“Aiding their political allies was only the half of it.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, claims that he has a “smoking gun” email that proves the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama directed funds from settlements away from conservative groups. From Fox News:
“It is not every day in congressional investigations that we find a smoking gun,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said Tuesday. “Here, we have it.”
While Eric Holder was U.S. attorney general, the Justice Department allowed prosecutors to strike agreements compelling big companies to give money to outside groups not connected to their cases to meet settlement burdens. Republican lawmakers long have decried those payments as a “slush fund” that boosted liberal groups, and the Trump DOJ ended the practice earlier this year.
An email from July 2014 shows one senior DOJ official discussing a settlement from Citigroup. This person did not want the money to go to conservatives:
“Concerns include: a) not allowing Citi to pick a statewide intermediary like the Pacific Legal Foundation (does conservative property-rights legal services),” the official, whose name is redacted in the email, wrote under the title of “Acting Senior Counselor for Access to Justice.”
The official added that “we are more likely to get the right result from a state bar association affiliated entity.”
The Pacific Legal Foundation responded to the email release Tuesday by telling Fox News it believes “permanent reforms to prevent such abuse are needed.”
“We are flattered that the previous administration would be concerned enough about our success vindicating individual liberty and property rights to prevent settlement funds from making their way to Pacific Legal Foundation,” PLF CEO Steven D. Anderson said in a statement.
On the House floor yesterday, Goodlatte brought up then-Associate Attorney General Tony West because documents contain evidence that his “team went out of its way to exclude conservative groups.” Fox News continued:
“Aiding their political allies was only the half of it,” Goodlatte said. “The evidence of the Obama DOJ’s abuse of power shows that Tony West’s team went out of its way to exclude conservative groups.”
The documents indicate West played an active role in helping certain organizations obtain settlement information.
“Can you explain to Tony the best way to allocate some money to an organization of our choosing?” Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Elizabeth Taylor wrote in one November 2013 email.
Groups who received funding also expressed appreciation for West’s efforts, according to the emails.
“Now that it has been more than 24 hours for us all to try and digest the Bank of America settlement, I would like to discuss ways we might want to recognize and show appreciation for the Department of Justice and specifically Associate Attorney General Tony West,” wrote Charles R. Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar, in an August 2014 email.
Dunlap wrote that West “by all accounts was the one person most responsible” for the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts group receiving money.
One person, Bob LeClair, responded to Dunlap’s email by saying, “Frankly, I would be willing to have us build a statue [of West] and then we could bow down to this statue each day after we get our $200,000.”
West, who now works as an executive vice president at PepsiCo, did not immediately return an email from Fox News seeking comment.
Republicans have long attacked these “slush funds,” especially when settlement money went towards groups that had nothing to do with the case. For example, the government made Gibson Guitars hand over $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 2012. This was considered a “community service payment” in a settlement to avoid charges for allegedly violating the Lacey Act, which was added to “the Endangered Species Act in 2008 to also provide for criminal penalties against the importation or use of illegally harvested plant materials.”
On Tuesday night, the House passed Goodlatte’s bill Stop Slush Funds Acts of 2017 that “permanently bars federal agencies from requiring defendants to donate money to outside groups as part of settlement agreements, and requires that settlement money goes either directly to victims or to the Treasury.” He released this statement after the passage:
“An investigation by the House Judiciary Committee last Congress revealed the Department of Justice’s abuse of power: using settlement agreements to direct money away from victims toward organizations of their choosing and away from those they disliked. DOJ’s actions contradict the spending power given explicitly to the Legislative Branch and undermine Congress’s most effective tool to hold the Executive Branch accountable. Regardless of which party is in the White House, subverting Congress to funnel money to outside organizations is unacceptable and unconstitutional.
“I applaud the passage of this bipartisan bill that bans settlement payments to non-victim third parties permanently for future administrations. There should be no excuse or justification for this banned behavior, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to defend Congress’s constitutional interests and support H.R. 732.”
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