and provides advice and counsel to the Attorney General on policy, management and operational issues impacting the Offices of the U.S. Attorneys.

A brief bio on each appointee is below:

Sanford Coats was presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma on Dec. 30, 2009.  Prior to his appointment he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma (2004-2009); Assistant U.S. Attorney on detail for the Eastern District of Louisiana (2007), and an associate attorney with Fellers, Snider, Blankenship, Bailey & Tippens (1999-2003). 

Steven Dettelbach was presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio on Sept. 17, 2009.  He previously served as a partner with Baker & Hostetler LLP (2006-2009); Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio (2003-2006); Counsel to the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate (2001-2003); Assistant U.S. Attorney (1997-1999) and Deputy Chief for the Southern Division, (1997-2001), District of Maryland; trial attorney (1992-1996) and Acting Deputy Chief (1996-1997), Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice; and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Columbia (1993).  Dettelbach serves as Chair of the AGAC’s Civil Rights Subcommittee. 

Jim Letten was presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush.  He was the court appointed U.S. Attorney from August 2001-2005, and Attorney General appointed from April – August 2001.  Letten served as First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana (1994-2001), and Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force Unit (1990-1994).  In 2005, Letten was awarded the 2005 U.S. Attorney General’s Medallion for Distinguished Service recognizing his leadership following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  Letten serves on the AGAC’s Terrorism and National Security Subcommittee, Violent and Organized Crime Subcommittee and Environmental Issues Working Group.   

The full Committee is listed below:   

B. Todd Jones, U.S. Attorney, District of Minnesota, Chair

Paul J. Fishman, U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey, Vice Chair

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York

Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona

Sanford C. Coats, U.S. Attorney, Western District of Oklahoma

Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Ohio

Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney, Western District of Washington

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Illinois

Jim Letten, U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Louisiana

Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Virginia

Peter F. Neronha, U.S. Attorney, District of Rhode Island  

Joyce White Vance, U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Alabama

Channing D. Phillips, Acting U.S. Attorney, ex officio, District of Columbia

John S. Davis, Criminal Chief, Eastern District of Virginia

Gretchen Witt, Civil Chief, District of New Hampshire

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice

RELATED LINKS
http://www.justice.gov     http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/February/10-ag-107.html

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/attorney-general-holder-appoints-three-new-us-attorneys-to-advisory-committee-83261367.html

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten recuses himself from Landrieu phone tampering case

By Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune

February 01, 2010, 6:16PM

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten last week decided to remove himself from the prosecution of four young men arrested for trying to tamper with the phones in U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office.

According to a brief news release sent to reporters on Monday evening, Letten decided to recuse himself from the investigation and “potential prosecution” of the men because of “various relevant factors.” These factors, which the release stated were discussed with officials at the U.S. Department of Justice, are not named.

The recusal decision came the day after the men were arrested last week and the same day they were released from custody, according to the news release.

One of the arrested men, Robert Flanagan, 24, is the son of William Flanagan, who is the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. The other three men include James O’Keefe, 25, a conservative filmaker who made hidden-camera videos at ACORN field offices, and two out-of-state conservative activists: Joseph Basel, 24, and Stan Dai, 24.

Despite Letten’s recusal, the case will not be removed to another jurisdiction, according to the statement. Instead, Letten’s first assistant U.S. attorney, veteran federal prosecutor Jan Mann, will act as the “Attorney for the United States in this matter,” according to the release.

Flanagan’s attorney last week said that Basel, O’Keefe and his client went to Landrieu’s office in the Hale Boggs federal building in order to make a video showing that the senator’s staff was ignoring phone calls from angry constitutents. Basel and Flanagan were dressed as telephone repairmen, while O’Keefe reportedly filmed the other men’s interaction with his cell phone. Dai remained in a car parked on the street with some kind of listening device.

The four were arrested by U.S. marshals and face charges of entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony.

http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2010/02/us_attorney_jim_letten_recused.html

Vitter to stop holding up Obama nominees

  • Associated Press (AP)
  • Published: Feb 1, 2010 – UPDATED: 3:05 p.m.
  • U.S. Sen. David Vitter says he’ll stop holding up President Barack Obama’s nominations for federal prosecutors and judgeship positions in Louisiana.

    Vitter had been refusing to sign off on the nominations because he wanted assurances the White House wouldn’t get rid of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten in the Eastern District, based in New Orleans. Vitter says he’s now confident Letten will remain in the post and will remove his objections to the other appointments.

    Vitter says he’s secure Letten will keep his job because U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder named Letten on Monday to a committee that provides advice to the attorney general on policy, management and operational issues.

    http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/83280917.html

    Fallin says suspect worked in her office
    He started out as an unpaid intern and worked his way toward a temporary paid position

    By JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
    Published: 1/28/2010  2:31 AM
    Last Modified: 1/28/2010  4:46 AM

    WASHINGTON U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin’s office confirmed Wednesday that Robert Flanagan, who was arrested and charged as part of an alleged scheme to gain access to a U.S. senator’s telephones, worked in her office last year.

    Still, press secretary Katie Bruns said the Oklahoma Republican remains a co-sponsor of a congressional resolution honoring one of the other suspects for previous efforts to go undercover and gain information on the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, or ACORN.

    Neither Fallin nor her office offered any comment on the specific criminal charges facing Robert Flanagan, 24; James O’Keefe, 25, who was behind the ACORN video; Joseph Basel, 24, and Stan Dai, 24.

    Fallin had been reluctant to confirm that Flanagan was her former employee.

    Bruns said the Department of Justice had been unable to provide Fallin’s office with official identifying records such as date of birth and Social Security number.

    She confirmed his identify after a mug shot surfaced.

    When asked whether the Flanagan who worked for the congresswoman had access to sensitive material sent in by her constituents, Bruns responded no.

    “All interns in Congresswoman Mary Fallin’s office are responsible for maintaining general front-office duties, including answering phones, conducting and scheduling tours of the Capitol, logging and writing office correspondence, and a variety of other administrative assistant tasks,” she said.

    Bruns said neither Fallin nor anyone else in her office knew Flanagan or his family before he was hired or the others allegedly involved.

    According to news reports, Flanagan’s father is an acting U.S. attorney in Louisiana.

    Bruns said Flanagan, who interned in Fallin’s office from Aug. 18, 2008, through April 30, 2009, started out as an unpaid intern and worked his way toward a temporary paid position.

    “He was compensated $1,000 a month over four months for a total of $4,000,” she said.

    According to information provided from the investigation in Louisiana conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, the operation was designed to gain access to the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on Jan. 25.

    Despite the new charges, Fallin still wants to be listed as a co-sponsor of the resolution honoring O’Keefe.

    “The resolution is completely unrelated to the events that transpired in Sen. Landrieu’s office on Tuesday,” Bruns said.

    Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., also is listed as a co-sponsor.

    Cole said, “Initial reports of these new allegations are troubling, but they don’t negate ACORN’s numerous faults or detract from the positive outcome that resulted from their exposure.”

    Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, who introduced the resolution honoring O’Keefe, said violating the law is “not something I condone.”

    “Citizens have an important role in helping to expose waste and/or fraud when their tax dollars are being spent, but it must be done in a lawful manner,” Olson said.

    Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20100128_16_A9_WASHIN599536

    Phone tampering case exposes patronage squabble

    The Associated Press
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010; 3:06 PM

    WASHINGTON — A criminal case against four conservative activists accused of trying to tamper with the New Orleans office phones of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has highlighted a patronage squabble between the White House and a Republican senator.

    Bringing the charges against the four men was Jim Letten, the U.S. attorney in New Orleans and a holdover Bush Administration appointee. One of four arrested Monday in the alleged plot was Robert Flanagan, the son of Bill Flanagan, a career prosecutor who is the acting U.S. attorney in Shreveport, La.

    A week ago, President Barack Obama nominated Stephanie Finley for the U.S. attorney’s post in Shreveport.

    Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is blocking Senate action on Finley’s nomination and Obama’s other nominees for federal justice system posts in Louisiana until he hears from the White House whether Obama will let Letten keep his job, Vitter’s office said Wednesday.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/27/AR2010012703199.html

    Did Louisiana’s Republican Elite Support the Landrieu Phone Squad?

    There’s still a lot more to learn here, but this is shaping up to be a very interesting scandal.

    The four conservative activists arrested for tampering with the phones of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu earlier this week have been linked to the Pelican Institute, a conservative New Orleans think tank. Pelican is a relatively new organization, but it appears to have strong ties to members of the state’s Republican elite, most notably Representative Charles Boustany.

    Though only one of the tamperers is from Louisiana, Pelican appears to have been the group’s home base there. The apparent ringleader, James O’Keefe — also the activist behind last September’s ACORN videotape — spoke at a Pelican Institute luncheon last week. Another one of the four, Robert Flanagan, is a paid blogger for Pelican (Flanagan is the son of the acting US attorney in Shreveport, Bill Flanagan). Pelican’s founder, Kevin Kane, blogs at BigGovernment, the site where O’Keefe first posted the ACORN video.

    TPMMuckraker has found that Pelican “enjoys a prominent voice in Louisiana political circles.” A close look at its board of directors helps explain why this is the case.

    Pelican listed three board members on its 2008 990 (available from Guidestar): founderKevin Kane, lawyer Stephen Gele, and one “J LeBlanc.” A LinkedIn page reveals that the listing refers to Jennifer LeBlanc, a Republican fundraiser who chaired the Lousiana finance committee of presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani in 2008.

    LeBlanc is extremely tightly linked to Representative Charles Boustany, who was a close friend of her late husband, Patrick LeBlanc, before he died in a 2008 plane crash. LeBlanc was a top Boustany donor, as well, and he and Jennifer hosted a high-profile fundraiser for his Congressional campaign in 2005. Vice president Dick Cheney was the featured guest. The LeBlancs, Boustany, and Senator David Vitter all endorsed Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for president in 2007.

    Boustany also endorsed LeBlanc during his unsuccessful run for state representative that year. That bid was undone by ongoing scandals related to LeBlanc’s prison operation and construction business, LCS Corrections. The company operates private prisons throughout the southeast and Texas, and has been investigated by the FBI for “contracting irregularities” related to possible bribery schemes.

    Boustany’s brother-in-law, Christopher Edwards, was LeBlanc’s attorney during his campaign, and threatened to sue LeBlanc’s opponent over a negative ad. Edwards is the nephew of disgraced Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards.

    When Patrick LeBlanc died, Boustany released the following statement:

    “Pat was my dear friend, a loving family man and a leader in the Lafayette community. It is a terrible loss, and my thoughts and prayers are with Jennifer and his children. Bridget and I will miss him greatly.”

    Boustany and Pelican were both out in front of the ACORN scandal in August and September.

    Boustany was one of the first members of Congress to react to news of the ACORN videotape last September. The day after the news broke, on September 11, 2009, he called for a House Oversight investigation of the group’s tax prep activities.

    TPM has reported that Pelican published an investigative report on ACORN in August 2009, one month before the O’Keefe videotape was released. The report alleged that ACORN had evaded federal taxes on a number of occasions.

    Was there coordination between Boustany, BigGovernment, Pelican, and O’Keefe? What role does Jennifer LeBlanc play at the Pelican Institute? Who funds the organization?

    There’s still a lot more to learn here, but this is shaping up to be a very interesting scandal.Leia and WileECoyote have done awesome work updating information on the various networks behind O’Keefe and Pelican. Pelican appears to have strong ties to the Reason Foundation, and Pelican founder Kevin Kane and Breitbart’s relationship deserves closer examination, among other things.

    Let me know if you want to get deep into the Louisiana muck.

    http://www.alternet.org/investigations/145470/did_louisiana’s_republican_elite_support_the_landrieu_phone_squad/?page=entire

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