The Justice Department Deleted Language About Press Freedom And Racial Gerrymandering From Its Internal Manual

Since the fall, the US Department of Justice has been overhauling its manual for federal prosecutors.

In: Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough-on-crime policies. Out: A section titled “Need for Free Press and Public Trial.” References to the department’s work on racial gerrymandering are gone. Language about limits on prosecutorial power has been edited down.

The changes include new sections that underscore Sessions’ focus on religious liberty and the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on government leaks — there is new language admonishing prosecutors not to share classified information and directing them to report contacts with the media.

Not all changes are substantive: Long paragraphs have been split up, outdated contacts lists have been updated, and citations to repealed laws have been removed.

The “US Attorneys’ Manual” is something of a misnomer. Federal prosecutors in US attorney offices across the country use it, but so do other Justice Department — often referred to as “Main Justice” — lawyers. The manual features high-level statements about department policies and priorities as well as practical guidance on every facet of legal work that comes through the department.

The last major update to the manual was in 1997. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — the DOJ’s number two official and a veteran federal prosecutor — ordered the top-to-bottom review, according to department spokesperson Ian Prior. In a March speech announcing changes to the department’s policy for enforcing certain anti-corruption laws, Rosenstein lamented the difficulty prosecutors have keeping track of policy and procedure changes when they aren’t reflected in the manual.

Some of the recent changes were publicly announced. In January, for instance, the department said it was adding a section called “Respect for Religious Liberty,” directing prosecutors to alert senior officials about lawsuits filed against the US government “raising any significant question concerning religious liberty” and articulating “Principles of Religious Liberty” that Sessions laid out in an earlier memo.

Most changes haven’t been publicly announced, though, which is common practice, according to former DOJ officials who spoke with BuzzFeed News. US attorney offices have been notified of the significant changes so far, and notice will go out when the review is done, Prior said. The public version of the manual online notes when individual sections were last updated.

The Justice Department declined to comment on specific changes. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Prior said the manual is meant to be a “quick and ready reference” for lawyers, not “an exhaustive list of constitutional rights, statutory law, regulatory law, or generalized principles of our legal system.”

“While sections of the USAM have changed over time, the last comprehensive review and update of the USAM occurred twenty years ago. During that time, policies have changed or become outdated, and leadership memos were issued without being incorporated into the USAM. As part of the effort to consolidate policies into a useful one-stop-shop of litigation-related documents for the Department, the Deputy Attorney General ordered a thorough, department wide review of the USAM,” Prior said. “The purpose of that review is to identify redundant sections and language, areas that required greater clarity, and any content that needed to be added to help Department attorneys perform core prosecutorial functions.”

The review is taking place while the Justice Department is still missing several Senate-confirmed officials, including heads of the Criminal Division, the Civil Division, the Civil Rights Division, and the Environment and Natural Resources Division. Nominees for those posts are waiting for a final vote in the Senate. Trump has yet to announce a nominee for associate attorney general, the department’s third-ranking official, following the February departure of Rachel Brand. Prior said that the review process has included career attorneys from across the department.

Sections of the manual that dealt with a variety of personnel and administrative issues, many of which are explained in other internal department documents or are included in federal statutes and regulations, were removed. Those sections included language about what happens when a US attorney spot is vacant, policies for securing and paying witnesses, and compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

BuzzFeed News compared the latest version of the manual with earlier versions saved via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

[Buzzfeed]

Fireworks at Trump Rally as POTUS Goes on Wild Comey Rant: ‘I Did You a Favor’ By Firing Him

President Donald Trump unleashed a lengthy tirade against ex-FBI Director James Comey during his Saturday night rally in Washington Township, MI. The crowd erupted in applause as Trump began repeatedly asking “What about James Comey?” several times and “How ’bout this guy Comey?” before condemning the former head of the federal agency and the American press.

“And what about — hey, what about Comey? Have you watched him on the interviews? What about Comey? What about Comey? How about that? So Comey — how about this guy, Comey?” Trump began. “He said the other night the fake dirty dossier, he said the other night on Fox, he said very strongly, ‘No, I didn’t know that it was paid for by the Democrats and Hillary Clinton.’ He didn’t know. He didn’t know. How about that?”

The president was referring to Comey’s wide-ranging interview on Friday with Fox News’ Bret Baier to discuss his new book, A Higher Loyalty, as well as the FBI’s investigations into Trump and Clinton.

“When did you learn that the [Democratic National Committee] DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign had funded Christopher Steele’s work?”

“I still don’t know that for a fact,” Comey replied. “I’ve only seen it in the media. I never knew exactly which Democrats had funded. I knew it was funded first by Republicans.”

Fusion GPS, the firm which produced the dossier, was first funded by the conservative publication The Washington Free Beacon “to provide research on multiple candidates in the Republican presidential primary,” according to statements representatives from the outlet provided to Congressional investigators last year.

But at Trump’s rally on Saturday, the president decried Comey and the situation surrounding the dossier, describing both as a “disgrace.”

“Comey is a liar and a leaker,” he continued. “You know, I did you a great favor when I fired this guy. I tell you, I did you a great favor. Because when you look at what was going on at the top of the FBI, it is a disgrace and everybody in this room understands it.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Trashes Journos in Correspondents Dinner Email: ‘Bunch of Fake News Liberals Who Hate Me’

President Donald Trump is explaining his absence from the upcoming White House Correspondents’ Dinner with a fundraising email, and an announcement of a rally the same night.

Rather than being “stuck in a room with a bunch of fake news liberals who hate” him, Trump says he has a better idea. He plans to hold a rally in another kind of Washington–Michigan’s Washington Township–for what he calls his “favorite deplorables who love our movement and love America.”

The email invites “one patriot” plus a friend to donate to Trump’s 2020 campaign, which then enters them into a raffle to attend the event as VIP guests.

“While the fake news media will be celebrating themselves with the denizens of Washington society in the swamp that evening, President Trump will be in a completely different Washington, celebrating our national economic revival with patriotic Americans,” the Trump campaign’s chief  operating officer, Michael Glassner, said in a statement, according to CNN.

The Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday will be the second the president has skipped, and the second time he’s held a rally instead. In 2017, he held an event in Pennsylvania in place of attending the dinner, speaking before crowds as if to be campaigning as he did before the election.

[Mediaite]

Trump Calls Kim Jong Un ‘Very Open,’ ‘Very Honorable’

As President Donald Trump says he’s planning for talks with North Korea, he called the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, “very open” and “very honorable.”

“Kim Jong Un was, he really has been very open, and I think very honorable from everything we’re seeing,” Trump told reporters in the White House Tuesday. “Now, a lot of promises have been made by North Korea over the years, but they’ve never been in this position.”

Trump made the remarks as he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, who had just participated in an official White House welcoming ceremony on the second day of his U.S. visit.

“We have been very, very tough on maximum pressure, we have been very tough on, as you know, trade, we’ve been very, very tough at the border, sanctions have been the toughest we’ve ever imposed on any country, and we think it’ll be a great thing for North Korea, it’ll be a great thing for the world, so we’ll see where that all goes and maybe it’ll be wonderful and maybe it won’t, and if it’s not gonna be fair and reasonable and good, I will, unlike past administrations, I will leave the table,” Trump said.

The administration has said it intends for a U.S.-North Korea summit to occur near the end of May or in June.

[Mediaite]

Media

‘Stupid question’: Trump snaps at reporter who asked about pardoning Michael Cohen

President Donald Trump on Tuesday angrily snapped at a reporter who asked him if he’d consider pardoning his own personal lawyer.

During a media session with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump was asked by ABC News’ Jonathan Karl if he planned on pardoning attorney Michael Cohen, whose office and home were raided by federal officials earlier this month.

The president glared at Karl and simply replied, “Stupid question.”

Although Trump’s attorney has not yet been accused of a crime, legal experts say the raid on his office would not have been approved unless law enforcement officials had probably cause to believe crimes had been committed.

Because of this, there has been speculation that Trump’s recent pardon of former vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby was a signal to Cohen and others in his circle that he would pardon them if they refused to cooperate with investigators.

[Raw Story]

Media

Trump Swipes at ‘Pundits’ Talking About North Korea: They ‘Couldn’t Come Close to Making a Deal’

The President of the United States is once again going after TV pundits criticizing him on policy decisions.

President Trump directly called out Chuck Todd on this issue earlier today, tweeting, “Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing. Wow, we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”

Now he’s going more generally after “pundits”:

[Mediaite]

Trump Mistakenly Claims North Korea Has Agreed to “Denuclearization”

President Donald Trump took yet another shot at the media on Sunday, this time aiming his fire toward “sleepy eyes” Chuck Todd from NBC. A day after he criticized the New York Times and the Washington Post, the president was mad Sunday morning after Todd said, according to Trump, “we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing.” The truth, Trump went on to write on Twitter, was exactly the opposite. “We haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!” Trump said.

Does Trump know something the rest of us don’t? Or is he just confused about what denuclearization means and what North Korea has said? On Friday, North Korea said it would suspend nuclear and ballistic missile tests before a planned summit with South Korea. But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un never actually pledged to get rid of the country’s existing nuclear weapons and missiles.

Analysts have struck a cautious tone over the promises precisely because North Korea has made similar promises in the past and they never amounted to much. “North Korea has a long history of raising the issue of denuclearization and has committed to freeze its nuclear weapons programs in the past. We all remember how those pledges and commitments went down over past decades,” Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University in Seoul, told Reuters.

Trump’s tweet is also a reminder that North Korea’s Kim often means a very different thing when he refers to denuclearization than South Korea or the Western world in general. Whereas the United States and South Korea have long said denuclearization means dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program, North Korea’s Kim has talked about denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula.

When Trump criticized Todd, he appears to have been referring to this segment:

With his response, Trump makes it clear he doesn’t think he has given up anything to North Korea seemingly without realizing that sitting down for talks in and of itself is a victory for Kim. With his seeming concessions, Kim will be heading to the summits with a recognition from global powers that North Korea is a nuclear nation, which is something the country has long wanted. As one analyst told Axios on Saturday, the issues North Korea says it is willing to discuss, “amounts to “all the trappings of a ‘responsible’ nuclear weapons state (which is what they ultimately wanted to be accepted as).”

In a second tweet Sunday, Trump made clear he knows the North Korean nuclear issue is a long way from being resolved, in a rare note of caution for the commander in chief. “We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t—only time will tell,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

[Slate]

Trump Twitter-taunts GOP lawmakers and attacks Jeff Sessions for not going after Comey and Hillary Clinton

President Donald Trump kicked off his Sunday morning Twitter flurry by touting a Fox News report about GOP lawmakers asking the Justice Department to investigate former FBI Director James Comey and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign rival, Hillary Clinton.

Writing on Twitter, Trump stated, “‘GOP Lawmakers asking Sessions to Investigate Comey and Hillary Clinton.’ @FoxNews Good luck with that request!”

[Raw Story]

Trump pressed Sessions to fire 2 FBI officials who sent anti-Trump text messages

President Donald Trump sharply questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray during a White House meeting on January 22 about why two senior FBI officials — Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — were still in their jobs despite allegations made by allies of the president that they had been disloyal to him and had unfairly targeted him and his administration, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The president also pressed his attorney general and FBI director to work more aggressively to uncover derogatory information within the FBI’s files to turn over to congressional Republicans working to discredit the two FBI officials, according to the same sources.

The very next day, Trump met Sessions again, this time without Wray present, and even more aggressively advocated that Strzok and Page be fired, the sources said.

Trump’s efforts to discredit Strzok and Page came after Trump was advised last summer by his then-criminal defense attorney John Dowd that Page was a likely witness against him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice, according to two senior administration officials. That Trump knew that Page might be a potential witness against him has not been previously reported or publicly known.

The effort to discredit Strzok and Page has been part of a broader effort by Trump and his allies to discredit and even fire FBI officials who they believe will be damaging witnesses against the president in Mueller’s obstruction of justice probe.

Those attacks, in turn, are part of a broader push to denigrate Mueller himself and make it easier for Trump to publicly justify his potential firing. Those efforts have taken on new urgency as Mueller continues to rack up guilty pleas from former senior Trump officials like Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, and after the FBI, in conjunction with other federal prosecutors, raided the office, home, and hotel room of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer. Trump’s fury over the raid has made many of his closest advisers worry that he’s inching closer to firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, and possibly Mueller as well.

Last May, Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, who today appears to be the special counsel’s most crucial witness against the president. Trump also enlisted his attorney general to pressure current FBI Director Wray earlier this year to fire then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Wraythought the pressure was so improper that he threatened to resign if it did not end.

Trump’s efforts against Page and Strzok demonstrate that the president personally has targeted even midlevel officials and career FBI agents.

[Vox]

Trump Tees Off on Negative Media Coverage: ‘Should Be Getting Good Stories’

President Donald Trump capped off another chaotic week of news out of Washington on Friday by — you guessed it! — tweeting, this time gloating about his approval rating and making America great again while spewing alternative facts.

The president once again attacked the media on Friday for its critical reporting of his administration amid a looming investigation into his 2016 presidential campaign’s suspected collusion with Russia and Wikileaks to sway the election in his favor.

“Can you believe that despite 93% bad stories from the Fake News Media (should be getting good stories), today we had just about our highest Poll Numbers, including those on Election Day?” Trump wrote on Friday. “The American public is wise to the phony an dishonest press. Make America Great Again!”

The 93 percent stat is a reference to the findings of a Harvard study on coverage of the President from 2017.u

As for his approval ratings, the president is in fact currently polling just slightly above normal with a nearly 40% approval rating according to FiveThirtyEight. It’s not the highest numbers he’s seen during his presidency, however — not even according to his favorite right-leaning poll, Rasmussen Reports, which previously had him at 50 percent. That poll now has him at 49 percent, while most other polls have him somewhere between 38 to 42 percent approval.

Trump once again praised himself when the Rasmussen poll hit 50 percent earlier this week before dipping again just before the weekend, attacking his predecessor with the fun new nickname he seemed to create earlier this month: “Cheatin’ Obama.”

Clearly the president is getting the weekend fun started early at Mar-A-Lago.

[Mediaite]

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