Now that Donald Trump has selected Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as his likely incoming Attorney General, there is no doubt Sessions — an ethical, proactive conservative — will fight to clean up years of mounting corruption in the Department of Justice under the Obama administration, which has destroyed its reputation. The DOJ has become so politicized that few elected officials feel safe anymore. As attorney Harvey Silverglate wrote in his book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, the average American unknowingly commits three felonies a day because of the growing number of vague laws on the books and the desire for prosecutors to get their trophies.
One of the first steps Sessions must take is to end the DOJ’s political case against former Congressman Rick Renzi, and discipline the corrupt prosecutor and FBI agent. As a former Assistant Attorney General for the state of Arizona and a former prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, I first began investigating this case almost two years ago, and by far it is the worst I have encountered of a politically targeted official.
Back when Renzi was starting his first congressional term in 2002, Resolution Copper Company — a joint venture controlled by foreign mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton — began lobbying Congress for the rights to mine on federal lands inside Renzi’s congressional district which were sacred to the Apache tribe.
Renzi, a Republican, sought to protect the Apaches and would not roll over for the big multinational mining operation. So Resolution Copper’s CEO, a South African named Bruno Hagner, conspired with others to take out Renzi.
When Hagner approached Renzi about the desire to mine on federal land, Renzi consulted with other members of Congress and The Nature Conservancy. All those consulted felt that any draft bill should include language that would help the Apaches, as well as off-setting the water used in the mine by saving water upstream on the San Pedro River near Fort Huachuca, a critical military base in southern Arizona.
Hagner pretended like he was going along with the water off-set idea, but the South African had no intention of helping Fort Huachuca and Renzi’s interest in national security. Instead, Hagner fabricated a plan he called “Operation Eagle,” which he peddled to a willing political prosecutor named Gary Restaino in order to take out Renzi in the upcoming 2006 election. Restaino was a trusted member of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano’s inner circle, and the husband of Napolitano’s General Counsel Leezie Kim Restaino. Restaino was also a confidant of infamous Fast and Furious U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, and in his spare time, Restaino authors liberal political opinion pieces for receptive newspapers throughout Arizona. A sly political animal in his own right, he understood well the threat popular Renzi posed were he to run against his mentor Janet Napolitano for governor.
Through its Democratic Party lobbyists, Hagner anonymously (but falsely) told the DOJ that Renzi was strong arming and forcing real estate developers to purchase lands in which he held disguised interests. This was the core story of Operation Eagle. Then, in order to hide his hand, Hagner used these same lobbyists to hire a former FBI agent named Jim Elroy to push the Operation Eagle lie within the DOJ.
One of Elroy’s first calls to escalate the Operation Eagle lie was to his friend, FBI Tucson field agent, Dan Odom — a loyal servant of Restaino. Knowing that he could damage Renzi politically, and crown himself in glory, Restaino began collaborating with Agent Odom.
Odom started coaching and grooming witnesses. He first recruited Renzi’s former district director, Joanne Keene. Odom met her so frequently (over 50 times) and became so friendly and close to Keene that she later testified that she thought of herself as part of Odom’s prosecution team.
Odom then turned his sights on Philip Aries, a real estate developer and friend of Keene’s who she had introduced to Renzi. Aries wanted to get rich from doing a land exchange, and needed Congressional approval to get it done. So Aries went to Keene and brought along former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to see if they could get her to help them.
Keene was told by The Nature Conservancy that water near Fort Huachuca needed to be protected in the next land-exchange bill. Keene sold Aries and Babbitt on this idea, and Aries and Babbitt then added the water rights near Fort Huachuca to his land-exchange proposal — because of Keene’s suggestion and because The Nature Conservancy, other members of Congress and officials at Fort Huachuca all wanted this done. Aries drove to Fort Huachuca and even met with military officials to ensure this was what the Pentagon wanted.
In fact, new evidence now shows that Babbitt actually wrote the proposal that was given and pushed on Renzi — but none of this truth fit Hagner’s Operation Eagle plan to take out Renzi, nor prosecutor Restaino’s desire for a promotion. The DOJ began leaking to the press that Renzi had used the power of his office to force Aries to purchase the water rights near Fort Huachuca. Restaino and the FBI concealed Aries’ initial statement that it was Keene, not Renzi, who had suggested that the water rights be added to the proposal. In order to lock down this FBI fabrication that it was Renzi who had forced the water rights on Aries, agent Odom offered Aries money. Aries in turn then changed his story to match the FBI’s fabrication that he was forced, “strong armed” to buy the water rights near Fort Huachuca, matching Hagner’s version of Operation Eagle.
In the meantime, the 2006 midterm elections were fast approaching, and Renzi’s seat was the Democratic Party’s top target nationwide. Partisans in the DOJ began to leak word of the investigation. In a well-coordinated October surprise, the Associated Press, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal all reported that Renzi was the subject of a federal criminal investigation. Renzi won the election anyway, but the leaks about him and other Republicans were so pervasive that the FBI director was forced to issue a memorandum to all agents reprimanding them for their conduct.
After the election, Restaino and Odom continued pursuing Renzi. They obtained a wire tap, hoping that Aries could coax Renzi into making incriminating statements. When Renzi told Aries the truth on the recordings, Aries grew nervous about cooperating. Odom then convinced him to keep at it, by telling him that the government paid cooperators who made recorded calls. Odom led Aries to believe that he deserved to be paid a substantial amount. Aries testified later that he thought if he “could get $10,000 that would be a home run” and if he “could get $25,000 that would be like hitting the lottery.” While Odom held Aries at bay on when he would get paid, Restaino illegally concealed the dangled money offers from Renzi and his defense team, exculpatory evidence required by law.
Having gotten nothing useful from Aries, the DOJ began recording Renzi’s phone calls with his lawyers. One FBI agent kept over 40 of Renzi’s attorney client-privileged calls in a box next to his desk for anyone to listen too if they wanted. That is illegal, of course, but the DOJ managed to do so by deceiving the supervising court. The district court eventually ruled that the DOJ had illegally spied on Renzi and misled the supervising court — but bizarrely the court ruled no charges should be dismissed!
By then, however, Renzi had already been destroyed politically. After the DOJ returned its first indictment against him in early 2008, Renzi said he would not to seek reelection in November 2008, in order to fight the allegations. Operation Eagle had proven a success.
But the DOJ still had to try the case, and there was a problem … the facts favored Renzi. So the DOJ began putting pressure on Renzi to plead out. He was offered three years in prison, which he declined since he was innocent and had been set up. Restaino then superseded the indictment two more times, overcharging Renzi with 49 felonies in order to try and break Renzi and confuse the jury with so many felony counts they would have to convict Renzi on something.
Before the trial began, the DOJ was forced by the Court to stipulate that Fort Huachuca was “essential” to national security and that Renzi’s efforts to preserve the water was “in the public interest.” Faced with the truth, DOJ offered Renzi a plea deal of one felony and 10 months in prison if he would just get up in court and lie to the judge, saying that he had falsified his Congressional financial statement in a conflict of interest scheme.
In reality, Renzi had hired one of the nation’s best CPAs to make sure his financial statements were correct — but faced with going to trial on 49 felonies, Renzi was at the crossroad of his life. He fasted and prayed for three days, and ultimately rejected Restaino’s fabricated case. Renzi would instead choose to go to trial, facing 49 felonies and over 300 years in prison, rather than capitulate to Operation Eagle and the despicable lies of the DOJ.
Restaino responded by stretching the law and concealing the facts. Prosecutors claimed it didn’t matter that Renzi sought to promote the public interest, and DOJ again planted in their favorite newspapers that Renzi had committed extortion against Aries by forcing Aries to buy the water rights near Fort Huachuca. Meanwhile, the DOJ continued to hide the money offer that FBI agent Odom had used to manipulate Aries. Incredibly, one of the prosecutors’ final acts was to tell the jury that Aries had not been paid even “one thin dime” for cooperating with the FBI.
Despite the mountain of lies, and ignorant of Hagner’s Operation Eagle, the jury acquitted Renzi on more than half of the counts against him. However, he was convicted on others.
But the truth eventually comes to light. After the trial ended, and in need of money, Aries called the FBI and asked when he would be paid. The FBI told Aries they would not make any payment decisions until after Renzi exhausted his appellate rights, which Restaino felt allowed him to continue to hide the pay-off money offer from Renzi. Aries still wanted his money, however, so he continued to monitor Renzi’s case. After the appellate court ruled against Renzi, Aries approached the government again. This time, he requested his money in writing in an email to Restaino. Faced with a written request, Restaino was exposed, and finally told Renzi of the Aries pay-off money offer. Desperate for cover, Restaino then claimed that this attempted bribe of a key witness did not in any way undermine the legitimacy of Renzi’s conviction!
The district court eventually held a hearing on Renzi’s motion for a new trial, where the judge ruled that the evidence proved that the FBI had concealed “important” information about its meetings and offers of money with Aries, that Odom had induced Aries to continue cooperating by dangling a financial reward, that Aries believed that he deserved a reward for his cooperation, and that the prosecutors’ argument about Aries having not received “one thin dime” was, in the court’s words, “disingenuous” and “misleading to the jury.” Yet unbelievably, the district court then magically swept it all away and refused to grant Renzi a new trial because this new evidence was somehow “immaterial.”
Renzi appealed that decision, and his case will go before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco in spring of 2017. He is being represented by renowned litigator Kelly Kramer, co-head of Mayer Brown LLP’s white collar criminal defense practice, and one of the nation’s best defense attorneys and author of the book Licensed to Lie, Sidney Powell.
The real corruption scandal here is not Renzi’s conduct, which was in the public interest of national security. The real corruption here lies within the DOJ. With the new change in presidential leadership and Sen. Sessions taking over as Attorney General, political prosecutor Restaino and FBI agent Dan Odom may not have the political protection they have enjoyed for the last eight years that Renzi has been fighting them. A former attorney for the Office of Professional Responsibility, the division of the DOJ that investigates internal corruption, told Renzi's attorney that he tried to complain previously about the illegal wiretapping by Odom and Restaino, but was told not to rock the boat, since the DOJ was still recovering from its misconduct of wrongly prosecuting the late Senator Ted Stevens.
The new administration and Congress must move now to perform an honest and complete investigation into how a wealthy noncitizen, South African Bruno Hagner, conspired and executed the plan he called Operation Eagle in order to successfully take out a U.S. Congressman. Hagner was successful in engaging in electioneering with the help of the DOJ. Prosecutor Restaino and agent Odom need to face a real investigation done by an nonpolitical Inspector General and be held accountable for their corrupt false conviction and imprisonment of Renzi, otherwise our votes and “we the people” who elect our representatives are powerless to the political agenda of rich foreigners like Hagner and politically motivated prosecutors within the Department of Injustice.